Torrone di Nav (2832m)

Ralf had discovered a beautifully shaped rocky peak on one of his trips in Ticino. He invited Andrey, Ivan and me to climb it on Sunday. The weather forecast for most of Switzerland was pretty abysmal (as Ralf correctly pointed out on the highway: it was warmer last Christmas than now at the end of August). So we were hoping for a lucky break on the South side of the alps. Ticino has some very wild and pristine mountains and the Torrone di Nav, the pyramid Ralf fell in love with, is no exception. It is graded T5, a challenging alpine hike, and there are no marked trails for either the approach or the actual climb. We start from a parking lot at the base of the mountain and immediately head into some bushwhacking action through the bushes up steep meadows. Once we gain the ridge the going gets a lot easier. First glances at our chosen destination make us wonder where and how it should even be possible to get up there.

Finding my way. (photo by Andrey)
Lago di Luzzone.
Torrone di Nav; also known as a beauty of a mountain; also known as scary fucking steep.

We scramble through the large scree field and don our harnesses and helmets. We won't use the rope in the end, but helmets are a good idea - with four of us climbing through loose rock some grenades are unavoidable (or so the Russians, who keep throwing rocks at me, claim). Route finding proves to be challenging. Andrey climbs up the wrong slab at one point and is stuck for a while until he figures out a safe way to traverse. Definitely not easy terrain. There are no markers except for very few cairns. The only other people we see are two hunters on the slopes below us. The summit is crowned by the cutest summit cross I have ever seen, standing only some 20 centimeters tall it seems very nimble in these rough surroundings. The summit book from the year 2000 has only a single page filled for the entire year 2014. Only a handful of people have stood here.

Last stop before it gets interesting.
Scrambling through the scree.
Steep slabs at the base.

We don't waste much time as clouds are moving in from below and we are worried about having to climb down on wet terrain. It is very exposed and the steep slabs could easily turn into deadly water slides. We are back in the debris field at the base when the first drops of rain start falling. Retracing our steps back over the grassy ridge we came turns out to be surprisingly tricky. Dense clouds turn the world into a contourless gray mass. We have to consult the GPS a couple of times to reassure ourselves we are still on track. We have successfully exploited the only small window of good weather of the day. It is pouring for the entire three hour drive back home.

Ralf with the summit cross.
The gang.
2014 in its entirety.
Exciting traverse on the way down. (photo by Ralf)
Andrey. (photo by Ralf)
Always look on the bright side: rain has some advantages ;-)

Awesome trip up a beautiful mountain. Thanks to Ralf for discovering and researching this and putting the trip together. A very strong group and a novel experience for me - for once I was the weak link in the chain and others had to wait for me.
~1400m, ~9km

The real thing.


Mutteristock (2294m)

Ivan and I set out on Saturday to climb part of the Wägitaler Rundtour - the whole thing is an incredible +-5000m, ~40km "hike" on impossibly steep T6 ridges. Few people have repeated this, fewer still within a single 24 hour window. Training for this was one of my long term goals before the accident and I'm still doing some reconnaissance, climbing the individual peaks of the chain one after the other. So we start at lake Wägital around 10 o'clock in the morning. We are headed towards the Mutteristock. For some reason we are on the path less travelled. While there are trail markers, they are few and far in between, faded from age and overgrown. The path itself sports healthy grass, a sure sign that few boots tread here. Once we get closer to the summit our trail converges with several others and pathfinding becomes easier.

I had never seen a trail fenced in closely like this before.
Sweat much?
Visibility could be better.

It was cloudy and foggy with poor visibility all the way up. While we are standing at the summit cross it starts raining in earnest. Our original intention, climbing the T6 Redertenstock, would be completely suicidal in these conditions. We don't even see the mountain. And the couloir leading there is a slippery wet chute into the abyss. So we decide to go the other way. At first I maintain vague hopes of climbing the Ochsenkopf on the way back. But it keeps drizzling on and off for the rest of the day and what we can see from the routes up the Ochsenkopf they would be incredibly exposed and steep too. So down it is.

Mutteristock summit.
Lake Wägital.

Neither one of us likes retracing our steps, so we try to find an alternate path back to the car. We end up passing two opportunities to traverse and instead go down all the way to Richisau at lake Klöntal - on the wrong side of the mountain! Trails have been in bad condition and badly marked all the way down, so we often wound up finding our own way across steep pastures. On one the cows put up some action entertainment for us, galloping up and down steep slopes, kicking up a lot of mud with their claws. No apparent reason for their behaviour except for the sheer joy of running around.

Route up the Ochsenkopf. A little too exposed for current weather conditions.
Scramble up here in the rain? No thank you. Thanks to hikr for the photo. This still counts as T5...
Lake Klöntal.

We have to get back up to the Schwialppass, some 600m elevation gain. We find a trail with a nice and constant but steep slope and power up in one go. Once past the pass we run down the steepest bits of a trail that's now almost a road. We make it back to the car at 19:30, having covered ~22km and ~+-2200m of elevation change.


Rheinwaldhorn (3402m)

I have attempted the Rheinwaldhorn before. I had to turn around because of bad weather and buckets of fresh snow. This time things turned out much better. Vladimír and Nicola had friends from the Czech Republic, Michaela and Filip, visiting, and wanted to show them the local mountains. Andrey and I were recruited as guides. With six people we took two cars to get to our starting point of Dangio. We shuttled the second one to our intended destination, the dam at the Lago di Luzzone. Despite a late start (due to the unavoidable traffic jam at the Gotthard tunnel) we made it to the Capanna Adula SAC just in time for dinner.

