2017-09-14

Cima della Trosa (1869m)

Just as Thomas boarded his flight back to Hamburg, Anna, Bernd and their dog, Rapa, arrived from Freiburg. We planned a multi-day hike and I booked us a hut in Ticino. Of course we started planning far too late so the choice of huts was limited. I found one on AirBnB that sounded nice. No running water, no electricity, not suitable for small children and only reachable via a steep trail of a few hours of hiking. Just what we were looking for ;-)

What food to pack? Anna and Bernd are gourmet outdoor cooks. Anita and I gladly delegated all cooking tasks - we had our hands full with Leonie.
Just before setting out.
Leonie making sure no one gets left behind.

We packed for three nights and drove to the picturesque village of Avegno just North of Locarno at the Lago Maggiore. The weather forecast predicted 2mm of rain starting in the late afternoon. Instead it was pouring from the moment we arrived and parked our cars. We ended up hiking in non-stop rain for three hours and 900 meters of elevation gain. I was carrying Leonie in a baby sling in the front and a backpack on my back. I couldn't wear my poncho without suffocating Leonie so instead I was carrying an umbrella all the way.

Bernd and Anita. Anna is completely hidden behind them ;-)
Fire salamander.
Leonie patiently waited for an hour past her regular feeding time without complaints. But it was high time now!

Even while we were making our way up the steep granite steps we were unsure of our exact destination. The instructions on the AirBnB website and what the host, Maria, had texted me were contradictory. During our most recent chat she sent me a map with a red line. Treasure lies at the end of such lines, so that's where we were headed. Indeed we found a hut that was open and marked with our host's telephone number. We settled in.

The weather is clearing up.
Our home for two nights.
Beautiful dusk.

Pianosto is a collection of small huts built from crude rock. Most have been there for centuries, ours was apparently built in 1778. Once the weather cleared in the evening the meadow offered beautiful vistas over Lago Maggiore. We had the entire tiny settlement to ourselves. Bliss.

Still sleepy.
Breakfast tea.
Poser dog.

The next day Anita chilled with Leonie while Anna, Bernd, Rapa and I set out to explore the area and climb the Cima della Trosa - the small peak that our ridge cumlminated in. In the afternoon we busied ourselves with collecting firewood for our tiny wood fired stove and generally turning the hut into a cozy home. Just when we were about to cook dinner we heard voices outside and a young couple showed up at our door.

The tiny Pianosto settlement - our home for two nights.
Cima della Trosa summit.

It turned out there had been some miscommunication and the two of them had also booked this exact hut for the next five nights. Maria had texted me some more, but with my phone being the only camera I brought, and no way to recharge it, I kept it in airplane mode most of the time. We knew Maria owned a second hut some 1.5 hours away from here, but there was no way we could pack all our stuff, find the hut and settle in before dark. Much less before Leonie would become seriously cranky because of us upsetting her sleep and food routine.

Collecting firewood. Not quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but close ;-)
The stove requires tiny logs...
The reward for our labor.

The two late arrivals were very understanding and adventurous. At first they tried to find another open hut in our immediate neighborhood. They were all properly locked down though and the guy's lockpicking attempts proved fruitless. In the end we agreed to squeeze all of us in for one night. The hut is meant to sleep four. With six adults, a baby and a dog it got very cozy indeed. We invited them to dinner and got to know each other while playing Doppelkopp, a card game we all grew up with.

Small family <3
Discussing serious issues.
Chilling in the sun.

They hailed from Berlin. Him a computer science student and her a nurse. I think our chance meeting proved quite lucky for them in the end. They were ill prepared for a wilderness trip like this. Their gear was barely adequate (thin sweatpants, burlap bags) and incomplete (insufficient food, no candles or flashlights). Same for the skills: trying to fire up the stove in the morning proved futile until Bernd lent a helping hand. What they did have in spades was optimism, high spirits and adaptability. Definitely the right attitude to bring on an adventure! I hope they ended up having a great week up there.

If only the dog wouldn't make such sudden unexpected motions or bark... it would make for a perfect furry toy!
Lunch with a view. Bernd cooked delicious pasta.
Bad weather moving in from behind us.

We packed our stuff and said good bye in the morning, leaving them with a spare candle so they'd have at least some light. After about 1.5 hours of hiking we found the other hut. Again a beautiful location offering sweeping vistas all the way to the Monte Rosa massif. Unfortunately the hut itself proved unsuitable for our needs. Even smaller than the previous one this one was built without any mortar. This meant that the walls are covered in open holes and all the mattresses were moist and moldy and covered in mouse poop. We tried to air them out and dry them in the sun as best we could. In the end we decided to bail down to the valley a day sooner than planned. A night here would have been uncomfortable for us adults and downright dangerous for Leonie. Hanta viruses from mice are no joke. Anyway, the minute we got back to the cars it started raining again and wouldn't stop all the way back to Zürich. So it was probably for the best.

The fateful red line to the wrong hut.

Despite the chaotic itinerary we had a great time and Anna and Bernd are super reliable and strong partners for outdoor adventures like this. I'm most happy about the way Leonie handled herself. Despite the cold, the wet and the unfamiliar surroundings she was a total trooper. She only cried once and that was due to her teething in the night and not anything related to the trip. The rest of the time she took in her surroundings with wide eyes and marvelled at raindrops on the umbrella, gurgling creeks and rustling trees. She happily crawled around on the rough stone and tasted all kinds of grass, rocks and sticks. And of course there was Rapa. The dog was exciting, intimidating and fascinating all at the same time. Way to go girl!

