Three day ski tour in the heart of the Alps (April 12-14, 2013)

This year’s spring ski tour with the ZSS took us once again to the Wallis, just around the corner from our last year’s tour to the Turtmanntal. This time our base was at Cabana du Mountet (2886m), surrounded by some of the most spectacular peaks of the alps. The terrain is wild and unforgiving and the summits difficult and technical. We didn’t try for any of the high peaks (though we did make it partway up Zinalrothorn), but we climbed a slightly lesser Mont Durand (3713m) on the final day. It’s quite the “little” peak, offering sweeping views of the giants like the Matterhorn, Weisshorn, Obergabelhorn etc. Our descent into Zermatt was spectacular bordering on kitsch and we all got a little sick of staring at the imposing north face of the Matterhorn all day… Ralf and Guido made the right call once again and the snow for much of the south-facing descent starting from the Arbengletscher was perfect corn… unfortunately both of my camera lenses completely fogged up on the final ascent to the col and there is no photographic evidence (at least not from me) of it…

climbing out of Val de Zinal, Besso (3668m) in the background

dramatic clouds at the start of Glacier de Zinal — I think Weisshorn is behind there somewhere

spring cleaning had begun in earnest already… 

weaving up Glacier de Zinal — the rock buttresses of Grand Cornier in front of us

Cabana de Mountet high up on the left; Obergabelhorn on the right with the long ridge connecting it to Zinalrothorn via Wellenkuppe and Trifthorn

our group the next morning in front of Cab. de Mountet — Dent Blanche bathes in the morning sun

Guido in front of a group of skiers heading up toward Glacier du Mountet

the first sun rays reach the tip of Roc Noir below Dent Blanche

group of skiers descending along Arete du Blanc

the north faces of Obergabelhorn and Matterhorn

Lenticular over Matterhorn with Obergabelhorn in the foreground

climbing up the west slopes of Zinalrothorn — we turned around just shy of our goal (shoulder on the ridge at 4000m) 

looking back down at our ski depot

Ralf checking out the conditions near the ridge

climbing up the to the ridge near our high point

Descending Glacier du Mountet

a rare photo of me skiing — thanks Frank!

dropping into a little bowl

early on the third morning — a group of skiers heading up toward Zinalrothorn (hidden behind the clouds)

First sun rays on Dent Blanche as we cross the Glacier Durand

clouds pouring over Zinalrothorn and Trifthorn

Obergabelhorn in the morning light

Ralf and Markus silhouetted against the lower parts of Arete des Quatre Anes (I think) of Dent Blanche 

broken up Glacier du Grand Cornier

Climbing up Glacier Durand with Zinalrothorn and Weisshorn, two jewels of the “imperial crown” in the distance

crossing the flats on Gl. Durand; Pointe de Zinal in the background

at Col Durand greeted by the giant Matterhorn

pointing out peaks…

scoping out the route and marveling at the north face of Matterhorn

climbing up toward the summit ridge of Mount Durand

wowza — I got so excited about this ridge I forgot to take a picture of our objective… 

summit scramble

handshakes on the summit of Mont Durand (3713m)

marveling at the views on the summit — somehow I forgot to take the photo in the other direction, of the long ridge linking up all the “horns”…

descending the ridge back toward the ski depot

unfortunately no photos of the long descent to Zermatt due to equipment failure… but it was glorious indeed.

Jenatschhütte, Piz Surgonda (3196m), Piz Calderas (3397m), Tschima da Flix (3316m)

Spent a nice weekend in the mountains with fellow ZSS members the weekend just after I turned a whopping 32 years old. Timo, Nicole, Saskia, Markus and I headed up to Chamanna Jenatsch apparently the highest  hut in the canton of Graubünden. We reached the hut starting from the Julierpass road and over Piz Surgonda in surreal weather and lighting conditions. The snow left a lot to be desired but it was nice to be surrounded by some large peaks — I had been wanting to come to the Jenatsch hut for some time since Molly and I did a bike tour a few years ago over Suvrettapass that came out a bit further down in the Val Bever. The hut is highly recommended — the hut keepers are incredibly friendly people, their food is amazing, and if you’re into it they even have a sauna (to me it seems crazy to fly wood up by helicopter for a sauna, but who am I to say what is sane). They have a nice little booklet about Jürg Jenatsch who was apparently quite a guy and freed the canton of Graubünden from foreign control. It involves stories of high intrigue from the 17th century… Markus studied it diligently and delivered a history mini-lecture to the rest of us over dinner…

