Saturday, July 28, 2018

Climbing the Witenwassernstock

This weekend we did an SAC tour to head up the Witenwasserenstock (it's a pure coincidence that this is just a couple of peaks away from the Chuebodenhorn, which we visited a few weeks ago). The tour description is from the newest Silbernagel book. On Saturday we get a fairly late start; it's a long train ride, but we don't plan to do anything but go to the hut and the weather forecast is kind of dodgy anyway. From Realp we follow the road for a while (too long), then start to head up the Witenwasserental (again, too much time on the road). Eventually we turn off the road and follow a nice path up, up the rest of the way to the hut. 
heading up toward the Rotondo hut
As we go, the weather slowly deteriorates. 10 minutes or so from the hut it starts to rain for real (damn! so close!), fortunately without lightning. Once at the hut we hang stuff up to dry, get situated for the evening, and then hang out for a while until dinner. The hut is crowded, but it's not particularly chaotic. Uneventful except for the important cultural experience of having two Swiss teach us how to play Jass. :-)
After dinner (which is really good!) the weather has cleared up. so we head outside to enjoy the views and do a bit of scoping out/planning the route for the next day.
planning the route across the glacier
On Sunday morning we have breakfast at 5:00 and are underway shortly before 6:00. The hut isn't really a mountaineering hut, so we're the only ones getting an early start. The weather is great: clear skies and the full moon still visible until it sets behind the Lekihörner. We start by following the blue-white trial towards the Cavanna pass and then turn off to cross the talus towards the glacier. At the edge of the ice we put on crampons and walk on. When it gets a bit steeper we rope in before continuing up the steepening slope until we exit easily onto the talus. Crampons off, switch to two rope teams, and then head up a bit more before hitting the blue white trail that takes us easily to the east peak of the Witenwasserenstock. This is, by the way, a really nicely made trail along the ridge. The weather is perfect and the views from the peak (which is a watershed between the Po, the Rhone, and the Rhine) are great. We don't hang out very long, because this is where it starts to get interesting. We follow the lovely block ridge down a bit until we get to a wall. This has a couple of bolts in it and is easy to climb (3c according to the book) up to a stand - we do this part "traditionally".
climbing up the first wall
A bit more along the ridge, then up another scrambling bit - we simulclimb this - then more lovely block until we get to the final climb to the peak. The last ascent is also "real" climbing (no bolts here, but good places to hang slings). Since there's really no room at the top, each of the two rope teams does this individually while the other hangs out at the bottom and enjoys the views and nice weather. After both groups have been to the top and we've taken enough pictures, we reverse ourselves and head back the way we came. Great timing that the group that left an hour after us arrives at the foot of the peak just as we're leaving. Reversing a route is normally not our favorite thing, but in this case having more time to enjoy the ridge is definitely not a bad thing. :-) We also get in some abseiling practice, which is also positive.
the last climb to the peak
After getting back to the point where we left the snow, we put the crampons back on and then head down the slope (great snow conditions), across the ice, and back to the hut. After a refreshing beverage and gathering our gear, we make our way down to Realp. There's some chance that we can catch the train at shortly past 16:00 if we hurry, but we don't manage to hurry fast enough, and we have some time to kill. This works out very nicely as it gives us the chance to stop just before we get into town and have a very refreshing dip (water! cold! yikes!) before we get on the train. The trip back is, once again, long, but pretty painless.
down the ridge
This was a nice, not particularly difficult, combined tour and the ridge and views really were great.

Track (includes the route up from Realp):

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Hiking in the Sächsische Schweiz

Since we were in Dresden and had heard a lot about it, we decided to go for a hike in the Sächsische Schweiz. An easy train ride from Dresden drops us (along with quite a few other people) off at the station for Schmilka and the ferry takes us across to town. From here we follow the road out of town a bit (conveniently most everyone else heads through town to enter the park) before turning up on a trail and heading up, up, through the woods. This is a great trail through the woods with boulders and moss and roots and everything you could want. :-)

After a bit of climbing we make it to the Klein Bastei viewpoint and enjoy the views in both directions along the river. Then it's back a bit the way we came, more trail, a bit of forest road, some descending, and then along the mostly unmarked (but heavily used) use trail up into one of the canyons. We follow this, at times quite sandy (we're both wearing running shoes with mesh tops, which really aren't great for this) trail through the woods, around some great boulders, past the turn offs to a couple of climbing areas, to the end of the canyon and the beginning of the Starke Stiege. A short bit of fun scrambling (with convenient metal loops for hand grips/steps) takes us to the top. Now we're on a panorama trail that follows the edge of some cliffs and has great views.