2017-09-11

Bernese Highlands

My good childhood friend and best man of our wedding, Thomas, was visiting from Hamburg for a few days. We wanted to climb some mountains, but it was raining continuously all over the alps. So we spent the first couple of days working our way through our board game collection and enjoying some hygge time in good company.

Thomas in front of the iconic Eiger North Face.
Just below our high point after turning around. It got quite cold and miserable.
The normal route down from the summit is already covered in snow.

We finally left for the Bernese Highlands on Monday with the intention of climbing the Schwarzhoren (2928m) via the via ferrata. I've turned back on this mountain before because we got stuck in too much snow. This time we made it all the way up to the start of the via ferrata at about 2500m altitude but retreated again. The weather was turning on us with the summit hiding in dense clouds and a forecast of rain and snow.

Hotel Rosenlaui.

We follow first the marmot and then the romantic trail into the beautiful Haslital to stay in the rustic Rosenlaui hotel. Only marginally more expensive than an SAC hut, this hotel has been frozen in time and still features the original interior of a 1779 grand hotel. At a time before tourism in the alps was a thing this hotel must have been vanguard and pioneering new trends. Now it feels like entering a time machine into the past. With a four course dinner on proper silverware and table cloth. Extremely cool.

The hotel doesn't want pictures taken in the fancy dining room, so the much less picturesque breakfast room will have to do.
Morning.
Spooky atmosphere with ancient maple trees in the fog.

We head up towards the Grindelgrat in the morning. It's raining again so we decide to forgo the summit and just traverse towards the Grosse Scheidegg and back down towards our car which we parked in Grindelwald. There's a helicopter perched on a small outcrop of the trail. At first I take it for a rescue operation but it turns out to be equipped with expensive camera gear and part of a film shoot of some kind. A few hundred meters on we meet the rest of the film crew. They've set up in a creek and an animal trainer is making an eagle fly maneuvers in front of the cameras. With all the catering and support vans it's quite a large group. Curious.

The less than perfect weather made this part of the hike one of the most beautiful and memorable of the entire trip.
Thomas on the Romantic Trail.
Watching the rain and fuelling up on calories.

Two days, no summits, lots of rain, great accommodation in style and ~40km and 2800m of hiking. Not quite what we had planned but still a great visit and good to catch up with an old friend. That's one thing about being an expat - while I'm super happy with the community we've found here and friends we've made, there's still a difference between a friend of 5 years and one of nearly 30.

Occasionally the rain turned to snow.
Grosse Scheidegg to the left.
The village of Grindelwald.
I'm no pilot, but this doesn't look like the easiest landing spot to me. Even the bus driver stopped on the nearby road to get out of the bus and take a picture. Nevermind all the passengers waiting.
Part of the film crew.
Wet limestone glittering in the sun.
Our route. With a bit of imagination it might be an infinity symbol, no?

2017-08-27

Poncione di Cassina Baggio South Wall (2621m) via Herbstwind (6b, 12 pitches, 420m)

I was having a bit of a déjà vu this Sunday. Arne and I set out to climb the route Herbstwind on the Poncione di Cassino Baggio South Wall. I had already climbed the neighboring route Piccadilly a year ago. We were escaping a bad weather report that predicted thunderstorms then and we did again this time. I freaked out on a blank slab and cheated a move then and I did again this time. I screwed up the rappel then and I did again this time. We witnessed a haphazard party then and we did again this time. We got annoyed by the Gotthard traffic jam then and we did again this time. We had a lot of fun then and we did again this time ;-)

Arne on the approach. The route goes up the right side of the wall, starting in the shadow area.
First pitch. A slab leading into the steep black streak in the middle.
The start is well marked with a little arrow pointing the way ;-)

The route is long and of quite sustained difficulties. They present themselves very differently in the lower half of the route than the upper one though. While the lower half is low angle slabby terrain that requires delicate footwork, the upper half is vertical with very powerful and pumpy moves. The pitches go as 6a+, 3b, 5c, 6a+, 5b, 5c, 5c+, 6a+, 6a+, 6b, 5c+, 5c+.

Me lost in a sea of granite. Long pitch!
Higher up on the same pitch.
Just below the anchor.

Both Arne and I fell on the slabs when we already thought ourselves safe and didn't pay enough attention to our footwork any more. No harm done. We witnessed the leader of another party a few rope lengths behind us take a fall on the exact same pitch. He was quite far above the first bolt and fell for something between 8 and 10 meters back past the anchor. His companions patched him up with their first aid kit and the party bailed. They looked spooked and shaken even at a distance.

Pulling in rope after leading one of the steep top pitches. Pumpy!
Arne coming up past the overhang.
Arne leading the crux pitch.

Arne and I topped out and were on our first rappel back down when it started raining. It was just a fizzle and barely enough to wet the rock for a few minutes, but it confirmed our timing and our choice of going here rather than to the North face we originally wanted to climb. We made quick work of the first few rappels but then missed an anchor and had to improvise because we ran out of rope. Arne down-climbed a few meters unprotected and got us back on track. Except for this little fuckup our maneuvers went very efficiently and we were back at the base of the wall at 5pm. 5 hours of climbing, 2 hours rappelling, 3 hours hiking - I think we got our WHO recommended 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a day this Sunday!

The exit pitch. Not hard, but exposed.
Smiling faces at the top.
Granite world.
Final rappel back over the exact line of the first pitch.
Mission accomplished. For some reason the hike back to the car felt much longer than the hike in.