19 – 20 August Barrhorn

Our CAS Montreux course to Barrhorn didn’t leave town until 11AM on Saturday, so I had some time to go to the garden and to do some other admin. Here you can see all the apples blown off the tree in yesterday’s evening storm. It was really violent!

Our group was small: the leaders Karin and Aldo Palmieri, Olivier, an prof at the gymnase, and his young adult daughter Lorinda. We connected with another participant, Regula, a close friend of Karin, at the first rest area on the highway into the Valais. Karin went with Regula in her car to keep her company.

The Palmieri are both voluble, and so I was happy to sit in the back seat and let Olivier deal with Aldo, his rather strong Vaudois accent and his on-going playful use of French. I don’t think I could keep up with him if he were a native English speaker, and it was hopeless in French. I think I made good use of the time in the backseat by snoozing.

I had gone with Karin once to Leysin for the via ferrata, after which I was stuck snacking and drinking when what I really wanted to do was get back to Montreux for the Jazz. I vowed not to get trapped into car pooling again, but alas, access to the Turtmanntal is not so good by public transport: one has to train to Turtmann, take a cable car up and then connect with a small bus. This system doesn’t allow for access more that a few times a day and so I once again had to take my chances with a slow return to Montreux. Still Karin and Aldo are very nice people!

We left late on Saturday as all we had to do that day was hike from the trail head at 1900 m up to the Turtmannhutte at 2500m, a two hour hike at most. Half between the trailhead and the hutte was a small power lake connected by tunnels to adjacent valleys and part of the generating system that includes the much larger Lac de Moiry. From here you can look up Turtmann Glacier toward the Cabane de Tracuit through a wilderness of crevasses.

Ten years ago (!!) I came through here on skis with Jeff and Faerthen (https://lifeinlemania.wordpress.com/2007/04/ ) and it was not easy. I learned then that if I was going to do this stuff I really needed to get and stay in shape. While I have not always achieved that goal in the intervening 10 years, that imperative has never been far from my mind.

A post-dinner view of from the hut. We arrived there several hours before dinner, and there’s only so much prep (laying out the sleeping sack, rearranging the contents of the pack) that you can do. To keep myself occupied I brought along the (disposable) weekend edition of the newspaper and read it assiduously, practically every article, at the table reserved for our group for dinner, a bit away from the main room, where everyone else was congregating, but with a window providing good reading light. At some point, Aldo came over to me to assure me that I could join them in the main room, and I thanked him but said that I really wanted to read the paper. There were a lot of good articles and in fact, later nearly everyone in our group took a turn leafing through it. I really much preferred to read than to struggle to understand colloquial Vaudois in a noisy room with terrible acoustics: that’s more tiring than climbing. After dinner I found “the one hut book in English” – In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. It was quite good and as I didn’t get through it all before going to sleep, I would like to finish it some day.

Did Nikki recently mention Chatwin? I thought that I had read something in the New Yorker about him, and indeed there is a nice piece but more that 20 years ago, so I don’t think that I am remembering that! http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=1996-12-23#folio=090

Here is his obit in the NYT http://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/19/obituaries/bruce-chatwin-48-travel-writer-and-author-of-songlines-dies.html?mcubz=1

What the photo above does not give you is the sound of the multiple waterfalls. Their cascades and their roar animated the landscape:


No 4AM breakfast today, unlikely last Sunday. A normal 7AM breakfast was permissible for those of us headed to “minor” summits without glaciers.

We were out of the hut by 7:30 and climbed through cold fog. I am glad that I brought my down vest and fleece gloves. One thing that I did not bring (maybe I did, but I didn’t partake) was Diamox. Barrhorn is the highest hikable summit in the Alps (3610 m, just about 12’000’). Just last weekend I made it to 4071m on Weissmies and on Tuesday I went with Bruno and Eva up to 3100+m at Cabane de Triente, so I figured, maybe, just maybe, I was sufficiently acclimated that I would not need the Daimox. Part of my strategy was nevertheless to go slowly, never fast enough to get out of breath. That meant that I was often 3 – 5 minutes behind the rest of the group, but I never really liked that one-behind-the-other thing (except on glaciers).

Around 9h30 we arrived at Schöllijoch with its view above the clouds to Mischabel.

Christine and I came through here just about three years ago. Who knew this course would turn into Memory Lane? This is the top of the route up the cliff, with the top of someone’s pack just visible. Check out our adventure from three years ago: https://lifeinlemania.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/18-august-2014/

There were even some videos!

Christine starting up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDAYN2sLhlw
Me at very nearly the place in the photo below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XgUngJ4sSw

From Schölliljoch the path to Barrhorn was clear, as was the sky, now.

Looking down to the east from Barrhorn. Here’s a look up from below . It’s a huge vertical drop probably around 500 m straight down to the glacier. I wasn’t prepared to get too much closer to the edge.

On our way down around 11h. Note the double lobbed glacier on the spur at the right…

That same double lobbed glacier is now just left of center in this photo taken back down by the power lake. We dropped 1700 m from the summit down to the car.

We came down past the hut again, and so we did our carfare accounts and got our post-course drinks out of the way (I hoped!) even before the course was technically finished.

On the way home, I once again strategically placed myself in the backseat, even though Olivier expressly offered me the front seat! I caught a few zzz’s heading down the windy road to the valley.

While I was able to get to the top and down without anything like mal de montagne that I have had at other times, I did still have a bit of a headache as we drove back. Hard to tell just what causes that. It could be the longer term impact of altitude , or it could be sun or something else, like a virus!

