Mild Dermatographia

Hike: Bruelisau to Gampluet via Saxerluecke


I thought the last nice weather window would be the hike I had done on the 6th, but nature decided to grace us with one more snow-free day in Switzerland before I leave, so I decided to head back to the Saentis massive and visit the other side.

I started at Bruelisau and hiked first to Saemtisersee, then to Faehlensee. At this point, my good fortune began to fade as the tube to my water bladder from solid. I really should have seen this coming sooner, but I got lucky the last three hikes and my hubris carried me forward. Needless to say, I ended up chewing on snow for the next 5 hours, which wasn’t great for staying hydrated.

I turned south and climbed up to Saxerluecke, which offered a pretty spectacular view of the mountains to the south. What was a bit less spectacular, however, were my options going forward. I could try my luck with the Letzi Krinnenpass, which had a section of pretty nasty exposure and warm, soft snow, or I could drop down a hundred or so meters and try the couloir to the south of the pass, both routes eventually meeting up at Roslenalphuette. I tried the former and it freaked me out too much, so went with the latter. In hindsight, this was stupid; wind had clearly blown snow down the couloir, and a solid layer had settled on top with softer snow below; a thin, if not dangerous wind slab. It had all the warning signs; styrofoam-esque feel, hollow sound, feet and poles post-holing. Worse, the slope was already over 30 degrees, and the wind deposit made sections even steeper, prime conditions for an avalanche. Stupid me got most of the way up before the gravity of my situation became apparent, and I was too scared to turn around. I convinced myself that the inch or two of slab wasn’t an issue, and I knew the rest of the hike officially (foreshadowing) had no 30+ degree slopes, so I continued until I got to the top of the couloir.

The next bit was all fine and dandy until I reached the pass beside Mutchen. This was somehow even worse than the couloir; what should have been a sub-30 degree slope was easily above that, with the same conditions as above; wind slab on top, soft snow underneath. The most terrifying part was cresting the hill. If you look up snow cornices on your search engine of choice, you’ll probably find snow which overhangs the leeward side of the slope pretty dramatically. In my case, it was less of a blade sticking out over my side, but instead a bulb that extended only a few inches, but was maybe a couple feet tall, and completely solid, with presumably more soft snow underneath; again, ripe for collapsing/triggering an avalanche. I didn’t want to turn around and backtrack, both to avoid facing the couloir again, and because if I went back the way I came, I’d miss the last bus (I guess in my mind, my life was worth less than an expensive taxi or bed and breakfast). I planted my poles on the top edge of the cornice and practically bunny-hopped onto it and off the other side to flat, actual ground.

The descent to Gampluet was also quite stressful. Not so much because I was in any impending danger; I was now on the windward side and kicking through deep, fluffy powder. Instead, it was a race against the clock to make it to the last cable-car to Wildhaus. I didn’t need to make it, since I could just walk an extra 45 minutes to get down myself, but after what would be 7 hours of stomping through deep snow and being fairly dehydrated, I wanted the easy way down. I made it with 15 minutes to spare.

A lot went wrong this hike. All of it was on me; I should have brought water bottles instead of an (uninsulated) bladder. I should have figured out the slope conditions in advance and, when I discovered that they were ripe for a disaster, cut my losses and turned around.

All that said, it really was beautiful, and I’d love to come back in the summer. I’ve never seen a lake in such a restricted space like Faehlensee, and the spar of rocks to the south between Saxerluecke and Mutchen are phenomenal.

Overall, it was probably a decent hike to end on before going home for the holidays, in that I’m simultaneously satisfied with the views, and need a good long while to calm my nerves.