The last month was proving to be very springish. Sunny and warm during the week but rainy on weekends. Not ideal for touring but we did get a lot of climbing and biking done. This weekend things finally turned and the forecast promised sunshine. Additionally we were graced by 50cm of fresh snow on Friday… in mid May… not complaining :)
The passes are still only partially opened and due to the heavy snowfall they were completely closed again on Friday. Luckily the road was cleared in the morning and we were able to drive all the way to Hotel Steingletscher (1865m) half way up Sustenpass (2304m). Snow everywhere, trees white, sunny, smiles everywhere. We started rather late since our first day we only needed to reach the Tierberglihütte (2795m). It was getting hot fast however and we did speed it up in the bottom section to get on the glacier proper and avoid the big serac fields where wet slabs were starting to roar down. And since we were in no hurry we made a little lunch brake enjoying the show and listening to the thunder.
Eventually we made it to the hut and joined the rest of our roommates for a day chilling in the sun, having beers and playing games. After some proper dinner it was time to watch the sunset and later the stars on the clear sky before hitting the bunks.
Next morning after an early breakfast we set off across the Steingletscher towards our final goal – Sustenhorn (3503m). Due to a clear and cold night the snow was perfectly frozen and the long skin to the summit was just amazing surrounded by huge ice fields and the sun coming up from the east. It was also cold, even more so on the summit where the wind picked up. Of course my phone died so i couldn’t take as many pictures as i’d like but it’s not like you can truly capture those moments, giving high fives, smiling and just taking in the views.
We didn’t stick around too long anyway since the sun was strong and we wanted to avoid too much slush lower down. Turns out our timing was perfect. 2000 verticals of great skiing in mid May all the way to the road. It got us so pumped we were already discussing the next tours over a beer :)
If last weekend we were able to enjoy a proper winter fairytale, this weekend was a true spring touring bonanza. In fact the whole week has seen temperatures rise to their 20s and of course that had a lot of impact on the snow cover. Time to start going higher however all the passes are still closed so day tours require more planning.
After some inside advice from our resident mountain guide we left early for Bannalp. Another great remote plateau reachable by a small automated gondola. We didn’t have to wait in line as there were hardly any people around and we started marching just as the sun creeped over the ridge surrounding the plateau. And what huge walls of rock surround it, just amazing. There is still enough snow even though the southern slopes are full of wet avalanches. Indeed we heard plenty of those tumble down as the temps started going up.
Our goal was Ruchstock (2814 m) but with a twist. We decided to do a round tour instead of just going up and down. We knew that because it would take us longer we are ultimately sacrificing prime skiing conditions but instead we got to experience some more mountaineering aspects of the tour. So we headed towards Schonneg (2250m) and crossed the ridge down towards Schöntal where we started climbing again towards the little glacier of Schlittchuechen. This is where the route gets steeper and you actually need to climb a part of it with your skis on the back and piolet in hand. After some more exposed kick turns above the cliffs you reach the southern ridge and follow it to the summit. Then the fun starts. In order to be able to get down to skiable terrain you need to down climb some 100m of steep and exposed ridge. It would probably be easier to ski it but there were way to many rocks. This time we had to use the crampons as well as the consequences were just to great. Once on the saddle below we were finally able to put our skis on and enjoy the great face all the way down to the restaurant back at Bannalp. As expected the snow was already quite heavy but that just made the beer taste better :)
With April came fresh snow. Lots of it. Again accompanied by stormy winds though so it was transported all over and for the last few days the avalanche danger was bumped up to 4. For today we had a nice forecast, snow had a day to settle and most people crowded south of the Alps for the higher temperatures. We still needed to find a more defensive tour and finally Rossstock (2461m) in the Glarus Alps came on the menu. Been meaning to do this one a couple of times now but kind of never did.
So, off we were and after some logistical difficulties finally arrived to the remote little valley Riemenstaldner above the east shore of Lake Lucerne or Vierwaldstättersee as the Swiss call it. Just before you reach the end of the valley there is a small little tiny transport cable car at Chäppeliberg (1184m) used to service the Lidernenhütte above (1727m). We were actually the last people that got their tickets and mine was number 35. Not very crowded but we still had to wait for almost an hour since the lift is so slow and only carries 4 people at the time. No worries since they had a nice 2 year old dog that was happy to play with us and even the proverbial up-tight Swiss were happy to converse. Maybe it was the sun or it’s just a bunch of bull since in my 2 years here i never really experienced that up-tightness. You get what you give.
