Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 2 with Krister (touring the light fantastic)

Second day was touring day, and we headed to Disentis up the valley on the train. The plan was somewhat vague - go to the top of the Disentis lift system, climb up a further 500 vertical metres, and ski down the other side to some other village, and get back using public transport somehow. At the top of the third lift, we mounted the skins under our skis, and released the heels, and set off up what appeared to be a smallish snow field ending in a vertical rock band. Somehow we skirted around to the right, and a long, slowly rising traverse ended in a hacked-out snow platform over a massive drop, and a set of rungs drilled into the rock leading up the face. I was knackered already, just as Krister informed me that according to his altimeter we'd completed the first 51 vertical metres. My heart sank. We put the skis on our packs and headed up the rock face on the via ferrata rungs. As we reached the top, the view was simply breath taking. A valley opened up, with our main objective in clear sight on the other side - a beautiful, massive snow face leading up a mountain. The initial thought was how good it must be to ski down it, immediately followed by the sobering reality of the fact that we were supposed to skin up it. We stripped the skins, snapped our skis into downhill mode, and quickly lost every single one of the 51 metres we'd so far gained, and then some more on the way down to the glacier at the foot of our climb. In ski-touring terms, 500 vertical metres of gain is small-fry, but standing at the base looking up it looked immense. At 3000 metres of altitude, I was certain that I'd look worse for wear pulling onto the summit plateau. Krister set off, with Sarah hot on his heels. I knew from the outset that I stood no chance keeping up with them. Skinning has its own almost hypnotic rhythm. I settled into 50 steps, short breather, 50 steps. Krister and Sarah seemed unstoppable ahead. About half way they waited for me, and after that I tried to keep up, forcing myself to keep to the (now reduced, for my benefit) pace. After about 90 minutes of hard slog, I finally pulled up over the top, to be greeted by Krister and Sarah, and a bunch of cheerful Swedes that had been ahead of us. We sat down in the snow and had our lunch. Krister commented that I seemed to take the fact that the wife kicked my arse on the uphill in good spirit, unlike some other (mainly American) clients he'd worked with in the past. I assured him (quietly) that my good spirits were only for show. And so for the down. We'd been promised four metres of descent for every metre climbed, which sounded just like my kind of ratio. The story of the descent is one of two halves - the first (and now obviously running out of superlatives) was probably the best run I've ever skied, and all the sweeter for having slogged up hill by own steam. Bottomless Champagne, 30-35 degrees, no tracks, totally awesome-dude-rad, 1000 metres of blissful vertical. The second part was... rather different - well, imagine climbing trees over steep ravines, in full ski gear (including skis). Eventually we made it down, not really skiing, but picking our way down dense vegetation, rocks and steep gullies, until we hit terra-firma, and a long, but surprisingly pleasant run-out along a river into the village. A people carrier had conveniently pulled up, touting for business, picking up stranded skiers between the infrequent bus departures, which suited us just fine - 15 francs well spent to get back, spent but happy, to Andermatt. Back country touring really is it - in fact, you don't even need to go that much back country to get some fresh tracks. We staggered into bed by 8:30pm.

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