Tuesday, December 27, 2016
It's a tradition now. For the third year for Jimmy and I, and the second year for Jacqueline and Christine, we headed north to go hiking on Christmas vacation. We started mid-morning from the Basin right off of 93 and followed the bike path to the Lafayette camprgound. From there we headed up to the Lonesome Lake hut. The trail was very well packed down. We used spikes for traction, snowshoes were not necessary. We hung out at the Lonesome lake hut for a bit, and then made our way down the Cascade brook trail. Early on, snowshoes would have been better. The trail was badly post-holed, and deep in spots for the first bit.
There were a couple of iffy water crossings. We crossed on ice bridges, but didn't feel great about it. Everyone stayed dry.
Stayed at the Woodstock Inn and headed south in the morning.
Pictures here: https://goo.gl/photos/jZeVDDa67QhbWm6WA
Saturday, November 12, 2016
We hit the trail around 7:30 on Saturday morning. It starts very wide and open (a mountain bike trail) for the first several miles. We decided to attempt a bushwhack off the dead-end of the Black Pond trail on the way to Owl’s Head and to just follow the main trail on the way back. The benefit of the bushwhack is that it cuts off about a mile of distance and skips two more substantial river crossings.
The bushwhack on the way to Owl’s Head is easy because you just have to find a trail that you’re traveling perpendicular to. On the way back it would have been quite difficult to do the Bushwhack on the return trip because we’d need to be very precise and catch the end of the Black Pond trail running parallel. Neither of us hike with a GPS.
We handled the bushwhack pretty well (traveling at approx. 350 magnetic) and reconnected with the Lincoln Brook trail pretty far west (cutting off a good chunk of distance). There were a few minor water crossings left which were made much more difficult by the nearly invisible thin layer of ice covering many of rocks in the stream. We were glad to have skipped the more substantial crossings, at least until the ice melted later in the day).
From the Lincoln Brook trail, the Owl’s Head path is actually unmarked and not officially a trail. It’s basically an unmaintained rockslide and herd path to the top. We spent a lot of time on the Lincoln Brook trail staring off into the woods to the east to make sure we hadn’t missed the path to the top. Missing it would have been pretty easy to do and cost us a ton of time and distance. When we found it, it was marked with a small rock cairn which helped. I’m told that rangers sometimes take the cairn down. It strikes me that the safety concerns from having hikers stumbling around searching for an unmarked trail is probably substantially more dangerous than marking the entrance knowing that people will be climbing the unmarked trail. Oh well.
The climb to the top is quite steep (not dangerous, but challenging) and required microspikes at points. We made the summit by around noon which was good time. A couple of good views on the way up the rockslide, but the summit is wooded and not much to see.
On the way back we opted to stay on the trail and add the extra distance to skip the bushwhack in the fading light. We just wanted to be sure we hit the water crossings before dark (which ended up being fine). The layer of ice that was present in the morning had mostly melted during the day, which made rock hopping much easier.
Sunset was at about 4:30, but being in the valley, it became quite dark shortly after 4. We finished with headlamps on and got back to the car right around 5:00. Book time was 10.5 hours and we did it in about 10. Distance was right around 20 miles.
I’ve read that Owl’s Head is an example of why not to do the 4,000 footer list because it’s so far and the view so unimpressive. I’ll disagree. I enjoy the challenge of getting to places that are difficult to get to. The views we did get, were well earned. At the very least it was a great walk in the woods, which is never bad.
We grabbed dinner at Black Mountain Burgers and made a big fire. We both headed back home Sunday morning. I could barely walk on Sunday afternoon, but I’ll still say “worth it”
Not much for pictures because we were hustling: Pictures here.
Not much for pictures because we were hustling: Pictures here.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Recapping this a few months after the fact, but based on emails and pictures I can piece it together. I'll reference the trail map included below. Because I backtracked, I lettered the path to make it more clear (A-H).
Left Murren on a rainy morning (Trail mark A). The north face trail climbs a narrow paved road at first, and then exits onto a farm path with lots of very large, not very shy cows. At several points, I had to navigate around groups of cows blocking gates and pathways. Not being a farm guy, they're pretty intimidating up close, but I got the sense they're harmless. From there I continued on the #3 trail (pink) climbing steeply up the side of the Schilthorn with lots of switchbacks. The rain stopped and in the brief periods that the clouds broke, the scenery was incredible. There was still a decent amount of snow (considering it was June).
