Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Berner Oberland #2

In the second installment of entries from Alison Gannett, Lorenzo Worster and Zoe Hart’s Global Cooling Tour in the Berner Oberland, Lorenzo’s first line of the trip creates quite a scare.

Our anxiety grew as we looked out our window at the grey shroud that blocked any view of our surroundings. Our first night passed quickly, and we awoke to the muffled thumping of ski boots traipsing across wood floors. It was 4:30am, and time for the guides to get their peeps out on the glacier for a long slow day. Groggily we strode into the late breakfast at 6:00, slowly revived and energized by the coffee and breakfast spread that come with the night’s stay at the cabin.

(Early morning awakening. Photo by Lorenzo Worster)

We were at the Hollandia Hut on the Grosser Aletchfirn Glacier. It hadn't snowed much lately, and the clouds were so thick you couldn't see more than 100 feet before the grey swallowed all features. It didn’t matter though; we were excited for our first full day tour in Europe. Up the glacier we went, following a windblown and disappearing skintrack from the day before. The wind blew across the glacier up many of the north faces, and the sun hit all the south faces, limiting our options for where to ski.

The hike was soothing. One step at a time plodding through the gray toward an invisible goal. Once my natural cadence took over and the weight of my pack faded away, the simplicity of putting one foot in front of another engulfed me. My mind began to drift, up and up. All at once a bright peak lit up by the morning sun and poked its nose through the fog, giving us hope of a goal worthy of skiing. As we drew nearer, the clouds parted, revealing our first view of the beautiful ampitheater around us.

(Zoe Hart, amidst the scale of Europe. Photo by Lorenzo Worster)

To our left I spied an interesting face that looked steep and protected from the sun and wind – short but sweet. We made it to the shoulder of the ridge and after extracting Allison from the sneaky and luckily shallow bergshrund that crossed the col, Zoe and I headed back toward the face. We might have taken a little warning from the frozen sastrugi that we cramponed up to gain the ridge, but the different aspect was not protected from the wind or sun. Gaining the top the snow on the back side was a foot and a half deep and super light.
We were out in the middle of nowhere and getting hurt would lead to a lengthy and not so cheap extradition – facts that didn’t help to calm my nerves. It always seems to look steepest when you are looking down something between your tips, before your first turn. I radioed in and rolled carefully off the small cornice on to the face. Skis headed to the right towards a large bulge that led to an even larger cliff of glacial ice. It was a very picturesque area, but as soon as my skis hit the bulge, I knew it was not the place I wanted to be.

In an instant I was sliding sideways, skiing on glacial ice with two inches of cold powder on top. The snow did little for the skiing surface but explode into the air, enveloping me in the white room. Usually I like the white room, but as I quickly made a left turn and picked up speed, I'd rather have been able to see what was ahead. I shot off the ice onto the face, only to discover that the smooth face of deep-looking snow hid wind-hardened sastrugi barely under the surface.

(Looks can be deceiving. Photo by Lorenzo Worster)

Moving from bad to worse with more speed, there was no hope of dropping a knee. It was all I could do to stay on my feet and try to slow myself before the bergshrund – now clearly not-so-soft either. I hung two large turns down the face planning over the thin cover of powder, just enough to give a sense of control before the small but still intimidating four-foot bergshrund.

Backslap to cartwheel, and I was at the bottom of my first line on the Berner Oberland. Things were off to an auspicious start.
-Lorenzo Worster

Share on Facebook

No comments: