Fürenwand Klettersteig: Big Wall Big Fun

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Author:  Pete
Location:  Fürenwand Klettersteig, Switzerland

Sunday afternoon in the mountains!  Drove an hour south to Engelberg where we usually ski in the winter.  The encompassing valley is rife with steep walls and just south of town is an area called Fürenalp, which has a tremendous klettersteig.  The day started with a little bit of cloud cover, giving a moody atmosphere.  Miranda and Leonie hiked the approach to the base of the climb and then took a grandparent-approved cable car to the top for their own hike.

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Klettersteigs, also called via ferratas, are protected climbing routes found throughout the Alps.  Climbers ascend a cliff face through odd mix of aggressive hiking, usually scrambling on all fours, easy-grade rock climbing, and precarious navigation of hammered in re-rod holds for hands and feet.  You’re always clipped into a large gauge cable bolted along side the route with two specialized carabiners.  A fall might leave you a little scraped up but the burly cables will keep your tuckus on the mountainside at least.

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It had rained the night before so the rock was wet, making the 2,500 foot climb feel even more spirited.  Our friend Jen knows the route well and introduced me to the climb.  There’s some incredibly wide open space up there; you’re a thousand feet above the valley floor on sheer rock that would be really difficult to climb.  That’s what makes the klettersteigs so neat.  It allows easy access parts of a big wall that would take a good deal of time, equipment, and logistics to climb.  Klettersteigs do away with all that fuss prohibitive for a Sunday afternoon hike and dump you right into the good stuff.  Exposure!

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It wasn’t just us yahoos up there; locals young and old were out climbing too.  I was glad.  As things got progressively wetter up the crag I started to feel like we might have underestimated the conditions.  The hammered-in holds and smearing foot placements became slick.  None of the locals seemed to mind the literal waterfalls through which we followed the route.  On some sections of rock without features to cling there are U-shaped holds to stand on and grab like a ladder.  Other sections have only straight bar out of the slick rock which makes me queazy.  The long lost simian in me kicked into gear and I overgripped until my hands hurt.

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Just before the top of the climb a suspended ladder arches past some overhung terrain.  You can see it at the top of the photo.  The ladder swayed in the breeze; the bars still slick with precipitation and hand sweat.  I kept reaching for my chalk bag where I store my confidence when I’m rock climbing.  Should have brought that thing even just as an emotional crutch.

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At the top of the climb, once off of the God awful ladder, we unclipped and walked a short way up to the cute Swiss chalet that adorns all Alpine hiking peaks.  Miranda made it back from her hike and we had lunch and cider with an incredible view of the glaciated mountains.  Leonie was all smiles on the way down in the cable car and made quick friends out of our fellow passengers.  Mountains, friends, and fun!  A great Sunday!

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Cerro Plomo Guiding

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Author:  Pete

Location:  Cerro Plomo, Chile

Knowing that Sergio, our resident mountain guide, will be leaving Nido this year, a few friends from school enlisted his help in guiding them to an attempt at a summit of Cerro Plomo, the 18,000 foot peak that looms over Santiago.  It was to be a full ‘expedition’ with mules and all, so he in turn enlisted me to help out since we’ve been up there several times together.

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Loaded everyone up in Sergio’s Mahindra, ‘The Black Pearl’, and curved our way up to Valle Nevado.  After registering ourselves with the Carabiñeros with our plans we drove up the barren ski pistes to Tres Puntas where we met our mulero and packed up our gear.

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Pretty novel to hike with light packs instead of 100L packs stuffed to the gills.  We made great time!

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Made camp in Piedra Numerada.  Such a beautiful night that we all decided to sleep out instead of putting up tents.

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One of my favorite Jeffrey Focault songs, Double Tree, speaks of the ‘circus of the stars a blaze of white.’  We were right there.  I fought to keep my eyelids open watching the swirl.

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Up in the morning cold until the sun came over the horizon and immediately saw us stripping to short sleeves from down parkas.  Packed up and moved up canyon.

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At camp Federación we set up camp, still in shorts.  Felt foolish tying the tent down with huge rocks on such a beautiful day.  Experience, and a weather report, said that the weather would be taking a turn for the worse.

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And it did!  Those puffy clouds down south kept creeping up the canyon until they were on top of us.

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The winds picked up an battered us all night.  In the ‘morning’, 3:30am when we were planning to make our attack, we woke to our compadres, Brad and Ivan with a broken tent, and snow in our vestibule.  We all piled into our tent to make breakfast and then took a run at the summit.

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Climbed through the dark and savage cold with our dog friends.  Where did they come from?  I’m still surprised they didn’t freeze and die in front of us.  In full mountain gear climbing hard I still felt my core temperature drop.  13,000 feet will do that to you.

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Bone-chilling cold and wind and still no sun.  Our party was growing slower and slower with the cold and altitude.  We arrived at Refugio Agostini at almost 15,000 feet (4,531 meters), and piled into the wooden shelter just big enough for five dudes and two ridiculously cold dogs.  We warmed our feet as best we could and some took hits off of an O2 tank for fun.

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Once the sun rose over the canyon walls we assessed the weather.  A small break in the clouds gave a great view of ugly, dense clouds heading our way.  We decided to do one more push before turning around.  The summit was all socked in still, so our bid was over.

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But up we trudged to 16,000 feet, an arbitrary destination just to say that we were there.  Sergio and I had already summited, so we didn’t mind in our abridged trip.

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Spindrift whiteouts flowing down from the summit battered us and slowed progress.  We eventually turned around after the 16,000 ft mark.

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On the way back to camp we passed through a section of glacial penetentes, knife-like blades of ice jutting out of the oozing glacier.  So we got to use our crampons and axes.  All were happy!

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Back at camp the weather closed in.  We hurriedly made lunch and packed up camp and then ran back towards Valle with our tails between our legs as the storm shut the valley in.

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