This was it. The last trip of the season. The plan was simple. My birthday was coming up and as it coincided with a holiday I would definitely not spend it at work. You just do not work on your birthday. I had this crazy idea in the back of my head for a while now. Why not sleep at the Bernina pass and try to claim one of Switzerland’s legendary peaks. With 3.907 m the Piz Palü was the ultimate goal. Conditions seemed perfect. And again a weather window of two days was just around the corner. Could we make it to the summit. Was another weather gap a coincidence or a sign?
My plan was set. Now I just needed the right companions. Whit Jan it was easy. Just a resounding yes. I really hate it when I do logistics and people are undecided. Should I go. Will it be good. I do not know if I have time. How`s the weather gonna be… bla bla bla… I really sometimes feel like a travel agency. Not with this guy :). So we were two now and wanted to wanted to add another.
A few weeks ago our winter Whistler Migrant buddy Matic started posting pictures of an west coast trip. I was not sure if he was home already or not. I like Matic because he is also pretty straight forward. Riding is his lifestyle. Same goes for me and Jan so that clicks. As it turned out he just returned home and was motivated aswell. There was one binding problem thou that we needed to fix first. Matic had managed to destroy his Kingpin skiing sand dunes on the East coast but after a bit of McGyver meddling and osme duck tape he was all set to go.
But that was not the only gear problem we would have to solve before we even took off. As some of you know during “the best line of the winter” at Stubai the week before my skis and my boots took quite a hit. I could not get replacement parts in time so I asked our buddies at Slovenians biggest specialty extreme sports retailer Extreme Vital from Škofja Loka if they might have a pair of powder skis lying around. I also needed to get some boots. Jernej from BT was kind enough to lend me his but I was pretty much unsure if they would work form me. So in the end I got a Salomon Quest 115 with a guardian binding, and A Green Lange Free boot. I was really pretty much scared of the Lange boot. My feet are somewhat sensitive, that being an understatement, and since I had Lange boots in my racing days as a kid I was branded for life. But more on that later.
So we set off on that faithfull Saturday. Just two days before my birthday. This time we would take a long scenic drive trough the middle of the alps. I was interested to see how the consumption would rack up on my uber efficient new diesel. The drive alone was beautiful. We were going trough one valley after another, one pass higher then the last. Nature everywhere. Sunshine. Chill. We also stopped at my favorite pizzeria Temple at the border near Sillian in SudTirol. And the gas consumption was again really low. Around 4 liters. In fact there would be no need to refuel on the entire trip. Kegl Airlines as I like to call it was smart this year and upgraded form the VectraJet 2000 to a OctaviaJet 3000. Ragen 1200 km on 50 l tank if u follow the cars driving efficiency instructions. Impressive.
The moon was already up when we arrived at the Bernina Pass. At 2400m the pass itself is already at altitude. Since camping is forbidden in the area we were a bit unsure. We were biwaking again but still we wanted to maintain a low profile. We had to scout the entire pass before we found something that would work. There are two cable car stations. And right under it 100 m above the station we found a rock that obstructed the view from the road. Since our tent, the Ferrino Snowbound 3 was orange we had to hide it well not to be seen. This would be the first time it would be standing on grass.
We setup quickly. After so many trips Jan and I had the workflow worked out and Matic klicked in perfectly. Then some food, a few night time shots with the go pro and off to bed. Like with every trip we mixed up the sleeping bags. I did that on purpose to get feedback from different people on different sleeping bags. This time Matic took the Ferrino Nightec 800, Jan slept in the Carinthia G490x and I took the G350. SO this time we all had artificial filling bags with either G-LOFT or Ferrinos nano fiber. Temperatures were supposed to drop to -8 so our comforts were way above that mark. Add the thent with it`s two layers of isolation would make sure the temperature inside was cozy.
Window of OPPORTUNITY
Morning came quick. We estimated a good 5 hours for the tour. This one would be a long one. The Piz Palü tour is one of the highlights if you go touring in the alps. It`s greatest difficulty is that it is mixed and long. Most of all you need endurance. As it takes so long the weather likes to play coy with you and not everyone gets the pleasure of a good summit. We would take the normal approach. After all my birthday was coming up, the season was basically over, and we did not need to do any stunts.
We would take the first cable car up to the Diavolleza, descend to the glacier and start of from there. Nice and simple. If the weather held we would be at the top at around 2 pm. We were all super motivated. When we arrived at the top of the Diavolleza the view was unbelivable. What a mountain. Holly fuck. It was like out of one of those picture books of the great wild. Stone ice and snow. The sheer scale made it hard to grasp. And next to it`s three peaks was the Piz Bernina, another goal that will be claimed in due time.
