Salbithöhenweg - Voralphütte - Bergseeschijen - Klettersteig Krokodil

Published by Stijn , 17 September 2014, 21h58.

Region: World » Switzerland » Uri
Date of the hike:13 September 2014
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: I (UIAA Grading System)
Via ferrata grading: K3+ (AD+)
Geo-Tags: CH-UR 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2800 m 9184 ft.
Height loss: 2100 m 6888 ft.

Thank god for September, trying to do its best to make up for a lost summer. Another fine weekend brought the opportunity to complete a two day tour in the Göschenertal that has been on my tick list for a long time.
When David and I get off the train at Göschenen, our goal for the day is already on the signpost: "Voralphütte 7h40". Or first goal is the Salbithütte, 1000m higher up. A light drizzle is falling and clouds are hanging low, though occasionally we catch a glimpse of a sunny Dammagletscher through a gap in the clouds. We make good pace walking up through the forest to Regliberg. Between Regliberg and Salbithütte, we get distracted a little, picking delicious blueberries all over the place. We still arrive at the Salbithütte in a good enough time to reward ourselves with soup and Suure Moscht.
Views are still pretty much non-existent, but we decide that we might as well be optimistic and do a small detour to include the viewpoint of the Mittler Höhenberg in our route. The summit is marked by a gigantic (12m tall) metal cross, put here in 1961 by the local catholic youth. A booklet attached to the log book tells the whole history in excruciating detail. But I might as well read, in the hope that meanwhile the sun will burn through the clouds. Disappointingly, when the lecture is finally finished half an hour later, the panorama is still as grey as before, so we give up on the idea of getting any views from the Mittler Höhenberg.
We join the Salbit Höhenweg between the Salbithütte and the Voralphütte by a direct route over the Ober Höhenberg. This route (just like the majority of the Salbit Höhenweg itself) is not marked on the map, but is in fact continuously marked white-blue-white, which proves quite useful in the fog. We rejoin the Höhenweg just where it gets interesting. Above the first ladder, a ring is provided to tie up any dogs while the master goes on to discover the suspension bridge - no kidding! A few minutes later, and the famous Salbit suspension bridge itself appears. 90 metres long, it spans across the ravine-like couloir that goes down south-west of P. 2581. The construction is very solid, which is just as well, cause it's quite eerie when you stand in the middle and can't see the either end of the bridge! On the other side of the bridge, we climb a few ladders to reach a small plateau covered by boulders, where the Salbitschijen bivouac is located. The clouds open up a little to reveal the entire suspension bridge, as a Dutch group is crossing it in the other direction. Quite spectacular!
The Salbit Höhenweg continues with a descent into the Spicherribichelen gulley, partially secured by cables. The near-vertical wall on the other side of the Spicherribichelen is ascended over a number of ladders. Previously there was just one extremely long ladder [old picture] here, which got rather battered and bruised [old picture] by rock falls. In 2013, is was replaced by a new route, with several shorter ladders. We are happy to do this section without taking out our via ferrata equipment, but it can certainly be usefully utilised. The two groups that we encounter going in the other direction, are both using via ferrata equipment. Quite sensibly as well, since one is a family with children, and the others were the Dutch hikers, who most likely don't have that much alpine experience. Moreover, they are doing the route in the more difficult direction (from Voralphütte to Salbithütte), where you need to climb down the majority of the ladders, which is always trickier. Via ferrata gear can be rented in either hut, if necessary.
After the Spicherribichelen ladders, the difficulties of the Salbit Höhenweg are over, but there's still a fair amount of ascent before we finally start the descent to the Voralphütte. As before, the clouds never open up for longer than a minute, but it makes the rare moments when we do get a view all the more magical. Arriving at the Voralphütte, we get a warm welcome, a tasty meal and a good night's sleep.
The next day starts with a rather monotonous ascent to the Horefellistock, interrupted by two rather basic footbridges across the Voralpreuss and the Schiessend Bach (where does that name come from?). But the skies are blue this time, and we enjoy fabulous view over the Sustenhorn and the Fleckistock. Titlis (with the unmistakable Funkturm on Klein Titlis) is visible directly behind the Sustenjoch. From the Horefellistock to the Bergseeschijenlücke (P. 2600), we first descend over grassy ground, then the route goes up again over a large boulder field.
