2014-09-13

Dom (4545m) via Festigrat (PD+)

The weather forecast for this weekend promised perfectly clear skies and no wind. So I called ahead to reserve a spot in the Dom hut for Andrey, Ralf and me. I was surprised to learn that we might not get breakfast on Monday as the hut is closing down for the end of the season. At nearly 3000m altitude I guess that's fair - not much higher and you enter the magical world of eternal winter. The approach route is probably the most beautiful I've hiked yet. It starts in the pittoresque village of Randa and after leaving the forest offers some almost via-ferrata like scrambling up steep slopes.

The village of Randa.
The Monarch: Matterhorn.
Steep approach.
Domhütte at 2936m.

The hut is freshly renovated and extremely comfortable with only four bunk beds to a room. After arriving we have some soup and continue on higher for an acclimatization climb. Trying to climb to an altitude of 4545m on a single weekend without any acclimatization is an extremely tight schedule and a gamble. We want to minimize the risk as much as possible. So we hike up to the Festi glacier serving the double purpose of acclimatization and scouting the route for the morning where we'll be starting in the dark.

View from the hut - not shabby!
Andrey posing for the ladies.
The mighty Weisshorn.
Matterhorn.

We wake up for a mountaineer's breakfast at 3:30 in the morning. Leaving the hut in the pale light of our head torches we slowly make our way up frozen ground to the glacier. We don crampons and rope up and ascend to the Festi saddle at 3723m. This features some easy rock climbing and a decision: Either continue down the other side and up again over the Hobärg glacier, following the normal route, or head straight up the more challenging Festi ridge.

Early morning on the glacier.

The Festi ridge is steep but in perfect condition. The snow is solid with good tracks to follow and there are no blank ice or rocky sections. The air is thin up here. There is a saying in German "dicke Luft" meaning a bad atmosphere or bad mood. I'm starting to think thick air, as it would be translated literally, isn't all that bad after all! The rule of thumb is that you lose about 10% atmospheric pressure for every thousand meters of altitude. This means our lungs are now pumping at about twice the rate they're used to.

Summit pyramid.
Ralf.
Andrey.
Panorama. Matterhorn not so dominant anymore ;-)

We reach the summit at around 9:45 in the morning. It features a small plateau and the summit cross about 15m away. It may not sound like much but these particular 15m pack quite a punch! A lot of people stop here and do not go all the way. You have to balance on a razor sharp ridge over steep slopes. A fall in either direction would end on the glacier 800m below. Better not sneeze or stumble... All three of us walk the plank and we shake hands at the cross.

The walk of fame.
Seracs on the way down.
Ascent route visible to the right. We came down the glacier on the left and had to cross below the menacing serac - quickly.

On the way down the steep summit pyramid I have tears in my eyes. Not all of them due to sunscreen and sweat. My injured foot and hand from my fall in November will remain crippled for life. Still being able to enjoy the mountains I love so much and measure myself against these kinds of benchmark problems has huge psychological value for me.

Andrey not feeling well. Dom in the background.
Don't worry about crevassess - you'll be fine ;-)

Instead of retracing our steps on the way down we descend via the normal route. A good decision as it is much less steep and exposed. Andrey is suffering from altitude sickness, giving him a headache, nausea and dizziness. He's stumbling and falling often. Just goes to show how randomly this strikes. Andrey is very likely the fittest of the three of us and Ralf and I are feeling fine. The only cure is to descend quickly, which is what we are doing anyways. Once we reach the base of the Festi glacier and get out of our crampons Andrey throws up violently. He is feeling much better immediately afterwards, so I guess that was good.

Always taking center stage. Guess I'll have to climb it too ;-)
View from the hut window.

Celebrating our success back at the hut Andrey surprises us by saying he wants to go back to Zürich right away to be on time for a meeting on Monday. We are trying to talk him out of it, but alas, he leaves. Ralf and I spend a relaxed afternoon at the hut which is emptying rapidly. At some point I feel a bit uncomfortable as it seems we are now the only guests and maybe should be leaving as well. Instead we take it easy and descend on Monday morning. The crew at the hut is preparing everything for winter and we see the supply helicopter landing directly in front of our window.

Awesome trip in fantastically beautiful surroundings. The weather and mountain were as perfect as you could possibly wish for. Thank you Ralf and Andrey for making this possible. Always an honour to share a rope with you. Special credits to Ralf for carrying the rope most of the way and being a diligent rope leader "on the sharp end".
~30km, ~+-3300m

And a video of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner climbing the same mountain:

2014-09-07

Fürenalp (1845m)

Anita started a new job at the beginning of the month. Her colleagues gave her a voucher for the cable car and lunch at the Fürenalp as a farewell present. Since this is her last free weekend for the entire rest of the year we decided to redeem it. We were lucky with the weather and had the sunniest weekend in weeks. We were less lucky with our car. Apparently we are not using it enough, so despite being only 2 years old, the battery was dead in the morning. The service guy was quick though and a jumper cable fixed the problem in minutes.

