2021-01-11

Ice Climbing Pontresina

Switzerland was still firmly gripped by a cold spell. In fact, it was so cold (-25°C), that climbing South facing ice falls not only seemed possible, but also like the better idea. Most of the time you seek out steep shaded canyons or North facing walls for ice climbing. Those ice-boxes would be a tad too chilly on a day like this. So we took the beautiful Julier pass past St Moritz all the way to Pontresina.

One can have a pretty good guess at who used this parking lot before us ;-)
-24°C. It was -25°C just a minute earlier.
On the approach. Luckily someone tracked it out for us a few days prior. Our line visible in the back.

Leaving the car, our exposed fingers hurt after barely a minute in the cold air. I know crunchy snow, slushy snow, powder snow and many other kinds of snow. This was squeaky snow. Fun to walk on. From the road it was barely a thirty minute approach to the waterfall. Four pitches of beautiful ice lay before us. Luigi led and Mark and I followed. I initially wore all my layers (two layers of Merino wool, a fleece jacket, a down jacket and a wind breaker), but quickly started shedding clothes on the way up. Once the sun hit us and we topped out it was actually comfortable in a t-shirt (or even without one ;-)). The ice was nice and plastic, if a bit dripping in places. Overall a super satisfying and nice climb.

Mark demonstrating how to properly place an ice screw.
Satisfied with the bomber anchor he built. This is how you do it kids!
Luigi leading the first pitch.

Once we got back to the car, Luigi and Mark still had enough gas in the tank to attempt a second fall a few kilometers down the road. It was a high gravity day for me, so I decided to sit this one out and listen to podcasts in the car instead. It took them roughly two hours to reach the fall and climb the first pitch of it. But apparently the ice was shitty and the climbing easy enough to be boring, so they turned around without climbing all the way to the top.

Luigi.
These boots are made for walking...
Waiting our turn.
Mark.
"It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.". Mind you, our water bottles and pants were still frozen. Roughly -15°C still, but the sun made it very comfortable ;-)
Descent.
Mission accomplished.

2021-01-03

Snowshoeing Arvidossen (1,809m)

Christian's last snowshoe trip with me (which was simultaneously his first ever) is long enough in the past at this point that the traumatic memories have faded and he was naive enough to ask for an encore. As usual, I had eyes on way too ambitious an objective. I try to avoid repeating stuff I've already done. I also try to avoid designated snowshoe routes. They tend to be tracked out and follow safe lines somewhere down in the valleys. Why go to the mountains if you don't get to climb a summit?!

The trail we missed at first glance.
It got more wintery...
...the more altitude we gained.

So I aimed for the Höh Grat. A steep climb up to a ridge. I figured the ridge would be a challenge - long and exposed it was not at all clear whether it would go in winter. The ideal outcome would have us climb a string of three summits. Plan B would have us climb two. And in the worst case I figured we could turn around after the first. Which is what we eventually ended up doing.

Getting steeper.
On the ridge.
Arvidossen summit.

We nearly missed the "trail" right at the start. The obvious hiking path followed the cogwheel train line. We however had to cross the tracks and then scramble up a steep mountain flank. Barely visible trail and only animal tracks to follow. We eventually gained the ridge where there was surprisingly little snow under the trees, allowing for good progress. Steep terrain and exposed on either side. Not unlike the Hardergrat where one guidebook claims that hiking it redefines your expectations of how steep grass can grow.

Summit selfie.
Christian contemplating the path ahead. Getting off the summit in that direction did not seem like a wise idea.
Forestry road on the way back. Highway.

Climbing up to the summit of the Arvidossen was a bit dicey. The trail sneaks through steep cliffs and ordinarily would be protected by steel cables to hold onto. For us, these were either completely hidden under the snow, or too low and slippery to use. We made it to the top without too many issues. Eyeballing the intended way forward we quickly agreed to turn around. The ridge itself would be fine, but getting off the summit on slippery snow surrounded by steep cliffs did not seem wise.

The surprise trail. Very nice, but exposed and difficult to negotiate in these conditions.
You don't see it from this angle, but this switchback turned around just before an overhanging cliff. Christian was just taking a look into the abyss.

We stopped for a short break on the way back. By the time I had finished my bagle, my fingers were frozen stiff and painful. It was cold enough that stopping for a rest actually drained enery rather than serve as recovery. We reached a small forestry road and decided to follow that for the way back. This was fine until the hiking trail turned off it. It was marked white-red-white, so we didn't think much of it. However, it turned out to be steep! Quite unexpected as we were already in "mindlessly throw your legs forwards without thinking much about it" mode and suddenly had to tread very carefully on iced over rocks above vertical drops. By the time we got back to the car we had covered 17km and nearly 1400m of elevation gain.