But i digress. Once on top there is a wide plateau of choices but considering the avy conditions most people opted for the Rossstock tour which follows a wide, easy face all the way to the top. Great views all around and about 50cm of fresh snow. Winter fairytale. The last 100 verticals is steeper (40-45) but was very affected by wind so there were rocks sticking out everywhere and we left our gear at the little ski depot and summited on foot.
Then back down and thanks to the cold temperatures (it was just under 0C) the snow stayed relatively light all the way to the tree line. We ended up taking a wrong turn in the woods and had to skin back another 300 verticals but were rewarded with another great run among the trees with plenty of pillows and screams. Ski back to the car and home. One of the nicest tours for sure.
It snowed again and the sun was forecasted. Since there were some new ski constructions to test our guys wanted to freeride but avoid the big crowds expected at places like Andermatt and Engelberg. So we drove to Hasliberg a “little” resort in the Berner Oberland and boy did we hit the jackpot. Almost no people, great and wide terrain, sun and some 15 cm of surprisingly light fluffy. Doesn’t sound like much but after 2 weeks of riding the bike it sure felt good to be on snow again. There is so much terrain that once we tracked one face we just moved along to the next until clouds finally moved in around 3 and we left for home.
Second day of the Justice tour required some balancing. Since we climbed so many verticals yesterday we decided to focus more on the going down this time. The plan was to do the famous Neue Welt descent from the Zugspitze (2962m), Germany’s highest point.
We made it to the first gondola from Ehrwald since we were a little worried about the crowds. It turned out however that no one seems to have done the descent yet lately. Even better :) After reaching the glacier you first need to skin up about 200 verticals to the ridge. Again we had to lay the first tracks and those 200 verticals felt harder than the 1700 we did the last day. From the ridge however, it was all about the down.
It starts with a nice warm up flank of about 40 degrees until you reach the first crux – a narrow and steep traverse of about 50 degrees to the next section. Since there were no people and no tracks we could take it easy and relax thoroughly enjoying the views along the way. The rest of the top section is a nice and consistent descent all the way to the belay station about half way down. Not a place you want to slip though as you could easily get swept down the cliffs. Lower down we actually founds a fresh corpse from one of the local residents that did just that. I guess even the mountain goats slip sometimes.
In any case you then need to rappel down some 60 meters to get to the bottom couloirs where it gets a bit steeper and narrower but it is not so exposed anymore. It is however also where all the falling snow gets deposited and even though the sun was strong and it was very hot the big snow balls remained icy and hard so the ski down was rather “technical” :)
After making it out from the last couloir we made a little break and then enjoyed the rest of the run back down. The snow below was already like the perfect spring corn we are used to from April until it ran out and we had to walk the last part back to the bus.
One year has passed and our traditional Justice tour was back on the menu. Since the chief organiser moved back to Germany so did the tour. We set off after work on Friday and arrived to Isny im Allgäu just before the brewery stopped serving food. Talk about good timing and a nice setting to make some plans :)
After intense planning long into the night our caravan drove all the way to Lechtal to climb the Holzgauer Wetterspitze (2895 m). We left the cars at the Lechtalhaus (1104 m), split into smaller groups and started the long but very scenic skin up the Sulzltal. And by long i mean long. You walk about 8km and only climb some 900 vertical meters to get to the Frederick-Simms Hütte (2004m) at the end of the valley. From there you still have another 900 verticals to the summit up a beautiful north facing slope. We were the only people in the entire valley and we had to lay the tracks up but that also meant we could enjoy the perfect untracked powder on the way down.
After some eight hours it was first time to enjoy the last rays of sunshine with some local sausages and cakes before heading back to Isny for a proper steak and beer. Needles to say we slept great.
We had to wait until March but boy was it worth it. Easily 30 centimetres of cold and dry fluffy white powder. A good reason for sore legs after the best day of the season so far :)