FLERA Vosges alpine trip February 2022
written by Sime Jurlina
FLERA organized an alpine trip to the Vosges on the 26th and 27th of February 2022. There were two great instructors, Christophe and Maurice, and three participants. We had little to no prior experience in the alpine environment, so this was the first time for us to learn and simply get out there. Feel what it is like to be outside, climbing on snow and ice, and learning the basic traits of alpinism.
On the first day, we have an early start from Luxembourg. After about 3 hours we are in the Vosges and at the top of Hohneck. Quick planning session in the Auberge du Pied du Hohneck. Christophe explains the importance of weather conditions and orienteering for winter activities in the mountains. Out we go. Getting ready for action. Equipment check. Testing the DVAs. Crampons on. Ice picks in hand. Short walk to the starting point, couloir de Wormspel.
The conditions are great. Good visibility, a bit of wind, but not too strong. Fresh snowfall during the week has mostly frozen and makes for good terrain. We are looking for a good point to start our descent. Little did we know this was connected to another lesson – how to recognize a corniche. Down in the valley, we can see the menacing corniches formed at the top of the couloir. We move further along to avoid being in the direct path of a potential avalanche.
Before going up again, we learned more about the use of electronic and paper maps. Good to have a paper map around in case your phone runs out of power. Do you know what a barometer is? By measuring pressure in the air, we can predict the weather. Low pressure means the weather is bad and high pressure is good. Smartwatches can send you a notification in case there are fast changes in the air pressure.
Next lesson – building an anchor. We build a T-shaped anchor in the snow by burying the ice axe. We immediately test it by attaching ourselves with slings. The second test – belaying a climber coming up. Good news – the anchors hold.
Preparing for the ascent we use natural anchors to belay the climbers going up. While progressing, they build temporary protection points using the equipment for trad climbing – nuts, hexes, cams. At some points, even ice screws are used. They explain to us why and how to place the temporary protection points.
As the rope nears its end it is time to start climbing. What a phenomenal feeling! Our two rope teams are progressing quite well. Mid-point of the route we group at another anchor and restart. The next challenge is the vertical climb we named half-pipe. A bit of ice-climbing before we reach the top of the couloir. The instructors set the route and we follow. Ice is hard, but not too hard. Ice axes bite well and crampons hold. In no time we are at the top of the route! My only thought is when do we go again?
What we learned on Day 1:
1) Moving on snow and ice with crampons and ice axes
2) Building an anchor point
a. In the snow
b. Using natural anchors (e.g. vegetation and rocks)
3) Belaying the partner
a. Rope teams of two and three climbers
c. Distances and positioning
4) Weather, terrain, security
a. Avalanche risks from the corniche and how to recognize them
b. Snow conditions and composition
c. How to operate the DVA, send and search mode
d. Reading the map and barometer
At the end of the day, we are tired, so tired that there is no thinking of going into a bar and having some drinks. But we are eager to get out early the next day.
On day 2 we are back on the top of the Hohneck. The weather is sunny and the area is busy with visitors, skiers, and alpinists. We descend to the valley once again, avoiding the cornichons. Today our first ascent is further down from yesterdays. Two rope teams tackle this task quickly.
The next challenge is learning a new technique. We are rappelling down the icy couloir, the half-pipe we climbed yesterday. Before we start the exercise, we learn how to build an anchor on bolts. It is important to address the angles between bolts to account for movement and varying pressure on the anchor. As one rope is not enough, we connect the two ropes. Make sure you know on which side is the knot connecting the two ropes as it must not get stuck in the anchor.
One by one we descend, using our belaying devices and prusiks. Once we are down, we prepare for the ascent. The plan is to belay from below so that the climber can go up and down once again. After the first round, we will all climb back up the second time. As you might imagine this takes quite a while, but what a thrill!
Day 2 is concluded with the agreement to end earlier as we need time to drive back to Luxembourg.
What we learned on Day 2:
1) Building an anchor on bolts
2) Connecting two ropes for rappelling
3) Rappelling from a fixed anchor point
4) Ice-climbing techniques to position hands and feet correctly
Big thanks to Flera and our instructors Christophe and Maurice for organizing this fantastic sortie!
If you want to know about alpine climbing and what FLERA organizes, please contact us via email@example.com.