Monday, 13 February 2012

Snowshoeing weekend in Graubunden

At the weekend Anny and I tried snowshoeing for the first time.  We went with a couple of friends of ours, Irina and Daniel, and they drove us to the start location in St Antonien.  Anny and Irina left on Sunday morning and took the train home, but Daniel and I did a second more strenuous snowshoe hike on Sunday and then he drove us back to Zurich in the evening.

On Saturday morning we arrived at the hotel where we had arranged to meet the guide at around 11am.  We had decided to go with a guide so that he could show us some nice routes and also for safety, because the risk of avalanches in that region is fairly high at the moment.  The guide was Dutch but spoke both German and English.  He explained that Saturday would be a fairly easy hike and then Sunday would be a little more challenging.

After getting a nice hot drink to warm ourselves up, Otto the guide showed us how the avalanche rescue devices worked and then gave us the snowshoes and poles.  There isn't much need for instruction in how to hike on snowshoes, because more or less it is the same as walking except that you have big pieces of plastic on your feet.  The route was a long steady climb up to a hut where we stopped and ate our lunch. On the way up a 63 year old lady passed us on skis with skins on the bottoms, and we were quite impressed by how fit she was.  Around the time she passed us we saw a group of chamois higher up the mountain.  They are a goat-antelope species that are well adapted to living in steep, rugged, rocky terrain such as the Alps.  The lady's dog was trying to stalk them and somehow hoping she didn't notice what he was doing, but he had no chance and she called him back, and he came back on her first call.  If only Negrita was quite that obedient.

After a lunch consisting of bread, chocolate and mulled wine, we headed a bit higher up the mountain just to warm up a little, and then we turned round and headed back to the start point.  We had left Negrita in the hotel while we headed up the mountain, so we went back to fetch her and then went out for dinner.  It would have been nice to take Negrita with us, but the snow was far too deep and she gets cold very quickly.  Our stomachs satisfied we went back to our rooms and rested/ slept for pretty much 11 hours.  It was not as though there was much night life to keep us up late.

The happy couple

Lunchtime snacks in the shelter of a summer hut porch

On Sunday morning Anny and Irina left, and Daniel and I had a breakfast buffet and then waited for the guide and a few additional people to turn up.  Daniel had posted the snowshoe hike on and one girl had signed up via that.  In additional a husband wife pair who Daniel knows through his work were coming from Zurich.  So we were 5 people plus Otto the guide.

Once everyone arrived we drove to the start point, and commenced the hike.  The original plan had been to start the hike from the hotel, but the route had changed due to the increased avalanche risks.  The mountain we were climbing was the Eggberg.  From the start point to the top of the Eggberg was around 750 vertical metres and we were climbing at the rate of about 300 vertical metres per hour.  The Eggberg is well hiked and there were always ski tracks to follow, allowing us to move quicker than if we had to make our own trail in deep powder snow.

Everyone in the group was pretty fit and climbed well, although due to my current state of fitness I felt like I wanted to run up the mountain at times, and to burn off some excess energy.  Once we reached the ridge I did run a little.  I ran the final few hundred metres along the ridge to the summit.  The views from the top were stunning and well worth the journey up to see them.

It was pretty cold on top and even colder on the way down as the sun began to fall and the side of the mountain that we were descending was plunged into shade.  One of Daniel's snowshoes broke on the descent and the guide lent his snowshoes to him.  That meant Otto was then descending in just his boots and he was sinking into the snow every few metres as the ski tracks gave way.

Half frozen we arrived back at the car park and then drove back to the hotel for a cheese fondue.  There is no better way to finish off a cold day in the mountains than with a bubbling hot fondue along with some alcohol.  Fully warmed up and bellies satisfied once more we separated and drove back to Zurich.  Anny was waiting for me at home with open arms and the weekend went very well.

Daniel making his way up the Eggberg

Others from the group close on Daniel's heels

The top of the Eggberg - a buried sign

Me on the top

Me on the top again

An interesting snow formation near the car park

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