A journey in the snow which did not go as planned.
My mates (Philippe, Robert, Harry) and I scheduled a trip to go to the Swiss Alps. Obviously, it would be better these days not to meet anyone at all but given the nature of this trip (pun intended) we took the chance. We all agreed on wearing mask throughout the car drive and adhere to safety distance.
We aimed to explore some new corners in the Kanton Graubünden. Golden larch trees, fresh snow, and not yet frozen mountain lakes were among the allures. This combination poses a powerful incentive for photographers. Apart from that, the chance of catching a glimpse of rare predators in Switzerland sealed the deal for me: This is wolf country yet again.
The planning was in full swing, when I received the unsettling information about a student of mine: Showing symptoms, this student underwent a Covid-test. What was even more annoying, he was awaiting the result. Therefore, I quarantined at home as a precaution.Obviously, I was devastated about the meagre outlook to spend considerable time in four walls instead of four sheets of nylon.
My friends had left on Saturday morning, while I stayed at home. In the afternoon, an E-mail popped up in my inbox: The student was negative. I called up my friends, who had just arrived at the base of the mountain. They joked about me following by train, which would take me 4 hours. Moreover, this meant arriving in the dark. Yet, I fancied the idea and immediately set out.
By 8 pm, I was approximately at the same place as my friends were when I called them. I was not able to reach their exact location with public transport though. Therefore, the plan was to hike into a valley that runs parallel and then cross a mountain pass at 2200 meters altitude. I started from 1400meters in the dark, but luckily the full moon lit up the landscape.
Gaining altitude through the dark forest by myself, it was pretty scarry at times. I caught myself frequently checking what might lurk behind me. Yet, apart from mice in the underwood I was alone.
When I finally reached the tree line, there was more snow than anticipated. However, more worrisome than that, were the two eyes which lit up in the beam of my torch. Suddenly, a second pair of eyes emerged from behind the former.
I could not figure out what they were, because the snow blinded me by reflecting the torch. Yet, my camera revealed two deer, which was reassuring. They looked at me in a peculiar manner for a few seconds, before trotting back into the forest.
No Way Through
Without the protective cover of the forest, a considerable amount of snow accumulated on the ground. The farther I went, the deeper the drifts became. At one point I had to turn off the trodden path and had to plough my own way. This was a treacherous undertaking due to the uneven ground and I frequently sank into the snow up to my knee. As if that did not suffice, the snow pushed my trouser upwards, which caused the snow to melt and in turn ran down my foot. I wish I had some gaiters at hands.
Slowly progressing this way, I soon felt very miserable. A huge bolder offered a welcome opportunity to relieve my cold feet some time from the snow. Eating dinner, I gazed at the moonlit landscape: The perfectly still lake down below reflected the peaks and the twinkling stars delighted me. There was not a single noise to be heard – a rare occasion in our noisy world.
Having finished my sandwich, I rose to my feet and stamped through the deep snow again. I searched for the path to ascend to the mountain pass into the other valley. Looking near and far in the moonlight, I could not distinguish any sign of a trail. Moreover, I was not fond of making my own path up this ridge at 11pm with the full moon soon disappearing.
Hence, I opted to remain where I was and set up my bivouac. In terms of gear, I used 2 mattresses (Thermarest Z-Lite and X-Lite) in combination with my winter sleeping bag and the bivy. This setup was sufficiently warm especially because the temperatures only dropped to about -2° Celsius. The only downside was the tight space, which the many batteries that need to stay warm exacerbated. I rarely turned around without having any object sticking into my rips. I did not plan to sleep for too long anyway.
The scenery that unfolded the following morning was straight out of a fairy tale.
I quickly rose from my bivouac, packed my gear, and caught the last glimpse of the sunrise. Then, I headed towards the pass and was able to locate a faint line of a path in the snow. The further I got the steeper it became, and I was glad to have stayed the night on my side. On the way up, I found several animal tracks from chamois and deer. Yet, I did not see any animal.
On top of the pass, I contacted my friends and we agreed on meeting there. The views from above were mind-blowing. In the meantime, waiting for my friends to come up, I scrambled up a boulder. There I made myself comfortable and observed the surrounding.
A prove that I clearly underestimated the conditions was my green camouflage I carried instead of the white one. Through the binoculars, I spotted a fir jay busy hiding seeds as well as a female black grouse at the horizon.
Soon, my friends called me that they could not make it to the top due to fallen trees and steep snow banks. Therefore, I had to leave this mystical place. During the demanding way down, I even came across a chamois, whose footprints I had seen just a little earlier.
I met Robert, Philippe and Harry at their base camp and I was exhausted. Luckily, they had already started the fire and their food supply was still in good shape. A warm soup with sausage and bacon was a welcome change to my cold diet. We had a good laugh, exchanged stories, and took some pictures. Together we made our return the same way as they had come the day before.
Alone in the Snow Rewind
I was glad to be able to join to join this trip, even if at a late stage. Bivouacking in the snow with a lot of photography equipment was a demanding task. However, I enjoyed it a lot. Although, I did not see any wolfs, I am convinced that they are there. A couple of days later, a kill was located just where we had been on this map.