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Travel

Oct 24, 2018

Carnets de Trail: La Hardergrat (Brienz)

Episode 1: To open Sébastien de Sainte Marie's "Carnets de Trail" series, one of the most beautiful ridges in the Bernese Oberland, the Hardergrat.

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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 1: The Hardergrat

I first came to this ridge two years ago. Two things immediately struck me: the emerald blue of Lake Brienz, which I had never seen before, and the finesse of the ridge. This path has one of the most beautiful panoramas of the emblematic 4000m peaks of Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.

The Key Information

Time: It’s a tricky question. Interlaken to Augsmathorn is easy, but after that it goes slower because the terrain is more technical. 
Distance: From Interlaken via the Harder Kulm and Brienzer Rothorn to Brienz, the route is 36.2km with a 3374m ascent and 3374m descent.
Location: The ridge is located above Lake Brienz, between Interlaken and Brienz. You can reach Interlaken by train from Bern, and it takes 45 minutes.
Difficulty: There is a T5 passage on the Tannhorn. The rest is not a problem. You just have to keep in mind that the northern slopes are very steep. You can adapt your exit if you are more comfortable dealing with the difficulties on the way up or down.
Good for: This ridge can be approached at a brisk pace or in a more relaxed way. However, it should not be forgotten that there are few things to consider. The ridge is 18km long, so you must be autonomous. The terrain is often aerial and can disturb people who are prone to dizziness. 

Route:

It is possible to start the adventure from Interlaken to Brienz and see the Brünig pass. However, to save some time, you can ride the Rothorn railway from Brienz from Sörenberg or the steam train from Brienz. There is also a funicular that goes up to the Harderkulm.

If travelling from Interlaken towards Brienz then you can expect 36km for 3400m of D +. For those who want to experience this same route, but a shorter version, there is 26km for 1500m and D+. Travel in the direction of Rothorn railway station of Brienz-Interlaken.

Difficulty:

The ridge is narrow in places. The most technical passage is the Tannhorn (short passage in T5). The northern slopes are generally steeper, if you want to approach the technical parts to the climb it is better to consider the route from north to south.

Some tips to approach this adventure in all serenity:

– It is recommended to only consider taking this route in dry and stable weather.

– Ensure that you carry a sufficient water supply between the Harderkulm and Brienz Rothorn station.

– Study the ways in which you might be able to withdraw in case of an emergency (Suggiture, Augtmatthorn, Blasenhubel, Allgäuwlicka, Chruterepass).

– Don’t mess around with trekking poles, they are not suitable and will be a nuisance rather than useful.

The little extras:

– It is possible to sleep at the Hotel Restaurant Kulm located at a hundred meters from the train station Rothorn Brienz. The sunrise is magical.

– If you start from Interlaken do not hesitate to make a 100m hook to see the Stadthausplatz. Less invaded by tourists, very pretty and invites you to settle on the terrace for a coffee.

– For those who continue the adventure to the Brünig pass, take a quick stop at Meiringen on the way back and enjoy a Meringue. This delicious dessert was created by pastry chef Gasparini at the end of the 17th century.

Useful links:

-Trains for the Brienz Rothorn and Hotel Kulm:  https://brienz-rothorn-bahn.ch/

-Funiculaires for the Harder Kulm:  https://www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb/harder-kulm/

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

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How-To

Sep 09, 2019

How To Choose A Safe Whitewater Rafting Company

Whitewater rafting is a unique experience in nature, filled with adrenaline and excitement. Recently though, we have been reminded of the real risks involved.

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WRITTEN BY

Benjamin Baber

Last year, headlines from around the world were plagued with tragic river accidents. Four Americans passed away on a rafting trip in Costa Rica. Two Australians passed away in separate kayaking incidents in Nepal. The southeast U.S. alone had four separate whitewater kayaking deaths. And these examples are only a small sample of the river tragedies that occurred in 2018.

While some accidents are unfortunately inevitable, there are many situations where an accident can easily be avoided. Unfortunately, most countries lack standardized rules that you might expect from within the whitewater industry. This is more common in less economically developed countries. However, it’s important to stress this doesn’t mean that all companies in less economically developed countries are unsafe. You just have to set a few basic standards, and know how to pick the best one! No matter where you are in the world, there are a few basic things to look for in a rafting company to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable whitewater experience.

Rafting in Morocco. Photo: Ben Baber

Leader to Participant Ratios

The whitewater industry has general safety standards for guide-to-participant ratios on commercial rafting and kayaking trips.  

A safe industry standard on a fourteen-foot raft is one guide to every six participants. Most companies won’t live up to this standard, but if you want the safest experience – this is it! Ask your company what their leader to participant ratio is! 

It all boils down to this – any raft can flip. When that happens, one guide is expected to rescue the raft, re-flip the raft, then save each participant. If you are one of those participants, do you want to be the sixth person to be rescued or the ninth? The better companies will reduce the number of people in the raft to keep the weight balanced, the trip safe, and to maximize the rafting experience.

Kayaking carries greater risk than rafting simply due to the fact that the participants are in control of their own boat, rather than a trained guide. Instead, the guide is usually in their own kayak telling you how to manoeuvre from a separate craft. Industry standards recommend a ratio of one guide to every four participants for kayaking and canoeing. However, this ratio may decrease and become 1:3 or even 1:2 as the whitewater gets more challenging and consequential.

Read next on TOJ: A veteran river runner turns 70, and heads off into the Peruvian wilderness to raft the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Safety Boats

Safety boats are your best friend on the river. If a participant falls from a raft, they run the risk of being swept away by the current. This is when the safety boat shines. It will pluck you out of the water and give you a safe ride back to your raft or shore. It is a recognized industry standard to never have a single-boat trip. If there are only enough customers to fill one boat, then there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft along with the participant-filled raft.

With multiple rafts on the river, there should always be a safety kayak or safety raft to support the trip. This may pose an extra financial burden for the rafting company, but it is a small price to pay to increase participant safety. Problems sometimes arise when companies try to cut corners, perhaps deciding to take a guide off the water and undercut the competition by 5 dollars. If your company doesn’t have a safety craft, find out why.

In some locations, it has become standard for single or half-day trips to not have a safety boat when they have 2 or more full rafts. The theory here is that the other boats on the river will provide safety for one other. This is a debatable standard, but in some locations, you might not be able to find a company that uses safety boats for shorter trips. Certainly for multi-day trips, no matter how many rafts, there should be a safety boat.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Cut-Off Levels

Every river rises and falls according to snowmelt, rainfall, or changes in upstream dam release. It can happen with the changing of the seasons, or it can happen in ten minutes with changing weather patterns. Companies should have a set cut-off limit for each river they operate on. This cut-off level should be based on their own expert knowledge of that river.

One good way to double-check a company is to find out the cut-off levels for several other companies running that river. Call them up, send them an email, check their website – whatever you need to do to find out. If your company’s level is much higher than the competition’s, ask why! Is it because they have more experienced guides and provide more safety kayakers or rafts? If not, it may be a money-motivated decision that could translate to a dangerous experience for customers.

Equipment

Properly maintained and up-to-date equipment is a vital part of whitewater safety. All participants should wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), closed-toed shoes, and a helmet. If the guide hasn’t checked that your equipment is fitted correctly, don’t get on the water.

The shelf-life of most outdoor gear is around 10 years. You can use this as a guideline when deciding which equipment will keep you afloat and keep your head intact.

All PFDs from the United States must be approved by the United States Coast Guard. They will be marked to show they have been through a standardized testing process. You will see this written as “USCG Type V.” Any product from Europe must have a certification “EN ISO 12402-5 / 12402-6.”

Find out more information on IOS standards relating to PFDs here.

For Helmets, look for the CE standard CE EN 1385. This ensures your helmets is suitable for whitewater and has been tested accordingly.

Further reading:

Buying a canoeing & kayaking helmet – what does the CE mark really mean, and Sweet Protections guide to Helmet testing.

Whitewater Kayaking in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

Alcohol

It is forbidden for guides and participants to consume alcohol on the river. Intoxicated participants can pose as much of a threat to the safety of the trip as an intoxicated guide. Take note of the company’s alcohol policy, and if you have any concerns that your guide or another participant may be intoxicated, make sure to raise those concerns.

Qualifications

There are various different qualifications for whitewater guides. From the British Canoe Union, to the American Canoe Association, to Rescue 3 International. The trouble is that certifications cover different skills according to the river and country in which the certification process took place. However, no matter how much the certifications vary, every guide should have a minimum of a swiftwater rescue certificate, a First Aid/CPR certification, as well as some sort of whitewater guide certification and/or in-house whitewater training.  

Conclusion

Whitewater activities are risky. There is no way around it. However, with proper training, skill, equipment, and experience, this risk can be mitigated. Take the time to research the company you go with, and make it a lasting memory for the right reasons.

Rafting in Nepal. Photo: Ben Baber

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