HPV summit attempt

We had the first week of real snow so Andrey and I set out for a snow shoe hike up the Fluebrig. To make it more interesting/challenging I decided to attempt an HPV (human powered vehicle) expedition. Thus we biked to the mountain and back. In my mind we'd have perfectly dry asphalt roads right up to the mountain where it would immediately turn into deep snow. Surprisingly that's not quite how it turned out. Starting at 5:30 in the morning we had about an inch of fresh snow already with more coming down. Since we were sticking to the back roads we were using them before the snow plows had a chance to come through. This proved quite challenging. We'd slip and slide, spend a lot of energy on otherwise easy ascents and fight with clogged and frozen gear shifts. Our water bottles turned to ice and we generally had a mighty good time ;-)

Arriving at the mountain we parked our bikes at the woodshed of a local who was feeding his rabbits and donned our snow shoes. This too, proved more exhausting than anticipated since the snow was very deep, very fluffy and we were the first to break a trail. Plowing our way through, sometimes up to our balls in the white stuff, we made it to the Fläschlihöchi at 1368m. It was at this point that we wisely decided to change our destination to a more modest peak. The original plan had us going up the Diethelm at 2092m. However, it was already too late in the day, we had expended too much energy and the required steep traverse looked too dangerous considering that the avalanche bulletin had issued a significant/severe warning level for the area. So we hiked a long and quite beautiful ridge to the Rosenhöchi at 1507m instead.

Back down and on our bikes we started to ride back. This proved to be by far the most dangerous part of the trip. There was some kind of rush hour going on from people driving home from skiing trips. Motorists don't seem to fully appreciate how fragile a bicycle (or car for that matter) handles on frozen roads when you only have very few square inches of contact with the ground. Even 20km/h on a downhill ride are breakneck speeds when every little ditch or crack in the road will throw you without so much as a split second warning. I could hardly see anything, my glasses and puny bicycle lamp being baked with snow, being alternately blinded by oncoming traffic followed by complete darkness. Brakes nearly useless because of wet rims and fingers frozen too stiff to use them effectively anyways. Yet cars would pass so close I could touch them by simply lifting my pinky from the handle bar. Reckless fuckers showered us in slush too.

Coming home I was completely exhausted. Sitting on the warm cozy nice and soft naked concrete floor of my basement, getting out of my gators and hiking boots, it required a conscious effort not to fall asleep right then and there. Instead I had a hot bath and dropped into bed. Slept from 9 to 9, only getting up briefly at 2 in the morning to have some food ;-) Andrey actually spent Monday at home for rejuvenation. I went to work and to the climbing gym afterwards.

In total we traveled from 5:30 to 19:45, cycling more than 90km covering 800m elevation up and down. Another 10km and 700m elevation gain in snow shoes served as dessert.

Great adventure, great fun! Props to Andrey for being a strong and cool companion.

All photos here.


Schiberg (2043m), Plattenberg (2082m)

When you step out of the bus and see your destination for the first time it's intimidating. The mountain towers huge, insurmountable cliffs, peak somewhere far in the distance, hidden in clouds. Impossible!

Yet at the same time you get swept with anticipation, you've done this before, you know how this works. So you set out. Carefully measured breaths, preserving your strength. You warm up to it, find your rhythm. Step by step the mountain shrinks under you. Before you know it there's nowhere left to go - you are on top. You smile. And turn around.

Back home in the soaking hot water of your bathtub a satisfying kind of exhaustion takes hold of you. A smug feeling of pride. You remember today's rest between the sheer vertical rock. Perfect silence, perfect solitude. How majestic, how humbling, how ancient it was. You are spent, the mountain barely noticed. Infinitely patient, safe in the knowledge that it'll always win in the end.

See you next time puny human.