Paraglider in front of the mighty Titlis East Face. Last year Matthias Trottmann managed to free Hattori Hanzo in the North Face visible to the right. At 8b+ likely the hardest multi pitch route in the Alps...

Of course I wouldn't take the cable car up a mountain so Anita chose the scenic Panorama-Weg starting in Engelberg. It traverses the Hahnen (2606m) and Wissberg (2627m) and offers beautiful vistas over the Engelberg valley and surrounding steep mountain faces. Despite me nagging and pushing to "just take a quick detour" (up a T5 trail...) we settle on just going to the restaurant.

Schlossberg South Face. Tom Rohrer, stewart of the Spannort hut (which is just visible in this picture if you squint), has been working on a route through it for a few years. Before my accident Andrey and I intended to climb it... It's estimated 6a+. But loooong. there is a tiny yellow boulder in the scree, where I worked myself out on a single pitch 6c (The last picture here).
Gross Spannort.
Not too shabby a view.
This is Switzerland after all ;-)

After a huge meal (awesome present - thanks Horw!) we take the steepest cable car I've ever been on down to the valley floor. It's more like an escalator than a cable car, passing over a near vertical cliff. It's a very popular location for paragliders. Usually this looks like a relaxed sport, gracefully circling in the air. There are a few hardcores here though. Their kites are tiny and they fly insanely close to the cliffs, taking only a minute or so to go down the entire mountain. Seems to be a cross between base jumping wing suits and paragliding.

+900m, ~19km

2014-08-31

Torrone di Nav (2832m)

Ralf had discovered a beautifully shaped rocky peak on one of his trips in Ticino. He invited Andrey, Ivan and me to climb it on Sunday. The weather forecast for most of Switzerland was pretty abysmal (as Ralf correctly pointed out on the highway: it was warmer last Christmas than now at the end of August). So we were hoping for a lucky break on the South side of the alps. Ticino has some very wild and pristine mountains and the Torrone di Nav, the pyramid Ralf fell in love with, is no exception. It is graded T5, a challenging alpine hike, and there are no marked trails for either the approach or the actual climb. We start from a parking lot at the base of the mountain and immediately head into some bushwhacking action through the bushes up steep meadows. Once we gain the ridge the going gets a lot easier. First glances at our chosen destination make us wonder where and how it should even be possible to get up there.

Bushwhacking.
Finding my way. (photo by Andrey)
Lago di Luzzone.
Torrone di Nav; also known as a beauty of a mountain; also known as scary fucking steep.

We scramble through the large scree field and don our harnesses and helmets. We won't use the rope in the end, but helmets are a good idea - with four of us climbing through loose rock some grenades are unavoidable (or so the Russians, who keep throwing rocks at me, claim). Route finding proves to be challenging. Andrey climbs up the wrong slab at one point and is stuck for a while until he figures out a safe way to traverse. Definitely not easy terrain. There are no markers except for very few cairns. The only other people we see are two hunters on the slopes below us. The summit is crowned by the cutest summit cross I have ever seen, standing only some 20 centimeters tall it seems very nimble in these rough surroundings. The summit book from the year 2000 has only a single page filled for the entire year 2014. Only a handful of people have stood here.

Last stop before it gets interesting.
Scrambling through the scree.
Steep slabs at the base.

We don't waste much time as clouds are moving in from below and we are worried about having to climb down on wet terrain. It is very exposed and the steep slabs could easily turn into deadly water slides. We are back in the debris field at the base when the first drops of rain start falling. Retracing our steps back over the grassy ridge we came turns out to be surprisingly tricky. Dense clouds turn the world into a contourless gray mass. We have to consult the GPS a couple of times to reassure ourselves we are still on track. We have successfully exploited the only small window of good weather of the day. It is pouring for the entire three hour drive back home.

Ralf with the summit cross.
The gang.
2014 in its entirety.
Exciting traverse on the way down. (photo by Ralf)
Andrey. (photo by Ralf)
Always look on the bright side: rain has some advantages ;-)

Awesome trip up a beautiful mountain. Thanks to Ralf for discovering and researching this and putting the trip together. A very strong group and a novel experience for me - for once I was the weak link in the chain and others had to wait for me.
~1400m, ~9km

Fake.
The real thing.