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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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Travel

Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

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This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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