Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tour de ALPS

I am working towards a PhD in Geology. My project is part of a larger collaborative effort involving several universities and is funded for several more years. As part of my research, I will get to spend a significant amount of time working in Turkey. I also plan to attach a non-work related trip to each of my field seasons. This year I am in the Alps, primarily to climb some mountains.

I spent 8 full days in France and Switzerland and spent time at 4 of the major alpine centers of the Alps. Each area was awesome and unique.

Europe Summary:
Part 1. Chamonix - Mount Blanc (France)
Part 2. Ecrins National Park - La Berarde (France)
Part 3. Zermatt - Matterhorn (Switzerland)
Part 4. Grindelwald (Switzerland)

From Geneva, we drove to Chamonix where we stayed in a hostel and prepared to climb Mont Blanc. Chamonix is a fun town with lots of outdoor opportunities. 
Our route started at Auguille du Midi (Tram stop). From there we traversed much of the Mont Blanc massif and climbed 2 other peaks en route to the main summit of Mont Blanc - namely Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. 
Phil heading to catch an expensive ride to basecamp 
View from Auguille du Midi - Mont Blanc is hidden by clouds, but our first mountain, Mont Blanc du Tacul is in plain view. You can faintly see climbers tracks going up the steep glacier. 
Phil and I did some unplanned practice climbing in the Auguille du Midi area 
Mont Blanc in the distance
Phil making his way up our practice climb on the rocks around Auguille du Midi
Making our way to the hut - Refuge des Cosmiques - for a night of sleep before our climb the next day
Phil trying to sleep at 7 pm 
We started our climb at 2 am. It wasn't until 5:30 am until I could get a decent picture. We already climbed Mont Blanc du Tacul and here in this photo we are half way up Mont Maudit - the crux is ahead.  
Phil climbing the steep upper pitches of Mont Maudit. By this point, we had passed all the other climbers (all of whom began before us). 
Guided climbers being belayed by their guides up the steep snow and ice on Mont Maudit
The clouds dispersed as the sun rose higher and offered views of incredible landscapes in every direction
A nice and rare flat section on the route - Mont Maudit, which we just climbed, is in the background.  
As we got higher, the air got thinner and the going got slower. We both struggled a bit once we hit 14,000 ft. We stopped often to catch our breath. We slowly but surely made our way up the summit ridge. 
Looking south over the Italian Alps from the summit of Mont Blanc (15,781 ft.) at 8 am. This is second highest summit I have been to but was perhaps the most challenging and most beautiful. 
Schlife is good.
Phil and I on the summit, ready for the descent. 
Looking back at Mont Blanc as we make our way back down (and up) the route. The bad thing about traversing other peaks and returning the way you came is that you have to re-climb the sub peaks on the way back. It was exhausting. 
This moment was perhaps the best of the day - looking east towards Mont Blanc de Tacul from Mount Maudit
Phil working his way down the crux (while on belay) 
Phil attaching himself to the fixed rope, which we didn't use on the ascent (oops). 
Me checking out the large crevasses we couldn't see in the dark on our way up
Two Spanish climbers descending Mont Blanc du Tacul just ahead of us. We reached the hut at 2 pm. We took 12 hours on the route and we were exhausted, sleep deprived, thirsty, and super pumped - we just climbed the highest mountain in the Alps and we still had 6 days to do and see much more. That night we stayed in a hostel in Chamonix and brainstormed about where to go next. 
En route to France, where the weather appeared to be better and climbing mountains remained a possibility.
After a 4 hour drive through eastern France, we arrived in a town called Le Bourg-d' Oisans. We went to the tourist information office and they pointed us in the right direction - the mountains. 
We drove up a windy and narrow road towards the heart of Ecrins National Park and planned to stay in La Berarde - a tiny village deep in the French Alps. 
After arriving, we unpacked and went for perhaps the best trail run I have ever done. It was nice to not see a soul and be in the mountains running along a beautiful river despite the cold drizzling rain. 
Some type of mountain goat I guess. 
In order to save energy for the Matterhorn, we decided to scramble up a small peak early the next day and get some views of the region. Here is Phil scrambling up the summit block. 
From the summit of Tete de la Maye looking north towards La Meije
Looking down on La Berarde
Panorama from our mini summit 
A very cool summit marker
Phil getting ready for our descent back to La Berarde  
This area felt very remote and much different than the high profile and popular Chamonix and Mont Blanc area - we both loved it.  
                          Fresh mountain water from a fountain in La Berarde 
La Berarde central church - the village consists of about 3 small hotels, five modest homes, and a dormitory style hut - where we stayed. We had the place to ourselves and we were fed delicious french cuisine 
We packed up and made our way back down the road en route to Zermatt. Unfortunately, all the wet weather triggered a rockslide that covered the road with tons of rocks - we were trapped. We were told that it would be removed shortly, so we waited and allowed our dirty clothes to air out.  Sure enough, a bulldozer showed up shortly and we were on our way. 
Phil is very far from being awake in this photo. I really enjoyed this stretch of road as we drove through the French countryside passing towns such as Grenoble and Chambery. 
Driving around Geneva Lake. We spent a good chunk of time searching for food in this area. By chance, we also came across a little topless beach. 
Driving along E62 towards Zermatt
Once we reached Tasch, we had to park and grab a train to Zermatt. In this photo, we are organizing gear in the parking garage. 
Our hostel in Zermatt. Barbara was a good employee. 
Zermatt chapel  
Brief moments of being a tourist 
Tiny taxi
The next day we packed our things, left the unneeded items in a locker and headed up the mountain to take a look and possibly climb the Matterhorn 
The lift to Schwarsee, the lift that most climbers take to access the hike and approach to the Matterhorn, was closed. So we opted for another lift and planned to traverse over towards Schwarsee and then hike up from there. Unfortunately, this was a bad idea for several reasons 1) The tram was $$$ 2) The hike was not straightforward 3) We had about 20 ft visibility once off the tram 4) We could have done the hike from town in less time than it ended up taking us
Phil contemplating the meaning of being lost 
After a 3 hour delay, we found the trail and made our way up towards Hornli Hutt, the basecamp for the standard route up the Matterhorn. Unfortunately, the hut was closed due to renovations so we had to carry additional overnight gear and we both ended up carrying over 40 lbs of gear  
On the Hornli Ridge approach in the fog. The Matterhorn was hidden in the clouds the whole time.  
We got some short glimpses of the surrounding terrain as the clouds blew by and windows in the clouds opened up. 
The "approach" got very interesting as the ridge got steeper and more exposed. The early season conditions forced us to scramble and climb quite a bit. 
IN TENTS (say aloud). We finally reached the Hornli Hut and plopped our tent down close by to protect ourselves from the wind and snow that was bound to come that night
Someone misspelled the name of the hut
Crappy boots, means grandpa feet
The mountain finally came out for an hour or so in the late evening before we went to bed. The route was covered in fresh snow and more was on the way. I think we knew all along we weren't going to summit but once we got up there and actually saw the mountain, we knew for sure. This route is a ROCK climb - meaning you have to rely on your hands and feet on steep rock. With fresh snow on the rocks, the holds became insecure, slippery and your progress slows down significantly - in mountains such as these, speed is safety. 
Sure enough, the next morning we woke up to several inches of new snow. If any hope remained of climbing the route, it was now gone. We made our way down the ridge towards Zermatt.  
Looking down the ridge. Zermatt is below in the fog. 
The mountain was in the clouds all morning until around 6:30 am, it appeared. The sun was shining on the upper summit and cooking off the morning clouds.  We stared at the mountain for several moments - it was amazing. 
We descended the Matterhorn Trail rather than following the standard descent route. We heard this trail was beautiful so we went for it and it did not disappoint. 
Panorama from the Matterhorn Trail. Matterhorn on the left. 
Schlife is good.  
The trail took us through this tiny village composed of restored restaurants and homes from the 16th century
Wildflowers on the Matterhorn Trail 
Approaching Zermatt on the Matterhorn Trail. After packing and cleaning up in town, we made our way towards Grindelwald.
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On our way to Grindelwald we took a wrong turn and ended up in this little village, Realp. It only sucked because we had to drive back up those curves and many others.  
Realp, Switzerland
We found some food, a hostel and went to sleep in Grindelwald, Switzerland
The next morning we went on a hike to Lake Bachsee and up to a peak called Faulhorn. Instead of taking the $80 cable car, we hiked from town. We climbed over 5,000 ft in about 5 miles but it felt like a breeze after all the climbing at elevation with big packs we had been doing. 
Waterfalls draining Bachsee Lake above
We saw some brave tourists at the lake who had taken the cable car, but we were definitely the only ones who hiked from town. We were also the only ones to continue past the lake to Faulhorn Peak. 
Summit selfie on Faulhorn Peak. We got rained on pretty good and the views were non-existent. The entire region was rainy so at least we did something. 

