logo

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

image

Travel

Nov 19, 2018

Carnets de Trail: Around Brisen and The Four Cantons Lake

Episode 2: Sébastien de Sainte Marie's "Carnets de Trail" series continues, with dramatic landscapes in amongst the Obwaldian mountains.

Sébastien de Sainte Marie is a steep-skier, runner, climber, The Outdoor Journal ambassador, but above all a lover of wide open spaces. Sébastien has carried out first ski descents in the Alps, Chablais and Aiguilles Rouges. He made the first ski descent of “Brenvitudes” on the Brenva side of Mont Blanc, as well as off the English Route on the south face of Shishapangma (Tibet) from an altitude of 7,400m. In this new series entitled “Carnets de Trail” (Trail Notebook), in partnership with Planet Endurance, Sébastien shares all his favourite trails, with all the information you need to experience the same trips yourself.

EPISODE 2: Around Brisen and Lake Quatre Cantons

Living in the flat Aargauer region, the Lucern mountain are my closest “real” mountains. For two years, this area was my running playground. I love the dramatic landscape, with mountains that drop down into the Four Cantons lake.

There are a many interesting routes between Brisen (2404m) and Oberbauenstock (2117m). However, I have decided to introduce you to the one that offers the most beautiful view of the Lake of the Four Townships, and then the imposing Obwaldian mountains.

The Key Information

Time: Always a tricky question, but it’s certainly possible to run the entire ridge in 5 hours with a good tempo.
Distance: Departing from Oberrickenbach, and arriving in Emmentten, you will have travelling 27km for 2581m D+.
Location: All within 10km of the famous town of Lucerne. To get there, it’s best to use the train from Lucerne main train station to Wolfenschiessen (15min), then take a bus to Oberrikenbach alte Post (5min).
Difficulty: Two specific passages require extra attention. First of all, between Jochlistock (2070m) and Gandispitz (1996m). The edge is tapered on this last portion and the path is narrow, it must be approached with caution if the ground is wet. The descent of the Oberbauenstock between the passage of the Schwiren (2018m) and Gross Schilt (1882m) also deserves a some restraint, but it is equipped with chains to support you. The two passages are rated T4.
Good for: Trail runners of all abilities. The route isn’t too technical and can even be combined with other routes in the area to suit your ability further.

Route

Starting from the the bus stop “Oberrickenbach alte Post” in Schmiedsboden (1120m), you will find a paved road and then a poorly marked path. At 1395m we pass an old funicular station, the next intersection offers the opportunity to climb the Haldigrat in two ways, the forest road on the right is faster but not quite as scenic than that left option.

Having arrived at Hadligrat station the ridge becomes steeper and sticks can be useful. From the Brisen summit head down via the left hand side to reach the Steinalper Jochli (2157m), Glattgrat and Risetenstock (2289m). You can then head down to the ponds, a place called “beiden Seelenen” where it is possible to add a short climb up to the Schwalmis (2171m).

Head up towards Vorder Jochli (2001m), before walking along the narrow ridge that leads to the huge cross of the Gandispitz (1996m). Once you have reached the foot of Zingel (1901m) continue up the Mittler Baberg ridge to Schwiren (2018m). If you do not want to climb to the top of the Oberbauenstock go directly on the steep path on the north slope. Although it’s not difficult, this path requires a complete concentration, it’s a T4 passage with chains that should be used. The crossing on the other side is magnificent.

Just before the Faulberg (1704m) take the path that joins Niederbauen (1570m). From the disembark station of the cable car, cross the field to reach the path to Fruit and then take the road to the right-hand side that goes directly downhill towards Sagendorf (725m).

Within 5 minutes you will be at the Bus stop of Emmetten Post, a small Volg grocery store is open there daily as well as several restaurants.

Some tips to approach this adventure:

– Sticks can be useful on the final ascent up to Brisen, and for balance during the portion between Jochlistock and Oberbauenstock.
– The part between Oberrickenbach (894m) and Schmiedsboden (1220m) is not exceptional, the beginning is on tarmac then the rest on a bad path. If you choose, it is possible to rent a cabin for 5chf per person.
– The route is the logical continuation of ridges between the Brisen (2403m) and Oberbauenstock (2117m). There are
other trails you can explore, either in the Klewenalp valleys or the Grosstal (Isenthal).
– Water can be found at the arrival of the cable car in Haldigrat (1940m), then in the rivers feeding the ponds under the Hinter Jochli. Remember to take water as far upstream as possible, and check that “Blanchette” does not urinate just above it. Your last chance to refuel with water is in Niederbauen, once you get to the cable car.

The little extras:

– It is possible to stay at the Mountain Inn of Niederbauen, and the restaurant also offers an interesting menu.

Useful links:

A rustic and funicular railway option, from Schmiedsboden, will ease the route, with 300m of positive altitude difference from Oberrickenbach.
– The Funicular mountain Inn and Restaurant of Niederbauen:
Klewenalp funicular (ascent from Beckenried) and Alpboden Funicular (direct ascent to Haldigrat).

All photos by Sébastien de Sainte Marie. You can follow Sébastien de Sainte Marie on Instagram here.

Continue Reading

image

Features

Feb 20, 2019

The Death Zone

World champion free-diver Pierre Frolla sinks without air to depths unreachable by most scuba divers. One day he nearly didn't make it back to the surface.

image

WRITTEN BY

Pierre Frolla

This story originally featured in print, in the fall 2015 issue of The Outdoor Journal

Deep down under the sea, so far away from where you live, I have been through the last seconds of my life.

In 2005 or 2006 (oddly I don’t remember), I had the worst accident of my freediving career. After being world champion in variable weight apnea with a dive at 123 metres, where I used a weighted sled for descent and returned to the surface by pulling myself along a line and using my fins, I was training to go deeper.

“No matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.”

In my sport, risks are quite important. Imagine you’re running a 400-m race. You start way too fast, and after a few hundred meters you’re out of breath and you just can’t go anymore. What do you do? You just stop, walk a bit and slowly catch your breath again. When you’re free diving, no matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.

The basis of my sport is quite simple. Going beyond 100 meters is mythic. Only a few hardcore specialists, including the “no limit” guys can go beyond that. Athletes use a weighted sled to dive down and an inflatable bag to return to the surface. This means that the free diver reduces his energy loss to the max, and that’s exactly why he is able to go so deep. The world record is held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch: 249.5 metres on June 6, 2012, in Santorini, Greece. The problem is that at those depths, water pressure is unbelievable! At 100 m, for example, the pressure is about 11 kg per square centimeter of your skin. Consequently, the volume of air inside the human body is pressured and reduced too. Take an empty but sealed plastic bottle: If you get to this kind of depth, it’ll greatly deform. That plastic bottle is a metaphor for your body. This also means that if water manages to seep somewhere inside you through your mouth or nose, it will do so with such force that it’ll destroy everything in its path. Drowning is inevitable, and no Apneist can be saved in such case, even if experienced help quickly intervenes.

At great depths, nitrogen becomes narcotic and leads to what is called nitrogen narcosis. This kind of intoxication from staying in great depths for too long is the same as when you drink too much. In other words, you lose total control of your body and mind, and you become unaware of potential dangers. Acting like that underwater can kill you, as the slightest mistake will have incredible consequences. In my personal training, I mix apnea in variable weight and other constant weight dives, where I dive only with the force of my arms and legs.

Today, my team and I decide to put the weight to 118 m. I know I can go down 115 m, but we want to push a little, as it’s part of training. Once down, I’ll have no choice but to go back on my own. I also know there will be a small parachute and an oxygen tank hooked to the sled, but neither will be for me. The bottle empties very slowly and inflates the balloon. Both serve only to return equipment back to the surface. It’s easier for us to work like that rather than starting a counterweight system.

If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water?

I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material.

I begin my descent. I pass my midterm diver. Very soon, it gets dark. I do not have glasses because they would serve me for nothing in this environment. So I stand, with my eyes closed. I’m relaxed and sinking slowly in the water like I’m used to. I feel the pressure now, but I also suddenly feel the sledge slowing. Then it stops, softly. Usually it stops dead. When I realize that something is wrong, I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material. It is almost as if moving sands are closing in on me at 112 meters below the surface. It is actually a mixture of clay and silt, a mound a few meters higher than the sonar onboard the boat. It wasn’t identified even though it stood in the stack axis of the descent of my sledge. It’s nobody’s fault; sonar is not so precise.

In no time, I understand what’s happening to me. I’m stuck. I cannot get my feet outside the box, and I know there’s no exit door. I simply do not have enough oxygen to both work my way out of this with strength and go up as I have expected, swimming, with my hands and fins. If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stopped, stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water? I’m dying; that’s it. Today is the day. In 15 seconds, I will have consumed all the remaining air I was keeping for my ascent. I am also a few seconds away from being caught by nitrogen narcosis. I will go crazy right before dying.

“Did I become a vegetable?”

Suddenly, I have an idea. The parachute. Yes! I trigger the opening of the small air valve, which then rushes into the parachute. It’s working but it’s slow and long. So I wait, very still, with my eyes closed. I have no other choice. I try to relax. Everything at 112 m is multiplied by 10. One consumed oxygen molecule at the surface is equal to 10 or 12 molecules consumed at that kind of depth. One second is equivalent to 10 seconds. Time and life are both very cruel at the bottom of an ocean. I am now barely conscious. Finally, I remember feeling the chute tearing me away from my trap like a champagne cork. The ascent back to the surface, back to life, is way too long. When I reach the surface, I have strangely not entirely lost consciousness, but my body no longer responds to my brain. Did I become a vegetable? My team, frightened, retrieves and saves me. If I had not been so well-trained, I would not have survived this scary adventure. Instead of the planned 2 minutes and 40 seconds that I went down under water for, I stayed 3 minutes and 50 seconds. In the boat, I gradually recover and quickly regain all my abilities.

Pierre Frolla reascending to the surface, following the guideline with the sled and parachute attached to it.

A few years later, I’m on a movie set doing 60-m free diving over and over all day long, and an air bubble is created in my brain on one of these repetitive dives. But instead of being redirected into my lungs, it remains stuck in my head. When ascending, inevitably, this tiny compressed air bubble suddenly decompresses and its size gets multiplied by six. I immediately lose consciousness. Later, I wake up in a hyperbaric chamber. I stay there for eight and a half hours. But when I wake up in that box, I cannot feel my body. I’m unable to move. For hours, I do not know if I will stay quadriplegic or not. This awakening in the box is one of my worst-ever memories of free diving. I do not understand what is happening to me. It takes me 30 minutes to remember that I was free diving and to deduce that I certainly had a bad accident.

Apnea is an extreme sport. I’ll remember it always. Yesterday I dived to 113 meters. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Photos by Franck Seguin

Recent Articles



Flow State: The Reason Why Alex Honnold and Steph Davis are not Adrenaline Junkies.

“When you’re pushing the limits of ultimate human performance, the choice is stark: it’s flow or die.”

The Rise of Ironman

Few in the passionate throng who anticipate the annual Ironman race realize how close the original idea for the race was to being left for dead. This is the story of Ironman’s unlikely genesis.

White Death

Galvanised by their 6,000-meter ascent, a party of climbers disregard the most basic safety rule. The rescue worker is well reputed, but up there, life hangs by a thread.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other