Since we were early I had the great idea of trying to reach the middle part of the glacier directly. As we started out I was sure we could traverse into it. That was not the original route but I had studied all the possible versions earlier. Unfortunately it would not be that simple. The ridge was lower so there was no gain. We lost 45 minutes and build up quite a sweat for nothing. Then we just simply descended to the main glacier as we had originally planned out. Interesting start…
I was not used to the setup. The Lange boot was working surprisingy well. But it was custom fitted to Jernej`s foot that seems to be narrower at the heel then mine. I bit my tongue and endured the pain. After all the goal was to summit. Those of you who know me know that I am stubborn as hell. The other problem was my endurance. The week before was super stressful and I had not had time to regenerate. Driving for 6 hours and sleeping for 5 did not help here at all. It was starting to show. Jan the Machine was doing super well again. A few Germans passed us in overdrive. I thought to my self “Damn they are even faster then Jan!”.
As we were passing the crevasses we noticed that the glacier was well covered. It was the 15th of May after all and at around 3500m it was well bellow 0 degrees. The snow was really good. We made it up to the second plateau of the glacier where we meet our German friends again. I have to admit at that point I was also feeling the burn. But apparently not as much as one of the two guys. He was totally done. They were taking a break and turning around. I talked to the guy to motivate him a bit but he just said no I can`t. I thought come on ur 400 m under the peak. Bite ur tongue together and go on. The conditions were perfect.
As they started to get ready to descend it dawned on me why they turned around. There skiing skill was really bad. For me going up is usually the biggest challenge. Going down is easy. Even if I am so exhausted that I barley stand, going down always works. After all I learned to ski when I learnd to walk. It is second nature. I felt a bit sorry for the guys.
Jan and Matic had built a considerable lead over me by the time I finished “motivating” and were already at the ridge line. I remember thinking that it will be time to get a lighter setup for these long tours. The boots and Guardian binding with the heavy powder ski was not exactly saving me energy. As per usual I just said it is a good workout. After all if I can make it to the top of PizPalu on a heavy setup, with a light one this will be a piece of cake.
At the ridge we made a little break. We noticed that from three italians we had meet in the morning one was also waiting at the ridge. Another victim of the altitude. This time arond thou Jan and I did not have any problems at all. Since we spent so much time in recent weeks at these altitudes it was not effecting us at all. I was really happy about that. What was effecting me was my lack of endurance. I did factor in the 2000 hm but I did not factor that the whole thing would mean doing 21 km on skis. A small marathon. Still stubborn as I am it`s either top or nothing hhh.
Crampons attached we were on our way upthe final ridge. This part was the steepest of them all. It was just so cool. The view indescribable. Those are the places I love exploring with my friends. We all had a common goal and we all were pushing on. Then a annoying thing happened. Early in the season I had gotten a used pair of Siwx carbon poles for testing. They were quite old.
As I wrote in the Julian Alps trip I loved the mechanism for its extension. Well not this time. After a lot of use I noticed a that if the pole got wet the inner side would slip and extend. The bad thing was that it could fall out. I had a bit of a problem with this at Stubai but managed. Here thou I was almost at the top of the steep part of the ridge when I noticed that one of my poles was to short. Shit… Well it had detached and fallen half way down the ridge. Since I needed it to to ski from the top I had to climb back down. That cost a lot of time and energy. It was already way past 2 pm.
I finally reached the ridge and the first of the three peaks. In the meantime Jan and Matic had already proceeded to the middle peak. That one is the highest and the official peak. Not to lose to much time I left my backpack at the first peak, took the gopro and was off to meet them too. Finally we had made it. We were so happy. We took a ton of pictured and goofed around. Such an feeling of accomplishment. Then I had and awesome Idea.
My birthday was coming up in a few hours and would it not be awesome if we could “jetset” form the peak and grab a nice Weißbier at one of the most mondain spots in the world.- St. Moritz. We could basically see it from the top. The plan was agreed upon instantly so we made our way back to the first peak and got ready to descend. I just love riding ridges on skis. Left or right it`s just freefall. Ridges are like thin red lines. No room for error. Always on the knives edge.
Weather was also starting to close up. Our window of opportunity was coming to an end. As for the skiing, as per usual that was the best of it all. Check the video. No words needed..
