Sunday, January 01, 2017

Davos - Schatzalp to Strelapass

New year's day, so I decided to go on a winter hike. This year just like last year there is no snow in the mountains. So in the end after looking at many webcams Davos seemed like the best option. It is not one of my favourite places, too famous for its own good. But at least there are webcams to show state of snow and being a popular destination during holidays, more trails are built up here.

I took the 7:21am train towards Davos, was lucky to find supersaver tickets for 21.60CHF (original 27 CHF) to Davos Platz. It is a 2 hr 35min trip from Thalwil with a longish 15min stop at Landquart. In the Ziegelbrucke valley there was snow on the ground and none on the tree tops and mountains, it was an interesting phenomenon, probably caused by the fact that this valley does not receive much sunshine.

Once in Davos valley, snow was visible on mountain tops. The train was on time at Davos Platz, but I had some trouble finding the Schatzalp Bergbahn, it requires a bit of walking back towards Dorf. Finally at the talstation I bought one way ticket to be whisked away 300m, at cost of 8 CHF (no halbtax benefits), it was rather steep, but that is Davos for you. At bergstation, I had a Deja Vu, I might have done this hike before or many Swiss hikes look the same.

We started off on the Sonnenweg. At the first fork I decided to take left. This is the longer trail that
winds up slowly with many switch backs. We were able to cut across many of these switchbacks, especially since for some there there were bits icy snow patches at the loop ends. At one point there was a big icy patch that I did not feel like crossing, and the bergstation of chairlift was clearly visible on top, so I just headed straight uphill towards it making my own trail. This would be a total no no in US where it is important to conserve the wild grasslands, but these lands are where cattle graze in summer, so how much more damage can I really do! And anyway in couple of weeks all the grass will be killed by snow cover.

At the chairlift bergstation we met the much wider trail coming straight up from Davos. And suddenly from here at elevation of 2100m the winter trail also starts. The snow was nice and crunchy at most parts. Some icy section that can easily be avoided. We were surrounded by 3000m+ mountains which all had snow "caps" on them. Right opposite across Davos valley was Jakobshorn where they had made a ski run on the way from top to the valley. It was interesting to see little dots sliding down the steep slope. In front we had other mountains. It took about an hr to reach Strellapass. From the pass we can also see the mountains across towards Arosa valley. I would expect this to make a nice valley - valley summer hike. I wonder why I have never considered it.

At the pass a lunch of pulav and then heading back. As usual I was apprehensive about the journey back through snow, but this one provided no difficulty. There were always work arounds for the icy patches. I took just one fall, nothing to worry. Also did a short detour through the summer hiking trail which many were using and had a nice path formed in snow through it. At chairlift bergstation I decided to take the straight way down to Davos instead of windy Sonnenweg. It is a broad path and there were MANY people on it now.

Since I had pre-bought my return ticket for 17:02 train, I had plenty of time to spent. Spent half an hour sitting in sun on the way, and then back. I was at Davos by 15:20. Today all shops were open here for special sunday shopping. After getting some stuff from Coop, it was off to Davos station for waiting for my train. The station is actually quite nice and has benches to sit on in waiting room. Thanks to my book, time passed quickly and then back home.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Two Lives - Vikram Seth book review

I rarely read biographies, definitely not the one which is 500+ pages long. But this book was lying around and I wanted something to read, so I picked it up. The first part is interesting - goes through few years of author's life. Though towards the end I was confused if the book is about the author or about his aunt and uncle.
Finally in second part he starts with story of his uncle's life. After first few pages, it becomes quite draggy. Going into detailed description of the world war, and minute details of Shanti's life. I pretty much skimmed through it. The narrative is somewhat boring and punctured by not so interesting letters / quotes.
Part 3 which is now about details of his Aunt's life holds more promise. Though from the beginning it starts to wander off into description of a Jewish religious book and its content which have no apparent relevance to the biography. It also branches off into life of friends and other relatives. The most annoying part of the book is guesses to how life of Aunt's sister and mother would have been as a Jewish German during WW II. There is no evidence of how the author made those guesses, but they look very much like what you would read in real literature backed by real accounts and letters of people who suffered during this time.

