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Vrenelisgärtli (Guppengrat)

Published by Stijn , 6 July 2015, 22h40.

Region: World » Switzerland » Glarus
Date of the hike: 4 July 2015
Hiking grading: T6 - Difficult High-level Alpine hike
Mountaineering grading: PD
Climbing grading: III (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-GL   Glärnischgruppe 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2450 m 8036 ft.
Height loss: 1700 m 5576 ft.

With its iconic trapezoidal summit snow field, Vrenelisgärtli is one of the most recognizable mountains in the Zürich "skyline". Though it misses out on being the highest summit of the Glärnisch massif by a couple of metres, it's certainly the most popular peak in the area. I'm always keen to avoid busy normal routes, and the Guppengrat seemed like an exciting alternative. The Guppengrat is getting ever more popular as well, though. Hikr has seen an ascent by tricky just last week, and with a dedicated article just published in SAC's "Die Alpen" magazine, the Guppengrat is bound to attract even more climbers soon. Independently from that article, my SAC section Uto had already planned an ascent of the Guppengrat. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate.


Day 1: Schwanden - Guppenalp Oberstafel
(1150m ascent, 3 hours)

We hike up from the valley on Saturday afternoon in boiling heat to the Guppenalp Oberstafel. For 50 CHF, the friendly Alp offers rather rustic accommodation, a basic dinner and a surprisingly nice breakfast. The Guppenalp can house up to 22 guests, but I can't for the life of me imagine how. With our group of six plus four more guests, the place already seemed full. Most people obviously come here for the Guppengrat, but the wonderful scenery makes the Guppenalp a worthwhile goal on its own.

Day 2: Guppenalp Oberstafel - Guppengrat - Vrenelisgärtli - Glärnischhütte - Chäseren
(1300m ascent, 1700m descent, 11 hours)

At 6am we set off from the Guppenalp. Our group from SAC Uto ascends in three rope teams of two persons each, with me second on the last party. The route goes past the Mittelstock and ascends a steep couloir just west of P. 2186. There is still a little snow in the couloir, but we ascend over schrofen and rock instead. A slab (III; not "T3" as a rather ridiculous misprint in the "Die Alpen" article claims...) near the top of this section is a first crux of the route.

Over snow (an eastern outlier of the Guppenfirn) we go around the north of the Chanzle. The couloir that is found here can offer very different conditions depending on how much snow there is. We find the couloir still pretty much full of snow, which should be good, except that at one point a tiny bergschrund has formed. The hot weather has made the snow very soft, and climbing up the other side is not as obvious as it looks. Our second roped party finds this out the hard way as they make a not-so-soft landing halfway down the crevasse, luckily without any injuries. Once everybody is back on their feet, we use extra precaution and a proper ice axe belay to avoid any further incident.

The transition from the Guppenfirn to the Guppengrat itself again offers some challenging climbing (III), though we might not have taken the easiest route. Further along, the Guppengrat is slightly easier, and suddenly tops out directly at the Vrenelisgärtli summit cross.

A few more remarks about the Guppengrat route:
* The SAC guidebook time for Guppenalp Oberstafel to Vrenelisgärtli is 3,5 hours. It took us a full 7 hours! About an hour can be attributed to our little bergschrund accident. More time was lost due to the "accordeon effect" of moving with three roped parties behind each other. Even then, 3,5 hours seems only possible if you don't use a rope at all. I'd have been happy without a rope on most of the route, but on a few of the harder sections I was definitely glad to have it.
* The route is extremely scenic, but the quality of the rock is not as nice. I definitely won't volunteer again to be the last climber of a group of six. The amount of stones flying around my ears was not fun at all.

Due to our long ascent, it's already 1pm and we have the Vrenelisgärtli summit to ourselves. The views are a little hazy but still beautiful. The iconic snow field of "Vreneli's little garden" is already diminishing noticeably in size. It looks quite likely that this will be another summer where the snow will disappear completely.

Vrenelisgärtli is the western outlier of the Glärnisch massif. The Schwander Grat that makes the connection is the normal ascent route. The descent to the Schwander grat involves on section of unpleasant scree. The Schwander grat itself is almost completely free of snow. The ascent from the Schwander Grat to P. 2860 (the crux of the normal route) is secured with iron chains, rungs and pegs, giving this section a via ferrata-feeling. There are even two secured routes parallel to each other, allowing two way traffic. At P. 2860 we reach the Glärnischfirn which allows a speedy descent towards the Glärnischhütte. The path from the end of the glacier to the hut still requires some attention (T3+). We descend further to Chäseren where we are happy to take a ride in the Alptaxi (15 CHF per person) to Klöntal Plätz.


I think everybody in our group found the Guppengrat to be more demanding than expected. Still, it's an enjoyable and extremely scenic route, with the abundance of scree and loose rock as the only major minus point. It was very interesting to me to learn about how you can use the rope on relatively easy alpine climbs like this. Vrenelisgärtli is a nice summit to tick off my list as well, It's definitely something to be able to say "I've been up there" when looking out over the Zürisee towards the Alps.

Hike partners: Stijn

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27 Jul 13
Vreneli via Guppengrat · tricky

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