2016-04-03

Nünalphorn (2385m)

Today I set out to climb the Huetstock (2676m), a difficult snowshoe tour (graded 5 on a scale of 1 to 6) and only possible in very safe snow conditions - 40+ degree slopes are very avalanche prone. I couldn't find a partner, so I left on my own at 5 in the morning. Starting at the trailhead at 6:30 in the first light of day. It quickly became apparent that snow conditions were anything but good. I expected the snow to be frozen and only thaw around noon. Instead it was heavy wet slush from the get go.

Decision time. Left for the Nünalphorn, right for the Huetstock.
First big debris field.
And another one.

I could see avalanche debris on the slopes all around me. And of course I had to break trail all the way, no tracks of either snowshoes or skis. Trying to stick to my original objective under these circumstances seemed suicidal. Thus I changed course and headed through pathless terrain and steep avalanche slopes towards the Juchli pass with the intention of climbing the Nünalphorn (2385m).

Smiling because I made it through a steep couloir.
Lonely tracks.
Careful on the cornices. View towards Engelberg.

Once the first rays of sun hit the slopes around 10 it started avalanching. I didn't witness anything major, but blocks of snow came tumbling down the slopes at a frightening rate. Time to get off the mountain! I summited at 10:30 and lost no time turning around.

The original objective. I'm sure glad I'm not on that ridge in this wind.
Nünalphorn summit.
The entire slope is avalanching.

The wind picked up dramatically. To the point where I was staggering against it and had to lean in with all my weight not to be blown over. Better get off the ridge quickly... I tried shooting a video of my hiking pole blowing horizontally in the wind while hanging loosely of my wrist loop. Just then a gust of wind knocked me over on all fours. No more mucking around with video - evacuate!

Looking back towards the Nünalphorn summit. You have to admire the cliffs below the ridge - some of them were vastly overhanging.
Making my way down. I triggered those snow slides.
More avalanches.

The gear loops on my backpack and my jacket are flapping violently, making staccato noises like machine guns. I choose a different route for the decent, this time following an actual trail. I thought this might be easier and safer than choosing my own route again. It turns out this is only partially true. The trail is really steep and the metal stairs and wires that normally defuse it are buried under slippery wet snow.

A supposedly easy trail. It's steeper than it looks.
Sugar beets or yet another avalanche?
This road has been swept away.

Even the dirt road which I reach eventually doesn't offer much of a repose. It is almost completely buried in avalanche debris. So I head across steep meadows instead. When I reach the car my knee is hurting from one of the many unseen holes hidden under the snow that caught and twisted my leg. And I've broken one of my hiking poles for the same reason. Treacherous!

Ah well, on the bright side I made it back home at just half past two, leaving me with almost an entire day left to spent and see Anita off before she goes on a three day trip with her colleagues ;-)

14km, 1830m elevation gain