2016-04-24

Schlierengrat (1709m)

The weather forecast for the weekend was quite bad, with lots of rain and snow even at low altitudes. Yet Paweł was, in his own words, desperate. His two young kids usually prevent him from going on longer outings but this time his wife was travelling with them. Thus the four of us, Anita, Björn, Paweł and me, drove to Schoried in order to hike the Schlierengrat.

Enchanted forest.

It was snowing the moment we stepped out of the car. Leaving Zürich in the rain it felt like we had arrived in another world. A magical winter wonderland. The fresh green of spring and blooming flowers covered in fresh snow. It didn't take long before we were breaking trail through twenty centimeters of fresh powder in a schizophrenic world of flourishing vegetation and ice.

The poor flowers must feel deceived.
Anita scrambling up the scarp.

We scrambled up a pathless couloir, trying to find our own way before we planned to get onto the trail proper. This proved to be too tedious, so we abandoned that idea and stuck to the trail instead. Anita decided to strike out on her own at this point and stay in the valley, follow the Schliere river and meet up with us at the end.

Björn.
Paweł.
Starting on the ridge proper.

I remembered seeing this ridge from my last hike two weeks ago. At the time there was very little snow and I figured two weeks further and we'd only have to expect "patches of snow". This is how I announced the hike to the others when I planned it. My prediction turned out to be almost comically wrong. Or, as my companions so pointedly remarked, yes, there was only a single, very big, patch of snow. We were breaking trail on the ridge all the way.

Once we reached the end of the mountain range and came back down to the valley we met back up with Anita in the single open restaurant. A quick meal and we parted ways again. Anita waiting for the bus while we returned to our starting point, this time following the river Anita came up on. Her lonely footsteps in the snow were almost completely covered again, it was snowing so hard.

It turns out the bus is only running in the summer months, but Anita got lucky and hitched a ride in a police car. Must be the girl bonus. Earlier, on the way through the valley, a random farmer invited her in for a coffee. "It's such a long way!". She declined ;-)

One tree white and in bloom, the others white with snow ;-)

We covered around 32km and 1500m elevation gain. Fantastic atmosphere in great company. The only downer is that the knee of my bad leg acted up on the way down. This happened for the first time ever during a hike four weeks ago and really pisses me off. It became so bad that my gait deteriorated to a painful limping hobble. Anyway. "Tritt sich fest".

Thanks to Paweł and Björn for donating their photos!

2016-04-10

Höch Dossen (1885) and Hohmad (1934m)

I went for another quick hike on Sunday. This time conditions turned out perfectly - nicely frozen snow in the early morning and beautiful blue skies later in the day. I was on my own, breaking trail all the way. The serenity, solitude and quiet of the mountains was just what I needed: the perfect cure for a stressful week at work. The ridge offers an opportunity for a long enchainement, going for an all out endurance trip. It's quite exposed and difficult though (for a hike) and come noon the snow turned into the familiar wet spring slush. Too dangerous to continue. A mission for another day. Still, a wonderful trip that got me severely sunburned - I had a red mask for a face ;-)

~14km, ~1300m elevation gain, ~5 hours

Frozen popsicles.
Getting steeper.
This is work!
Follow the rabbit!
On the ridge proper. Don't slip.
Pilatus in the distance.
Sarnersee.
The most massive summit cross I've ever seen. On a minor side-peak...

2016-04-03

Nünalphorn (2385m)

Today I set out to climb the Huetstock (2676m), a difficult snowshoe tour (graded 5 on a scale of 1 to 6) and only possible in very safe snow conditions - 40+ degree slopes are very avalanche prone. I couldn't find a partner, so I left on my own at 5 in the morning. Starting at the trailhead at 6:30 in the first light of day. It quickly became apparent that snow conditions were anything but good. I expected the snow to be frozen and only thaw around noon. Instead it was heavy wet slush from the get go.

Decision time. Left for the Nünalphorn, right for the Huetstock.
First big debris field.
And another one.

I could see avalanche debris on the slopes all around me. And of course I had to break trail all the way, no tracks of either snowshoes or skis. Trying to stick to my original objective under these circumstances seemed suicidal. Thus I changed course and headed through pathless terrain and steep avalanche slopes towards the Juchli pass with the intention of climbing the Nünalphorn (2385m).

Smiling because I made it through a steep couloir.
Lonely tracks.
Careful on the cornices. View towards Engelberg.

Once the first rays of sun hit the slopes around 10 it started avalanching. I didn't witness anything major, but blocks of snow came tumbling down the slopes at a frightening rate. Time to get off the mountain! I summited at 10:30 and lost no time turning around.

The original objective. I'm sure glad I'm not on that ridge in this wind.
Nünalphorn summit.
The entire slope is avalanching.