From the Bergseeschijenlücke, we head west to the highest point and the only real summit of the weekend: Bergseeschijen (2815m). The signpost seems to point directly over the ridge, but we soon have to give on that idea when we the scrambling gets too difficult and too exposed. In fact, we have to climb back down a few metres on the northern side of the Bergseeschijenlücke. "Bergseeschijen" is written in blue on the rock here and there are white-blue-white markings and cairns that lead to the summit. It's easy to lose the markings, but the choice of route in the north-east flank of the Bergseeschijen is in fact quite free. The exception is one section about halfway up between the Bergseeschijenlücke and the summit, the crux of the route (T5). The steel cable is quite helpful here, without using it, you'd hardly get up. Beyond the cabled section, the terrain is easier again, and only the very summit crag is a little trickier again. The Bergseeschijen summit has a cross, a log book and wild mountain views over the Voralp and Göchenen valleys. The highest visible summits are the Dammastock and the Galenstock towards the west, and Tödi and the Oberalpstock towards the east. The Salbitbrücke is also clearly visible. Only from this perspective you realize how deep and unavoidable the couloir is, which is crossed by the bridge.
We descend to the Bergseeschijenlücke over the same route. The descend to the south of the Lücke briefly has a via-ferrata-like character. In fact, it is more difficult than the cabled sections on the Salbithöhenweg. You can't rely on ladders, you have to look for footholds in the rock yourself and occasionally you just need to hang from the cable by your arms. If you're not 100% confident with this, then you should use a via ferrata set here.
The via ferrata set is definitely needed on the Bergsee via ferrata, also known as Klettersteig Krokodil. The Krokodil is a minor summit on the south ridge of the Bergseeschijen, just above the Bergsee SAC hut. It is name like this, because two rocks sticking out from the summit seem like the open mouth of a crocodile, especially when viewed from below the Bergseeschijenlücke. The via ferrata also takes in another minor summit south of the Krokodil. We head directly to the start of the via ferrata. a recognizable smooth plate to the east of the first summit, across a boulder field. The entire route is short but spicy and intensive. The official grade of K3 seems very low. For me the Krokodil definitely belongs amongst K4 grade via ferratas. There is a fair amount of direct contact with the rock and there are a number of moves that require a decent dose of strength. The first summit is ascended from the east along a creative line. There is an escape path on the saddle between the two peaks. The second peak, the Krokodil, is climbed in a very direct line. At the summit, you have to squeeze yourself through the open mouth of the crocodile and swing yourself around the lower jaw down to a wire bridge: one of the most original moves on a via ferrata that I've seen in quite a while! The wire bridge itself is quite stable. It can be avoided by climbing down a rope ladder, which looks in fact more challenging than the bridge itself. The end of the via ferrata is reached soon after. Descent to the Bergseehütte is possible along either side of the Krokodil. We go along the western side, which is the shortest route, but probably the path is a bit easier along the eastern side.
While we are doing the via ferrata, we are disturbed by regular major rock falls in a gulley south-west of the Hochschijen. The rock falls go on for over an hour, and are in fact caused by a group of five people, who are simply throwing big rocks (as large as a human could possibly lift) down the steep gulley. The rocks bounce erratically, gather considerable speed and only come to a halt several hundred metres lower down. Later, at the Bergseehütte, they would say that they did this "just for fun". The warden of the hut doesn't seem very concerned. "I do this for a living," he says, "clearing the mountain passes of rocks that could hit cars." And: "it's better to throw them down when you're looking that nobody is there, than to wait for the rocks to fall down by themselves, when somebody actually might be there." This might be true, but I still found the whole scene very disturbing. There were no marked hiking paths in immediate danger, but a route described in the SAC Alpinwandern/Gipfelziele Gotthard guide traverses directly south of the Hochschijen, right where the rocks where falling. However well you look that there's nobody there, it seems completely senseless to me to throw down rocks just "for kicks and giggles", thereby creating a direct danger to the life of every living creature in the general area. And I don't think these rocks would have fallen down by themselves any time soon. If the gulley had a high risk of spontaneous rock falls, then they would not have gone up there in the first place, right? Aside from the dangers, the noise certainly brutally disturbed the peace and quiet of the whole surroundings. I'm still rather in disbelief. Am I missing something here, and is it somehow acceptable to cause massive rock falls on purpose when "you're looking that nobody is there"? To me it just seems senseless and dangerous.
After David had a quick swim in the Bergsee (problematic due to the shallow water), we start the final descent down to the Göscheneralp, still called like that in spite of the fact that the actual alp was flooded by the reservoir in the 1960s. Looking back to the Bergseeschijen, it looks a lot more impressive than when we approached it from the north. The lower parts of the descent, across the moorland of the Brätschenflue, are especially beautiful. At the Göscheneralp, we take the Postauto (reservation obligatory) along the narrow road back down to Göschenen. The train to Zürich is hopelessly overcrowded, but at least we're not stuck in the Gotthardstau.
Two tiring days in the Göschenertal full of fantastic experiences. Only the fact that throwing rocks down the mountain for fun is considered normal here, might stop me from coming back.

Hike partners: Stijn

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