The weather forecast predicted rain, strong winds and snow from 1700m onwards. It proved accurate. I chose some smaller mountains to accommodate. Still turned out to be quite challenging. For one thing the wind, when tunneled between the cliffs, was so strong it made breathing difficult. At times I was literally swaying, trying to find my footing. The trail was quite spectacular, following very exposed ridges and steep traverses. It was also closed due to the slippery wet snow. I didn't know and the signs were only just below the summit (hint: if you mean it, post warnings at the trailhead instead of halfway through!), so I went ahead anyways. Crampons and ice ax were sorely needed, but other than that it proved quite doable.

Startled by some mighty rumble I witnessed several larger rockfalls. Impressive. The mountains seem to have an unlimited supply of debris and gravel. At least it keeps piling up at their feet while they don't seem to change their face at all.

I reached the second summit around 1 o'clock and intended to climb two more. However while the weather was just mildly uncomfortable getting here it turned positively annoying now. A complete whiteout with snow drifting horizontally and piercing my face. With only about 3.5 hours of daylight left I decided to call it quits. And promptly got rewarded with the weather clearing up ;-)

This is the very first hike where I actually looked up the public transportation return schedule and had my ticket booked in advance. So I ran the last 10 minutes on the road to arrive just on time with the bus. Only to have the driver come out and say: "Oh yeah, this is the weekend schedule, no trip for another hour. The information on the internet is wrong.". Grmpf. Next time I'll just wing it again, then I'm at least not feeling rushed.

  • Hiking time: 7h (8:00-15:00)
  • Distance: 22km
  • Elevation gain/loss: 1400m
All photos here


Uri Rotstock (2928m)

Another day, another hill. Uri Rotstock, 2928m. It is a neighbour to the Engelberger Rotstock, which I attempted before but had to turn around because the snow was too bad. Fast forward a couple of weeks in which Switzerland had very dry and relatively warm weather (in fact, the river Rhine in Germany carries low water because of this, giving commercial shipping a hard time) giving me hope there'll be less snow in the area this time.

As usual I leave with the first train in the morning at 5:35. This is pretty much a necessity nowadays because of the sun, the lazy slacker. Sunrise at 7:40, sun down 16:41. So I'll be racing the daylight.

Even getting to the mountain is an adventure today. The Postauto (a regular bus) climbs up the narrow and winding road with mere inches to a vertical drop on one side and sheer rock on the other. The road is closed for all other traffic whenever the bus is scheduled to be there. Great respect for the driver, this stunt would totally stress me out. He on the other hand was cheerily listening to Swiss traditional accordion folk music at full blast. We'd stop along the way several times, delivering the mail and picking up cans of milks from the farmers.
If you are looking for a memorable public transportation experience sometime I recommend taking the bus to St. Jakobs, Isenthal: http://g.co/maps/7xr34

I'd like to think that by now I'm reasonably fit. I usually overtake other hikers and beat the posted reference times by a healthy margin, especially considering that the given times only account for moving time while I include all rest and photo stops. I was thoroughly humiliated today though. About halfway up the mountain a couple overtook me from behind and kept increasing the distance between us, all the while casually chatting with each other. By the time I reached the summit they were already heading back down again, having beat me by about an hour or so. No way I could have kept pace...

I met a couple of people on the summit, among them a trio from Germany who camped on the mountain in order to summit today. We had a nice chat and shared their summit rum and my summit chocolate. One of them had ripped his trousers, leaving a huge tear in his crotch. He continuously stuffed a scarf down his pants trying to close the hole against the icy wind. Looked kinda funny ;-)

Since I hate going the same way twice I chose to descend on the other side of the mountain. I was apparently the only one to do so in quite some time. The reason was obvious almost immediately: This side is in shadow most of the time and is covered in huge snow fields. It's also much steeper and the trailmarkers difficult to find. It also features lots of frozen creeks and water slides you have to negotiate. While I didn't need them on the way up I was very glad I brought my crampons, ice axe and gators. It would have been suicidal trying to climb this without. The trail is rated a T5 challenging alpine level hike in the best of conditions. Funny really. So far I've encountered something new on every single hike. Non-stop rain, scorching sun, thunderstorms, wet snow up to my balls, mudslides, dust, rivers of ice... Lots to learn still - the mountains never get old ;-)

