Drei Frauen beim Gipfelkreuz auf dem Gross Spannort in den Urner Alpen.

Hiking

Alpine touring on the Gross Spannort tips from a mountain guide

  • #Alpine tour
  • #Mountaineering
Angelina
Sales advisor, Transa store Lucerne
© Fotos

An Alpine tour on the Gross Spannort in the Uri Alps: mountain guide and sales advisor Angelina sets off on an adventure with two colleagues in Engelberg. Here, she offers an insight into the tour and shares tips for proper preparation and packing the right equipment.

It’s pitch-black when we leave the Spannorthütte hut, so we use our headlamps to find our way over the scree up to the ridge. When we reach the top, the sun is peaking out over the tops of the Uri Alps, bathing the striking rocks of the Gross and Klein Spannort in a stunning light. The duo always remind me of mountains in south America, such as the Cerro Torre. In the golden morning light, we pull on our crampons and climbing harnesses and cross the Spannort glacier until we reach the foot of the Gross Spannort, which reaches 3,198 metres in height. This is where things get serious. The last few metres of elevation are steep, straight up on the limestone face.

Our tour started the previous afternoon, at the train station in Engelberg, where I met Selina, Swinde and our photographer Ruedi. I’m a mountain guide who’s turned my hobby into my job: I love sharing my passion for exercise, the outdoors, mountains and water with others.

After a friendly welcome at the train station, we check our equipment. Sometimes, I ask people to show me the entire contents of their backpack. This isn’t just so I can be sure they have everything they need with them: it also ensures they’re not taking unnecessary weight up the mountain. Before all of my tours, I put together a list of items tailored to the terrain, the length of the route and the season. For this Alpine tour, our checks are completed quickly. I’m primarily looking to make sure everyone has a climbing harness and the right crampons with them. Then, we set off. I hadn’t met Selina and Swinde, two Transa employees, before, but I know they don’t go Alpine touring regularly. However, after just a few minutes of the ascent, which scales 900 metres of elevation, it’s clear that they’re in great shape for the tour. The two of them really can walk, up hill and down dale, without constantly causing the stones to come loose. Plus, they have a good sense of direction. This puts us on a really good footing for the upcoming day and the challenges ahead.

  • Drei Bergsteigerinnen schnallen sich die Steigeisen an die Schuhe. Im Hintergrund sieht man einen Sonnenaufgang.

    Swinde, Angelina and Selina (l–r) putting on their crampons on the Spannortgletscher glacier.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Bergführerin Angelina sitzt am Tisch, vor ihr liegt eine Karte ausgebreitet.

    Angelina deliberately gets her guests involved in planning tours so they know what to expect.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Drei Frauen am Felsen auf einer Hochtour.

    Angelina with Swinde and Selina: now it’s time to start climbing.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Three people climbing on an Alpine tour.

    Carefully, one metre after the next, the three women scale the peak.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi
  • Zwei Personen hängen am Seil in einer steilen Felswand.

    A steep limestone face makes up the last few metres before the summit of the Gross Spannort.

    Photo © Ruedi Thomi

A sunset dinner

The route starts out flat and easy, taking us along a stream, through a forest and over spacious Alpine meadows dotted with bouldering blocks. This gives us a chance to introduce ourselves and get to know each other. The last section to the Spannorthütte hut is a tad steeper and more demanding. Fortunately, we’d taken a break to refuel before this bit began! We reach the little hut after around three hours, where hut manager Andy welcomes us and shows us our room. Then, we have the first highlight of our tour: dinner on the patio, at 2,000 metres up, with a view of the stunning sunset.

After dinner, we run through the next day together. I’ve made the plans myself in advance, of course, and checked the length, altitude difference, difficulty, current conditions and weather with exacting precision. On tours like this, though, it’s important that all the guests know what to expect. So, we sit on the patio of the Spannorthütte hut and look back on what we’ve done so far. I use a map to show Selina, Swinde and Ruedi where we started, where we stopped for a moment and where the steeper sections up to the hut are. Then, I explain how we’ll get to the summit, showing where we’ll take breaks so we can distribute our energy accordingly.

Alpine touring equipment

Kitting ourselves out for the summit

Before we tuck ourselves into bed in the Spannorthütte’s modern, freshly renovated bedrooms, we agree on when we’ll get going in the morning. As we’re taking photographs on this tour, we’ll set off earlier than would normally be necessary so we can get the best light. I share a few final tips for what we need to summit the 1,250 metre peak: climbing equipment, tea, a warm jacket and a headlamp – then we head to bed. In the morning, we have an ascent lasting just shy of five hours waiting for us.

It’s still dark when our alarms go off at 3 am. The hut manager gets up with us and makes a delicious breakfast: he even cooks ‘spätzle’ dumplings! Well-nourished, we set off into the darkness until we see the first rays of sunshine shining above the mountain peaks. The last leg of our Alpine tour starts at the foot of the Gross Spannort. The trickiest roped section is waiting for us at the start, but Swinde and Selina stay perfectly calm. One metre after the next, we work together to head upwards. This climbing section has a difficulty rating of around 4+: the wall is steep but has good holds.

After the first tricky section, we come across a few steps in the rock from time to time where we can stand on terra firma and relax our arms a little. We manage the last few metres up to the summit without any issues. The Brocken spectre (a shadow on the north face that looks as if you’ve got a Heiligenschein halo) is waiting for us at the top. We’ve made it, and Selina and Swinde, above all, can be proud of themselves. The icing on the cake? The mix of sunshine and clouds has provided the perfect backdrop for our photos.

Staying safe on an Alpine tour: tips from a mountain guide

Alpine tours are always dangerous, but if you have the right knowledge and equipment, you can be well-prepared. Here are Angelina’s key tips:

Always take your personal level of fitness and health into account when planning the tour. After all, your body isn’t used to these altitudes and needs to adapt to them.

Research the tour using maps, guidebooks, the internet and experts – and don’t forget to check the weather forecast.

Make sure your equipment includes a first aid kid, a bivy sack, a headlamp and your mobile phone.

Take regular breaks. If you eat and drink at frequent intervals, you’ll be able to keep going for longer and concentrate better.

Roping together on a glacier is particularly important in summer so you can avoid falling into crevasses. If possible, secure your roped party to reliable, fixed stations.

You need to be good at using maps, altimeters and GPS to find your way around the terrain.

Fish fossils as a souvenir of our Alpine tour

I really enjoy this tour, even though (or maybe because) it doesn’t take you to a 4,000-metre peak. In my view, 3,000-metre summits aren’t inferior to their taller cousins. Quite the contrary, in fact: these tours are often more exciting on a technical level, but the landscapes are just as pretty and they attract far fewer people. I notice this again when we descend the Gross Spannort after a short break: just two roped parties are there when we are.

Our knees start to niggle a little as we make our way back down to the Spannorthütte hut; we’ve covered a good few metres of elevation and some steep sections. However, before this, we came across something truly special when we were re-attaching our crampons to our backpacks on the glacier: a fossilised squid. The notion that we’re just shy of 3,000 metres above sea level and yet simultaneously on the floor of an ancient ocean is mind-boggling. That makes up for the little aches and pains we feel during the descent!

At the Spannorthütte, we pack up everything we’d left there during our summit tour in the morning and refuel with a sandwich. The last 900 metres of elevation back down into the valley no longer pose a challenge. We reach the train station in Engelberg after a couple of hours and say our goodbyes. I’m happy: another two people I was able to share my passion for the mountains (and Alpine tours specifically) with.

  • #Alpine tour

  • #Mountaineering

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