Ok read if you are willing to skip through the draggy parts. Otherwise just a boring draggy account part real part made up. If this was condensed into 200 pages, would have made a good read.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Col de Riedmatten - Haute Route

This weekend finally I gathered the courage to tackle one of the challenging portions of Haute Route over Pas de Chevres (formerly Col de Riedmatten). There used to be a long 50 foot or so ladder to cross this pass, and now next year they split it into 3 and angled it well to make this easier. So here we go.

This can be done as a day hike from Barrage de la Dixence to Arollo. We arrived at the Barrage by bus from Gare de Sion (requires additional 5 CHF supplement over GA) and started the hike around 9:45. There is a cable car that one can take from Barrage to top of the Dam (for 7 CHF), saves about 20 min. We decided against it and walked up to the dam. At the top turned towards the lake. Then there is a long stretch of flat walking along the lake, made exciting initially by many tunnels. After crossing the tunnels, you soon reach La Barma where hike from Cabana de Prafleuri meets. It takes about 1hr to get here. From here the trail is a bit boring till you reach end of the lake. Ours was made somewhat interesting by few cows with horns who seemed somewhat aggressive. Towards end of the lake a surprise view of glacier awaits, and after that the real hike begins from Pas du Chat. The train now climbs steeply. This is common route for Col de Reidmatten and Cabana Dix. After some nice climb and a short glacier moraine you reach junction of Cabana Dix and Col de Riedmatten trails.

We follow Col de Riedmatten (which also leads to Pas de Chevres). Now the trail goes down a bit till you reach a flat which is end of the glacier. There is a small glacier lake here. This was good place to sit down and each lunch. So far the trail has been steep, but easy terrain, fun will begin soon. From here first there are some rocky sections to cross which do not present much difficulty. But soon we are on a steep scramble through loose rocks and scree. In this part there are some red signs, but you pretty much have to climb on all fours like a lizard and make sure you have good footing. Thankfully this section is not too long and then you reach the fork of Col de Riedmatten and Pas de Chevres. Riedmatten was looking quite doable from here, especially after the scramble we just did. But we headed over to the ladders of Chevres as planned. The way to ladders is flatter and secured with chains which were not really needed at this time. The ladders are surprisingly easy now. We did a little celebration and a snack on top. The tough part was over, and I it was not that scary. From here down to Arolla is easy gentle downhill. We were met with some surprise rain though and I was happy it did not hit us close to the pass. We stayed at a small dormitorio in Arolla.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Les Hauderes - Bricola

After tackling one of the most difficult sections of Haute Route we stayed at Arolla for a valley hike next day. We chose Les Hauderes valley since we had already seen Arolla from far. Being remote area, the bus service is not very regular, and the first bus to leave Arolla is at 8:30am, and then to Fereche at 9:30, which means we can start hike only at 10:00am. This was somewhat disappointing given that we had stayed overnight hoping we can start early.

Fereche looked like quite a remote place, even the road to get there was narrow single lane road. The start is on a tar road till you reach a parking lot where people with cars start. The first part of hike is among trees, gentle climb. You already start seeing some glaciers and the glacier delta below. Then there is a fork, one that leads to glacier and other than climbs up to Bricola. The trail is steeper now, but still wide and easy terrine. It stays that way all the way to hut. Once out of the trees, both glaciers are visible in their full might (or we think). There are good places to take pictures.