Gear, gear, gear…
Salomon Q115 qucik review
I got the Salomon Quest 115 for testing from Extreme Vital. Thnx again to the guys. Without it the trip would not have been possible since my ski boot was broken. Unlike my go to weapon for everything the salomon rocker2 108 the salomon quest 115 is a lot stiffer. The rocker also is not as pronounced. That makes the ski less playful but adds to it`s radius. At the top part down from 3900 m when the snow was great the added control was really nice but when we came to around 2400m and the snow got really wet it became hard to do quick corrections. Partly that was also, as the extreme vital boys, explained, because they noticed that the people who rent or test these skis like the bindings a bit more in the back. Me being used to put mine either on center recommendation or 2+ that felt almost a bit alien. A funny thing about the profile was also that my skins from the rocke2 108 fit perfectly. With that in mind you could see where they were going when developing this ski. More stiffens, no twin tip, less pronounced rocker. Weight wise they are a little lighter but to be honest it`s not something that will make a difference. I was happy that I could adapt to the ski so fast and it also worked great on the way up, thou still if you wanna do these long tours get something lighter like the new MTN explore 95. I hear great things about that one.
Mussing of the Kingpin – almost perfect
After descending we had made it ot the bottom of the glacier. But that did not end our touring. We still had to get up to the Diavolleza again before we could drive off to our well deserved beer. That`s when we hit another snag with gear. Matic and Jan both use the Marker Kingpin binding. Right now there is no other thing like it on the market. It`s light and it works like an alpine binding but with pins. The best possible combo. But like with the 1.0 and 2.0 version of the Guaridian there are still some kinks to iron out. We all know about the problem with the pins of the pre production models. Gladly that issue was quickly resolved. This time thou it was an icing problem. Since the frame is so low there is barley any opening. When you switch it over to hike snow gets in. if it melts and freezes up there is no way to get it out.
So Jan could not switch it to walk mode again. Even after pouring hot tea over it it was still not moving. After a lot of physical force it finally moved into place. Quite annoying especially because it meant we lost more time as the sun was going down and the cloud cover was starting to form. We made it to the top and could then ride all the way down to the parking lot. Still if you manage to get ahead of this little manko the kingpin is probably still the best binding you can get on the market if you do a lot of combined hardcore powder and need to hike up. I have seen my friends drops high cliffs with it and do hard pack, snow piste and as a binding it just works. And that is what a binding is supposed to do. I do believe thou that like the first incarnations in the Salomon Guardians of their time, the Kingpins will rid them self’s of this manko as well. After all it won`t be long before the other producers start trowing their solutions to this concept on the market.
The beer and the cops of St. Moritz
Finally it was time to catch that beer in St. Moritz. After some running around town we found a nice bar in the middle of town. The beer was great, the service awesome, wifi worked and it was the most expensive beer I had ever ordered. But after the successful day it was well worth it. We stayed at the bar late, they were closing already but still did not throw us out. They say you get what you pay for and it is true!
On our way out thou we had a interesting encounter. In the middle of town we were pulled over by the police. It was kind off funny because the first question after answering that we were at the top of Piz Palu was how the snow conditions were. Then drivers licence and the rest. Luckily they were in a good mood an let us go without to much trouble. I guess they were just bored. After all St. Moritz looked deserted at that hour. Not much to do. But we still had one thing to do. We were hungry as hell And this time we brought a special treat.
We stopped back at the Diavolleza parking lot. There is also a train station there. After all this is Switzerland and trains are everywhere. We took my little aura cooker and made a good dish. Problem was it was cold and we were exhausted. It seemed like an eternity but we were getting there. First we cooked some rice. Then we made mushroom soup from a bag and poured the rice in. Would be gourmet dinner ala Chefs Matic, Jan and myself. Happy and fed we setup up our tent again at our incognito location and went to bed dreaming of the peak we had the pleasure to summit and ride on that day… oh and did I mention that it was the best birthday ever.
So the season ended and so did the first phase of our biwipowder project. Like with every single one of these stories before I leave you guys to planing your next adventure a few more tips from this trip that include:
- Check your gear before you leave. Also check for common bugs in gear so that you are not surprised. The teton forum is a great source for that kind of in depth info.
- Plan your route well and stick to it. No shortcuts. They only get you into trouble.
- Adapting to new gear on big trips is not a wise idea, unless there is no alternative
- Be creative with your cooking. Two weird ingredients can make a awesome dish 😛
Where do we go next time. You will have to wait and see 🙂