The wind picked up dramatically. To the point where I was staggering against it and had to lean in with all my weight not to be blown over. Better get off the ridge quickly... I tried shooting a video of my hiking pole blowing horizontally in the wind while hanging loosely of my wrist loop. Just then a gust of wind knocked me over on all fours. No more mucking around with video - evacuate!

Looking back towards the Nünalphorn summit. You have to admire the cliffs below the ridge - some of them were vastly overhanging.
Making my way down. I triggered those snow slides.
More avalanches.

The gear loops on my backpack and my jacket are flapping violently, making staccato noises like machine guns. I choose a different route for the decent, this time following an actual trail. I thought this might be easier and safer than choosing my own route again. It turns out this is only partially true. The trail is really steep and the metal stairs and wires that normally defuse it are buried under slippery wet snow.

A supposedly easy trail. It's steeper than it looks.
Sugar beets or yet another avalanche?
This road has been swept away.

Even the dirt road which I reach eventually doesn't offer much of a repose. It is almost completely buried in avalanche debris. So I head across steep meadows instead. When I reach the car my knee is hurting from one of the many unseen holes hidden under the snow that caught and twisted my leg. And I've broken one of my hiking poles for the same reason. Treacherous!

Ah well, on the bright side I made it back home at just half past two, leaving me with almost an entire day left to spent and see Anita off before she goes on a three day trip with her colleagues ;-)

14km, 1830m elevation gain

2016-03-24

Climbing in Arco

It's a long Easter weekend so we brace the customary traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel and head South to Italy. Our destination is the village of Arco, at the tip of lake Garda. I haven't been there before, but apparently it's some sort of Italian climbing Mecca. The valley is framed by giant walls of perfect limestone. Even at the village entrance are we greeted by banners advertising a climbing competition. On the way to our campground we pass a climbing arena and stage. The ice cream parlor is decorated with pictures of the owner, a climber himself, posing with world famous climbers. The tourist stands sell postcards with climbing pictures. The campground is overflowing with climbers and every available space along the narrow roads is occupied with people camping wild. You get the picture.

Car camping people.

Tereza is here with a climbing partner from the Czech Republic and the two of them are off on their own, climbing some crazy hard routes, training for the Czech National team. The rest of us mere mortals isn't quite at the level of cruising through 7b roofs with backpacks on, so Vladimir is climbing with Tereza's mom while Sam and I set out to climb the nine pitch "Via Romantica", graded at 6c+.

Sam underneath the crux section of the second pitch.
Me rappelling from our high point.

I'm a bit anxious about the route, since 6c+ is very much the limit of what I can lead outdoors. Luckily the first two pitches are the crux and we can still bail from there. I lead the first 6b+, a few moves to get through an initial steep section, followed by a slab with delicate foot placements. I set up an anchor and start belaying Sam. For the longest time nothing much happens. I can't see what he's doing below the overhanging start, so I just wait. It takes him the better part of an hour to catch up to me, a pace we clearly cannot sustain if we want to top out before midnight.

Lago di Garda.

He brought brand new climbing shoes that are causing a lot of pain. Thus we decide to give the second, crux, pitch a try and then bail to do some cragging elsewhere. The pitch is exceedingly well protected - the bolts are so close together that quickdraws are nearly touching one another. Every second bolt has a loop of cord in it. It is quite obvious that most people aid climb this pitch by pulling on gear. It is of course my ambition to free climb it cleanly. It starts out with an easy traverse that ends with a slightly overhanging section full of two finger drip-holes. I manage to climb it with taking a few rests hanging off the bolts. Definitely doable! Quite encouraging, as I'm now fairly certain I could climb the entire route. Alas, for now I have to curb my ambition and we rappel back down.

Medea, supposedly a 6a+, but we all agreed that the overhanging layback finale was way harder.
Did I mention this area was popular with climbers? The rock is crawling with humans!

We end up climbing a few routes in the "Swing Area", aptly named for the fact that people fall a lot and swing around on their ropes. The routes seem fiendishly hard for their grades.

We join up with Vladimir and Tereza's mom for the next day and explore the "Nago" sector. It offers beautiful vistas over lake Garda and much more reasonable climbing. Unfortunately for Sam and me this is already the last day. I will continue to Germany with Anita to visit family. Thus we leave in the afternoon, driving through the narrow and winding village roads. At some point it is so tight, that our VW Golf barely fits with about two centimeters of space to the buildings on either side. This is funny because a big Audi, that was following us, now had to reverse and find a different route ;-)

Unknown dude stripping on the rock.

I got to climb:

  • Via Romantica, first pitch 6b+
  • Via Romantica, second pitch 6c+
  • Karl Dalle 6b+
  • Greppo Greppo 6a
  • Medea 6a+
  • Guildenstern 6b+
  • Cordelia 6b
  • Iago 6c