We need to step out once in a while…

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.M. Corleone

Back from the gap year. We have to adapt to our new but well-known environment. We observe. Everybody rushes. Ok, not everybody. Most of us. Ha! I’ll never ever be my former self again! I ain’t no fool! Not even 3 months later and it’s all down the gutter. We live a rat’s race. Face it. We’re sucked in again. Damn!

Mont Blanc massif as seen from Col d'Anterne (2257m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Mont Blanc massif as seen from Col d’Anterne (2257m). Haute-Savoie. France.

I knew we ran that race, but didn’t realize. I didn’t understand. Now I do. By taking distance it all became clear. I reckon. How important it is to step out once in a while. To breathe again. To take distance. To observ.

Following fresh Chamois footsteps into Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Following fresh Chamois footsteps into Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Last week of October. A last minute trip with little or no preperation. Time to let the beast set free. We bite a piece out of our oven fresh Pain au Chocolat while we gaze in the sun. The air crackles in the valley floor of Le Grand Massif. Kids on bikes in shirts and shorts race by. Autumn or even Winter is the last thing on our mind. We buckle up our backpack. Up it is. Into Réserve naturelle Sixt-Passy. It feels like summer has just began.

.

We had the vague idea of backpacking the tour des aiguilles rouges, with an aproach from Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval instead of the posh Chamonix. But as always we’re flexible.

 Shoulder season footwear. What works for us in snow when it's not extreme cold? Trailrunners, gore-tex socks, minimalistic gaiters and lightweight rain pants.

Shoulder season footwear. What works for us in snow when it’s not extreme cold? Trailrunners, gore-tex socks, minimalistic gaiters and lightweight rain pants.

A predicted cold front ruins indian summer on our first night. Change of route became inevitable. Costume switch. All white and foggy. It’s magic. We traverse in the snow towards the Anterne lake and it’s namesake col. Mountain extravaganza. The Mont Blanc massif plays hide and seek. We’re sucked in. This is my home. No rats here…

Alpine ibex. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpine ibex. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Snug in summer outfit. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Snug in summer outfit. Réserve naturelle de Passy. Haute-Savoie. France.

Sh*t with a view. Summit of Mont Blanc (4810m) visible from the pit toilet at Cabane de Willy. Réserve naturelle des Aguilles Rouges. Haute-Savoie. France.

Sh*t with a view. Summit of Mont Blanc (4810m) visible from the pit toilet at Cabane de Willy. Réserve naturelle des Aguilles Rouges. Haute-Savoie. France.

Melting in the sun. Off to Col du Brévent. Haute-Savoie. France.

Melting in the sun. Off to Col du Brévent. Haute-Savoie. France.

Aguille Verte (4122m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Aguille Verte (4122m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Ready for the freezer. Aguille du Tour (3529m), Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Ready for the freezer. Aguille du Tour (3529m), Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpenglow on Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Alpenglow on Aguille Verte (4122m) and Les Drus (3754m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Le Lac Blanc. Aguille Verte (4122m),  Les Drus (3754m) and Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Le Lac Blanc. Aguille Verte (4122m), Les Drus (3754m) and Les Grandes Jorasses (4208m). Massif du Mont Blanc. Haute-Savoie. France.

Indian summer in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges. Glacier du Tour fills the horizon. Haute-Savoie. France.

Indian summer in the Réserve naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges. Glacier du Tour fills the horizon. Haute-Savoie. France.

 European larch turns the Alps into painter's dreams. Vallée de Chamonix. Haute-Savoie. France.

European larch turns the Alps into painter’s dreams. Vallée de Chamonix. Haute-Savoie. France.

Autumn glow. Icy Mont Blanc (4810m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Autumn glow. Icy Mont Blanc (4810m). Haute-Savoie. France.

Rochers des Fiz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Rochers des Fiz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Rock faces rock!

Rock faces rock!

Cascade de Sauffaz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Cascade de Sauffaz. Réserve naturelle Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. Haute-Savoie. France.

Plan, pack light, travel, hike, raft… a gap year rehearsal

Since our last trip into Sarek it has been quite hectic, to say the least. It’s hardly possible reaching the kitchen from the bedroom. Maps, gear, boxes and dust scatter the house. Our cat is roaming around the house, but seem not to find her peace. There is a growing suspicion towards the 2-legged-ones. What the heck are you guys doing? Are you moving out? Or you going to leave me behind? This leads to more scratches after the usual evening coddling.