Back in the tiny village of Isenthal I got informed by one of the locals that I had missed the last bus out (it was 17:30!). I couldn't really confirm this from the indecipherable mess of a time schedule (seriously - who designs these things?! One needs a PhD just to know when the bus arrives). In any case I had just resolved to another couple of hours of boring and strenuous street hiking when the first car I flagged stopped and two nice ladies drove me down to the train station. All three of us were surprised by the seemingly insurmountable language barrier. They couldn't understand my high German and I couldn't decipher their Switzerdütsch. So much for speaking "the same language".

In the train back I shared a coach with lots of recruits on their way back from the weekend to their barracks. Switzerland is peculiar in this regard since they carry their weapons on them at all times. So I was sitting between a bunch of 18 year olds trying to stow their assault rifles out of the way. Many resorted to simply using them as foot rests. Strange sight to behold.


  • 28km distance
  • ~2000m elevation gain, ~2200m elevation loss
  • 8:15h hiking time
  • half a kilogram of chocolate consumed

2011-11-27 Uri Rotstock


Säntis (2502m), Girenspitz (2448m)

I was feeling sick the whole week with a sore throat, a cough and a runny nose. Thus I picked an easy peak for the weekend: Säntis (2502m), the highest point of two cantons. Nice and easy trails, very little snow. Time to summit was given with 5:50 hours. I started at 8:15 and by 13:15 I was already coming down from the second peak that day, the Girenspitz (2448m) on which I had rested for about 45 minutes after escaping from the Säntis summit. They have detonated the whole peak and replaced it with a six story tall block of concrete, turning it into a huge tourist center. Even now, outside prime season, the place was crawling with people. Very anti-climatic for a summit experience. I briefly talked with an old lady who congratulated me for actually hiking up the mountain and told me about her mountain excursions in younger years.

The road leading to the cable car base station is a cul de sac. Despite that it was still cursed with heavy traffic which echoed up the whole mountain (it's apparently very popular amongst motor bikers. Not the right way to experience a mountain IMHO. Especially when public transportation works as flawlessly as it does here. I had to change trains/busses multiple times today and didn't plan ahead at all. Still I never had to wait for more than 2 minutes. The connections worked flawlessly.

Lots of signs on the trails and on the peak itself warning people when they are leaving the air conditioned Disney land and entering the alpine. Still you'd see lots of idiots scrambling around on high heels and sneakers. Apparently a third of all mountain deaths happen while hiking. I hope most of these are accounted for by clueless folks like these. I've met some pretty cool folks too though. A family with two young kids who ran up the rocks as if it was nothing. They were secured in climbing harnesses and generelly seemed well equipped.

Weather was surprisingly mild for November. Except for the peak itself where a strong wind cooled you down it was warm and sunny. I climbed 1643m and descended 1224m, covering a distance of 20km. I arrived at the bus station by 15:15, so the whole trip took 7 hours. I did very much feel that I'm operating at reduced capacity though, felt beat for about twice the distance.

Learned a new concept too. Apparently Säntis is an "Ultra" peak, meaning its prominence over the surrounding area is more than 1500m. There are only 1524 such mountains in the world, so I think that makes a worthwhile todo list ;-)

All photos here.


Wiggis (2282m) and Rautispitz (2283m)

Volker, an old friend of mine from Germany, visited me over the weekend. We hiked Wiggis (2282m) and Rautispitz (2283m), leaving my apartment at 6:30 in the morning and coming back 22:30 in the evening. Almost 12 hours of straight hiking in between. Beautiful weather with bright blue skies and freezing temperatures. I wisely chose two smaller peaks because we had quite some snow in the preceding weeks and I wasn't sure about the conditions on top. We had to cross some patches of snow and particularly the north faces presented quite a bit of scrambling action. It proved difficult to stay on trail sometimes because most markers were hidden below the snow and we were often the first to leave tracks.