Most of the headache had dissipated by the time we entered the Expected Traffic Jam on the highway near Aigle. Karin suggested that in order to drop us off at the Collège where they had picked us up, we should get off the highway in Villeneuve, which turned out to be NOT the way to go. It was bumper-to-bumper through Villeneuve where the annual parapente acrobatics extravaganza ( I recommend watching the Youtube video on the site) was just finishing up. It was warm and sunny, with all kinds of people craning their necks to see the show. As we crawled along next to the lake, parapentists spun down like maple leaves to a floating pier just off shore.

18 August 2014

We left Topalihütte at 7:15 on the day after Christine’s birthday. We still had 700 m between us and the crux of this mission, Schöllijoch, a pass which we might traverse in two weeks time with a larger group but only if we are confident that it is doable.

Behind me is Brunegghorn, 3833 m.

The world becomes more and more mineral at this elevation. You can see our route slabbing up the lower slope on the right toward the notch in the middle of the photo.

We finally reach the basin in which Schölli Glacier lies. It had been a frosty night: note the ice in the stream. We had to readjust here as the rocky nature of the (non) trail was taxing Christine and shortly after getting onto the glacier her hands got very cold. However we dealt successfully with both of these issues and slowly moved up the glacier, which has virtually no crevasses.

From here we got our first view of the pass. Two men from Lausanne preceded us and they proceeded up the blue ladder and then over the rocks with no apparent difficulty. Just getting to the bottom of the ladders required some kicked and chopped steps as we did not have (nor really need) crampons.

Christine starts up the ladders. Pas de Chevre prepared us for this!

Above the ladders thick ropes and cables strung through uprights, and handhold/footholds drilled into the rock made it very secure but no less steep.

Here is Christine moving up the route.

I followed Christine and documented with my cellphone as I really didn’t want to have my big camera swinging in front of me (next time!). Here you can see the top of the ladders from part way up.

Christine continued on ahead.

Near the top looking down. Going down would take a lot of concentration but it certainly doable.

Christine was nice enough to catch me topping out.

As you might expect at 3347m, the panorama was stupendous.

To our south was the Bishorn, which I skied up last spring.

Still some glaciers here: Brunegggletscher in the foreground and Turtmanngletscher in the back. Years ago I skied (up) right through the middle of this picture with Jeff and Faerthen in the spring (i.e., when everything was covered with snow.)

It was a long way down to Turtmanhütte. Or maybe it just seemed long. I was suffering from a headache that seemed to be getting worse as I went lower, something that doesn’t fit well with altitude sickness but does align well with the awful ersatz coffee served at Topalihütte. (Note to self: bring my own coffee works on the next hike.)

And the trail itself held a few surprises, at least for Christine. I remembered this cabled section from my ski tour but failed to include it in my description to her.

This was harder for her than I expected but it could be that we were now into our fifth hour without a major stop and not a great breakfast. It was a relief to arrive finally at Turtmanhütte where we took a longer break and recharged our batteries.

Nonetheless we still had another 2-2.5 hours in front of us to get from Turtmanhütte down to Gruben. Rather than go down the road the whole way we took the high route that you can see on the left before finally dropping into the valley.

On the way down we saw this small family on their way up with the proge conked out in the backpack. When I noted the situation the mom had the perfect reaction: she shushed me!! I thought, you are SO right!

After a rather boring 4 km along the road under however quite beautiful skies we arrived at the Hotel Schwarzhorn, a place where we have stayed twice before and the bus stop for the shuttle down to Oberems and the cable car into the valley.

While I order a real coffee and felt 100% better almost immediately, Christine caught up with our proge by phone.

A few minutes before the bus arrives at 17:20, Christine kicks back, having successful navigated her 55th birthday and probably her biggest hike ever! And she wasn’t even sore!

17 August 2014

We had planned on turning around immediately after our return from Normandy to head off to the Alps.

I was just as glad however to see that prediction for weather on Saturday was not good, and so we pushed off our departure until Sunday, which was supposed to be the first of two nearly perfect days.

Sunday morning, a bit before 9AM, on her 55th birthday, Christine warms herself in front of the station in Visp.

Some basic data about how Christine will have fun on the her birthday weekend: in two days, we went from 1127 m at St-Niklaus over Schöllijoch at 3343 m, and down to Gruben at 1815 m. This pencils out to 2216 m of up and 1528 m of down. As there are always a few “gratuitous” ups and down, I think that we can round these figures up to 2300 m up and 1600 m down! These were Big Days in anybody’s book.

This first day was a 1550 m climb over 4.5 hours up to Topalihütte. Along the way ample evidence of the Summer of Mushrooms. No, Christine did not kick it!

While huge, the trail up had a few things going for it. First it was in the shade and second, it was well engineered (aka you didn’t need to pay a lot of attention to where you put your feet). We like this in a trail!

We were already 500 m above St-Niklaus when we first saw our goal for the day, a silver building way above us on the ridge. Can you see it?

It really is there!

Along the way we crossed several mountain torrents where luckily there were bridges.

We climbed a long ways through a beautiful larch forest.

The higher we got the more stunning the views: le Dom across the valley.

As it has been a wet year, the hills were alive with sound of water falling downhill.

Did I mention that it was up all the way?

We managed ourselves well with frequent recourse to Clif bars and chocolate dragés all washed down with lots of water. I also called out every time we had gained another 100m of vertical.

I can say however that we felt it as we passed through 1200 m of vertical and entered the Upper World.

Those last few hundred meters were harder. The hut seemed to hide behind the ledges.

Finally we topped out at 2679 m in front of the hut, a small but very comfortable hut with indoor plumbing!

We came up from the bottom. The verticality of this place is astonishing!

The Bietschhorn over in the Oberland Bernois in the oblique evening light.

The Dom across the way.