After short 2hr since start we reach the wonderful Bricola. The views are breathtaking! This has been the best of view so far. The end of valley is full of glaciers, just amazing. I was surprised at how easy the hike was to get here. We climbed a bit more and wished we had time to go further to next hut or just camp there. This would have made a perfect camping spot. After spending about 30min and a small lunch we ran back in order to catch 15:30 bus back to Sion. Once down to the parking lot, the scene was very different. The are was full of local people just hanging out, cars everywhere. No remoteness. This also make it easier for us to get a ride back to Les Hauderes well in time to catch the bus for return journey home.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Simplonpass - Bistinepass - Sirwoltesattel - Engiloch

On this summer weekend, I wanted to do something simple and stress free. No more traversing the scree sections or ladders, a simple hike with views is all I wanted. Simplonpass fitted the bill. Some had described it as T2, and some T3 - so that's perfect. We took the day pass and headed out with the 6:39 train, even the train route is simple Zurich - Brig - Simplonpass. No need to make 20 connections just to get past Arth Goldau.

We started the hike promptly at 10:00am from Simplon Hospiz (currently closed), though later discovered that hotel Monte-Leone would be better start. Follow the sign for Alpenpassenweg (#6). The trail first takes you down to Bielti, somewhat annoying, and then starts the gradual uphill which gains about 300m till you turn and are on a plateauish area. Some nice views from here, and rest of the 250m are gained slowly and easily up to Bistinepass. The pass is very generic, nothing exciting. You have to walk a little further or higher to see any views, and then the long mountain range on other side of the Brig valley comes into view. This view will remain for most of the further traverse, though behind us. We did a short photo shoot here and then started towards next destination, still following #6. The train is easy, and we meet some bikers on the way too.

After crossing Magelicke the glacier at end of the valley comes into view. Unfortunately the view is partially hidden by smaller ranges on the side. We manage to click few pictures and then reach the junction of #6 and trail towards Sirwoltesattel. Decision point - do we want to go down #6 to get better view of the glacier or march on to our destination. At this point we are somewhat tired and the prospect of going down and up just to see a glacier is not very appealing. So we carry on towards Sirwoltesattel and take a lunch break.

The way to sattel is easy, gentle 200m climb to reach the highest point of trail at 2621m. The view from here is somewhat disappointing. Before starting the uphill traverse to sattel, there is a short detour to take you to the edge from where the glacier at end of valley should be clearly visible. We had decided not to take it, but it would have been nice to make that short 30min detour. 

From the sattle it is easy trail down to Engiloch. The trail does get steep at few places, and there is a short section with 4 iron rods to go down a big rock, nothing stressful. On the way there is a nice waterfall and we decided to take few minutes there to cool off in the water. As usual once we got close to Engiloch, we realized that we will barely make the 3:40 bus back (though we had planned to take 4:40 anyway). At this point we quicken the pace, almost running towards the end to make it to bus stop in time for the 3:40 bus. I hate this running towards the end, but can't beat reaching home 1hr early.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Attack of the cows

yes, cows, the very definition of docile attacked us while camping in the mountains this weekend. In the morning we were going about our day, preparing breakfast of milk and granola when I saw one cow walking towards our camping spot very purposefully. I could tell this is not general grazing pattern, but this one is coming towards us. It came and then stood few feet away. I tried to shoo it away with my hiking poles, but it was not scared at all. I tried shouting, no impact. It tried to approach and Rahul tried the same things, then it finally went away. I was like good. Then another came, same behaviour. This one was more persistent though. It walked and stood really close to the tarp and where some of our stuff was. I tried to again scare it with hiking pole, but it was almost following the waving of the pole instead of being scared, which is never a good sign. This one was more persistent and it started going for our stuff - gloves, camera and some other random stuff on the tarp.
Then I pulled the tarp and our breakfast of milk and granola spilled. Then we finally realised - they were after the milk! That small bowl of powdered milk was attracting so much attention from across the hill. Once I knew that, I was like we are toast. There are about a 100 cows in this area and they are huge animals. We have no power over them. It was time to panic. Once the milk spilled, I grabbed all my stuff from the tarp and let them go at it. While they were busy with milk, we quickly drank whatever was remaining in the bowl. I washed it quickly with some water. We shoved everything into our backpacks. I had not packed my backpack this fast before. Soon the cows realised the milk is no good. But they were still confused. Some went for my poles which had some spilled milk on them. I was wearing the milk stained jacket, and I was not going to part with my North Face waterproof jacket for some stupid cows.
Someone we managed to grab all our gear, including the cereal bowl (the $40 titanium kettle!), put it all in the packs, and started walking away. I knew internally that they are not going to follow us, or maybe I did not want to think what we are going to do if they followed us. As we were walking away, I could see more and more cows coming over from other hill. They looked at us walking away but someone did not follow. Faster and faster we climbed, and only when we had put enough distance between them and us that we stopped to catch a breath and take count of our stuff. We had escaped with all limbs intact and all our gear.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Oberlappass - Pazolapass in snow