The second day was pure kitsch — cloudless skies, perfect temperatures, though the snow had a bit of a sneaky crust that made for less than pleasant skiing here and there. We made it to two summits (Piz Calderas and Tschima da Flix) and enjoyed ridiculous views all day. Unfortunately, the weather moved in shortly after we arrived at the hut and we could hear the howling winds all night — the final day was a bit miserable with terrible visibility, low temperatures, and a sketchy avalanche situation due to the wind-transported snow…. but we all made it across Fuorcla Laviner out to Tinizong unscathed.

heading up Val d’Agnel from the Julierpass road

Nicole and Saskia approaching Piz Surgonda summit

Markus and Timo on Piz Surgonda (3196m)

Nicole skiing off Piz Surgonda ridge

Timo looking across at Piz Picuogl

skiers approaching Chamanna Jenatsch from the direction of Piz d’Agnel

perfect morning in the mountains…

Markus and Timo heading up toward Vadret Calderas; Jenatsch hut in the background

Skiers on Vadret Calderas

Saskia and Timo approaching the summit pyramid on Piz Calderas

final climb to the summit of Piz Calderas

hand shakes all around on Piz Calderas (3397m)

Looking northwest off the summit of Piz Calderas

climbers on the summit of Piz Calderas with the Bernina group in the background

Timo, Saskia, Nicole and Markus on the summit

Nicole skiing off Piz Calderas with our next objective, Tschima da Flix in the background

final approach to Tschima da Flix (3316m)

Piz Calderas from Tschima da Flix — you can see the approach/descent tracks including some crazy cliff schenanigans

Timo skiing down Vadret Calderas below Tschima da Flix

poor visibility and strong winds…

nice traverse… but don’t slip

Timo and Nicole below the face that we skied — Fuorcla (pass) Laviner  at the top. We came down somewhere in the middle… 

Seestock (2429m) ski tour

Late January outing with the ZSS in perfect weather (zero wind) and only slightly less perfect snow. Nice leisurely tour aided by some lifts to get us up high above the treeline early in the morning. Varied terrain and amazing views all day long complete with a slightly adventurous summit scramble. We had a huge descent (1800m) into Muotathal (albeit some of it on the road) with really nice powder down low that made for some fun tree skiing, but my camera died before I could snap any action shots… next time. 🙂

Starting out in the morning and coming into the sun

this photo had to be in color… 

First break with outstanding views

the route ahead

nice traverse

all smiles

not a particularly nice photo, but the only one I have of the actual peak…

All business

Nice ridge walking after dropping off our skis

beginning of the scramble to the summit

more scrambling

this is the most ornate cross i’ve seen so far… 

the summit was just large enough for us all to fit…

looking back on our route

the descent begins…

Wannenberg 1644m

My first tour of the season with ZSS took advantage of the low freezing levels and large amounts of snow to ski almost to “sea” level in the beautiful sub-alpine Toggenburg. We didn’t need to get up very high to make it feel like a proper winter with loads of fresh snow and strong winds. Amazing powder and fun skiing in the safety of low-angle slopes and glades… 

Touring above the Turtmanntal

3 day tour with the ZSS in the mountains above Turtmanntal in Wallis…

On the summit of Dreizehntenhorn (3052m)

Up the Turtmanntal

Traversing at the end of Turtmanntal — the massive Turtmanngletscher in the background

Nearing the Turtmannsee — Bishorn in the distance


above the Turtmannhütte heading up the notch to Gässi

climbing out of the coulouir onto the Brunegggletscher

Route discussion on the Brunegggletscher

Approaching Brunegghorn

The massive Weisshorn and Matterhorn peeking above the ridge… 

On the summit of Brunegghorn (3833m)

