2015-10-17

Montalin (2266m)

I had a small good weather window on Saturday. My plan was to hike the entire Schanfigg ridge in Grisons near Chur. This would have made it an extreme endurance tour of about 3000 meters elevation gain. At this time of year it's hard to judge the weather situation correctly so I kept checking local webcams, trying to figure out how much snow there was in the mountains. Turns out I underestimated that drastically ;-)

Sunrise.

I started at sunrise in the tiny village of Maladers at 1000m altitude. It only took a few hundred meters and I was already walking on snow. I discovered lots of ibex tracks in the snow near the Fürhörnli at 1888m. It seemed to be one of their resting places, at least it looked like they had made camp there. Ten minutes later I met two hunters in white camouflage suits. We had a brief chat and they were indeed going after an ibex. I didn't see it, but I heard a shot echo out through the mountains a little while later, so apparently I didn't scare away all of their prey.

The faint diagonal line across the face is the trail. It's every bit as intimidating as it looks. And then some.
Google Earth summer rendering of my GPS track through the face.

After I left the hunters behind me I was breaking trail in virgin snow. Up to knee deep and fresh, not properly settled yet. I crossed lots of small snow slides and avalanche debris. The Montalin South bluff loomed menacingly in front of me. The trail cutting across it is a white-blue-white, difficult, one. Up to 45 degrees steep with an exposure of a few hundred meters it was covered in a brittle layer of slippery snow. Dicey.

Treacherous terrain.
Looking a bit stressed out after scrambling up the slope behind me.

Despite taking full advantage of my GPS I often lost the faint trail beneath the snow. This left me scrambling up the face directly, cutting through switch backs. Progress was slow and tedious. I had to cut individual steps and carefully balance my weight between my feet and the hiking poles. Any misstep here would have dire consequences. As would trusting the wrong lump of snow. In summer or on solid snow using crampons this would be a complete non-issue. As it was it was nerve wracking. Downclimbing in such conditions is even more difficult and dangerous, so I figured my best escape was over the summit. No turning back now.

Summit panorama.

It was a relief when I finally topped out. Inspecting my intended route ahead I quickly abandoned the idea of continuing along the ridge and decided to go down instead. In these conditions the ridge would have been suicidal. Not to mention exhausting. An icy wind was blowing on the summit and leaden clouds were looming above. It looked like it might start snowing any minute. I signed the summit book and started on my descent towards the East. Much easier terrain. In fact, a gentle slope and knee deep fresh powder made it a joy to just run down the mountain in a straight line. Looks like a perfect area for ski touring. A lone hiker passed me on the way up. A local on his eightieth ascent of the mountain. Rock on dude!

The ridge line ahead. Project for another time.
Frozen lake.
Fresh avalanche path. Not much weight yet, but easily enough to swipe you off the mountain.

Once I regained a good dirt track I met another hunter and his young dog in training. This guy carried a shotgun and was going for hares. However, he was quite old and mostly seemed interested in a good hike outdoors with his dog rather than actually shooting anything. Just when I arrived back at my car the surrounding mountain tops disappeared in clouds and it started raining. Good timing!

  • ~+-1300m
  • ~15km