Skiing Winterhorn (2660m)

Trying to decide where to go for a ski tour in Switzerland on a beautiful day with favorable avalanche conditions is like trying to buy chips in an American supermarket. Any of it will work, but the deluge of options means the perfect one is there somewhere… You stare numbly at the available options and your mind just barely manages to wade through the torrent of information… vertical climb, aspect, quality of views from the summit, length of train ride, steepness of ascent, steepness of descent, technical considerations, weather, avy forecast… sometimes this is just too overwhelming when you try to figure it out during coffee breaks on a Friday at the office. So you resort to either whatever you stumble upon first, or an old stand-by (Doritos are not a gourmet choice, but always satisfying and crave-inducing).

So off we went to Winterhorn, a somewhat uninspiring mountain between Hospental and Realp just southwest of the more well-known Andermatt. It’s actually a defunct ski resort, so 3/4 of the uphill are accompanied by decaying skeletons of someone’s failed idea. I’ve actually been here before with the ski club (see here) but we were stuck in a cloud most of the day and the snow was terrible.

This time, the plan was to do a steep descent to the northwest toward Realp. I was skeptical about wanting to ski 45-degree slopes on breakable crust, but I remembered from the trip four years ago that we tried to find a way down to the east but got lost… presumably it would be fine in good visibility.

Here’s the quaint little village of Hospental in the mid-morning:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

This is really an easy route up — here is a canine old-timer following his crew (of old-timers):

Stefan thought the weather was pretty nice:

Ascending the steep last few meters of Winterhorn:

Leaving the summit:

And finally the downhill:

Finally we opted to skip the steep way down to Realp and instead pick our way to the other side toward the Gotthard pass road. We would follow a series of gullies, hoping that maybe some soft snow would have been preserved in there… and that the east-facing open slopes would have corn instead of breakable crust. Turns out our thinking was correct, and we even found something resembling powder!

Here’s Jö shredding the gully:

Lower down, we skied some fun corn-like snow… an hour sooner it would have been perfect, but even though it was a little slushy it certainly was better than crust!

You know it’s spring time when you can’t ski all the way to the village…

Lovely Hospental:

And a well-deserved break before heading off to the train:

Full gallery here.

Advertisements

Birthday tour — Rorspitzli 3220m

Part of this year’s annibirthday (2 birthdays + wedding anniversary) fell on a beautiful, sunny Friday. Luckily, it happened to be my birthday and not the anniversary, and I managed to convince Tobias to go ski something. He had told me about this great tour from Göschenen with a 2000m descent before and it fit my wish for “something tall in Uri”.

If you want to skip the text and just go to full-screen photos, go here.

We knew that there would be lots of climbing — 2100m of vertical gain. We also knew that this effort most likely will not lead to powder heaven, but instead to some nondescript crusty mess.

In the end, this felt like many ski tours rolled up into one — first the spring-like approach and blistering heat, then some proper alpine-looking scrambling above 3000m followed by 1000m of very enjoyable north-facing snow, and finally the worst death crust you can think of for the last 1000m down to the valley floor.

We started like all good spring tours should start — carrying skis.

Heading up from Göschenen -- snow levels not looking promising

Finally up in the open looking over at Salbitschijen:

Near Salbithütte:

Heading up on the open slopes near Salbithütte

Looking toward the impressive walls below Dammastock

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Heading toward the couloir that gives access to the Rorplatten that eventually lead to the Rorspitzli:

Climbing the little couloir:

Looking back in the direction of Andermatt:

We were trying to move reasonably quickly, but the warm weather got to us and we started slowing down… so not many photos until the summit 🙂

A couple following in our tracks seen from the summit of Rorspitzli (they were super friendly and eventually gave us a ride back down to the train station…)

The summit of Rorspitzli is a kind of unremarkable rubble pile. The scramble up and down is straightforward, but you have to be on the lookout for loose blocks… here we’re downclimbing and you can see the glacier with ski tracks below:

Ridge leading up to the summit pyramid:

Downclimbing the ridge to get to the glacier:

Finally, skiing… the snow was windpressed, recycled powder, but skied much better than expected.

Until we hit about 2000m — then the game was over and for the next 1000m of vertical we skied some pretty horrible breakable crust all the way down to the road.

Here’s Tobias demonstrating the proper technique for skiing this kind of crap:

This will be a great tour to do before work one day… 🙂

Engelberg freeriding

Sometimes you can’t resist the slopes, the snow, the sun, the friends. It’s always fun skiing with Romain and Andreas — we used to pretend that these workday ski outings were group meetings, but now that I’m no longer an astronomist we just call them for what they are: skipping work to play in the snow.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

On this particular day, we didn’t actually go touring but instead opted for a lift-accessed pow-fest. The avy danger was a bit sketchy so the plan was to stick to cruiser slopes and soak in the sun on the family-friendly side of Engelberg at the Brunni resort. When we showed up, the only other people in line were kids going sledding — are we being crazy?!