Descending Brunegghorn, the abyss of Weisshorn NE face below us

Descending Brunegggletscher

tracks on the Brunegggletscher, Brunegghorn in the background

At the Turmannhütte

Markus is pretty excited about the fluffy snow

steep section up to Pipjilicke

climbing up to Pipjilicke

nice powder down Holesteigletscher

Lunch break in Brändjitälli

Our tracks from Pipjilicke

Whiteout at the Jungtaljoch

descending the Junggletscher

back to civilization… 

Val Tuoi, Fil da Tuoi, Jamspitz

Our goal for the weekend with the Zürcher Studenten Skitourenclub was a possible ascent up Piz Buin (3312m), a celebrity mountain in the Silvretta range on the border between Switzerland and Austria (see here for a map of the area). I’ve heard much about the Silvretta and seen many exciting trip reports so I was particularly excited to get a chance to go there this winter. Matus and I met up with Urs, Sabine and Gieri in Guarda which is an amazingly conserved village in the Upper Engadine. After a brief pitstop to load up on ovomaltine and discuss the route for the day, we set out through Val Tuoi toward the Tuoi hütte. Overnight trips are something entirely different when the overnight gear consists of a 170g silk sleeping liner. Very nice. (often, overnight adventures require much heavier packs… go here for an example)
Given the current deep freeze engulfing all of Europe, we were surprised to find ourselves sweating a bit on the way up the valley — it was definitely balmy at around -10 and no wind. To get some turns on the first day we detoured briefly up to Fil da Tuoi (2867m), a somewhat nondescript lump on the ridge leading up to Piz Cotschen. The descent was fun but the wind had definitely taken its toll on the snow. During the entire ascent we heard whoomphing sounds and signs of instability were everywhere. We stuck to mellow cruiser slopes and descended down to the valley, finding pockets of nice powder here and there amidst the wind crust. Now the valley was in the shade and fearing that our faces might freeze off we made a dash for the Tuoi hut… great food (I had no idea I could eat so much mashed potatoes), great company, even a beer and home-made berliners! 
Since the snow conditions were somewhat unfavorable, we decided to leave Piz Buin for another day and instead headed the next morning toward the safer Hinter Jamspitz (3156m). The wind was much worse on Sunday! We made quick work of the snowfields up to the summit pyramid and tagged the cross briefly but didn’t dare linger on the top. 
Up there, wherever you look, the sea of peaks and valleys extends forever in all directions. Taking it all in despite the siberian winter wind lashing against your face and searing your lungs makes you vow to come back again and again. And the legs come alive on the well-deserved descent, all perfect powder in retrospect (in reality, lots of crust but thanks to the cold it stayed very firm 🙂 
We skied out to Guarda, all the way to the train, where we again parted ways. Matus and I back to Zürich, the other three for another week (!!??) of touring in Val Müstair… just a little jealous. 
A fantastic weekend in the mountains, thanks Urs and Sabine for organizing!
Piz Buin towers above Val Tuoi

On the way to Fil da Tuoi

Piz Filana across the valley

Urs gets a gift of Piz Buin lip balm on Fil da Tuoi

Urs names the peaks

first sun rays next morning

On the way to Jamspitz

Piz Tuoi (3084m) on the left – our goal, Jamspitz (3156m) is the third bump from the right (you can see the cross on top)

pausing next to some avy debris

wind. cold. 

mountains everywhere… Sabine and Matus approaching the saddle below Jamspitz

Congratulations on the summit of Jamspitz (3156m)

Matus coming up to the summit
a quick summit panorama before my face got too sand-blasted — from left to right, Piz Buin (3312m), Dreiländerspitz (3197m), Vorder Jamspitz (3176m) — Jamtal in Austria extends below
descent back to val Tuoi (if you look closely you can see ice crystals in the air)

Chamonna Tuoi – where they serve fantastic stew and reportedly amazing berliners 
cute little Guarda village – apparently, Ursli lived here (

Winterhorn: Ski Season is Here

First tour of the season with the Zürcher Studenten Skitourenclub was to Winterhorn (2660m), a little peak near Gotthard pass on the border between Uri and Ticino. We braved the 6 am departure from Zürich HB, then we braved some nice winds, and skied from just below the summit in a solid whiteout. Good fun with some great people!

