Thursday, August 11, 2016

Weekend in the Alps Part III: "Lichtspiele"

It's almost the weekend again - so I hope you guys have planned a few fun outdoor adventures. Myself, unfortunately, I have to work at the hospital - so I am dreaming myself back to the mountains, to the incredible light and shadows at dawn and sunset. Impossible to beat...enjoy!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Weekend in the Alps Part II: Glacier de La Pleine Morte

Glacier de La Pleine Morte - my first glacier and my first alpine tour combined with three summits on the ridge to Wildstrubel summit. It was an ambitious tour since a bad weather forecast with a 65% probability of thunderstorms for Sunday changed our original, a bit more relaxed, route. Hence, we decided to take the "Wildstrubelhütte" as a base camp and cross the glacier, mount on the ridge and hike over to Wildstrubel summit and then climb down to the "Wildstrubelhütte" again for the night. First, this allowed for a short and fast descend on Sunday with the aforementioned announced thunderstorms, and second, this also allowed for a lighter backpack for the tour. After a lot of discussions of all the pros and cons, we eventually settled on this plan. 11 km, with about 600 mH to climb up to Wildstrubel summit. 

So, the alarm clock rang at 5 a.m. and after a quick breakfast we were greeted with pink skies. I tried to hurry up to take a few pictures of the beautiful light without slowing the others down. Since I had decided to carry my DSLR along, I was determined to make good use out of it and shoot as much of the Alps' beauty as possible. Even if that meant I had to hike faster to take my pictures without making anybody wait or lose precious time in the mountains.

The trek started towards the "Wisshore" where we could already spot the glacier plain in the distance and changed into helmet, crampons and harness. Once we arrived down on the glacier, which was covered in slushy snow with a few little glacier lakes (one in the shape of a heart :-)), we used the rope and got in line to avoid anybody falling into one of the glacier cracks. This glacier reportedly has very few cracks, but was also covered in snow, so the cracks wouldn't have been easily visible.

The glacier crossing was tough - not that much physically, but mentally. We walked for hours under the blazing sun, in slushy snow, with nothing but whiteness around. We advanced slowly, so the views did not change too quickly (they didn't seem to change at all) and it started feeling a little dull to step into the footsteps of the others. However, on the other hand, you never knew if there were any cracks underneath so I tried to stay alert and watch my steps carefully.

Eventually, we reached the ridge that would take us up to Wildstrubel summit. So, after a short break with a few of the aforementioned granola bars (peanut butter is a real energy booster), we made our way up the ridge. In my determination to document this alpine adventure I tried to get ahead of the others, snapping as many shots of the splendid views as possible. Since we were already running late on our schedule, there was not that much time for taking a rest and admiring the views, so I thought it was even more important to document it on film so we could later conjure up the memories.

The views were simply breathtaking.

On the way up to the ridge...

Eventually, as we left the slushy snow behind, we could take off the crampons.

And again, beautiful views on both sides of the ridge. Up there on the ridge, the views changed every few meters and I would have loved to take more pictures, but I couldn't take out the camera as regularly as before since I needed my hands for a bit of climbing along the ridge.

Final ascend to Wildstrubel summit with the clouds rolling then, we were pretty late on our schedule, so we were all getting a little nervous and stressed out, trying to go a little faster, but also feeling the drain of many hours of hiking already...

Wildstrubel summit. we quickly signed in the book, the wind almost blowing us off the ridge, and started our descend down to the glacier and over to our night's base camp at "Wildstrubelhütte". By 5.30 p.m. we arrived at "Wildstrubelhütte", all safe and sound, but a little exhausted from an 11-hour trek. In the end, we found out that we had miscalculated the distance - we covered 17 km on that day, so no wonder, we couldn't keep up with the envisioned schedule.

It was a wonderful adventure, physically and mentally challenging, but so rewarding, and I cannot wait for the next tour. Thanks for all the planning to Martin, Johannes and Elmar and also to Doro for the great company. Let's do this again!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Weekend in the Alps Part I: Iffigenalp to Wildstrubelhütte

Eventually, after a lot of rainy weekends, the weather gods were with us - Martin and me embarked on our first alpine tour.  Together with three friends we had planned to cross a glacier and mount the Wildstrubel summit - an initiation to alpine trekking.

Preparation is key in the mountains so I had started packing my backpack in anticipation already a few days prior to the departure. In an attempt to keep things as light as possible, I probably repacked the whole thing about five times, wondering about all the gear that was involved. A climbing harness with carabiner, a pickaxe, crampons, a helmet and a few funny looking things that I am not able to name correctly that were absolutely necessary to have at hand in case of an emergency ;-)
I tried to remember all the essentials Martin explained about the gear and its use, slowly getting a little nervous but also very excited about the adventure ahead.

As I could't really help with the preparation in terms of logistics, the route and gear, I realized there was only one thing I could "skillfully" contribute to - food. So I searched my favorite food blogs for granola bar recipes and finally settled on the following one:

So, on Friday morning, the alarm rang at 5 a.m. and about seven hours on the road we arrived at Iffigenalp close to Lenk in Switzerland. We started the ascent to our first night's refuge "Wildstrubelhütte" under the scorching sun - 1200 m ascent with a 10-12 kg backpack - it was a sweaty affair. But, the views were an excellent reward: lush green hills with grazing cows with their bells ringing, wild flowers along the way, snow-clad peaks in the far distance slowly coming closer, a mountain current, a name it, it was the perfect post card idyll.

Upon arrival at "Wildstrubelhütte" we dumped our backpacks in the dorm where the mattresses were covered in red-and white plaid sheets, another postcard cliché but looked oh-so-welcoming and comfortable. The "Wildstrubelhütte" was renovated in 2005 but has kept its alpine charm with wooden furniture and thoughtful design.

After a dinner of spaghetti bolognese we quickly retreated to the dorm to catch some sleep until another 5 a.m. wake up call would ring in the next day.

Below are a few more pictures from our way up to the "Wildstrubelhütte". I guess we can all agree on the "post card perfect-ness" of the hike :-)
For me, it was the first time to cross snow fields and walk along glacier lakes in the summer in the Alps (the last snowfall only dated back a few weeks). I was stunned by the simple beauty of it all. The stark contrast of the blue skies, the lush green and the snow was mesmerizing. I hope you can catch a glimpse of it....