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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Gaperville, CO
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    TR: Urner Haute Route 2019

    Two years ago I first heard about "haute routes" in Europe. Immediately hooked I started the long plan. At that time I'd spent maybe a dozen days in the backcountry, including my first "hut trip" during my level 1.

    This March it all came together in a big way. Not only did we get an incredible weather window, but the real cherry on top was the BBI-Euro get together at Mt. Lodge Sedrun (@vendul's place) ahead of time.

    I owe Buster Highman a huge debt for all his Euro-beta, and particularly his guide recommendation. This trip was with Dan -- the owner of Andermatt Guides (http://andermatt-guides.ch). An American who sailed to Europe about two decades ago, fell in love with the skiing of the Gemstock and never left.

    A shout out to Martin @ Bild Sektor: https://www.bildsektor.ch/ . Martin is a photographer and film maker who works with Dan a good bit and supplied some of the following pics.
    This is going to take a while to write out over the next few days.

    Background

    The Urner haute route -- aka "the skiers haute route" -- travels from Realp outside of Andermatt to Engelberg. It is traditionally done in 5 or 6 days depending on your variation.

    Here is the variation we ended up traveling on the amazing Swiss Topo site: https://s.geo.admin.ch/8106d95240. More later on these national cartographic treasures.

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    We did a 5 day variation (less common, for reasons covered later.) That means 4 nights in "huts". Carry all your gear and some very minor stuff for around the huts. Most days were 1200-1500m of climbing, and in total a bit more descending.




    Day 1: Realp to Albert Heim Hut

    Took the train to Andermatt with all the BBI folks, then met Dan my guide out front. A quick gear check in which I realized I left my poles at the hotel (which Dan quickly solved at a nearby basement) and then on the train to Realp. Our party for the next five days was 5: Dan, two Dutch brothers, and Martin -- a filmographer friend of Dan's. A 15 minute train, then skins on at the rail station. This is one of the amazing things about Europe -- you jump off a train then walk to fantastic skiing.

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    Followed a plowed road for a few thousand vert to lunch on a warm day. Then up a ridge prior to the hut (which you can see perched in the background.)

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    Turned around and skied this untouched field as our first line of the trip.

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    Skinned back up to the hut. And got some rest. One of the few heated rooms in the hut was one designed just for drying out your stink. After a few days of skiing with mags, and drinking a bit too much, the 4k ft of skinning in sun I was pretty worked.

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    This was the only hut in which we were quite sternly advised not to drink the tap water. Non-potable water is pretty common in many huts -- you'll find everything from "do not drink" to "your call, its meltwater" to "we have the purest water in the world." In every hut, large serving of tea can be ordered in 1 or 2L servings. I think this was 8CHF (approx $8) for a 2L, which is cheaper than bottled water as its just melt water boiled plus tea.
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    We also met Balz who would join us for a day. Crazy fit dude who is one of the original funders behind Faction. He was on some pretty nice looking prototype fat touring sticks.

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    After a 4 course dinner: soup, salad, main, and dessert we had our evening "map time ritual." The Swiss topo maps are truly a work of cartographic wonder. The 1:25000 maps are so fine grained detailed, someone who reads them well can distinguish between small cliff bands of varying steepness. Every evening we reviewed the days route and talked about options for the next. We'd always have a plan and that plan would almost always get altered. Mostly because our guide loved hunting good snow and saw he had a bunch of fit, relatively able skiers.

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    At the end, you settle up with the hut keeper old school

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    Last edited by doebedoe; 04-05-2019 at 09:01 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Day 2: Albert Heim to Gasthaus Göscheneralp via Lochberg

    Next day we were up at 6 eating breakfast. Hut slippers returned, bags packed and on skis by 7. We started with a little meadow skip -- wiggle turns in the style of Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) members.

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    Then up and over the Lochberg. I haven't spent a lot of time on icy skin tracks, let alone ones with real exposure so this got fun at times. As did the rocky, snowy scramble up over the couloir to the top left. (NOTE: This is a photo of Martin's, he's cool with sharing, but you should check him out at @bildsektor on IG).

