Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thursday: Mutthornhütte Ascent

On Thursday and Friday, we had the first of our overnight hikes. Eleven of us (myself included) went to the the Mutthornhütte, while the other three hiked up to Lötschenpasshütte (see map for locations). Everyone woke up at about 6:30, packed their day packs, ate breakfast, and took a bus to the town of Seldon, which was located about halfway between Fründenhütte and Lötschenpasshütte. We got to look at the oldest surviving German Bible in existence, which dated from 1696, and is in the possession of the oldest person in the valley. After that, we went on our way.

The first part of the hike was rather easy, as we just followed the Kander River upstream. However, as we approached the Kanderfirn glacier (the source of the Kander), we found that we had to get around a steep cliff. So we ended up hiking a couple hours in a steep climb in order to ascend to the start of the glacier, which tired out several people. Once we made it, though, we were treated to a spectacular view of the valley to one side, the massive glacier to the other, and mountains surrounding both.

After a break for lunch, we started to work on crossing the Kanderfirn. Everyone put on their harnesses, crampons (essentially spikes for our shoes to they could grab onto the ice), and got their ice axes on the ready. We were split into two groups, with one guide leading each one. Then, each person in a group was attached to each other by a rope. That way, if one person fell into a crevasse or something similar, the other members would break their fall.

Initially, crossing the glacier proved to be relatively easy. The slope wasn't steep at all, and the crampons provided good footing for the ice. However, what did prove to be a challenge was the fact that it was cold and windy. Several times, we felt gusts of 70 or more kilometres per hour (about 45 miles per hour) blow between the mountains that were surrounding us. Thankfully, though, it was a tailwind, so we managed to get a slight boost to our speed, provided we weren't being concerned about not falling over.

While on the glacier, we got to view the Alps in their full glory. To the left and right were mountains easily reaching over 3000 metres (10,000 feet) high, all composed of nothing but rock and ice. In front of us lay what seemed to be the never-ending Kanderfirn glacier, a huge river of white. Behind us, we could see more mountains in the distance, the valley from which we came too low for us to see.

The trouble with being on a glacier and above the tree line, we quickly learned, is that there is no way to tell how far away something is. We would see a mountain and think that it was only about half an hour away. However, half an hour later, it did not seem like it was any closer. In addition, we were crossing the entire length of the third-largest glacier in Europe, which turned out to be quite a ways longer than we thought it would be.

After a while of easy climbing, we reached a flat spot. There, the melted water does not flow nearly as fast, and so the ice became slush at several places. We had to watch out, as a person would step onto what seemed like a secure spot, only to fall knee-deep into the ice. I myself tripped and fell once, getting the entirety of my pants soaked, not to mention my socks and shoes.

Once we passed that, we ended up crossing what was almost entirely snow. Although this all but guaranteed that our socks and shoes would be soaked, it was a rather nice relief compared to the wet slush that we traversed earlier. Also, at that point, we began to see the hut, though we quickly discovered it was a lot further away than we initially thought it was. After about an hour and a half of what seemed liked chasing the end of a rainbow, we finally arrived at the Mutthornhütte.

When we arrived, we were given some marsh tea and some chocolate, and we got to take off out wet footwear and get settled. Some of us napped, while some of us played Settlers of Catan while waiting for dinner. When it arrived, we got to have all-you-can-eat soup, all-you-can-eat salad, all-you-can-eat pasta, and finally crème brulee for dessert. Everyone eat ravenously, and it was one of the best dinners I had. Then again, we were so exhausted, they could have served cardboard and we would have still eaten it up.

While we were eating, we got to watch a big hailstorm outside the windows. Once we finished dinner, we relaxed a bit and enjoyed being inside and warm for a few hours. At around 9:00, we all started heading to bed. We slept in a room that was lined with two levels of about ten mattresses each. Thankfully everyone managed to have a good night's sleep despite the thinner air (we were at 2900 metres) and the snoring.

I'm probably going to end this post for now, but later on I'll talk about Friday's descent.

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