2013-03-18

Stanserhorn (1898m) Snowshoe Hike

It was my birthday on Saturday. Anita treated me to a very luxurious breakfast, including a self made Black Forest cake. Afterwards she accompanied me to a boulder gym we had never been to before and had secretly organized the Google climbing gang to be there as well. So we had a very intense and very fun bouldering session. After a thorough workout we went to a Moroccan restaurant where more people joined. The evening ended with mixing cocktails at Hanna's place where we played multiplayer gladiator games on the PS3. Lots of hilarity ensued while people energetically and enthusiastically wielded the controllers and "spanked" each other (Hanna's favorite winning move).

The gang.
Anita contemplating the view over Lake Lucerne and Horw.

We got up at 7 o'clock the next morning and met Björn, Gintare and Linus at Adliswil train station where I had rented a mobility car sharing car. We drove to lake Lucerne in order to climb the Stanserhorn (1898m) with snowshoes. An undertaking which should develop into the longest, steepest and most dangerous snowshoe hike for me yet.

Linus.
Quick rest at a cable car mast.
Björn.
Gintare.

It started out innocent enough. In fact it was downright boring. The trail leading away from the cable car base station Chälti at 710m (which isn't running at this time of year) is well developed with a nice and constant incline. We didn't even need the snowshoes at first. Reaching the last hut at 1215m a sign tells us the trail to the summit is closed, stating no reason.

Believe it or not...
... I took these before it actually got steep.

Of course we ignore the sign and push on. The snow cover is good, stable and allows for easy walking. It is quite steep, but since we didn't have any fresh snow in recent days and the SLF (Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research) judges the avalanche risk as "moderate" we think we can dare it.

Stanserhorn (1898m) summit.

We reach the summit with no major incidents. It is windy and chilly and we seek shelter on the terrace of the deserted and boarded up restaurant on top. For our way down we hike along the east ridge, trying to find the summer trail leading back to our car. We find the signpost all-right. But the trail is nowhere to be seen. Even when standing right on top of one of the trail markers and my GPS confirming my position to be correct the trail is completely eradicated by snow and ice.

With the day getting warmer snow conditions have deteriorated. We have about 15 centimeters of wet slush on top of a layer of ice. It is very slippery and very avalanche prone. The snow is sticky and quickly accumulates if you set it in motion. Since following the "trail" doesn't make much sense we head straight down instead. Björn and me are leading the way, looking for a way out.

This slope was all fun and games and running/tumbling in the snow.

The slope is very steep and we mostly go down backwards on all fours, cutting steps along the way. There are parts where I can stand upright and touch the ground with my arm stretched out straight in front of me. My map shows cliffs in most spots immediately below me. I aim for a narrow gorge that looks passable on the map...

"Do not rest". No kidding.

While scouting for an exit while scrambling with Jutta years ago I got notorious for coining the phrase "Links ist spannend, rechts könnte gehen" ("Tricky to the left, right looks doable"). Unfortunately this time it's more like: "Tricky to the left, suicidal to the right". We decide to bail and scramble back up to the ridge.

We are still almost at summit altitude, it is much too late in the day and we have expended a lot of our energy and most of our water. And it is still not obvious how to get down from here. Not a good position to be in.

We start melting snow by filling our bottles and putting them inside our jackets. Following the ridge all the way to Blatti at 1564m we are on another non-existent "trail". We follow it for a short while until deciding that it doesn't help us much as traversing in these conditions is actually more work than going straight down. So off we go. It is very steep and we are again crawling down on all fours, setting off minor snow slides as we go.

Beautiful as it may be - you do not want to see such a view while still high on the mountain. I was busy during the actual descent, so no pictures from our scrambling. The orange dots are Linus and Gintare ;-)

Björn and me are leading the way and set up a sort of relay in the trickiest spots, guiding the others through them. When we finally emerge out of the steepest area onto a meadow it is quickly getting dark. Fortunately we've got four head torches between the five of us and manage to get down to the safety of a forestry road. From there it is a 4km hike back to our car. The road is blocked in several places by avalanches, some carrying a load of rocks with their snow.

At the end we've been hiking for a full twelve hours from 9 to 9. Huge credit to the group for remaining calm, constructive and collected in the face of danger and reaching physical and mental limits.

Returning home is a race against the clock - and I get flashed for it ;-/ We need to return the car at ten and the pizza delivery service also closes at that time. So we order pizza from the car and I park it just 2 minutes before the deadline. We all have a shower at our place and the pizza boy rings just in time. Unharmed, with a pizza and beer in our bellies the day starts to feel like a great adventure.

~15km, ~1700m up and down