We had one "interesting" traverse to solve. A steep section just below the peak of Wiggis to reach the ridge between Wiggis and Rautispitz. Although we met some other hikers no one dared going there. Luckily we brought crampons (thanks for borrowing Steffen!) and managed to negotiate the difficulty. A very steep slope over a ~1500m drop straight down into the valley. It's usually secured with steel cables which were now all covered with snow and unreachable. A thin layer of powder on top of a hard crust of ice. Quite a technical and psychological challenge so hats off to Volker who managed very well with little alpine experience.
In the end we totaled 2024m elevation gain and loss and a distance of around 30km. Respectable ;-)

After giving Volker the obligatory Google office tour on Sunday we went climbing in the local gym. I managed to clear a long, constantly overhanging VII UIAA route (5.10c for you Americans, 17m high, 13m overhang) while Volker flashed a lot of routes on sight, including an VIII- (5.11b).

All in all a very successful and fun weekend! ;-)

All photos here.


Engelberger Rotstock (2818m), attempt, returned from 2604m

A long day, 17 hours on the road, from 5:20 to 22:20. It got off to a bad start. I didn't sleep well and was feeling sick with a sore throat, running nose and slight case of diarrhea. My desk neighbor at work has been sick and spewing his gems all over me for the last week, so this was probably having an effect by now. The weather looked depressing with low hanging clouds and not a bit of blue sky in sight. Not one to be easily discouraged I still headed out with the goal of climbing the Engelberger Rotstock (2818m). And a good decision it turned out to be!

I started in the valley in the tiny village Oberrickenbach. Ascending through frozen meadows I would soon eclipse the clouds to a stunningly beautiful alpine panorama. Perfectly deep blue sky and the sun shining down on an endless sea of clouds stretching far beyond the horizon. Topped by an almost full moon still hanging in the sky. Dreamlike. The clouds drowned out all the noise coming from the valley so the silence up here was absolute and deafening. Not a bird or insect. No human. No plane, nothing. Mountain tops would peak through the sea of clouds like islands. In fact, you'd be tempted to dive right in and swim a little.

Reaching the first ridge I was supposed to traverse for a while before crossing over to "my" mountain. Unfortunately I missed the trail due to the markers being buried in snow and descended too far. So I had to scramble up again, adding the 200 or so odd meters to my path that I'd needed later. On this side the snow was packed hard and mostly frozen. Good to walk on in crampons. Unfortunately for me, crossing the summit ridge the snow was exposed to the sun and turned to wet slush. Very exhausting to navigate as you'd sink in every step. I was the first one to break a trail which made it even more strenuous. About 200 meters below the summit, at around 4 o clock in the afternoon I decided to give up and turn around. After a climb of almost 2000m, and close to 20km I was quite exhausted in my current almost-sick condition. And even if I turned around immediately I'd get down to the valley in the dark.

I stopped at the Rugghubelhütte on my way down to get some life saving calories. Half a liter of coke for instant revitalization and a big slice of cake with lots of cream. Took me all of two minutes to gulp down ;-) I earned some looks of disbelief when I answered questions of where I just arrived from and where I was going. Apparently everybody else was taking the cable car and sleeping in the hut before even attempting the summit. They thanked me for breaking the trail ;-)

I got slightly sunburned and was glad I brought my new sun glasses. The reflections on the snow would have been blinding otherwise. I have paid 1000CHF (!) for this pair of glasses, making them the most expensive (of any kind) I have ever owned. Disability tax. I need sunglasses suitable for the extra radiation at high altitudes, with a strong UV filter and covering the eyes completely. So far, no problem. But I also need corrective glasses. Problem. For my particular sight issues I had the choice between exactly three models, all equally expensive. I've tried clips to my regular glasses before, but they don't work. They are too small and have issues with fogging and collecting lint between the glasses. So I bit the bullet.

Totals for the day:

30km, 1987m elevation gain, 1887m elevation loss. Hiking time from 8:00 to 19:30, 4 hours of which in crampons. Absolutely perfect weather and some of the most stunningly beautiful vistas yet.