We follow the good, at times fairly exposed, trail for a while, enjoying the views and crazy rock formations, until we reach the top of the Rotkehlchenstiege and turn left away from the edge. After a bit more trail and forest road, we head down into the next canyon and along for a bit until we hit another forest road. This is the one kind of boring stretch of the day: just a forest road without much in the way of views. Not long after the next set of rocks come into view - complete with a couple teams of climbers - we turn off to the right and climb up towards the woods towards the Häntzschel stiege. A bit of worry here as we run into a group of four just as we reach the bottom, but fortunately they stop for a lunch break before starting the ascent. This Stiege has some quite exposed sections, so it's outfitted with a cable for a klettersteig set; an option that seems to be commonly used. We're not doing that, so we don't have any prep to do and just start climbing. It doesn't take long to catch up to the group of two in front of us who are using safety gear, so we do a bit of waiting, but fortunately the first section isn't all that long and they head off to the viewpoint. We continue along until we get to the narrow crack in the rock that leads to the next bit of climbing. (We're really happy that the family that's considering this decides against it and continues along the trail!). Through the crack we get to a set of rungs that head up, up into the light:
We do a bit of waiting for the Dutch couple in front of us to manage to make it up (they're using safety gear *and* not so sure of themselves, so they are not speedy) and then head up ourselves. This really is fun: first heading up through a very constrained space and then opening up to be quite exposed. The first part is the kind of thing that would be a fun climbing challenge if it didn't have the rungs (though then we'd want to be able to place some gear too).
Once up top we take another break to enjoy the views and eat something and then head off on our way. After a diversion out to the viewpoint at the Carolafelsen (crowded!) we follow the trail a bit more before turning off and following the Heilige Stiege (very, very nice stairway down through the stone formations!) down into the canyon:
From here we just follow the trail and forest road until we're back in Schmilke. Here we stop for a refreshing beverage and some food at the bakery/brewery before taking the ferry back across the river. We've got a bit of time before the next train, so we get to clean the sand out of our shoes and cool our feet in the river before taking the train back to Dresden.


Stats: 15.2km, ~1000m up and down (from the running watch, so who knows...)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

Saturday, July 07, 2018

A couple of days at the the Cap. Piansecco

We took a long weekend to spend some time at the Capanna Piansecco, one of those "we really should visit" places that's just too far away for us to do for a normal weekend - the last time we were in this area was 2010!

On Saturday we take the trains to Airolo and then the bus up to All'Acqua (same starting point as last time, though then we went the other way and had heavier packs!). It's only about an hour along a nice trail to get up, up, up to the hut. Once there we drop off a bunch of stuff we won't need and then head out to the climbing area East of the hut. We manage to misread the sketch on the topo and end up in a lovely field that's way past the crag itself, but that's a fantastic place to have lunch and a nap. So we do that. The views, including the ridge of the Poncione di Cassina Baggio (a possible tour destination) are really very good.
View from our lunch spot
After the break we head back towards the hut and manage to find our way to the crag on the way. We do a few routes to get used to (and enjoy) the granite, including a couple of really good slabby stretches. mmm, slab climbing on grippy granite! :-) Back at the hut we get checked in, have cake and cool beverages, and generally rest and enjoy the views until it's time for dinner (which is excellent). Amusing meeting of someone g knows from chemistry meetings who has just moved to Basel and is on a tour with a group of colleagues.

After a pretty good night's sleep (a big group didn't show up, so the room we're in is only half full) we get up a bit early, have a so so breakfast (we are in Ticino), and are underway just after 7:00. The plan is to do the ridge of the Poncione di Cassina Baggio, which seems like it'll just be awesome. The tour will be reasonably long and we aren't completely sure what the conditions on the descent will be. There's perhaps a bit more snow around than we would like and we aren't wearing the best shoes for that, but the worse is that we don't have ice axes with us (this was a dumb decision on our part, and one we shouldn't make again). We have looked at the route up to the beginning of the climbing from the hut (there's an obvious trail that leads to the Chuebodenhorn), but we didn't actually scout it out the day before (another silly mistake). This oversight leads us to follow the wrong use trail away from the hut. We know we aren't heading directly towards the piece of trail that's visible, but we figure that as we ascend we'll hit something that leads us across to it. This turns out not to be the case, so we eventually go cross country and steeply descend to the trail itself. This little adventure has cost us about 30 minutes. Given that it's likely to be a long day, that there are a number of questions hanging over the tour already, and that we've just gotten off to a stupid start, we decide not to do the ridge. We could still do the first tower and abseil down from that, but after heading up a bit higher we can see that couloir we'd abseil into is still full of snow, so that's out. Ah well, the Chuebodenhorn is towering above us and should be doable, so we change our plans. We ditch the climbing gear at the old bivac and then head up, up, up, to the Gerenpass. This is a steep mixture of loose moraine and snow, but the going is still reasonably good. At the pass we enjoy the views, including the teeny but very cool Chuebodengletscher, have a snack, and then head up towards the Chuebodenhorn. This isn't a marked trail, but there are cairns about that we can follow. Following the description we have of the hike and in order to avoid a couple of patches of steep snow, we head across to the ridge and head up that. This is fun talus hopping and very reminiscent of the climb up to Mt. Julius Caesar. The views are just stunning.
Looking towards the Berner Oberland on the way up to the Chuebodenhorn.
We pass a couple of people coming down and end up having the peak to ourselves, so we have enjoy a nice long break to have lunch, rest, and enjoy the amazing, amazing views. We can see a large part of the Swiss Alps from here: running from Mont Blanc, to some of the Walliser 4000ers, the Berner Oberland, and on to the Bernina group. Yowza!
View from the Chuebodenhorn
After a good rest we head back down to the pass. Since we've got a better overview of what's coming, we just follow the cairns down. The rest of the descent to the hut is the same way we came up (except the stupid detour, of course). Back at the hut we have a cool beverage and a break before heading down to the river to lounge around in the shade for a bit (it's hot!). After a bit of that we explore the various boulders laying around on the plain and do a bit of playing around on them.
Fun slabby bouldering
Back at the hut we enjoy another good meal and then head off to bed.

We opt to spend the first part of Monday climbing on the crag to the West of the hut. This is more fun on slabby granite and we even get in a short multi-pitch route before g's brain starts to get sun-baked and tired and we stop for the day. After a leisurely lunch break back at the hut we pack up our stuff and head back down to All'Acqua to start the long trip home.

We'll have to head back to Cap. Piansecco at some point and actually do that ridge!

Track for the Chuebodenhorn tour: