Friday, April 30, 2010

Ortler Ski Tour ~ Trip Report ~ April 12-18, 2010

This year we ran two Ortler Ski Tours in the Southern Tyrol. As luck would have it, we had slightly better snow on the second trip than the first, but both trips allowed us to accomplish much of what we wanted to ski. The second trip ran from April 12-18, and NMS guides John Race and Mike Bromberg were joined by Jeremy F., Dane D., John A., and Reidun L. Kim L. had planned to come, but a last minute ski injury had him staying in Bormio and then coming around to meet us in the ski area above Sulden part way through the trip.

As the weather was good on day 1, we hit the ground running, made a quick trip to the Branca Hut (2487 M / 8,160'), dropped some gear, and then headed out to ski some nice powder below Punta San Matteo (3678 m / 12,068'). Many of the ski tours in this area have you crossing the toe of the Forni Glacier. The photo above is looking up the glacier from near the terminus of the glacier.

As we climbed higher the clouds were coming in and out, which would remain the pattern for the next several days. In the mornings things would be clear and by around 1 pm the tops of the peaks were starting to cloud up and on some days we would even get some new snow.

As we crossed over the Forni Glacier we ran past the icefall that forms on the North edge of the Forni Glacier under the Palon de La Mare (3703 M / 12,150'). Last year there was a fantastic ice arch that you could ski under on your way up the glacier - it had collapsed over the winter and not reformed.

Most of the group opted for the "short bus" and skied the lower north facing slopes, while Jeremy and I opted to climb a bit higher to the base of the small headwall that leads to the summit ridge. Recent wind had refilled these upper more exposed slopes and we had nice skiing all the way down to the the glacier.

Jeremy getting some good turns in on the north aspect just above the Forni Glacier. In years past this area had deeper powder, but less stability, so it was nice to be able to edge out to the steeper lines we had avoided on past trips. We found classic mountain conditions, where a line with slightly more sun would have a slight crust, and by moving a few meters to the side things were still skiing really well. By late afternoon we were all back in the hut enjoying the amazing food that the Branca Hut is know for.

On day 2 (April 13) we set out for the quick and dirty trip up the Palon de La Mare, which is more south facing and consequently a little harder to hit in perfect conditions. The climb starts with a fairly exposed traverse high above the Forni Glacier and requires very precise route selection to keep things reasonable. Everyone did really well with the firm skinning and we made good time up to the spectacular almost hanging glacier that descends the West side of the Palon de La Mare.

At the very top things were starting to cloud up, so most of the group grabbed the best skiing while Jeremy and I stubbornly continued to the summit. On the top we met a nice group of Italian skiers who had climbed Cevedale (3769 M / 12,366') and traversed over to the summit of Palon de La Mare from the backside. After this we spent a second night at the Branca Hut.

On day 3 we split into two groups with John, Reidun, and Mike going up the valley to the West of Cevedale and making a stop at the Pizzini Hut (2700 M / 8,859') for a cappuccino while Dane, Jeremy and I toured up the Val Di Roso to the col between Monte Pasquale (3553 M / 11,657) and Cevedale.

This is a shot looking down the steep skinning from the col at 3423 M / 11,231'. This slope faces S/SE and can be quite firm in the morning and provide nice spring ski conditions if you hit it at just right time. We were looking to make it over the ridge between the Konig-Spitze (3851 M/ 12,635') and Cevedale, so we opted instead to ski the excellent North facing line that drops off the other side of this spectacular col.

Jeremy is psyched to have finished the 950 M / 3,117' climb up from the hut on what eventually finished as a nearly 1500 M / 4,922' day of climbing. The route around the bottom still has a lot of climbing, but shaves about 500 M / 1,640' of the total climbing.

Dane managed to keep his humor up as we put him through the paces of a typical big day of touring in the Italian Alps.

We all met mid-afternoon just below the Casatti Hut (3254 M / 10,676') on the long boot pack that leads up to the ridge. This is a really interesting spot as it has you climbing past barbed wire and fortifications left over from WWI, when this ridge was a heavily contested piece of real estate with the Austrians on one side and the Italians on the other side. This ridge also forms the boundary between those who speak Italian to the South, and those who speak German to the North. This language difference has many of the peaks along this ridge commonly given two names, which can always lead to confusion when planning a trip to the region. For example the Konig Spitze is the German name, while the Gran Zebru is the Italian name for the same summit.

From the Casatti Hut we climbed up to the summit of the Sulden Spitz (3376 M / 11,077') which is also known as the Cima Di Solda. From the top we skied magnificent powder all the way down to the Schaubach Hut (2581 M / 8,468') where we met Kim, who used the tram in the Sulden ski area to come up and join us. The drive around from Bormio takes about 3 hours and is another good way to reach Sulden, and alternate starting point for the Ortler tour.

Dane showing us the strange technique preferred by Telemark skiers, which we irreverently referred to as "cross country skiing."

This is a photo of the Schaubachhutte from our previous Ortler Ski Tour with the Konig Spitze in the background. I seem to have misplaced my photo of the hut from this trip. Of interest, the couloir on the lower left side of the Konig Spitze was skied several times while we were in the area. It looked like and amazing run.

On Day 4 (April 15) we all skied down to Sulden to have a look around, see if we could get Jeremy's boots adjusted a bit using a bench grinder, and pick up some extra lunch food for the remaining days. On past trips we have skied the amazing couloir that comes all the way to the valley using the slope just right of this church spire.

We all concluded that the cappuccino we had here in Sulden was the best of the 2010 Italian Ski Trip.

After our trip to Sulden we climbed back up toward the Sulden Spitze, this time utilizing the small notch to the NE of the summit to regain the Vendretta Lunga and eventually climb up to the Casatti Hut, where we spent the night in preparation for a climb to the summit of Cevedale the next morning.

On day 5 (April 16) we woke to perfect weather and decided to make a side trip on our way up Cevedale to visit the Tre Cannoni (Cannons from WWI) that sit on a small rock outcrop overlooking the valley that Sulden sits in.

In hindsight we wished we had descended this way given the fantastic snow, but we were hell bent for getting to the summit and skiing the magnificent face of the Vendretta de Cedec from the top of Cevedale down to the Pizzini Hut.

Here is a photo looking back at the Casatti Hut with the Gran Zebru in the background. If you look closely you can see ski tracks coming down the glacier that descends from teh summit of the Gran Zebru.

The cannon that was melted out was really impressive and we were happy that it has been left in place.

I tried to take some photos looking down the barrel as I found the riffled barrel interesting. This was one big gun!

We continued up relatively mild slopes to the headwall that provides the final challenge in getting to the summit of Cevedale.

More beautiful weather!

Eventually we explored two possible routes to the top. Mike and John took the route to the climbers right and stayed on their skis all the way to the summit, while Dane, Jeremy, and I explored a steeper line to the climbers left that took us to the saddle between the two peaks and required us to switch to crampons part way up.

The crew on the summit of Cevedale with the Gran Zebru in the background.

Mike Bromberg was my assistant on this trip and did a great job. I am certain we will see more of Mike in the future.

Looking back toward Monte San Matteo and Pizzo Tresero (3594 M / 11,792'), two peaks that we often climb from the Branca Hut.

The ski down from Cevedale started really nice and then degenerated into breakable crust on the lower section. Despite the quality of the skiing it was hard not to be blown away by this spectacular ski descent.

Here is a nice view of the North facing run down from the pass between Pasquale and Cevedale. This aspect holds up a lot longer in sunny weather and was still skiing nice on the day we came down this.

This is near the bottom of the descent from Cevedale and has a good view of the couloir used to access the upper slopes on the Gran Zebru if approaching from the Pizzini of Casatti Hut, which is the standard ski ascent.

The Pizzini Hut, which is the only hut we visited that has a sauna in addition to hot showers and fantastic food.

In the afternoon Jeremy, Dane, and I could not resist one more short tour, so we headed out and skied up to the Paseo de Zebru (3010 M / 9,876') to scope out the north facing slopes that are hidden behind this ridge. While there we climbed up to a bump on the ridge at 3119 M / 10,233' and scouted a line that we came back and skied on day 6.

Another shot looking back toward the mountains that ring the Forni Glacier and are usually approached from the Branca hut, although they are also easily reached from the Pizzini Hut if you are planning to stay at either the Branca or Forni Huts after your climb.

On Day 6 we hit these slopes behind the Paseo di Zebru (North Pass) as they have consistently produced good skiing even after long stretches of sunny weather. This day was no exception. I believe this is Jeremy ripping it up.

John out looking for the best snow.

Dane showing us high speed Telemark style, which soon ended in what we commonly refer to as a "yard sale."

Mike cleaning up.

The group touring back out of the Vendretta dei Castelli. This day ended up having a really nice combination of powder skiing and spring skiing as we managed to hit the descent at just the right time enroute to one last night at the Branca Hut.

The boys taking a break from what ended up being thousands of feet of almost perfect skiing on a slightly softened sun crust. This is Pasquale in the background.

On the way down Jeremy and Mike could not resist a short bouldering session on the walls of a beautiful barn that was closed up for the winter.

On the last day we had significant new precipitation, so we headed down and made the drive up to Switzerland for the Berner Oberland trip. On the last night we introduced Mike to a few English drinking games.....we suspect he is either still sitting in this position or proceeded to get the table soaked.

Having now run a bunch of Ortler Ski Tours, I can conclude that the Italians have the nicest huts of any we have been to in Europe. Most have hot showers, expensive espresso machines, and the best food of any. The routes do not require extreme skiing, but the terrain gives you the option to get as wild as you want to given good stability. We already have interest in our 2011 Ortler Ski Tours, so be sure to check the website for dates.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Berner Oberland Ski Tour ~ Trip Report ~ April 2010

The Northwest Mountain School's 2010 Berner Oberland Ski Tour got off to a rough start. Ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano disrupted air travel for long enough to prevent most of the skiers coming from the US to make it in time. By the time the trip started our original group of 7 skiers and 2 guides was trimmed down to just myself and Kari Lundgren. Kari and I decided that we would be nuts to not go skiing, so we headed into the Berner Oberland as planned. We had delayed our start by a day in hopes that a few more skiers would make it, but one last burst of ash from Eyjafjallajokull dashed any remaining hopes of others making it over the Atlantic. What followed was 5 days of perfect weather, which allowed us to accomplish every objective we had originally planned in 6 days.

On April 21 we boarded the Jungfrajoch train in Interlaken, Switzerland (567 M / 1860') and rode 2.5 hours to the Jungfraujoch Station located at 3454 M / 11,333' and the start of our ski tour. Assistant guide, Mike Bromberg rode up with us, snapped a few photos, and then headed off on his own tour, as we no longer needed a second guide along on the trip. The photo above is taken looking out the window at the Eismeer Station (3160 M / 10,368'). In the summer it is possible to climb out the window, rappel to the glacier below, and then climb over to the Mittellegi Hut for a climb of the Eiger's East ridge. This is a trip that we offer in the summer.

Once at the top station we hiked through a rock tunnel onto the Jungfrau Glacier (Jungfraufirn) where we put on our harnesses and skis and headed across the glacier to climb the Loumitor and then descend the Kranzberg Glacier enroute to our first hut, the Hollandia (3240 M / 10,630'). The train ride up is a mind boggling train trip through a tunnel that has been bored through the Eiger (3970 M / 13,025') and Monch (4107 M / 13,475') allowing skiers to shave off a two-plus day approach to one of the best ski areas I have ever visited. As we started our tour the skies were clear and the forecast was ideal.

This is looking up from the Jungrfrau Glacier to the Loumitor, a broad saddle located below the Loumihorn (3773 M / 12,379') and the Kranzberg (3666 M / 12,028'). The rock peak on the left is the Kranzberg. This NE slope had good snow on it, but we had to cover some ground to get to the Hollandia Hut, so Kari and I climbed up and then Mike skied down on his way back over to the Jungfraujoch.

This first climb is about 400 meters and provided a nice opportunity for us to stretch our legs after two days cooped up in Interlaken waiting for the whole volcano situation to resolve itself.

This is Kari about 1/2 way up the climb to the Loumitor.

This is Mike skiing down the upper section of the climb to the Loumitor.

Once up and over the Loumitor, we skied the Karanzbergfirn down to the Grosser Aletschfirn. This slope is south facing and we hit it late enough in the day that things were soft and nice for the long trip down, what proved to be a very interesting and in places, broken glacier. The Berner feels bigger than most areas of I have skied in Europe and I could not help but think of Alaska as we cruised down these big, broad alpine glaciers. This descent was around 650 meters.

Once down on the Grosser Aletschfirn, we took a right and headed up to the Hollandia Hut (3240 M /10,630'), which sits just above the Lotschenlucke (3173 M / 10,410') and across from the massive Aletschorn (4193 M / 13,757'). Along the way we met a nice Swiss gentleman who had just climbed the Jungfrau, made the same descent we made, and was now also headed for the Hollandia Hut. We later ran into his daughter who mentioned that he was doing pretty well for a 74 year old! Hats off to the older Swiss skiers!

This is looking toward the Hollandia Hut with the Lotschenlucke below on the left. This is one of the smaller huts in the Berner, but can still squeeze 100 people in a pinch. While we used this for our first night, many groups end here and then ski out to Blatten on the last day. This necessitates an itinerary that is essentially the reverse of what we did.

Kari standing in front of the hut with the Sattelhorn (3745 M / 12,287') in the background.

Once in the hut we dropped our ski and climbing gear, and headed in to change into cotton clothes and have a beer, the usual afternoon custom on ski trips in the Alps. The hut managers were super friendly and while this had one of the simpler menus, and was one of the more primitive huts with regard to things like running water, etc. The Hollandia Hut ended up being one of our favorite huts of the tour. Per usual, we were the only group from North America in the hut, with the rest comprised primarily of Italians from Milan and of course, Swiss.

The next morning we woke with the ambitious plan to climb both the Abeni Flue (3962 M / 12,999') and the Mittaghorn (3892 M / 12,769') before skiing down valley to the Konkordia Hut (2850 M / 9,351'). Just up valley from the hut we stopped to take a look at a recent slab avalanche that had been caused by a cornice collapse, a photo that is certain to make it into our AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Courses. The crown is around 8 feet deep...yikes..

Again, we experienced perfect weather as we headed up the Abeni Flue Glacier to our first objective, the Abeni Flue.

Kari steamed right along and we made the summit in a few hours. From the top we were able to enjoy views of the the entire Haute Route Ski Tour to the South and of the nearby Jungfrau and Monch as well as amazing views down into the Konkordiaplatz, where some of the largest glaciers in Europe come together.

Shot from the summit of the Abeni Flue.

Looking NE to the Jungfrau (4158 M / 13,642') and the Monch (4107 M / 13,475').

On the summit of the Abeni Flue we were buzzed by what appeared to be a vintage Swiss military plane.

After skiing off the top of the Abeni Flue, we headed over to climb the Mittaghorn, which was a bit more technical. On the way up and down we did a bit of short roping and rock scrambling before following a long ridge to the summit. While the Abeni Flue provided the best skiing, the Mittaghorn was a worthwhile side trip that added a few hours to our day.

Kari at the short crux of the Mittaghorn, which involved a down climb or a lower off a bolt.

Kari coming off the summit of the Mittaghorn.

Following our climbs above the Hollandia Hut we skied down the glacier to the Konkordia Hut. The glacier down at the Konkordiaplatz has receded so much in the past 100+ years that the hut has been in existence that they have built longer and longer stairs allowing skiers and climbers to reach the hut. At this point the stairs are over 150 Meters high and involve over 350 steps to get up to the hut. With this in mind, most skiers leave their skis on the glacier below and take what they need for the night up the ladders and stairs.

Looking down at Kari climbing up the ladders to the Konkordia Hut. I climb of a living and I would be lying if I did not tell you these things, while secure, felt really high and exposed!

Once up at the hut we spent the remainder of the day enjoying the sunshine, drinking Panache (lager beer mixed with Sprite), and I managed to eat a lunch of pasta and then another lunch of Rosti as a prelude to our excellent dinner.