2011-10-15 Engelberger Rotstock

BTW, these were all taken with my new camera: A Nikon D7000 with an AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm lens. I'm still learning the ropes using it. Noticeable difference? If not I can avoid carrying a huge, expensive and unwieldy 1kg chunk of equipment around ;-)


Winter is coming

To quote Game of Thrones: "Winter is coming". I had planned an ambitious hike for today, covering 3 peaks and a long ridge in between. I wouldn't even reach the first one. The weather forecast predicted some amount of fresh snow for the weekend. In reality winter launched a full force frontal assault. There were around 15cm of fresh snow even in the valley. The peaks in the area received more than 80cm (!) and it just kept coming while I was slowly plowing my way upwards. Stuck waist deep in the stuff, wet to the bone, with zero visibility and more than 8 hours to go I decided to call it quits and turn around. And a good decision it was too. If going up was difficult going down proved to be even more so because now you'd start to slip and slide. I was glad that the terrain was still relatively easy and forgiving.

Aside from the snowflakes falling gently and my own steps crunching in the snow it was absolutely silent. This made it even more startling when huge branches would suddenly give in to the weight of the snow and come crashing down. I witnessed a small avalanche on the opposite slope later - another reason why it was probably wise to turn around. The snow was wet, heavy and not properly settled yet. From my limited understanding dangerous avalanche conditions.

~10km, ~800m elevation gain/loss, turned around at ~1600m. Now I have snow shoes on my shopping list ;-)

Photos here

BTW, for reference, this was last week in Germany (26°C):


Bös Fulen (2802m), Ruchen (2901m), Vrenelisgaertli (2904m)

Another great hiking weekend. My original plan was to climb the Bös Fulen on Saturday and think about something to do for Sunday afterwards. However, Steffen asked who'd want to climb the Glärnisch with him on Sunday. "Being in the area" (more on that later) I thought, great! why not? I'll join you. So we agreed to meet at the Glärnisch hut on Saturday.

I left for Linthal at 6 in the morning. Started the hike at 9. On my way up I met a downhill unicyclist (!) and a stampede of cows heading for the valley. I passed the car-free village of Braunwald, home of the famous Braunwald via ferrata. Once I reached the huge Karst formation landscape around the Bös Fulen I continued finding my own way without a marked trail. The Bös Fulen (translates to something like "evil foul") absolutely deserves its name. This is the first mountain yet that wasn't fun to climb and where I was glad to be down again. It's a huge pile of loose gravel of the nastiest kind. You take 2 steps forward and slide 1 back. This is really strenuous and really, really annoying. You take every.single.step. twice. It's also immensely dangerous since you keep getting into more or less minor rock slides that take the ground from under you and move you towards the many vertical drops. The mountain itself is constantly throwing boulders from above, playing darts with you as the target. The tiny glacier at its feet is littered with rocks fallen from above. No wonder I was the first to leave tracks in the snow on the summit ridge and the only one to enter my name into the summit book for 10 days.

In order to reach our meeting point I had to circle the whole mountain and climb to the hut. All in all I'd end the day at around 10 in the evening after almost 13 hours of straight hiking. I covered a distance of more than 35km, climbed more than 3000m (!!!) and descended 1700m. I've outlasted my cell phones batteries so I couldn't accurately track the whole trip via GPS. It was like running a marathon. For that, admittedly, my time wasn't great. On the other hand I was carrying more than 12kg of gear, walked in heavy hiking boots and difficult, partly trailless terrain, gained lots of elevation and had to continue in the dark for two hours. So there ;-) All of that on a handfull of energy bars. By the time I finally arrived at the hut I was starving. Fortunately the crew was so nice as to give me an extra big serving of pasta which revitalized me somewhat. Official dinner time was long over so they cooked extra for me.

I didn't meet either Steffen or Andrey since both of them already went to bed. The hut was crowded. Fortunately I had reserved a spot beforehand and squeezed into the last narrow slot in the bed camp. It was gonna be a short night. The amount of oxygen in the room with 30 people must have been close to zero, despite my earplugs I could hear people snoring and my right and left neighbours would regularly kick me in their sleep. And of course, I'd get up at 5 in the morning anyways...