Packing for a general rehearsal on hiking and packrafting in the Alps - click for more details

Packing for a general rehearsal on hiking and packrafting in the Alps – click for more details

This isn’t preparing for a regular trip. This swallows every second of free time. We’re 6 weeks away from a gap year of a packraft-thruhiking adventure on 3 continents. With legs hanging we shoveled to our bosses for an aproval letter for a career interuption. You enter the office and close the door behind you. They already know how late it is. We’ve been there before. It’s times like these, when unknown facial expressions uncover. Thank you Els and Tim, loving bosses, for aproving us to live our dream.

Climbing up to the snowy pass, on a quest for the Lech River.

Climbing up to the snowy pass, on a quest for the Lech River.

We are in an unceasing quest of organising, checking, testing, evaluating, discussing our gear. Yeah I have been spending hours, days, weeks, months bent over maps. That’s fun and quite easy. Mapping, planning and organizing is 1. But gear considerations is the uttermost important part of the preperation. And small 3-4 day mini-adventures to keep the quest and finetuning going. i have been promising gear reviews here. They will appear. Deadlines, I hate them.

Scouting for a packraft put-in along the Lech River

Scouting for a packraft put-in along the Lech River

Since 2 years we made a complete switch from classical backpacking to lightweight. Pack light. The key issue for the plans we have in mind for the gappy year. Previous backpacking trips in wilderness areas made us realize we need something to overcome that frustrating problem. Besides that we didn’t want rivers, lakes or fjords to be an obstacle anymore. During 2 months Arctic Scandinavia and 5 months Patagonia, we will haul our Unrigged Explorer Packraft. Volume, weight, durability, funcionality. Always a discussion. We’ll need a framed pack for the mentioned packrafting destinations. There going to be streches of hiking/rafting on which we will need to carry gear and food for 14 days without resupply. For the 3-month thru-hiking of the Nepalese part of the Great Himalaya Trail we’ll exchange the packraft and framed pack, for a frameless pack, filled with crampons and ice axe, and a multifuel stove.

To river or not to river... packraft considerations

To river or not to river… packraft considerations

We are proud to anounce that 2 cottage manufacturarers have taken partnership with us, by providing us significant discount on their gear and food. We are not active on a search for sponsors or partners, but if you feel like 2 fools living outside for a year on some remote parts of the world is a good test case for checking functionality/durability of your cottage gear in development, just shout. We’ll glad to be a field rabbit.

Sean at Oookworks is finishing a nest for our Twing Tarp, which we will use as the only shelter for the whole upcoming year. When it arrives in the coming week you may expect an update on the blog for a first review.

The nice Dutch people at Globetrotter Outdoor Foods are helping and providing us discount on huge amounts of home-made dehydrated food for the Arctic and Patagonian part of the year. Our food drying machine just can’t handle the job alone.

In the coming 6 weeks there will be maps apearing on the site, giving you some insight on what we have planned. Please come back and have a look. If you are familiar with the areas, please give feedback.
Just like in the past we look forward on meeting new people on the way. Fresh ideas will spark alternatives. Beside that weather conditions will determine our plans. That’s for sure. Thank you weather for being bad at times. It will force us to change intentions and provide us with memorable experiences in the other option. Flexibility. You bet!

Bivaouc along the banks of the Lech River

Bivaouc along the banks of the Lech River

We look forward to a physical and mental challenge. A battle. Sometimes it’s going to be tough. Pffff what’s tough. Tough is battling to survive. Like millions of people do every day. Spoiled Western tourists. Do something extra-ordinary with your life. Hike, pack, raft… but take time for the people too. We are investigating local volunteer options in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. That’s where we hope to end our trip between May and August 2013.

The trip report from our last general rehearsal 4-day trip has been put in video. It somewhere summarises what you might expect us doing for the upcoming year, when it’s gonna be quiet on the blog, but a little bit louder out there. That’s what you get when I get out. I can be loud. Necessary for trying to overrule them wild silences. Please push play. And have a look in the album.

Undulating snow on the Vercors Plateau (French Alps)

Panic in november. No freezing. No snow. Ski resorts in full frantic. Xmass holidays are coming. Hyperventilation! But when people were losing all hope in climate, big fat “high pressure” momma left the continent and made way for northwesterly runs smashing in moisture into the Alps, providing 2m of snow by the time the turkeys were filled. Whew! Winter saved. Get the snow shoes of stable. Ready for some powder blues.

Mont Aiguille

Mont Aiguille

With a winter traverse of arctic Sarek scheduled for end March, we wanted to do some more field tests of our winter gear: pulka, snow shoes, Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season,… and yeah, testing the tarping business on stable winter conditions. Que?