We also made it a habit to drink a few liters of tea each afternoon at the hut as this is generally the least expensive way to rehydrate at the more remote mountain huts, most of which have no running water.

The next morning we rose early, descended the ladders, and climbed up valley to the Grunhornlucke (3280 M / 10,762') before skiing down onto the Fieschergletscher and around the corner to the Wyssnollen (3590M / 12,960'). The above photo is taken looking back toward the Konkordiaplatz just below the Grunhornlucke.

The skiing on the backside of the Grunhornlucke was NE facing as still provided some very nice powder skiing under an impressive ice cliff.

On the tour up the Wyssnollen we got some amazing views of the Gross Wannenhorn (3906 M/ 12,816') and decided that this would need to be the next day's objective. The summit of the Gross Wannenhorn is just above Kari to the right in this photo.

We hit the summit as things were starting to lightly cloud up for the first time in the trip,, so we efficiently skied down and across to the Finsteraarrhorn Hut (3048 / 10,001').

The ski off the summit of the Wyssnollen was a bit more SE facing and thus not quite as fluffy as the skiing below the pass, but it was still a very worthwhile objective.

Getting to the Finsteraarrhorn hut involves climbing a ladder or two, but was much less complicated that the Konkordia Hut. I think this was our favorite of all the huts as it was new, spacious, and had really good food.

A view of one of the sleeping areas in the Finsteraarrhorn Hut.

On our second to last day we woke up early and headed back across the valley to climb the Gross Wanenhorn, which ended up being my favorite climb of the trip. This thing is MASSIVE. We climbed just over 1000 meters from the glacier to the summit and the views of the Berner Oberland were simply stunning. We shared the peak with one other group of skiers and the descent provided us with some excellent spring conditions.

Kari on the summit ridge of the Gross Wannenhorn.

Looking down and across the valley to the spot where we would make a left turn and climb up through an icefall enroute to the Oberaarjoch Hut, which is located in the notch at the far left of the photo.

Kari on the summit with the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger in the distant background.

Kari dropping into the excellent skiing a few hundred meters below the summit of the Gross Wannenhorn.

After coming off the summit we skied down the Fieschergletscher and passed through an enormous icefall (enormous by European ski standards, small for AK or Rainier).

Eventually we made it up to the Oneraarjoch Hut (3256 M / 10,683'), where we climbed the ladders up to one last afternoon of panache, rosti, and the good life to be found in European Huts.

Inside the Oberaarjoch Hut.

A happy guide with his Rosti and sausage!

Looking back toward the Finsterraarrhorn (4274 M/ 14,0223') from the Oberaarjoch Hut.

On our last morning we ski back down the Galmigletscher and climbed the Vordere Galmihorn (3517 M / 11,539'). There were skiers coming from both the Oberaarjoch Hut and the Finsteraarrhorn Hut, so we were not alone, but we greatly enjoyed this last day of clear weather.

On the summit of the Vordere Galmihorn.

Once we left the summit we skied down to the pass between the two summits of the Galmihorn and dropped into the insanely big and fun Bachital, which dropped us over 2000 meters into the town of Reckingen, where we caught a train down valley to Brig, and then eventually around and through the mountains back to Interlaken. We hit this at about 9:00 am and it provided many thousand feet of perfect corn skiing.

Looking back up the valley we descended on the last day.

Walking through pastures into the lovely Swiss town of Reckingen (1317 M / 4,321').

Reckingen, Switzerland.

Despite the complications caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland we had an amazing trip with what was left of the group in the Berner Oberland and we are looking forward to returning in 2011 to repeat many of the ski descents described here and add a few more.

Maps used on this trip:

1:50,000 Swiss Topo - Swiss Ski Maps
  • 265 S Nufennpass
  • 264 S Jungfrau
1:25,000 Swiss Topo Maps
  • 1249 Finsteraarhorn
  • 1250 Ulrichen
Please feel free to contact us at 509-548-5823 for more details, or watch for dates to be posted at our Berner Oberland Ski Tour page.