This weekend I had big plans - hike into a valley behind Overalppass, over a 2400m+ pass, camp in the valley and then out over 2700 Stella pass to Gotthard pass. This was also a perfect weekend for that, warm and sunny. What I totally forgot is the big storm that came Wed - Fri. This storm apparently dumped tonne of snow in the mountains - in middle of July! This became clear as soon as the train stopped at Oberalppass. The snow was visible right at the bottom. This totally made me anxious. We were at about 2000m, and we had planned to go up to 2700m with full 20lb packs. How is that going to happen. At the trail there was a huge map showing the Vier Quelle trail. Unfortunately there was no mention of Tomasee which was our first stop. There were a bunch of people going on this trail, so we started on it too. The trail instantly started climbing steeply and had snow from the start. This was all wrong, the trail was suppose to be flat, slightly downhill for first 2km. Of course I had not noticed that.

This trail was steep, and snow was making it tricky. At least in the morning the snow was hard and it was easy to follow footsteps made by previous hikers. At places the trail was so steep and tricky, I was totally dreading coming down it. When dry it would be fun, but in slushy snow of afternoon it looked very dangerous. I will worry about it on the way down. Up and up we went on this steep trail. On the way we met 2 women coming down, so I asked them about the trail to the lake. They gave us the bad news I was dreading, they had to turn back because the trail was too unsafe at top. Oh well, at least we had to go up to the pass. So up we went. The pass came, and it was 2580m! what! On the day when there was snow everywhere, we climbed extra 200m. It was clear that no one is going to 2700m stella pass. This trail was also going further up to a peak, and then it would drop down to the lake. It would have made a wonderful trail when snowfree, but at this time, the snowy ridge was looking quite unsafe. There was very high chance we would be forced to turn back before the lake.
So now there was difficult decision, keep going up till we can, and hope we reach the lake, or turn back. The only good news of the day was there looked like a long and easy trail down to Naschten train station.

Some people had gone down that trail already, though it was looking quite unused. It was very tempting to go down this trail and put and end to the snowy misery of the day. It was also looking too cold to camp. Decision made, we were free to look at the view. The view was indeed amazing, almost 360. The mountains around were all covered in snow now again. I still could not believe we found so much snow on the trail in middle of July, I was still in shock. We clicked some pictures and then started down. The trail was somewhat clear. Snow had become all slushy at this point and we were sliding all over. Luckily the trail was not very steep and it did not get dangerous at any point. Relaxed, we decided to take a break to eat lunch and enjoy the view. Did I mention it was just amazing. It was long way down, and on the way we kept making plans on how we can still salvage our camping plan and cram in another hike in tomorrow's wonderfully sunny day. Once the snow was over, there was one waterfall to cross. There was lot of water at this point, so I had to remove my shoes and walk though it, reminded me of Iceland.

Finally down to Naschten station, none of our camping plans were working out. So in the end back home, somewhat disappointed, but still feeling like there was not much more we could have done. In the end it was a great day hike, and if we had not had to cancel the camping plan we would have been very happy with the day hike.