mercoledì 28 novembre 2018

Charstelenbach - Hufifirn



16 Novembre 2018

This a description of my last exploration.

Charstelenbach is the name of the river that is flowing from the glacier of Hufifirn.

First of all i should say that i have always been very lucky with my explorations, 90 - 95 % of them are good or very good canyons. With some luck, some fantasy, some good friends with the same passion, you can achieve some very satisfying discoveries in the outdoors.

Second i want to thank the first who went up this valley to have a look, and started the first exploration of a section of the upper canyon: Olivier Courtois (Mag), Timo and Gerald. 

Probably the long walk to reach this valley has left it away from the eyes of any canyoneers except for some few determinate people.

I first visited the canyon, as it was already explored, the 11 of November. With a team of expert friends we did both the upper and the lower section after the lake. It was a long walk but we did not found too complex obstacles to reach the glacier, cross it, and then drop in the canyon already explored. Sure you need some real alpine experience. This part had 2 waterfalls equipped, really short, plus the possibility to climb up some small waterfalls under the snow patches stuck in the crack of the canyon. The lower section after the lake is also very scenic with 7 rappels and with a nice section in-between with some big springs falling from the sides of the canyon creating some fancy water curtains.

Long and steep walk-in, here Josito.

At the end i was not motivated at all to do again this trip, a very long day with a very little canyoning time in it.

High Alpine conditions: shade, cold, short days.

First snowfield near to the highest point of the approach.

During this day i had found an apparently possible access on the side of the glacier where i could see a stream flowing; nobody of the group absolutely wanted to have a deeper look or even thought to drop inside. I was the only "crazy" one in their point of view.

First view of the glacier before scrambling down

During the week i had contacts with some friends from Spain and also a caver-canyoneer from Slovenia: Andrej Hlis (i was always reading Hills like 95% of people...). The Spanish with Josito, Javi and Xavi are willing to do the Charstelenbach and other important canyons in swiss.

So somehow we agreed to meet at the bottom of the valley and we planned to have a try to the higher entrance on the glacier side. That was the only reason that motivated me to go up again. We prepared some ropes to left fixed, around 100 meters, in case it was not possible to go through.

On the approach walk i was not suffering too much but some friends where not expecting it to be so long ...and they had done the Segnes canyon the day before !

Anyway we reach the highest point near the Hufihutte, we scramble down to the glacier step on it, and we reach the big entrance hall i found few days ago.

On rappel to approach the glacier, Andrej



While i wait for everybody i start to fix the first rope, Andrej arrives first and we take off the crampons to rappel down. The roof here is an amazing deep blue color arch, 15-20 meters high.

The passage between the big wall and the glacier, to reach the entrance hall

Andrej likes it !

We slowly drop into this wide tunnel but still the water is flowing on a slab in a very flat and open canyon shape.

First view down the tunnel

First rappel 

After around 80 meters, with an average inclination of 70°, the water makes a turn to the left and here we found the first pool and the beginning of the canyon. We could clearly see the configuration of a narrow canyon becoming deeper and deeper, with the ice staying blocked above us in-between the walls.

Andrej scouting

We decide to switch gear and suit up in canyoning configuration, to enter into the water and follow the canyon. We where already using the lamps to reach this point.

One intermediate anchor in the solid ice

Looking up the tunnel

In the dark we continue to rappel or climb down some small waterfalls, we are still leaving fixed ropes to have the option to climb back out.

In the first short rappels of the canyon
Large from 50 cm to 1-2 meters in average

At this point with little talking me and Andrej are feeling that it's quite "OK" to continue down, we don't have anymore ropes to leave behind. We only have our 3 long canyoning ropes to use. There is not much discussion or talking, we just go and each one is following the other one. I'm focused on putting the anchors and trying to anticipate any kind of problem, but i don't find any.

Looking up in the huge hall, 90 meters higher, a blue patch of ice closing the canyon top

We often look up. The canyon gets deeper and deeper, at a 25 meters waterfall we are 80-90 meters  under the glacier. Sometimes we can see a deep blue patch of ice, sometimes it's all black because the canyon is very narrow all the way. Only this section, after the 25 m fall, is 8 m wide and very high, like a cathedral, with also a big snow patch stuck between the walls.
We rarely see pieces of snow or ice that have fallen from the crack above, but nothing is granted down here, even if we are in a supposed "stable" period of the year.

The big snow patch suspended between the walls

An ice chockstone, typical from here....

My friend are looking at me with strange eyes, a lot of excitement, some fear, trying to take pictures and videos. Andrej has been in this canyon before, but entering further down, at the bottom of a 20 meter waterfall. He recognises it when we arrive there, some relief for us, we know we will get out from the canyon !

Beautiful rock white stripes

Two more small drops and we reach the part i visited 1 week ago, where the snow and ice are not anymore closing the top of the narrow canyon.

In the second half of the canyon

Always narrow canyon, we try to observe as much as possible

We all pop out of the canyon feeling intense and unforgettable emotions.

Exit from the canyon, last 2 rappels

I want to thank my friends for coming and believing in this exploration that is, as far as i know, the first in the world: a unique combination of alpinism, canyoning and speleology.

Many kind of caves have been explored inside the glaciers, but this is the first real canyon flowing under a glacier.
It's a unique formation. The glacier is flowing down the mountain ad reaches a constriction between two limestone mountains. The canyon is probably originated from a weaker section of rock and the water flow and the ice had carved this deep canyon under it. But the canyon is so narrow that the ice cannot flow inside it, only dropping pieces of ice, snow and some rocks in some seasons of the year.

Josito's drawing of the whole under-glacier canyon

The Team:
Josito Ysusrios, the best collection of extreme canyoning videos of the world
Xavi Guerrero, Spanish team organiser, master of
Javi Esquiruelo, mountain and canyon guide, with 3 mm socks...
Andrej Hlis, best canyoning photographer, caver and canyoneer
Pascal van Duin, mountain and canyon guide

A day in life to remember for ever !

Some more informations may be added later. 
This report is not a complete description of the whole trip. 
Many thing can change from what we found: the approach, the glacier, the canyon.

All pictures from Xavi, Josito and Pascal.
Drawing from Josito.

End of the day on the way down, back to normal life

I'm adding here some satellite photos in 3 different growing scales. The canyon is located at the bottom end of the glacier, not where you see the big waterfall, but it's the lowest stream on the picture, hidden by the shade. Very high flow during summer.

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