Easter Snowshoe Tour: Can da Maighels (2314m) and Passo Bornengo (2631m)

Anita and I planned a 4 day snowshoe excursion over the Easter holidays. We booked the Can da Maighels mountain hut and headed out on Friday. We started late after enjoying a nice board game and movies night with friends (and lots of beer!) the evening before. We get off the train at Oberalppass at 2044 meters. That leaves us with a nice and easy ~6km and 500m approach to the hut at 2314m. Although a short cut exists that avoids going down from the pass before climbing up to the hut again we decide against using it. It traverses under cliffs and cuts a steep slope, which we judge to be too avalanche prone. Rightly so as we can see quite a few old snow slides that took down parts of the trail. The second we got off the train it started snowing and, although we didn't know it yet, wouldn't stop all weekend.

Fresh off the train.
A mouse running around in the snow.

The hut is quite crowded with ski touring folks. We don't get much sleep - someone is always snoring in the dormitories. At 7 in the morning everyone heads out. Anita and me are going straight south, following the Maighels valley. The idea is to do some reconnaissance today and see what mountains look climbable. It's still snowing and windy. Anita has a cold and starts coughing up blood. We decide to split and she makes it back to the hut.

The hut and Piz Cavradi (2612m).

I slog on. Visibility is next to nil. While I was still in the vicinity of some skiers in the beginning I'm quickly on my own. Breaking trail in fresh snow for 5 kilometers gets me up the Passo Bornengo at 2631m. From here I was hoping to do a quick traverse and minor climb of ~130 meters up Piz Alv. Unfortunately I can't see anything in the drifting snow. Considerable risk of avalanches and the danger of accidentally getting onto overhanging cornices convince me to not solo any further and bail instead.

Retracing my steps back down...

Back at the hut just after one o'clock in the afternoon I'm almost the last person to arrive. Most others have bailed much earlier due to the bad conditions. We spend a relaxing afternoon with board games and books.

The trail to the hut is well marked.
View towards the east and the Rhine valley.
An avalanche buried the road.

Anita isn't feeling any better on Sunday and if anything, conditions outside have gotten even worse. So we decide to bail and hike down to the village of Schamut where the Glacier Express picks us up. A hot bath at home lifts Anita's spirits. And I pissed into one of the Rhine springs - take that river! ;-)

No kidding.
Just to mock us...
...the weather is clearing up a bit.


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.

Quick rest at a cable car mast.

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


Vanatsch (2478m) Snowshoe Hike

The third and final day of my SAC snowshoe outing. Again getting up at 5 in the morning to outrun the sun and profit from a frozen crust of snow. We had a clear night and the morning is correspondingly cold and beautiful. Beate is fit again and leading the way.

The path is quite boring initially, following a snow covered backroad along the valley to the Lai da Nalps water reservoir. It does feature one highlight though: a tunnel with stalagmites of ice standing taller than a man in the middle of the road.

Passing the lake, we are on the mountain proper. It is still about 3°C below freezing, but the sun is coming up. The snow has a nicely frozen crust on top and allows for easy walking. The day gets more beautiful by the minute. And by the time we traverse the summit ridge on huge snow cornices we get breathtaking views.

We enjoy a nice long rest and a leisurely summit conversation in the sun. I'm impressed by the breath and depth of the collective mountaineering knowledge and experience shared between the group. They seem to possess encyclopedic knowledge of the alps and their huts. Also been around the world, climbing mountains everywhere.

Vreni, who is in her seventies, cheerily recommends retirement, because it allows spending more time in the mountains. She occasionally does tours with the SAC seniors who threatened to not take her along anymore unless she loads her backpack with rocks. Seriously, this is an impressively fit bunch. It takes me quite a bit of effort to keep up and I think I would have walked way slower on my own.

Crowning finale of a nice tour! Thanks to the gang for having me along!

~20km, ~1400m