I continued on the ridge below Bryndli (Trail mark B) and worked my way up to the Rotstockhutte. Before I left on this hike, in town, I had a hard time getting a sense for the trails and what was "safe" to do. When I arrived in Murren, I was carrying some of the luggage from my business trip, so I probably didn't look like much of a hiker. The recommendations I got were mostly paved paths and chair lifts. I was not trying to get into any ice climbing, but I don't mind some snow, and certainly can comfortably climb some grades. The B&B host discouraged me from going upward in altitude at all, and told me that the trail up Schilthorn was "closed". There's nothing marking closed trails, so I took a method of cautiously going where I wanted and backtracking if it got ugly.
Back at the Rotstockhutte (Trail mark C), the clouds cleared and I got some incredible views of the valley down to Lauterbrunnen and across the valley at the Eiger. I could also see Schilthorn from there. I never really intended to go all the way up because I knew the trails were closed, but this was my first view at how impassible it really was. The steep ridge was covered in ice, and precariously balanced 15 foot tall walls of snow overhung various points of the trail. The sound of avalanches in the valley below, made it an easy call to stop going any further up-hill. I got some soup and crackers from the hut and continued on my way.
From the Rotstockhutte I decided I'd try to take the #11 trail back to Schiltalp and reconnect with the Northface trail to get back down to Murren. I climbed the south side of the Wasenegg ridge (Trail Mark D) which is a mostly gradual climb, but increases in grade as you approach the ridge. At the top, I could see down into the valley below. It was quite clear that descending the North side of the Wasenegg was not happening (Trail Mark E). A snow bowl had formed and collected at least 8 or 9 feet high. It was a perfect crevasse recipe. My legs were still feeling good, so I decided to take one more crack at descending the north side of the Wasenegg ridge from a different (and hopefully safer route). I had heard from my brother Jimmy, that walking along the Wasenegg was disorienting. It's about as wide as a sidewalk, so quite safe to walk along, but on either side of the sidewalk is a fall that would last about 1,000 feet and not end well. If you're walking along a sidewalk, there's little risk of suddenly stepping off, but the stakes are certainly elevated walking this sort-of tightrope.
I headed west, climbing uphill toward the Schilthorn. To the south, the rocky ridge descended back down to the valley near the Rotstockhutte. To the North, the snow bowl continued to be a daunting obstacle. I made it to the high western edge of the Wasenegg ridge (Trail Mark F) where the last trail branched north into the snowbowl, but again found it impassable. I backtracked east along the ridge toward Bryndli, once again, trying not to look down.
(not climbing down that)
When I got back to the eastern part of the Wasenegg where I started, rather than backtracking, I decided to make my way all the way down the east side of the ridge called "Bryndli" (Trail Mark G). This part was scary. The trail narrowed, and the ridge got steeper. Because of some major erosion, the "sidewalk" narrowed substantially, and was no longer flat, but rather pitched at a 45 degree angle down hill. There was a traverse rope to navigate this portion, but that's a lot of faith to put in a stranger's rope. I very carefully side stepped across the Bryndli section and stayed very low to the ground to avoid losing my balance in a gust or muddy slip.
(I don't have a picture of the worst part for obvious reasons)
After Bryndli, it was mostly back tracking to Murren (Trail Mark H). I cleaned up and headed over to the Eiger Guesthouse to watch the Euro cup. Pretty great day.
Hike and other Murren Pictures here
Saturday, February 6, 2016
There was very little snow, but the trail was frozen from the parking lot. Footing was tough right away, and I had to take hard steps with the microspikes to gain good traction. For the most part the bottom third of the trail was very fast moving and not too steep. I was trying out my new winter boots for the first time (Solomon X Ultra Winter) and opened up some solid blisters almost immediately (which was expected).
The middle third of the trail was not as fun. There were lots of short steep sections which would have been fine if they were dry or well covered in snow; however, the thick layer of hardened ice made them very challenging to navigate with just microspikes. Full crampons would have been much better. On a few of the steeper sections, I actually backtracked to make sure I could safely get down them too. I didn't want to get all the way to the top and figure out that it was too slippery to get down.
The summit had awesome views in all directions and the wind was light so I was able to enjoy it for a bit.
The way down was pretty quick but challenging. The steeper sections required sledding on my butt and using the spikes to keep from going to fast. Pretty sore all over by the time I got down. Here's an example of one of the trickier rock slides:
I made it down in just under 6 hours which was pretty good considering the amount of time I spent staring at the steep parts figuring out the best way up or down. There were a few other groups on the trail and everyone had some form of traction. The few with crampons seemed to be cruising. I saw one guy with Yak-Tracks (just chains, no spikes) I have no idea how he made it down. Must have sledded the whole way.
I also tried out my Spot PLB tracking for the first time. It spits out a cool report that shows your time splits every 10 minutes:
SLR and iPhone pictures here