We were soon back on lower-angled slopes, out of the area most conducive to the snow-slides. It wasn't too long before we were once again crossing the flats of the lower Brunnifirn.
Back across the flats
Our objective now was to return safely to the car. The most immediate obstacle to this objective was the Brunnipass - the steep and craggy ridge that separated us from the south-facing slopes that led down into the Vorderrhein valley. Brian chartered a very direct course across the bowl of the Brunnifirn to the spot on the ridge where we could gain access to its crest. Already quite drained from the climbing up on Oberalpstock, the short ascent up to the ridge was very tiring.
We scrambled back along the 100 metres or so of ridgecrest until we reached the Brunnipass itself. Next was the steep snow descent down the access gully leading into the upper Val da Lag Serein. After having seen the avalanche Brian had earlier triggered, we were a bit wary of the stability of this steep finger of snow.
We decided that we'd set up a roped belay for Brian and Jenn's descent of the snow finger. With the added security of the rope, they could then kick good solid steps in the snow, as well as assess its general stability and hardness.
The belaying down of Brian and Jenn went smoothly. The steep snow of the gully turned out to be quite a bit firmer than the snow on the upper slopes of the Oberalpstock, and when I finally descended myself, I found the footing quite secure. This particular slope of snow did not seem at all unstable.
With the Brunnipass behind us, we unroped and continued trudging downhill towards solid ground. We took advantage a few steeper slopes to glissade down - a fast and welcome change from endless post-holing.
Heading down Val da Lag Serein
View back up to where we were
We were glad to finally reach snowline. It was 5 pm, nearly eleven hours after starting out. We were looking forward to the comfort of the car, a nice shower, and a warm meal.
First, though, there was still a fair bit of ground to cover - more than three kilometres and almost a thousand more metres to descend.
We stopped in front of the Lag Serein hut for a quick break and to peel off many layers of completely soaked clothing (pretty much everything we had on was fully soaked). We then headed off down the trail, admiring the beautiful late afternoon views.
Descending down into the upper bowl of the Val Acletta, we were forced to confront the second obstacle of our descent down to the car - the crossing of the valley's main stream.
As you may recall from the account of the hike up, the crossing of this stream was on two narrow un-fastened planks of wood, placed side-by-side. Combined with a vigorous flow of spring meltwater to remind you that you really didn't want to fall in, it had been a nervous crossing.
Today was worse. Clearly it had been a warmer day than yesterday, and the vigorous flow was now a frothing torrent. The planks were wet from the flecks of water constantly being tossed up by angry rapids that were just a few feet below the planks. In fact, if the flow were to increase much beyond this, the planks would likely be washed away entirely.
A brave crossing
I watched from above as Jenn carefully made her way across the planks, using her hiking poles as a highwire trapeze artist might. She made it across without incident - but it wasn't particularly reassuring-looking.
Brian was next, and also made it successfully across - surely a relief to him. It was then my turn, and I tried not to think about it too much as I approached the narrow makeshift bridge.
Falling into this sort of water would really, really not be a good idea. It looked angry, powerful. Falling in would likely result in being violently flung against the many boulders in the streambed, not to mention being swept some undetermined distance downstream. It would also probably wreck any unprotected electronic and camera gear I was carrying.
Andrew shuffles across
Slowly, slowly, I edged forward across the two planks - one foot on each. The bounciness was greatest near the mid-point, of course, exactly where I didn't want it: right over the worst of the coursing maelstrom. I had a moment of uncontrolled jittering before relaxing and allowing my legs to absorb the bouncing instead of fighting it. I wasn't really lifting my legs up to step any longer, either - I was shuffling along more than anything else.
The planks' stability improved again as I neared the far end, and finally I was across. Whew! I'll come back later when all the snow has melted, thankyouverymuch.
Ok. So *now* we were done with all manner of trickiness and trouble. What remained was a completely standard and un-difficult trail back to our car.
Peaceful afternoon descent
Down past the angry stream
With water squishing about in our soaking-wet boots, we hiked down the Val Acletta, trying not to let our toes bang too hard into the fronts of our boots on the relentless descent. We soon passed all of the now-familiar little waypoints, trail junctions, and buildings we had encountered yesterday on the way up.
Finally, we arrived back at the car at about 7:30pm - a long and at times very tiring thirteen hours after having set out from the Cavardiras hut. We gratefully flopped into the car and drove the twenty-or-so kilometres back to the flat. After a much needed shower and dinner (of which I could not be bothered to take pictures), we headed off to bed.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Oberalpstock Day 2 - click map to view
Cavardiras Hut to Oberalpstock (failed) to Acletta - Climb Data (Oberalpstock day 2)
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet