Snow camping and Lachenstock ski tour – 27th and 28th of February 2021

I was looking ahead, squinting in an effort to grasp the terrain ahead and determine how to approach the next slope. What would normally feel like a breeze on a clear day, was starting to feel quite oppressive. We were skinning up, engulfed in a thick fog. The first part of the skin up had been easy, we knew the route very well and the surrounding trees gave contours to the landscape. Then we decided to push on a bit, in a direction that was less familiar but out of the way of the popular ski touring route. We had argued that we could always ski back down if it didn’t look good. But now, looking around me and not seeing more than a few meters in each direction, I really didn’t feel like skiing down.

Camp. © 2021, Justine Le Cam.

We were not following any pre-existing skin track anymore and Nevin, in front of me, was checking our position quite often. I was growing more and more anxious. I knew there was no objective hazard, we had studied the map, this was a gentle terrain. We had all our camping gear with us and food for the night. And of course there was still the possibility to go back to the car. Even if I didn’t fancy skiing in the fog, I knew it was a possibility. But I couldn’t help feeling nervous and oppressed by the fog. After navigating some small gullies, Nevin finally stopped on an even pitch and gestured: “here!”. It looked like a good spot and I had no intention of pushing any farther.

The next morning, after taking the shelter down. © 2021, Nevin McCallum.

We set up camp, flattening the snow to make a sleeping platform, as well as digging a shallower “kitchen & dining room” area, so that we could sit with our feet dangling while melting snow and having freeze-dried food for dinner. Skis served as tent pegs and we made a little wall of snow around our pyramid shelter to prevent the breeze from entering our palace. Before going to bed, I stuffed a ton of things at the bottom of my sleeping bag, in an attempt to have my gear a bit dryer and warmer in the morning: ski boot liners, spare socks, clothes, oh! and also gas canisters to prevent them from being too cold to prepare a warm breakfast. Nevin filled my Nalgene bottle with hot water and I kept it against my legs the whole night.

Wearing merino layers under a lightweight down jacket, as well as socks in my down booties, my body stayed warm in throughout the night but I struggled a bit with the cold on my face. I went back and forth between laying on my back, which was more comfortable, and laying on my side, which minimized my area of contact with the freezing ground. It was not the best night of sleep I’ve ever had, always having to choose between a comfy position or being warm, but it was also not the worst night ever. The next day, we concluded that all we needed to make this a 5 star experience was to invest in better insulated sleeping pads.

Camp the next morning. © 2021, Nevin McCallum.

When Nevin unzipped the shelter in the morning, the sky was clear and the moon was just above the mountain straight in front of us, bathed in the morning light. After the fog of the previous day, it felt like a weight was lifted of my chest. Wrapped up in our sleeping bags, we had instant coffee and porridge with dried bananas. In spite of the somewhat restless night, it felt like a luxury to be waking up there, surrounded by the stillness of the snowy mountains. That day we stashed our camping gear (except for the stove and gas) next to an abandoned hut, to retrieve it later, and went on a glorious ski tour under the bluebird sky.

Sunrise in the mountains. © 2021, Nevin McCallum.
Lachenstock. © 2021, Justine Le Cam.
Summit throne. © 2021, Justine Le Cam.

At the summit, Nevin built himself a throne with materials at hand (e.g. shovel, backpack and skis). We fired up the stove and enjoyed a warm lunch of pre-cooked mexican rice in the sun. And the corn snow we had for the descent just accentuated the spring feeling. The previous day skinning in the fog and the cold night already felt like a distant memory that made me cherish the moment even more.

On the way up to Lachenstock. © 2021, Nevin McCallum.
Happy camper. © 2021, Nevin McCallum.