Mochi's adventures on the Arvigrat

Björn got invited for a hike on Sunday, and since the whole month of October had had gorgeous weather, the expectation was that there would be no to only very little snow up to 2000m. Given that it would be a Sören-hike, Sandra still feared that it might be a bit much for the other members of the pack, but Sören assured us that it we'd be fine. Sandra worries too much. So on Sunday morning we had some breakfast, and drove the winding path to Wirzweli. Thanks to the end of summertime, we didn't even lose any sleep!

I met old friends (hi Sören) and new ones (hi Afroz!) and managed to get a few pets. We then started up the steeper side of the loop. First we encountered a herd of cows going down the mountain, and Sandra did not approve of me wanting to defend us all against these monsters. I did get some treats in return, so no hard feelings. And more importantly, we all survived that encounter.

Up and up we went, and it was indeed wonderfully warm and sunny. By now I got to roam free (for whatever reason, whenever there were other dogs, I happened to be on leash so we couldn't play), and could scout the way. Parts of the path were pretty steep, and rocky, and once we reached the higher parts of the hike, it was exciting to see the valley on both sides of the ridge. I had never been on such a steep ridge before, but still managed to kick Sandra's ass in speed and surefootedness. 4WD FTW! Sören and Björn got off the beaten path, and ended up on the highest peak - Sandra, Afroz and I had a better sense of direction and followed the trail.

Whenever Sandra took pictures, Sören tried to teach me the new command 'Instagram' to make sure I'd show my best face. I could show how well I had managed that when there was a wooden heart with a bench, showing both me and the beautiful view in our best light.

When we made it back to Wirzweli, we went for some hot drinks and snacks to replenish the energy lost during the 18km of walking and 1100m in altitude. Sören had a banana ice cream ("accidentally" the large portion), and I got a fine chew bone. Only after finishing everything, we started to get a bit chilly on the terrace, so we made our way back to the parking lot and drove off.


Thank you Sören for introducing me to Sörenhikes! I don't understand why Sandra was so worried about this :)

The author ;-) Thank you Sandra!


Alpstein Traverse: Neuenalpspitz (1817m), Stooss (2112m), Säntis (2502m)

After several smaller hikes I was in the mood to "go big". Endurance monster Arne is the perfect partner for this kind of thing. I had seen some inspiring videos of the Reitergrat and wanted to check out the area. The Alpstein is nominally close to Zürich but still offers a logistical challenge - public transportation connections there are not great. Thus I had only ever been to a few of its peaks and a full traverse seemed like an obvious next step. Many of the peaks in the chain are steep and unforgiving and require proper reconnaissance and gear, making it infeasible to tick all of them off in a single go. But we could at least do an end to end reconnaissance trip.


We took the car to Wattwil and continued from there via bus to Starkenbach. We fully expected to run out of daylight on this trip and this setup allowed us to get there with one of the earliest buses in the morning while still being able to return to the car via public transportation late at night (when most of the minor connections would stop running). This worked out exactly as planned ;-)

View from the Schlafstein, the first minor summit.
Always the Churfirsten...
Being offered liquor on the summit. A rare experience ;-P You can see the Säntis tower in the far distance - that's only halfway for us!

The first part of the trip had us gain altitude in the wild gorge of the Neuenalp creek. It was freezing cold in the shade of the early morning, but the day was already shaping up to be beautiful - blue skies. We didn't meet anyone but were accompanied by the sound of chainsaws echoing off the cliffs. The echoes made it very difficult to pinpoint where exactly the sound was coming from and we puzzled for a while until we actually caught up to the lumbermen at Rotenstein.

At one point we passed a military style canteen that was labeled with a friendly "help yourself" sticker. We ignored it because we were in a good flow and didn't want to stop. A few minutes later we gained the Neuenalpspitz summit. Two people in a decidedly good mood were enjoying the views and welcomed us heartily. It was only ten in the morning but they were already drinking from tiny liquor bottles. Turned out they had stocked the canteen with just such bottles. They invited us to join them but when we pointed out where we were headed they instead offered us some for the road. And shot us half admiring, half disbelieving glances for our planned itinerary.

Arne coming up the last few meters to the Stooss summit.
We scrambled up that steep grass section on the right!
Stooss summit.

We descended a steep trail towards the northern side of the ridge. Unfortunately the next string of summits was prohibitively steep to climb without proper preparation. So we traversed under their steep faces and regained the ridge only at the Lauchwis. The trail traverses just under the Stooss summit and this time I couldn't help myself but had to go for the small detour. It turned out that the Stooss summit is an incredibly steep and exposed scramble. Absolutely unforgiving T6 style terrain.

Always a good sign when your "hiking" trail comes equipped with climbing bolts.
Arne. Clouds moving in.
Gulping down some liquid at the Tierwis restaurant. At this point it was windy and chilly.

We allowed ourselves only a small rest before pressing on towards the restaurant Tierwis. At this point we had both mostly run out of water and were hoping to refill our bottles there. They didn't have any potable water either, so we ordered a liter of beer/coke/shorle each and downed it in one gulp. At this point it had gotten cold and windy and it was twenty past three in the afternoon. Measured by horizontal distance we were barely halfway through with our planned route. But luckily most of the elevation gain was now in the past. The innkeeper shook his head when he learned of our plans.

Trail towards the Säntis summit.

Säntis is a major tourist destination with an enormous restaurant, observation deck and installation on the top. Thus for the scramble towards that summit we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by people. We quickly ticked it off and continued down towards the "Blauschnee" ("blue snow") glacier. Or rather, the sad remains thereof. You can only catch glimpses of snow under mountains of rubble.

The way to the summit leads *through* the mountain.
Säntis summit.
They may have overdone the summit marker?

With ~25km and 2500m elevation gain in our legs we were becoming less and less enthusiastic about taking on more detours. Especially if we wouldn't be rewarded with a summit anyways. Thus we decided to head directly towards the planned endpoint of the trip. Dusk was beginning to fall. This didn't worry us - we only had easy terrain ahead of us and between the two of us we brought three head torches and two cell phones. Then we caught up to a lone hiker who was stumbling down the trail. His footing was extremely unsure and it looked like he could barely keep himself upright. We talked to him and offered our help. He declined, saying he was just extremely exhausted and that his friend had run ahead to ask the hut for an emergency shelter for the night. We continued past him, anxiously discussing what we could or should have done.

Scrambling back down. Steep, but well protected.
Still a long way to go.
Getting dark by the time we reached the Seealpsee.

About halfway down to the hut a guy came up towards us, clearly moving as fast as he could. We correctly reasoned that this must be the friend who went for help. He told us that the hut didn't have any available slots and that they'd have to make it all the way down the mountain on their own. It was very nearly dark at this point, so Arne and I again offered our help. This time we convinced him to take an emergency blanket and two of our head torches. It turned out this was a very good decision: Arne and I would make it back to the parking lot by around 8 pm. The other two texted us later and told us Arne's head torches were a lifesaver for them - it took them until midnight to get back down, a full five hours in pitch black darkness. They returned our gear a few days later via mail.

Cool art installation at a hydro power station: the water shoots out of the nozzle and slowly chips away at the concrete slab.
A welcome drink dispenser just before the parking lot.
Full circle: drink the liquor we received at the beginning of the trip at the very end of it.

Strava stats:

  • Moving Time: 9:47:25
  • Elapsed Time: 12:33:15
  • Distance: 29.41km
  • Elevation: 2481m up, 2481m down

A fantastic day out. Extremely satisfying that I can still pull this off with no adverse effects other than being a bit tired the next day. That's a promising baseline to build upon ;-P I'll definitely be back to tick off the missing peaks in this chain - it looks like there are quite a few nice climbing opportunities.


Vilan (2375m)

For this hike Afroz and I recruited another one of our colleagues: Razvan would join for the first time. We got lucky and the first day of October was a beautifully sunny day. More than that, it was a temperature inversion day, where it was warmer high up than low down. This meant that we'd rise out of the fog and have a rolling layer of clouds below us. Great atmosphere (figuratively and literally ;-P).

Nice garden, building and statue!
Secluded steep path leaving the village.
Afroz looking serious.

Going by my usual algorithm of "any hike I haven't done yet is great" we chose the Prättigau in Grisons this time around. We started in the tiny village of Seewis and headed up to Vilan via its long East ridge. Nice trail, not very exposed but still offering great views. Along the way there were some doubts whether the route might be too long and whether some/all of us would turn around. Strategic deployment of gummi bears patched over these temporary lapses of motivation and judgement and all three of us reached the summit together.

Others taking advantage of the weather: glider plane being dragged up.
Afroz and Razvan coming up.
A paraglider.

My original plan would have us go back down towards the North and circle the entire mountain to arrive back at the car. Given the current time and energy levels this seemed a bit too ambitious. So we decided to go towards the cable car at Älpli. This was a fine alternative if it wasn't for two minor snags: first, one is meant to reserve the cable car in advance to get a spot. It's a tiny and slow one. Second, it gets us down to an entirely wrong village, far away from our starting point and car.

Afroz' favorite mountain range, the Churfirsten, peaking just above the clouds.
Coming down the steep grassy slopes on the Northern side.

The eventual solution was for Afroz and Razvan to have a coffee on the terrasse of the cablecar top station, waiting for the next available slot, while I hiked down to get the car. I literally ran down the mountain and managed to reach the base about the same time as the other two got a ride - about 1100m of descent in an hour. When I volunteered for this little extra mileage I only eyeballed the map and glimpsed over the fact that the trail went down too far, adding a 500m climb back up to the car. The mountain has an odd shape where one needs to navigate a huge ravine and cliff by descending all the way to its base and then climb back up the other side. It's a beautiful trail, but at this point I was out of water and soon out of daylight. And I was still moving as fast as a I could in order to not make the others wait for too long. I arrived back at the village by dusk and was greeted by Alphorns playing.

Great day out. Several personal records broken in the group in terms of elevation gain in a day or fastest descent time ;-P

Looking back at our descent route.
Rega flying someone off the mountain. Lots of action in the sky today...
This was after I left the others on the terrasse of the cafe. The trail went right through this group of male (!) cattle. Made me a tad uneasy. I have crossed many meadows with cows on them on my hikes, only once have they ever been aggressive. But just two weeks later Sandra would tell me a story of how one of her friends got trampled by cows so badly that when they finally found her she had to be airlifted to the hospital...
Natural picture frame.
Quite spectacular trail, cut into the side of the mountain.
Sun going down. Better hurry!
The red part is what we did together, the blue is my bonus sprint.