Nicola, Vladimír, Andrey, Michaela, Filip
Visitors at the hut.
Sun coming up.

Rising with the sun on the next morning we set out to climb the Rheinwaldhorn via the west ridge. It is rated PD- and thus slightly harder than the normal route. It's a rocky ridge with easy scrambling over tall boulders. An exposed traverse is protected by steel cables and the crux, a chimney featuring grade II or III climbing, is equipped with a chain for aid. Eventually we gain the glacier and rope up. For Michaela and Filip it is the first time in crampons. They have been performing exceptionally well thus far though and Filip in particular challenges us to attack the slope head on instead of choosing the regular, easier route. The snow is frozen solid (even at the level of the hut at only 2000 meters the ground was frozen in the morning) and conditions perfect, so we decide to go for a little adventure. It is very steep, so we can only use the front points of our crampons and need to utilize the ice ax to full effect. We top out on the ridge right next to the summit. Just five hours after starting from the hut we sign the summit book at 11 o'clock in the morning. Perfect weather with not a cloud in sight. Weird Kneipp feeling - the sun shines nice and warm while the breeze cuts ice cold and sitting on the rocks makes you shiver.

Andrey in front of the scrambling ridge.
Nicola in the crux.

Unfortunately we've timed it so we share the summit with a crowd of people who came up via the normal route. We share that route for the descent. It's a long traverse over the glacier. The reflecting sun makes us heat up as if in a frying pan. The Italian speaking crowd in front of us is hollering and shouting and chatting noisily. Very uncharacteristic for mountain people ;-) We are faster than them though and quickly on our own again. We return to the hut, have some soup, pick up our sleeping gear and head out via a long valley to the North. It turns into a painful experience for me. This being the first proper mountaineering trip after the accident my injured foot is still far from healed. It didn't like the sideways strain from traversing in crampons and I'm paying the price now. Also, I have likely broken my good foot during our Canada vacation just three weeks earlier (different story for another post), so I'm basically hiking on two broken feet. Not recommended.

Filip scrambling through the crux.
Roping up for the glacier.

Arriving at the Lago di Luzzone we have to cross the dam to get to our car. An impressive structure. At 165 meters tall it features the world's largest artificial climbing route. I'm not whimpy with heights at all, but the exposure and sheer scale of this thing does give one pause.

Andrey in steep ice just below the summit ridge.
Yours truly.

Great trip in great company. I'm especially impressed at how well our mountain newbie guests held up. Well done all around!

~+2600m, -2000m ~30km

On the highway down.
Compare the real thing...
...to the fake.
Long way back through that valley...
Vertigo anyone?


Wichelhorn (2767m)

My best friend from high school days, Thomas, flew in from Rostock to visit for five days. I was still jet-lagged from an intense three week vacation in Canada, so we took it slow the first two days. We did the Google office tour; a stroll around Zürich; a hike up our "Hausberg" Uetli; a boat ride on lake Zürich; a relaxing afternoon in the spa; and a BBQ night watching the first of August Swiss National Day fireworks from our balcony. Of course we also had to climb a mountain ;-)

On lake Zürich.

I picked the Wichelhorn. A peak I hadn't climbed yet, but which I knew to be in a very rugged and dramatically steep area of the Alps. The hike is rated T4, definitely challenging for a beginner, but who doesn't like a bit of adventure on their days off? We took the car to the tiny village of Intschi. I hadn't considered that it sits on the very last couple of kilometers before the Gotthard tunnel - the traffic bottleneck of the Alps. Consequently we wasted almost an hour waiting around in a traffic jam caused by a tunnel we didn't even want to go through. Oh well.

Our objective. You can just make out the summit cross.
View from the hut.
The Niedersee just below the hut - unreal colors.

The weather forecast predicted lots of rain and occasional thunderstorms. We got lucky. While it was very cloudy it only drizzled lightly a couple of times, not even enough to make us don our rain gear. Once we returned on Sunday though it started pouring buckets as soon as we were back in the car. Perfect timing. This had the nice consequence that the Leutschach hut, where we stayed from Saturday to Sunday, was nearly deserted. Most people had cancelled their reservations. We shared a bottle of wine with an architect and a photographer from Germany and spent a nice evening in the hut together.

Our new friends taking advantage of the steps we cut.
Capricorn showing us how it's done.

Finding the hut was a bit funny. And embarrassing. We hiked the shortest, most direct route without any detours (I have a GPS recording to prove it). The whole way I was disoriented on our map though and believed us to be somewhere else. So I kept telling Thomas we still had at least an hour or so to go when we suddenly found ourselves on the doorstep of the hut. A good motivational technique - he took it as a welcome surprise ;-)

Thomas scrambling up the ridge.

After a comfortably late start at 7:30 we set out to the Wichelpass at 2558m. The two Germans from the night before accompanied us this far but continued on west towards the Sewen hut. We started our way up the rocky ridge towards the summit. The crux at the very beginning of the route has been defused by a metal ladder. The rest is easy scrambling over boulders. We encountered two ibexes but otherwise had the summit to ourselves. The last entry in the summit book was four days old. After a relatively short stay (it was cold and windy with threatening dark clouds) we returned to the pass and went down the mountain on the other side from where we came up, completing the circle back to our car.

Great trip with a great friend - thanks for visiting!

"Thomas hat kein Bock mehr und will nur noch nach Hause!" ;-)