So on the last week of the diverse year 2011 we spent on the Western Alps’ finest balcony: the undulating Vercors. Set upon a limestone plateau in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, the Vercors plateau extends into the Western Alps, catching the first moisture before it hits the main ridges and high summits of the main Alps more to the west.

Surrounded by high cliffs whatever the side you approach it, you will need to enter the plateau trough deep gorges or tight passes. The Vercors plateaus generally run north-south at around 1400m altitude, is rather woody (esp.pines, it reminds us a lot on northern Scandinavia) with intermediate vast, windswept spaces. It’s real danger however lies in the large network of karst cracks permeable to water making it a desert in summer and a “crevasse-hidden glacier” in winter.

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

On the north side of the plateau, easy accesbile from the city of Grenoble, you will find some ski-stations, where it’s less interesting for the “wilderness”-hiker. To the south-east, the plateau is protected in the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, only dotted with some very basic shelters, providing some refuge for when it gets erratic on the plateau. And when nasty weather hits in, then it can howl badly, so come prepared, summer or winter! In winter it’s a paradise for snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and even pulling a pulk. No experience so far in summer, but water scarce seems to be the bottleneck in this season.

The trip report is put in a short movie, so I will not talk too much about the tour in detail, it takes 6 minutes of your valuable time:

Gear field tests:

Altough not as such use for short trips and especially if it is not too cold (like it was on the first night), we wanted to test the vapor barrier line technique in our sleeping bag.

So this was the winter set-up, from skin towards open skies:

– base layer
AMK Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy Sleeping Bag (VBL-layer, to prevent body vaporation to get into the down sleeping bag)
Valandre Classic 900 down sleeping bag (-7°C comfort temperature)
Rab Survival Zone Bivy Bag (external bivy bag)
MSR Twing Tarp

This was the winter sleeping set up, which worked only well when temperaturs reached -7°C and lower. One night it was barely freezing, and we were litteraly boiling eggs. Result, half way night we woke up in a puddle of sweat (collected in the VBL) and had to ditch the VBL and base layer. This will be our setup for Sarek, but we will bring along a heavy winter tent for frantic nights… to be continued.

Winter tarping  under the Milky way

Winter tarping under the Milky way

Back in november in Switserland we did’nt come to testing our new Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season (R4.9) sleeping pad. This was payback time, immediatly in winter! We used to haul with the bulky and heavy Prolite Plus (R3.8). Unlike the prolite plus, a self inflating matress, the neo air has to be inflated completely manually. The store away serves as inflate-bag, but this just doesn’t work. So ditch it, and use your bare lungs. It warms you up. But leaves you with some hyperventilation 🙂

When you lay upon the matress, at first it will feel cold and the squeezing metallic sound of the inner fabric bothers you. After a couple of minutes the technology unfolds: the inside warmth reflection reliefs! How nice is that! On a surplus it’s more comfartable sleeping then the “hard” prolites. Are we happy with this quite light product: you bet yes!

Jump!

Jump!

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Before we forget: a happy new year to you all and thanx for passing by this blog.

2012 promises to be an adventurous year with loads of things coming up. We are especially and eagerly awaiting a new member of our family: the Alpacka unrigged explorer PACKRAFT! Our adventures will no longer be limited to mountains, fields and forrests, but will be extended onto open waters.

So more coming up on that shortly!

For more pictures from this trip, please visit our online album!

Cheers
S+K

Indian Summer in the Swiss Alps (a GoLite Pinnacle Pack field test)

[edit 2013 – the GoLite Pinnacle is not fabricated anymore, they changed the name to GoLite JAM]

The European Alps prepare themselves for the harsh winter to come. Farmers and their cattle already descended into the lower valleys. Wildlife roams below the edges. Tourists are long gone. Late autumn is a delight to go hike in the (Swiss) Alps.

Hohtürli

Hohtürli - Blüemlisalp

For us it’s a no brainer to plan a hike in the Swiss Alps. A 7.5 hour drive takes us right in front of the massive wall that forms the Bernese Wall. Folding open the map, eyes closed, we point out a direction from our starting point Kandersteg for a 4-day hike. A persistent and (for the time of the year) unusual south Foehn provokes a real indian summer in the northern Alps, unfolding clear blue skies and summer temperatures into the valleys.

We both are childishly eager to test our new lightweight backpacks: the GoLite Men’s 72L/935g and Women’s 63L/877g Pinnacle Pack! We also have the intention to test our new Therm-a-Rest Neo Air All Seoson, but short daylight hours, long hiking hours, coincidence and lazyness failed us to bivaouc so we got comfy sleeps in the empty winter raums of the widespread Swiss mountain huts.