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    Then down the main NE face of the Lochberg. Yours truly making bigger turns than SAC would approve of (PC: Martin)

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    A little lunch before our second skin. This wasn't on the original plan, but for an extra 400m we got a full descent of untracked snow.
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    The first few pitches of the final descent. Then Dan checking out the rest.
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    Our last pitch of the day was down the face of the local dam.
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    Then we arrived at Gasthaus Göscheneralp. This was an incredible bit of the trip. The Gasthaus is owned and run by Dan's partner Sereina. She had just opened it up for the spring season. On arrival, Dan got to hang with his young son there, as we ate charcuterie with our radlers (half lager half lemon/lime soda) on the deck. Followed by hot showers, wonderful food, great beds. The following day we all worked on Dan that he should setup a 4-day or weeklong stay + guided ski touring in the area while staying at the hut. It's his backyard, his familiarity with terrain was amazing. The Gasthaus is on my list of places to get to in summer, with ton of high alpine climbs, scrambles and hikes nearby. Along with 3 high mountain huts you could take your pick of for overnighters.

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    I got the swanky private room somehow.

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    And the breakfast spread was top notch. This is basically the nicest version of the same breakfast arrangement we got each morning. Bread, cheese, maybe deli slices, muesli and/or yogurt + granola, juice, coffee/tea, maybe some fruit, and on this day nutella and hard boiled eggs.

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    Day 3: Göscheneralp to Voralhutte

    By day three the rhythm was beginning to set in. Wake early, eat as much as you can safely before skinning a few thousand feet, pack the bags and put on skins. But this morning we got the local special -- a snow taxi from the neighbor goat farmer up to the dam.

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    Then began what was probably the most trying skin of the trip. South facing slopes, iced over, warm. When I attempt another one of these trips I will not be bringing a 104 ski, especially with a binding whose only ski crampon that fits is 120. A 90-95mm ski with some tip rocker and a 100mm crampon would've been sufficient, ideal in fact. The sidehilling over rocks was tough. Lesson learned. The Euros are kings of steep, icy, sidehill skintracks.

    But eventually we put the skis on our bags and went up. (PC: Martin)

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    Free The Powder advertisement.

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    And into some good snow.

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    Another of those famous 300m Dan-to-good-snow-skins. We then cruised down to Voralphutte. Of the mountain lodges, this one was probably my favorite. Cozy, great food.

    To me one of the amazing things about these huts is just how damn efficient they are because everyone is dialed and expected to be dialed. The only staff are the hutkeeper, sometimes a couple. For food you can have cheese, meat, bread, chocolate, and for warm stuff -- whatever they are serving for dinner. But they have beer (one, maybe 2 choices), and a selection of wine, tea, and digestifs. You don't get choices and thats why it works. Everyone understand you need to tidy and relatively quiet. (Except that is some American's.) I can't imagine this all working in America -- with our belief that choice is more important than all else. It means our full service huts are 2x-3x more expensive than these which are all <$50/night including dinner and breakfast. Oh, and in the morning you get a liter of "marching tea" (the big stainless steel jug) as your water for the day.

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    Our objective for next day from the hut, the Sustenhorn.

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    Days 4/5 tomorrow....
    Last edited by doebedoe; 04-05-2019 at 09:06 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Gaperville, CO
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    Day 4: Voralphutte -> Sustenhorn -> Steingletscher

    By the fourth morning, everything is feeling pretty dialed. At "map time" the evening before we discussed route options -- possible summit, possible better skiing alternatives, and an hour earlier wake-up time. We had about 1500m to climb the following day at higher altitude. If there was one advantage to being from Colorado on this trip it was that a 3500m was not intimidating.

    A shaded east-facing skintrack meant we knocked out 900m quickly, before most of us even woke up. Then our guide sprung an idea on us. There was a "direct" version that saved a long traverse on skins, and another 2k of skinning. But it meant setting a boot pack up a new couloir that could have some funky moves on it. It also meant a prettier skin through serac fields.

    The day before I had snapped a pic of what would become our ascent, the notch between the 3rd and 4th peaks from the right.
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    Prettiest skin of the trip.
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    He suggested a rope given that you had to traverse right over the rocks and a little snow arete. I was less concerned with ego than sketchy snow above rocks and took his advice. Luckily, it ended up being perfect bootpacking snow.

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    From the top of the bootpack, just a relaxing 250m skin to the top of the Sustenhorn. Where we had plenty of time to eat some lunch, enjoy the birds and scenery.

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    And then onto the descent. Which looked epic -- 1700m down a glacier. Unfortunately it was the first mediocre snow of the trip, being windfucked up high and sun affected lower. Occasionally we found some good turns. Mostly I just gaped at the scale of terrain and scenery around me. Skiing on a glacier is like skiing elsewhere -- you make the same turns. It's just that occasionally you look over and see huge icefalls. While mountains are most always humbling and humanizing, ice on this scale ups the ante.

    From the top. Some of this terrain you can get heli drops to.
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    About to drop into the second pitch.
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    And from below the second pitch.
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    The line down the glacier was basically pitch -> traverse around icefall -> pitch -> traverse around ice.
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    As the sun set that night, I got a pic of the whole line. We skied from the top left.
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    We rolled into a very sunny Steingletscher hotel. This was the most utilitarian huts of our trip -- with summer camp like dorm rooms and actually mediocre food. But they still had sunshine, beer, and some damn tasty plum pie.
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    Even balling out on the last night with a radler, a couple beer, coffees, pie, chocolate, and a big lunch for the next day, I still only spent ~$35 for the night.
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    That evening was a classic guides being bros. Dan went out and climbed the first 150m of the next days climb which was steep, rocky and south facing. That is, it was fully melted out and going to ice over by morning. He was super proud that he had even hopped over the track on his way back so as not to fuck up his perfect skin track.
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    Last edited by doebedoe; 04-03-2019 at 09:53 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
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    idaho panhandle!
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    6,889
    FKNA man!! I was hoping this would drop.

  5. #5
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    Jan 2014
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    Day 5: Steingletscher to Engelberg

    The final day for us was pretty atypical as far as Urner Haute routes go. Most take two days from Steingletscher to Engelberg, going up 570a to 570b on the SAC route list and ending at Sulstihutte. Dan prefers the direct route -- mostly because it has a sweet pitch of steep snow. So we took the blue route: https://s.geo.admin.ch/8116b06048 .

    The alternative isn't without its risks. The terrain isn't a standard SAC (Swiss Alpine Club) route because it sneaks between some ice falls and cliffs and has a pitch of avy prone terrain that has no alternative except a retreat or a alternative ending far to the West in Gadmen.

    Started out at daybreak.

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    A long skin before we hit sunshine. When we stopped to de-layer and eat a snack a couple of birds joined us. When Martin wasn't looking, one grabbed his sandwich bag which ended up sliding down about 100m vert. Which our guide quickly retrieved.

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    When we transitioned at the top after a quick boot pack up a little peak. And then we had the first real aww-fuck moment of the trip. I had lost the nut that secured the toe pin adjustment on my binding sometime over the course of that morning. While I could still clip in, there was significant play in my toe piece. Without a good solution, and the end being the closest exit it was a matter of ski-it-and-hope.

    We had a few turns to softly test it before the crux pitch of the trip. I locked out the toe and it skied...imprecisely but didn't release. Nonetheless as we regrouped for the money pitch Dan encouraged sideslipping the first 200m which was ~40 degrees and had hazards below.

    You can see the mellow entry here, then the traverse to skiers right down a small snowfield into the steep pitch.

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    Sideslipping that pitch was a big mix of emotions. Nerves about losing a ski/binding over rocks/ice. Utter sadness about destroying 8-10" of soft consolidated pow over a soft base. Luckily after that, it mellowed out and I was free to open it up. And the snow was fantastic.

    PC: Martin
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    And Martin the photographer shredding
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    Our final skin was short and sweet. Skied stayed on. We then had our final long descent of the tour under the face of the Titlis that was shedding snow every 5 minutes in the early afternoon heat.
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    By the bottom it was full on spring. We had a short hike up a road, and then a km or more ski out a connection of patchy snow to our celebratory beer and schnitzel.
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    A quick, free bus took us into town and to the train station. They all grabbed shoes out of the my ski bag which had been sent via train to from Andermatt to Engelberg and held there. We had a round of hugs and high fives, and it was over.
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    That evening I had a shower, met my partner arriving from Zurich, ate a rosti with a bottle of wine, and passed out. The following day on our first lift we ran into MoFro and Norseman by complete accident in the line. Going up the tram in the early afternoon, I'm pretty sure I saw Norseman's Lhasas flashing down from the top in big arcs, and then saw their mark at the top of the Titlis.