Once we traversed out of the resort proper, the light, fast powder confirmed that we made the right choice, although it wasn’t quite as plentiful and untracked as we had hoped. Here’s Andreas practicing his tele-style:

We skied all the way to the bottom and at the end found ourselves on ~5 centimeters of snow on top of grass. I cried a little for my skis here and there. Here’s Romain on the most dangerous part of the day:

We eventually got back up to the top and scoped out new lines:

Prof. Teyssier showing off his impeccable french powder style with Titlis in the background:

Lunch on the terrace at Brunni is spectacular with huge cliffs on all sides:

Finally we realized that the south-facing slopes were not gonna last much longer and headed a bit further north in the Engelberg valley to the famous (secret?) Haldigrat non-resort. This place is really special — a single lift allows you to access relatively gentle ungroomed slopes… with an hourly capacity of 50 people.

You call up the guy and let him know you’re coming up so you can pay him for the runs that you plan to do:

The views are amazing all the way to lake Luzern and the north-facing snow stays good for some time — if you can find some untracked patches still a few days after the snowfall…

… which we did

On the way out we got stuck between two creeks and opted to ski out one of them…

View the full-size gallery here

Pizzo Rotondo 3192m

I’ve had plans to get into the Rotondo area for the past four years but the plans never quite materialized. This year it was the destination for the annual “Ralf & Guido Tour” with the ZSS — in previous years, R&G tours have gone to Wallis for multiday high-altitude ski touring at its finest (Turtmanntal and Zinal) but this year a single day trip was the only possibility. The magic of the Rotondo region is that it marks the border between the typically colder north and milder south right in the middle of the main alpine ridge, offering views of the central swiss alps and the 4000ers of the Berner Oberland and Wallis to the west. All of this coupled with a tour that ends in an exciting 200m couloir to get to the summit of Pizzo Rotondo makes for a very attractive tour.

The Bedretto was a particularly popular spot that morning — I guess the scary amounts of new snow and strong winds in the north pushed everyone south of the ridge. You had to be quick if you wanted a spot to sit down on the bus from Airolo:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug



Soon we found ourselves on the north side of the beautiful Bedretto valley in flat light…

On the lower slopes we definitely were not alone…

But soon our track veered off from the main stream onto some steep and firm terrain:

Eventually the visibility went down to almost nothing. Once we reached the couloir, its walls provided some much needed contrast and a reference point:

Our group on the summit:

Descending the narrow snowy ridge was quite spectacular in the flat light:

Back in the couloir:

Then it was time to ski! It looked a lot like this:

Although the visibility improved lower down, the snow deteriorated…

On the way out, we waited for a bus next to this family-friendly ski resort:

This friendly woman wanted to make sure no one needed to use the facilities before she locked up…

And everyone generally enjoys huge amounts of snow, especially on roofs…

See the full size gallery here.

Life decisions… and mountains early in the morning

A few years ago, we were faced with the heavy burden of making one of those decisions that would clearly mark our lives forever. Choosing where to move after Seattle was a task that defied any clear optimization. Though it seemed trivial compared to all other parameters (job, language, city size, music scene, beer quality etc.), being near mountains was a bigger factor to me than I perhaps dared to admit. In retrospect, it’s something I craved the most during the long years moving around the (mountain-less) world — Cairo and Missouri, where I spent a combined 11 years certainly have their charms, but snowy mountain tops are not among them. Spending some time near the Cascades rekindled my love for the outdoors and for the special kind of suffering that brings you to places not accessible to those with less resolve.

Now, with the mountains an easy train ride away, I can head out almost anytime conditions and time allow. In this case, it was early last Wednesday morning. 1000m of beautiful snow and bluebird skies, a few hours with friends and time to be alone with my thoughts during the meditative ski up the mountain. Steep powder-inspired adrenaline. Back at work by lunch-time.

As usual, the full gallery here.

Early morning commuters

Starting out just after sunrise

Sunrise over the Redertengrat, Lachenstock, Zindlenspitz…

The Wägital still enshrouded by fog

Finally in the sun…

Approaching the upper slopes of Fluebrig

Coming on to the ridge with the retreating moon…

Incredible views from the saddle

Going down — in the end, what every tour is about…

And before heading to the office, a final look back

pre-work lake-to-sky adventuring

Abundant snow fall at low altitudes meant that some “special” tours were doable — including Stöcklichrüz, which is a hill above the town of Lachen on the southern end of the Zürisee. What this tour lacks in fun steep slopes it makes up for with the novelty of skiing basically from lake level…!! Good fun, back at work before lunch time…

Full gallery on www.rokroskarphoto.com.

DSCF7992 DSCF7996 DSCF7999 DSCF8003 DSCF8010 DSCF8020 DSCF8026 DSCF8043 DSCF8071 DSCF8115 DSCF8122 DSCF8149