Coming out of the valley

abandoned ski resort — for sale!


approaching the fog

into the darkness

Gross Ruchen (3138 m) from Unterschächen

Another awesome trip with the Zürcher Studenten Skitourenclub. This time to the apparently infamous Gross Ruchen – this is a long tour, over 2100 m of elevation gain. Half of it takes place in a roughly 1000 vertical meter gully/couloir that reaches almost 40 degrees at the top but is somewhere between 20-30 most of the way. Snow was hardpack and made skinning on steep slopes challenging. I love my Dynafit ski crampons… I was feeling fine and jolly until just after lunch at 2600m – the last 500 m I felt really really slow and decidedly unwell. Don’t know what happened, but maybe the altitude and the elevation gain had caught up to me. In any case, we all made it to the top in spectacular weather with almost no wind. Amazing. The ski down was challenging – my light and soft skis were difficult to handle on the hardpack, but the descent was fun – all 2000 meters of it. This was my first 3000-meter peak reached on foot – very exciting. Thanks to Ralf and Martin for organizing and everyone for great company! (map link)

Our objective in the distance – so far away…


The massif eventually gives way to a weakness – the Ruch Chälen couloir/gully
Halfway up Ruch Chälen
Eventually the angle got steep enough that we had to switch to crampons… 
toward the top of Ruch Chälen
Pretty crappy place for a lunch…

Lunch panorama
Approaching the summit block
Fun exposure
Smiling or in pain?? Personally, I was starting to feel it here… 
On the summit
Narrow ridge off the summit

Downclimbing – the gully in the shadow on the left is Ruch Chälen, i.e. our ascent/descent route

Riedchopf (2552 m) and Silbertälli powder (08. 01. 2011)

Another tour with ZSS (Zürcher Studenten Skitourenclub) – this time in a much smaller group (only four of us), probably due to the slightly more difficult route (roughly 1300 m of elevation gain) and very early start (6:30am departure from the HB! *gasp*) Whatever the reason, I prefer smaller groups anyway. Expectations were low – the snow line was at 2000 m for the few days prior. It also rained. I thought we would find ice, except for maybe a pocket of powder or two (I even picked up some ski crampons the day before, and carried my ice axe). Instead, we found relatively great conditions, perfect weather, and even some powder in the protected northeast bowl of Silbertälli! (see map of the area) Low down the gloppy mush brought back memories of the Cascades… All in all, a fantastic day – thanks again to Guido and Patrick for organizing!

Roman, Guido, Patrick hurrying to beat the crowds to the saddle


Swiss candy-wrapper
I waited and waited to get the shot of him skiing from the top, but just took too long and my fingers were freezing
Final few meters to Riedchopf
Airy ridge walk from the saddle to the summit – we approached from the sunny side of the saddle in the background and skied into the shade

On the other (false) summit

Pazolastock (2739 m) with Zürcher Studenten Skitourenclub (04/12/2010)

Running for the tram at 6:45 am in ski boots is tiring. Ski touring by train is awesome, however. We were led by Guido up to the top of Pazolastock above Oberalppass near the town of Andermatt. Starting at 2000 meters is cushy to say the least… an established skin track led us straight up to the summit at a leisurely pace. The run off the saddle below the summit held amazing powder! Lower down the consistency changed a bit and sent me flying for a fantastic blowup that injured my right boot. We skied all the way to Andermatt, almost straight to the train station. Thanks Guido for organizing and everyone else for great company!

starting off up the skintrack

Three generations of K2 skis

yep, that is a chimney on top of a hut
relaxing on the summit
View off the summit toward the west
View off the summit to the east

getting ready to drop in

Guido leads the way