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La Heutte and Spitzmeilen

Perhaps a bit early in the year but sunny enough to stay warm, you went outdoor multi-pitch climbing in Biel. A fortnight later Maren came to visit and you all went to Spitzmeilenhütte for the weekend.

La Heutte Multi-pitch

Rather than following Alex and Grég south to Tessin for climbing and camping adventures, you opted for the one-day version on Sunday, going instead with Coralie and Rafael. The plan was an easy multi-pitch climb in Biel La Heutte.

La Heutte sat on the other side of the Rüstigraben: the line separating German and French/Italian speaking Switzerland. Two minutes past the border the architectural style of the surroundings changed and everyone started speaking French. The food probably got better too but you'd brought homemade wraps, who's beetroot filling had stained the bag purple.

The multi-pitch description
The multi-pitch description

From the tiny village train stop you walked into the forest and up to the cliffs. At first glance the routes looked mostly climbable, and a few people were already ahead of you on the wall. You all got set up, warmed up and started the seven-stage multi-pitch along the ridge.

The first climbing section
The first climbing section

The first two sections weren't especially hard (4b-4c) but you took your time as you'd not been outdoor climbing in a while. From the top of the second pitch you had to untie and walk up a stony slope; it was a bit unnerving without being secured but wasn't especially unsafe.

Near the top looking down
Near the top looking down

The following sections, most short lengths of two or three clips, went up and over the ridge's rocky spine. It was nice to be outdoors in the sun with a view. By the end you were actually kind high up. After a short break and a snack, you released your feet from your climbing shoes to much relief, and headed home.

Spitzmeilenhütte

For once the weather gave everyone a break, and was nice on the weekend for a change. Blazing sunshine and warming temperatures had people dusting off their bikes and heading out for a weekend ride. Since Maren was visiting and she'd never been snowshoe hiking, you took the chance to visit Spitzmeilenhütte.

No one wanted an early start this weekend. The earliest train anyone was willing to take was after ten, meaning no express S2 skiers connection, and instead lots of room. By midday you had taken the gondola up to Mashgenkamm and started hiking / skiing. You could see all the way to Spitzmeilenhütte from Mashgenkamm. The track up the hill was clearly trodden and spotted with other groups; there'd be no problems navigating today, unlike the last foggy time. Surprisingly, there was enough snow to keep all lifts running in Flumserberg; not the fluffiest snow of all time but enough. The top layer had built a thick icy crust making manoeuvring tricky on skis and crunchy on snowshoes.

Maren for the first time on snowshoes Grég and Bianca waiting
Maren for the first time on snowshoes, and Grég and Bianca waiting

Adding and removing the ski furs was a bother as usual, but you had time while waiting for the other three snowshoe hikers to catch up. Downhill, obviously, they were a little slower than on skis. You all hiked beside the skiing runs, eventually breaking away towards Alp Fursch where a good forty people were chilling in the sun with a beer or a tea. The track up the slope was harsh, which in German is actually the correct word for hard icy snow. You mentioned to the group you had your Harsheisen with you (spikes for touring skis), which when you say it out loud sounded a lot like "Haar scheissen" (hair shitting). You can never win with German.

Dramatic posed Grég Photographic Meike
Dramatic posed Grég and photographic Meike

Half way up you all had a picnic on the snow. It was nice to be taking it so easy, as opposed to the normal speedy touring ski ascent. It gave people the chance to take some photos. Meike unpacked the Practika with a B&W film at each stop, blasting Grég's hipster cred' out of the water; since buying a smartphone and a tablet he'd become significantly more mainstream. The homemade brownies and wraps were being stuck into and polished off quickly.

Spitzmeilenhütte Dining hall
Spitzmeilenhütte, and dining room

Along the ridge the wind picked up and blew everyone with a chilly snow spray. As long as you kept moving, you didn't really need a big jacket to keep warm. You were still glad to reach Spitzmeilenhütte and come in from the cold. Inside the caretaker showed you to your room: a cosy upstairs room to sleep six, which you had for yourselves.

Starry night Sunrise on Sunday morning
Starry night, and Sunrise on Sunday morning

The rest of the afternoon was spent playing card games in the dining room while watching the wind blow snow about outside. Drinking tea while playing Bonanza and Ligretto filled in time until dinner, which was spicy tomato soup, some strange meaty thing with mash and red cabbage, and vanilla pudding. Bianca seemed to be eating her desert extra slowly to draw it out, while everyone watched drooling for lack of a second serving. By bedtime two Germans and a Swiss bloke had joined your game of Ligretto, making for a full eight-player match. It was hilariously intense.

Snack break Relaxing with a bottle of Möst in the sun
Snack break, and relaxing with a bottle of Möst in the sun

The descent the next morning was nasty, independent of your two right-socks. It was too early for the snow surface to soften, and so turning on skis was impossible. The back of your skis cut into the harsh and threw you out of every curve. Walking uphill, by comparison, was far easier. After a bit more hiking and a Möst apple cider in the sun you headed back to Zürich on the slowest train the the universe. Bloody Sunday (train) drivers.