2014-08-16

Rheinwaldhorn (3402m)

I have attempted the Rheinwaldhorn before. I had to turn around because of bad weather and buckets of fresh snow. This time things turned out much better. Vladimír and Nicola had friends from the Czech Republic, Michaela and Filip, visiting, and wanted to show them the local mountains. Andrey and I were recruited as guides. With six people we took two cars to get to our starting point of Dangio. We shuttled the second one to our intended destination, the dam at the Lago di Luzzone. Despite a late start (due to the unavoidable traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel) we made it to the Capanna Adula SAC just in time for dinner.

Nicola, Vladimír, Andrey, Michaela, Filip
Visitors at the hut.
Sun coming up.

Rising with the sun on the next morning we set out to climb the Rheinwaldhorn via the west ridge. It is rated PD- and thus slightly harder than the normal route. It's a rocky ridge with easy scrambling over tall boulders. An exposed traverse is protected by steel cables and the crux, a chimney featuring grade II or III climbing, is equipped with a chain for aid. Eventually we gain the glacier and rope up. For Michaela and Filip it is the first time in crampons. They have been performing exceptionally well thus far though and Filip in particular challenges us to attack the slope head on instead of choosing the regular, easier route. The snow is frozen solid (even at the level of the hut at only 2000 meters the ground was frozen in the morning) and conditions perfect, so we decide to go for a little adventure. It is very steep, so we can only use the front points of our crampons and need to utilize the ice ax to full effect. We top out on the ridge right next to the summit. Just five hours after starting from the hut we sign the summit book at 11 o'clock in the morning. Perfect weather with not a cloud in sight. Weird Kneipp feeling - the sun shines nice and warm while the breeze cuts ice cold and sitting on the rocks makes you shiver.

Filip
Andrey in front of the scrambling ridge.
Nicola in the crux.

Unfortunately we've timed it so we share the summit with a crowd of people who came up via the normal route. We share that route for the descent. It's a long traverse over the glacier. The reflecting sun makes us heat up as if in a frying pan. The Italian speaking crowd in front of us is hollering and shouting and chatting noisily. Very uncharacteristic for mountain people ;-) We are faster than them though and quickly on our own again. We return to the hut, have some soup, pick up our sleeping gear and head out via a long valley to the North. It turns into a painful experience for me. This being the first proper mountaineering trip after the accident my injured foot is still far from healed. It didn't like the sideways strain from traversing in crampons and I'm paying the price now. Also, I have likely broken my good foot during our Canada vacation just three weeks earlier (different story for another post), so I'm basically hiking on two broken feet. Not recommended.

Filip scrambling through the crux.
Roping up for the glacier.

Arriving at the Lago di Luzzone we have to cross the dam to get to our car. An impressive structure. At 165 meters tall it features the world's largest artificial climbing route. I'm not whimpy with heights at all, but the exposure and sheer scale of this thing does give one pause.

Andrey in steep ice just below the summit ridge.
Summit!
Yours truly.

Great trip in great company. I'm especially impressed at how well our mountain newbie guests held up. Well done all around!

~+2600m, -2000m ~30km

On the highway down.
Compare the real thing...
...to the fake.
Andrey.
Long way back through that valley...
Vertigo anyone?

2014-08-02

Wichelhorn (2767m)

My best friend from high school days, Thomas, flew in from Rostock to visit for five days. I was still jet-lagged from an intense three week vacation in Canada, so we took it slow the first two days. We did the Google office tour; a stroll around Zürich; a hike up our "Hausberg" Uetli; a boat ride on lake Zürich; a relaxing afternoon in the spa; and a BBQ night watching the first of August Swiss National Day fireworks from our balcony. Of course we also had to climb a mountain ;-)

On lake Zürich.

I picked the Wichelhorn. A peak I hadn't climbed yet, but which I knew to be in a very rugged and dramatically steep area of the Alps. The hike is rated T4, definitely challenging for a beginner, but who doesn't like a bit of adventure on their days off? We took the car to the tiny village of Intschi. I hadn't considered that it sits on the very last couple of kilometers before the Gotthard tunnel - the traffic bottleneck of the Alps. Consequently we wasted almost an hour waiting around in a traffic jam caused by a tunnel we didn't even want to go through. Oh well.

Our objective. You can just make out the summit cross.
View from the hut.
The Niedersee just below the hut - unreal colors.

The weather forecast predicted lots of rain and occasional thunderstorms. We got lucky. While it was very cloudy it only drizzled lightly a couple of times, not even enough to make us don our rain gear. Once we returned on Sunday though it started pouring buckets as soon as we were back in the car. Perfect timing. This had the nice consequence that the Leutschach hut, where we stayed from Saturday to Sunday, was nearly deserted. Most people had cancelled their reservations. We shared a bottle of wine with an architect and a photographer from Germany and spent a nice evening in the hut together.

Our new friends taking advantage of the steps we cut.
Capricorn showing us how it's done.

Finding the hut was a bit funny. And embarrassing. We hiked the shortest, most direct route without any detours (I have a GPS recording to prove it). The whole way I was disoriented on our map though and believed us to be somewhere else. So I kept telling Thomas we still had at least an hour or so to go when we suddenly found ourselves on the doorstep of the hut. A good motivational technique - he took it as a welcome surprise ;-)

Thomas scrambling up the ridge.
Summit!

After a comfortably late start at 7:30 we set out to the Wichelpass at 2558m. The two Germans from the night before accompanied us this far but continued on west towards the Sewen hut. We started our way up the rocky ridge towards the summit. The crux at the very beginning of the route has been defused by a metal ladder. The rest is easy scrambling over boulders. We encountered two ibexes but otherwise had the summit to ourselves. The last entry in the summit book was four days old. After a relatively short stay (it was cold and windy with threatening dark clouds) we returned to the pass and went down the mountain on the other side from where we came up, completing the circle back to our car.

Great trip with a great friend - thanks for visiting!
~23km
~+-2200m

"Thomas hat kein Bock mehr und will nur noch nach Hause!" ;-)

2014-06-29

Pilatus - Esel (2119m)

Anna and Bernd stayed with us over the weekend. We did a 4.5 hour warm up hike on Saturday and had dinner in the most excellent Hiltl. It claims to be the world's first vegetarian restaurant and offers a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet (and I'm a carnivore!). We stuffed ourselves to the point of queasiness. Highly recommended.

Photogenic dog is photogenic.
Binge eating casualties.

Anita had her final service in Horw on Sunday. It was very nice with heartily speeches and lots of presents. Since she had never been on the top of Pilatus, the landmark mountain of Lucerne, visible from her office window, we intended to hike that as farewell. Unfortunately it was raining and the weather forecast had predicted heavy thunderstorms. During the apéro the locals advised us to wait for a better day. Of course we didn't listen and set out from Holderchäppeli.

Klimsenhorn chapel.
Bernd
Anna

It turned into a beautiful hike. Windy, with clouds boiling up over the ridges. Very dramatic. While it did rain a little bit occasionally, we stayed mostly dry. Cold, but dry. We even got lucky and the clouds parted to reveal beautiful vistas and rainbows over lake Lucerne just when we reached the summit. Anita wasn't feeling so well and went down the mountain in the cog wheel train. The rest of us hiked back down to our car. Our trusty companion, sheepdog Rappa, had been on her best behaviour for the entire trip. Until we nearly ran into a capricorn that is. We had seen a few before, but for some reason this guy tickled something in her and it led to a furious chase over steep gravel slopes. I was afraid it would end in the death of both of them, but after a while Rappa returned - knowing full well that she overstepped the line.

Rappa was fascinated kicking rocks down the slope.
Anita
Pilatus summit "Esel".

Anna and Bernd are both foresters and very knowledgeable in botany. They kept exclaiming excited "ahhs" and "ohhs" whenever they discovered a new plant and were constantly quizzing one another for the latin names. Bernd in particular kept running up and down the slopes in search of more botanical marvels. I kept joking that he behaved like a young dog chasing into the bushes at every opportunity, covering twice the distance as everybody else ;-)

The last few minutes back to the car felt like walking into Mordor. Lightning was parting the sky and dark clouds rolled in, dimming the daylight. Perfect timing ;-)

~20km, +1250m, -1250m