The 2013 Mountaineering Hike: A Special Report

Montag, 30. September 2013

by Michel Raab, Outdoor Program Director and Risk Management Officer

Real adventure is defined best as a journey from which you may not come back alive, and certainly not as the same person.

– Yvon Chouinard

In this Four-Day Mountaineering Hike, ten students (Nattie, Mario, Bogdan, Murod, Helena, Jan, Julius, and Raphi), two helpers (Linda and Luca), one teacher (Michel), and one professional guide (Lucas) had the pleasure of heading up to the Trift glacier and exploring the surroundings of the area while staying at the Trift hut (2520m). The goal of the hike was to introduce students to alpine mountaineering by learning basic rope management, glacier travel, and alpine climbing skills. Three days of perfect sunny weather allowed us to hike up to the hut and to climb two peaks with the group.

The first peak we climbed was the Triftstöckli (3035m), via the northeast ridge. This beautiful summit, located three kilometres southwest of the hut, offered students the opportunity to learn about glacier travel and different rope management techniques for navigation of third and fourth class rock terrain, such as short roping, running belays, and utilizing rock as protection for these rope systems. They also learned about self-arrest with the ice axe. After a quick lunch at the summit, we down-climbed the south ridge and did a thirty-five meter rappel that allowed us to get back on the glacier and circumnavigate the peak as we made our way back to the hut. We arrived back to the hut at around 4pm.

The second peak we climbed was the Hinter Tierberg (3447 m), located two and a half kilometres east-northeast of the Trift hut. After another alpine start, we hiked back to the glacier and headed northeast. The snow was hard, and the slopes were steep enough that we had to wear crampons. The upper section of the mountain involved a short section of fourth class rock, and more third class of rock and snow slopes, plus some fun sharp ridge climbing. From the summit we were able to see hundreds of kilometers of mountains, glaciers, flat lands, and our home, the Ecole d'Humanité. We were immensely lucky with the weather and with how well people were performing. Everybody was very happy, yet we all knew that in order to call this a summit, we first had to retrace our steps carefully and to make it back to the hut safely! We were all back in the hut by dinnertime.

On the fourth day, despite unstable weather, we were able to finish our intended route by traversing up and over to the Gelmersee. In order to do this, we had to cross the Trift glacier heading south-southwest from the hut for approximately five kilometres, gaining 700m of elevation to a small saddle (Diechterlimi, 3215m) and then dropping down 1600m of elevation in approximately ten kilometers to finish our route in Handegg. We started hiking at 5:35am with headlamps on and under light rain showers. On the horizon we could see showers coming towards us from the northwest, but it was warm and there was no wind. Visibility was good and clouds were at around 3400m. With this in mind we decided to continue with the traverse, and after six hours of hiking we were off the snow, ice, and rock, and back on a trail that would lead us down to the Gelmersee, and then to the bus stop.

What did we get out of this trip?

It’s important to mention that we were staying in a very nice hut with our hosts, Irene and Talak, who cooked us every single meal. This also meant that we didn’t have to deal with camping and cooking under the rain, and that our backpacks were light since we didn’t have to carry any camping gear. Pretty luxurious! As a result, our hike was not as physically demanding as a regular hike. But this trade-off allowed us to spend time climbing and moving fast through technical terrain.

At the end of the trip, people shared what they learned from their experiences. The common themes that came out of our discussions were learning how to work as a team, learning to care for each other, learning to stay focused in exposed terrain, learning the importance of self-care and prevention (to dress appropriately, to prevent and treat blisters, to avoid getting sunburnt, to stay hydrated and well-fed), learning how to belay properly, learning how to rope up, learning how to wear crampons, and learning how to use an ice axe. Overall, the main lesson for every single person in this trip was to learn what it takes to become a trustworthy expedition member: somebody who is ready to take care of himself or herself and other team members, is committed to the group goals, is excited to learn, is aware of his or her limits, is open to trying new things and expanding his or her comfort zone, and is able to display a positive attitude in any conditions.

All in all, not only did we come back safely, but I’m certain that this experience had a positive impact on every single member of the team. We all came back with big smiles on our faces, with fun memories to keep and share, and having learned a fair amount of new skills.