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    My partner and I then wandered to Luzern where we had a wonderful hotel view. And the Michelin starred dining in the evening on the lake was even a stupidly reasonable price compared to most similar places in the states.

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    Last edited by doebedoe; 04-04-2019 at 09:12 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    On The Flipside
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    831
    Looks and sounds amazing. Thanks for the stoke!!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Gaperville, CO
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    Quote Originally Posted by iamTRuTH View Post
    Looks and sounds amazing. Thanks for the stoke!!
    Thanks for the bourbon. I suppose I should mount those skis and not just write TRs while drinking it all week .

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Location
    Before
    Posts
    20,118
    W0000t! Dan's got a nose for the snows, eh? Sereina is awesome.
    Merde De Glace On the Freak When Ski
    >>>200 cm Black Bamboo Sidewalled DPS Lotus 120 : Best Skis Ever <<<

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Seattle
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    6,454
    ^^like
    Quote Originally Posted by Foggy_Goggles View Post
    If I lived in WA, Oft would be my realtor. Seriously.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2014
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buster Highmen View Post
    W0000t! Dan's got a nose for the snows, eh? Sereina is awesome.
    Obsession might be a better word for it. All trip long it was "if you all dont mind climbing another 300m, I have a feeling this valley is gonna be good." Or "Just down here, just don't ski past me, to ski this snow we have to sneak through a cliff band/ice fall after."

    Thanks for everything. You're grooming the next generation.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Northern BC
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    1,542
    Beauty pics

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Between a rock and a soft place. Aberdare and The Brecon Beacons, Wales
    Posts
    2,701
    Tip Top

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Location
    NH
    Posts
    697
    So jealous. Stoked you tacked this on to BBIE.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Jackson
    Posts
    724
    Subscribed! Real keen on a hut trip next year myself. Liking the story, pics and hut details.


    Sent from my iPad using TGR Forums

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    pdx
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    11,381
    Looks sooo good...
    Thanks for writing/sharing this!

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    Location
    LaLa Land
    Posts
    3,170
    FKNA!!! Love all he Euro stoke! Would love to do something like trip someday.

    Took the kids hiking into a hut last summer which was one of the highlights of our Swiss trip. It would be way more awesome to do with skis!
    He who has the most fun wins!

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Sedrun CH
    Posts
    269
    I saw you for three days and you smiled the entire time, I’m sure you even smiled while asleep in those huts!!!!


    Inviato dal mio iPhone utilizzando TGR Forums

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Not Brooklyn
    Posts
    5,974
    Wow. Looks amazing. Thanks for posting.

    My step grandfather skied some variation of the standard Haute Route back in the sixties. I need to do my best to follow his tracks at some point. This further motivates me to start researching.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    Location
    SLC
    Posts
    4,436
    Damn... this is awesome. Super jealous, great TR.

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    Big in Japan
    Posts
    34,974
    Click image for larger version. 

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    That is a very strange picture. Looks like you're climbing downhill, with that background.

    Those huts look three times better than a lot of the AirB&B condos I've been checking out at LaPlagne.

    Let's do some livin'
    After, we die

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Dec 2014
    Location
    Colorado Front Range
    Posts
    2,842
    Fantastic! Thanks for the stoke and GREAT write-up.

    ... Thom
    Galibier Design
    crafting technology in service of music

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    SLC
    Posts
    31
    Really cool, thanks for sharing

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    29,489
    FKNA
    Quote Originally Posted by Downbound Train View Post
    And there will come a day when our ancestors look back...........

  24. #24
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Posts
    36
    Looks like a great time

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Posts
    3,539
    Very cool.

    Those Euro huts are so plush. The only huts I've ever been to have been dark, dank, and smell heavily of BO and feet (even when unoccupied).

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