Early start in the light of our headlamps before dawn. A long line of hikers is leaving the hut - a fluorescent centipede snaking up the narrow trail in the dark. Short stop at the start of the glacier to don crampons and gators, and, for some folks, rope up. We didn't bring any rope, trusting the tracks pioneered by the ones before us. I still broke into a small crevasse with one foot on our way down. Nothing happened, but I had so much forward momentum going fast down the glacier I squeezed and hurt my leg in the ice. Anyway, Steffen's plan had us ascending the Ruchen first. This turned out to be a good idea because that way we could separate from the main crowd and have the summit to ourselves. Very nice climbing, good holds on the rock, not too exposed and mostly very solid. Spectacular views towards lake Klöntal, almost 2000m straight down below us. We enjoyed fantasies of flying ;-)

Scrambling down the Ruchen we headed for the top of the glacier, the entry point to the Schwander ridge. You have to negotiate quite a steep drop to reach the ridge. Fortunately this has been well secured and turned into a short via ferrata section. In fact, the mountain sees so much traffic, that two routes have been installed which are used in a one way fashion. The ridge itself is nice: long and quite exposed with nice views to either side. Unfortunately we only caught glimpses of it because the clouds were moving in. The summit itself was a bit unspectacular because we were standing in the fog and in a crowd of people. There is some sort of fairy tale that gives this peak its name. Something involving a snooty shepherd daughter, a poor boy, a mother-in-law, a garden on the top of the mountain and a curse. Apparently the curse can be lifted if someone in true love kisses the right rock three times. No, we did not go around kissing stone. A sad fact is that the when this tale originated the peak was covered in snow year round. That hasn't been the case for a few years now.

We stopped for some cake at the hut on our way back down. I ordered so much (for myself) that I got two spoons with my plate ;-) Relaxing hike down to the hotel above the lake where we made the 4:30 bus. 1280m climb, 2200m descent, ~21km distance.

Thanks to my companions for a great trip! Looking forwards to going again.

All photos here


Gross Chärpf (2794m)

Revenge! My last attempt climbing the Gross Chärpf failed due to bad weather. The weather forecast this time around wasn't very promising either: overcast and cloudy with strong winds of 55km/h, thunderstorms and rain in the afternoon. I figured I could still do it if I slipped in and out before the really bad weather hit. I don't like travelling the same path twice. Since I had exhausted the easy access route last time around I now had to use the more difficult one. It is far longer and covers twice as much vertical distance.

I left my apartment in the dark at 5:15 in the morning and returned in the dark at 21:30 in the evening. In between lay a hike of 33km, 2406m ascent and 2445m descent covering a total of almost 5 (!) vertical kilometers. The trail is rated T5 in the higher parts with extra difficulty for route finding and dangerous rock fall. The last 100 height meters towards the summit don't have a marked trail at all. I used the normal route for descent but climbed a near vertical and partly overhanging cliff for ascent. So I scaled the most difficult route for ascent, circled the peak and pissed on it - mountain vs BuschnicK 1:1 ;-)

Since I was racing the weather all the time (and didn't have much daylight for a trip this long anyway) I didn't stop for rest even once. Only on the summit did I take a break to eat my traditional summit Wasabi flavored peas. The posted hiking time to the hut is 4:40 hours which took me 3:30 hours. Just when I was down from the summit the clouds moved in and a fierce thunderstorm hit the area. It soaked me in the 2 minutes it took to don my rain gear. The rain would soon stop though and allow me to witness a beautiful dance of clouds in the sky. I cannot imagine a more beautiful or majestic place to be than the mountains. No place radiates so much raw energy, is so uncaringly wild yet is home to delicate life.

All in all I beat my personal height record in a single day, scaled the most technically difficult peak yet and returned home safely and without feeling overly exhausted. Epic victory ;-)

All photos