Friday, February 19, 2010

Rest day...finally

Spent a few days repeating the drops we'd done with Krister - snow's still better than it should be, with lots of tracks to be had. The pole-out off the drops from the Gemsstock still smarts, and as the days goes by, it more and more resembles a dash down avalanche alley, with the sun-afflicted slopes on the opposite side sliding daily to the extent that the pole-out track is simply gone each time we come back down. It was a while now since the last snow fall, and with warmer temperatures and high wind, at lower altitude at least the rocks are starting to poke through. There seems to be some sort of local holiday here, and especially the weekends are (by Andermatt standards at least - hardly Verbier) more busy, too. On Sunday we took the train to neighbouring Oberalp to escape the crowds to do a little cheeky tour - 700 metres of up straight off the train, pretty much, with several options at the top - retrace our tracks down to Oberalp, ski down to Andermatt, ski down to Tschumat (next stop along the railway) or carry on up a succession of other peaks and ridges. We had no clue, and no map. At least the visibility was good, and - really - how hard could it be? Besides, the weather looked totally awesome - a balmy -5, clear blue skies, and the ascent in the sun. It was pretty obvious were to go, so we mounted the skins, took off as much clothing we could afford to without being arrested, opened any remaining vents, and set off. Exerting yourself in cold temperatures is a bit weird - you can be dripping with sweat, yet have cold-numb fingers or toes. There were a handful of wiry old-timers ahead of us, who needless to say easily out-paced us. We reached a small ridge after about 500 metres of vertical, which dropped into a massive bowl, and we had the choice of carrying on to the summit itself, or taking a high traverse into the bowl and up the other side to a col. The gnarly old-timers looked as if they intended to take the traverse, so we followed suit. Breathing now started to get a tad laboured, but soon Sarah with me in tow pulled up onto the plateau at the col, 1:40 after we set off. It was blowing a hoolie. We quickly put on all our clothes again, and deliberated. Some quite frankly outrageous tracks were coming down steep colouirs from the next ridge which would require a steep scramble up. However, steeper than 30 degrees, and sun-facing didn't exactly feel safe. The Andermatt side was the lee-side which didn't quite appeal either, as from the train we'd seen several wind slabs that had slid, some with tracks (boarders, obviously) as clear triggers. We decided to aim for Tschumat, clearly visible far down the valley. Although several tracks were leading down, there was plenty of powder to be had, and we had a pleasant run down, complete with two pointless face-plants for moi. We sat down about half way and ate our sandwiches before commencing the long slide down to the village of Tschumat, and a quite frankly well-earned half of shandy in the sun.

Monday, and after failing to convince Sarah to take a rest day, we decided to at least take it a bit easy and piste-cruise from Oberalp to Sedrun. Although the weather was nice, it really wasn't worth it. Iced-up, scraped bare - we've become powder-junkies, and there's no going back.

Tuesday, and we're back at the foot of the Oberalp climb. The night before we'd sensibly acquired a ski-touring map, and picked the brains of our friendly, and very experienced neighbour, Lara. We thought that this time we'd start up the same track, but carry on up a few more peaks, and drop into Andermatt. We beat our time to the col by 7 minutes, but this time the weather had really come in - both Sarah and I lost the sensation in our fingers, and the Andermatt side was shrouded in cloud. We briefly toyed with the idea of doing the next ridge, but even booting up the knife edge in the strong wind felt unjustifiable, so we aimed our tips down towards Tschumat again, albeit using a different route. I can't recall ever being quite so cold, which took some of the enjoyment out of a fantastic run in great snow conditions. This time we had to choose between train and shandy-half, and the train won.

Wednesday dawned to somewhat poor visibility, but incredulously again I failed to convince Sarah of the need for a rest day. The conditions were actually quite good (bar the early visibility), with the rest of the town sensibly having a rest day, and the wind having erased some of the tracks. Somewhat leaden-legged from the previous day's tour we kept throwing ourselves at the massive mogul field down the main bowl to give the legs a good workout. Skiing moguls is good for the soul, especially so on touring skis.

And so we're nearly up to date - yesterday we again packed our skins to try a little tour recommended by Lara. Dropping off the back of the Gemsstock, and up to the col leading down to the Guspis, but instead carrying on up the peak to the left. We didn't bother putting the skins on, and instead booted all the way up, and were greeted with acres of options, all seemingly untracked. We dropped in, traversing right into a wide colouir giving perfect powder turns and wide smiles. The plan was to follow this until it eased off, and then skin up the right bank, crossing over a ridge to gain access to an easy-angled ascent up to a col between two peaks just short of the 3000m mark and then drop back into the Hospental run down the Guspis valley. Conditions were very nearly perfect, with complete solitude and untracked snow. Sarah broke track up the 300m ascent, but as we came up to the ridge, the wind and bullet-proof snow on the other side convinced us to retrace our tracks and ski back the way we had come up. A long, wide snow field of packed powder led us back down to the frozen lake, where we stopped to consult the map. We knew we had to reconnect with the long riverbed leading back to the Vermigelhutte, a Swiss Alpine Club hut at the beginning of the avalanche alley pole-out. This time we'd have to do the full length of it. We found a lovely route out, and parked ourselves on the benches outside the Vermigel to finish our snacks and have a drink of water. The Vermigelhutte is a lovely piece of work, solar-powered, with a full kitchen and honesty bar and outrageous views. This time the pole-out was less strenuous, as the bits of track not yet washed away by avalanches had an icy polished surface to them. In several places the snow pack made the unnerving 'whoomph' sound when we passed, the sound of a collapsing layer that on steeper ground really is bad news. It was about 4pm when we returned to the village - a full, perfect day out in the mountains from only a single uplift.

This morning the snow had started falling, and the clouds were in. Finally, Sarah agreed that we could have a day off, after 11 days on.

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