The Jungfrau Train was quite nice but very packed with tourists - not a huge fan of crowds. 
Nice view from WITHIN the Eiger. 
Once you get off the train inside the mountain, you walk through some tunnels and then take an elevator up to this point, where get an excellent view of Monch Peak, one of the largest in the area.
Panorama of the area from a groomed hiking track across the glacier. I tried to get away from the crowds but it didn't seem to work. 
Eventually, I climbed up the rocky flanks of Monch Peak, ate my lunch and watched the crowds walk by. My lunches have consisted of fruits, bread, cheese, salami and chocolate.  
Before I could go, I had to check out the ice tunnels carved into the glacier 
I found a photo booth and asked an elderly Asian man to take my picture! 
Looking down on the Aletsch Glacier - the largest glacier in the Alps. After spending the morning at Jungfraujoch, I took the train down to Eigergletcher to do some hiking. 
I found a via ferrata (protected climb) and went for it. I would rather just climb like usual but it was fun to scramble on some rocks above Eigergletcher

The via ferrata follows this exposed trail and then climbs up the face to the top. It was pretty exciting but very short. 
Here's a close up view of the Eiger Glacier from atop the via Ferrata - Klettersteig Rotstock. 
I took the train down and saw this from my window. I got out at the next stop and made my way to the top.

Timer picture from atop the Lauberhorn - it took 30 minutes from Kleine Scheidegg
Looking down on Lauterbrunnen from Lauderhorn summit
The neighboring peak, Tschuggen
Jungfrau summit massif came out for a couple moments as I made my descent from Lauderhorn to Kleine Scheidegg
Looking towards Grindelwald
I got back on the train towards Grindelwald.
I immediately got sick of the train and got out and decided to walk back to Grindelwald - it wasn't a bad decision. It was super fun to walk through meadows and farmlands in the shadow of the Eiger and not be on a crowded train. 
Translation: "Mr. Dumbo is super kind!!!" 
I got to town and decided to hike up to Gletcher-schlucht - a gorge carved by glacial melt water. As the glacier above has receded, the melt water has carved this impressive canyon.  Didn't have time to go to hight, but maybe next time.
Walking across a bridge on my way back to my hostel
The trail and road signs in Switzerland are awesome and quite helpful. No need for GPS
Looking back towards the canyon 

Grindelwald was my favorite. Too pretty, too green, too quaint, too fun. Heading to Turkey early in the morning.