GoLite Pinnacle 72L Pack

GoLite Pinnacle men's 72L Pack, weighing only 935g

On the first day we walk upwards trough golden larches in the direction of Wildstrubel (3243m) up in the wide Schwarenbachtal (following an, out of this world, ugly high power line cutting trough the valley). We wave hello towards the snowdusted Altels (3629m), the glaciated Balmhorn (3698m) and craggy Rinderhorn (3448m).

Lammerental towards Rote Totz (2848m), coming from the Lammerenhutte

Lammerental towards Rote Totz (2848m), coming from the Lammerenhutte

In the ascent towards the Lammerenalp we pass by the almost fully dried up Daubensee (2207m) and on our left side we see the closed hotel on the Gemmipass (2314m). We have the intention to bivaouc somewhere in the snowed and shady Lammerenalp but then we see the Lammerenhutte above a rock outcrop and head for the winter raum, arriving just before dark.

Spot Emergency Beacon, from Rote Totz Lucke with a southern view towards Valais Alps

Spot Emergency Beacon, from Rote Totz Lucke with a southern view towards Valais Alps

On the second day we follow the icy Lammerental, passing a herd of Chamois, climbing towards snow covered Rote Totz Lucke-ridge from where we have a clear view towards the Valais Alps. We are right on the border of Berner Oberland with Valais. We descend towards the Uschenentall, crossing the Talligletsjer.

Perfect fit of the WM's GoLite Pinnacle, on the Talligletsjer under the granite wall of Steghorn (3146m)

Perfect fit of the WM's GoLite Pinnacle, on the Talligletsjer under the granite wall of Steghorn (3146m)

What a beautiful, forgotten high alpine glen this is! We enjoy the silence, the icy and snowy passages and clear blue skies that lead us, passing the frozen Talliseeli-tarn towards the Usser Üschene valley. We descide we want to reach Fisialp high above the Oeschinen Lake, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once there, we continue in the dusk light towards the Doldenhorn Hutte.

Snowy descend toward the Usser Üschene valley

Snowy descend toward the Usser Üschene valley

On our thirth day we explore the area around under the Doldenhorn (3475m) and descide to descend towards the Oeschinen Lake and try to reach the Blüemlisalphütte (2840m). The area around the Unesco protected lake is outstanding beautiful and we are astonished that on such a sunny day there is nobody around! The place is just silently empty. We can imagine how busy it could be here in summer.

Dusk at The Blüemlisalphütte (2840m)

Dusk at The Blüemlisalphütte (2840m)

In a couple of hours we reach, on a quite easy trail, just before sunset the beautifuly located hut. It stands proud above the heavily crevassed Blüemlisalpglacier and under the guarding, icy summits of Morgenhorn (3623m), Wyssi Frau (3650m) and Blüemlisalphorn (3661m).

On the firth day we descend towards Kandersteg, passing by the Heuberg (1940m), with tremendous view towards the azure Oeschinen Lake.

Oeschinen Lake (1578m) as seen from near Heuberg (1940m)

Oeschinen Lake (1578m) as seen from near Heuberg (1940m)

What about the GoLite Pinnacle Pack?

We started with a winter base weight of 7552gr (including winter down sleeping bag, crampons, down jacket,…) plus food, fuel, water,… to a total of 11kg550gr. The manufacturer specifies a comfortable to carry load of max. 18kg, which really is the max. weight we would put in this pack.

GoLite Pinnacle Pack Men vs Women

GoLite Pinnacle Pack Men vs Women

The frameless pack fits unbelievably pefect to the back spine if the load is organised bulky enough to give support enough to your entire back. The padding on the hips is small, compared to heavier “standard” packs, but spreads the weight very well towards the hips. The biggest difference with “standard” packs, is the lack of the hood, with which you would normally close your pack. Now there only remains a cord strap and clip system (you close the pack as you would close a dry bag). As the pack is not waterproof (only water resistant), you should pack your valuable gear in waterproof bags, but that’s also the case with “standard” packs. We also like the side straps which will enable us to put gear “outside the pack” in future trips. With small straps you can also make the pack unbelievalbe small like it resemble a daypack (see in our flickr photostream)! There is a big zipped front pocket for storing small, quickly accesible items like maps, torches, …

Are we happy with the pack? Ooooooh yeaaaah!

Please visit our full photoset on our flickr page for more pics on this short trip into the Swiss Alps.