From the Bodensee through Apenzellerland

Last fall, Molly and I gathered our courage and tried out our first multi-day mountainbike trip with the baby in tow. I’ve eyed this route in Ride magazine a long time ago – a nearly 100km ride between the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and the Zürisee (lake Zürich). You can find some details of the ride here, but to get the GPS track you have to pay a subscription. Our experience over the summer told us that we can do about 30-35km per day with up to around 1200m climbing – this includes generous stops to let the little guy run around and look for bugs and of course accounts for the slower pace resulting from extra ~27kg of load. So for the first multi-day trip we decided to make it a bit conservative and aimed for covering about half the distance. You can find our route with strava stats here, and on a proper map overlay here.

The first day we made an excellent discovery: the family train car also doubles as the bike car! This makes loading the singletrailer easy and as a bonus provides entertainment for the little people!

Before long we were working hard up some very steep asphalt climbs and quickly left the Bodensee behind.

The promised sunshine never quite materialized, but this didn’t make the pit stops any less enjoyable, just a bit frigid.

Diving into the heart of Appenzel is really fantastic with countless steep rolling hills in all directions. The haze added a bit to the mystique but didn’t make the gut-wrenching climbs any easier.

Here is Molly setting off on a fun little descent:

Frequent stop are necessary to keep the touring party in good spirits.

We made very good time and were heading down the long winding ridge from Buche toward Bühler in the early afternoon.

I’m pretty sure Lev liked the descents as much as we did:

Here’s some more proof that mountain bikers are not the worst thing to happen to trails… fighting past these cow hoof-holes with the added weight was challenging…



I don’t have photos of the last part of the first day because it turned into a near epic – in order to make it to our bed & breakfast in Stein, we had to cross a seriously steep ravine which included carrying bikes + singletrailer up and down many many stairs. Let’s just say the last 2km took nearly 2 hours. We were happy to arrive to a very comfortable B&B and a delicious dinner of Hörnli, sausages and apple sauce. Yumm.

The first day was quite long – 34km and over 1200m of climbing, definitely pushing our comfort zone a bit. We woke up the next day to a very dreary and cold morning and decided for a rather conservative plan. We would skirt around the Hundwiler Höhi (otherwise a very popular mountain bike tour with some technical descents) and drop down toward Urnäsch where we could hop a train back home.

Setting off in the morning toward Hunwiler Höhi with some classic Appenzel scenery:

A nice barn partway up the climb:

We were very very cold when we got to the top of the climb and decided to descent into Urnäsch as quickly as possible. After a nice lunch in a local village restaurant somewhere before Urnäsch, we found the train station and headed home.

This year we plan on finishing off the route by starting where we left off and ending up at the Zürisee – the second part should have a lot more singletrack and less asphalt so I’m looking forward to checking it out!

You can check out the full gallery here.


Talalpsee – Singletrailing above the Walensee

We tried to escape the sweltering early August heat by going for a long-ish mountainbike ride with the singletrailer in tow on the south side of the Walensee. This was the first time I followed an official Schweizmobil mountainbike route – normally they are not very exciting because they mostly follow forest roads instead of trails. However, it dawned on me that this quality makes them perfect for planning trips with the singletrailer. It ended up being a very fun ride, though mostly on pavement and gravel roads, but even with some fun singletrack at the end. As usual, it was much longer and a bit tougher than I anticipated, but both Molly and Lev still seemed to have fun. It was also our first time loading the singletrailer onto a train – it’s a bit stressful to get all the pieces (two bikes, baby, trailer) onto the train before it leaves the platform, but it seemed to work very well! The GPS track of the ride can be found here.

On to the photos…

Starting out in the morning:

Happy singletrailer passenger:

Pit stop:

Looking across the Walensee toward Amden:

A short singletrack section – biking up singletrack with the singletrailer is not so easy!

At the Talalpsee:

Lev loves bikes:

Final pitstop before descending to the valley:

As always, the full gallery here.

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:

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

chasing the sunrise

To catch the sunrise highlighting the storms brewing over the mountains in the distance… that was the plan but getting out of bed before 6am on a Saturday, just to bike up the local hill is pretty challenging.

I was half an hour too late and had to settle for the beautiful color while still on the uphill road:

Since I missed my main objective, but I had a tripod with me, I decided to play around a bit and see whether it’s possible to use the automatic shooting functions to catch myself riding the trail:

Finally on top, I had the place almost to myself with great hazy light — I think I prefer it like this compared to when it’s perfectly clear. It also means fewer tourists…

Some telephoto shots with the 20 year old Minolta Rokkor 135mm f/3.5:

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Check out that nice in-lens vignette at f/3.5:

And a view up at the trio well-known to most residents of this lovely city… but from a slightly different perspective: