The Urserntal

The terrain immediately after the Furka pass is relatively flat, with a high valley floor, for the first few kilometres, so crossing the ridge separating the Goms and the Urserntal with plenty of altitude reduces the risk of getting decked in this barren area.  In theory, contouring around the terrain with a 9:1 glide would enable you to reach the nearest safe landing field in Realp, the village at the head of the valley, even if you scraped over the col with minimal ground clearance, but in practice you will always find moving air to hinder or help you. Crossing with more than 3000m provides ample opportunity to connect with a good climb in order to continue your progress, but you should not assume that this will be easy.

The picture below shows the locations of what seem to be the most reliable (and obvious!) thermal triggers which come into view once you have entered the Urserntal.  The nearest is the sheer south-facing cliff of the Chli Bielenhorn, a small 2940m peak about 2½km to the east, which nearly always works well.  If you don’t find a thermal there, the Schafberg, 3km further on and at 2590m, is a second opportunity for a good climb.  If that fails to deliver as well, then your last chance of finding lift is likely to be the edge of the forest above Realp, directly behind and below the Schafberg (therefore concealed in this picture).  Further on, visible in the distance, 7km from the Furka, whether you have been able to glide there directly as you came over with massive height, or used a climb or two on the way, the Blaubergstock seems to be a good place to connect with a robust thermal to hoof you up to base.

Thermal locations shortly after entering the Urserntal

Thermal locations visible shortly after entering the Urserntal

The track log below shows a route employing all three of these thermals.  You may notice that the ayvri visualisation is from the same flight as used in the preceding Grimsel and Furka section, and took place at the end of September, demonstrating how this region can still deliver excellent xc opportunities even outside the booming summer months.

Route through the upper Urserntal using classic thermal locations (click here for Doarama visualisation, here for xcontest track)

Route through the upper Urserntal using classic thermal locations (click here (and >>> to 84km for ayvri visualisation, here for XContest details)

If you crossed over into the Urserntal with at least 3500m, or found a good climb off the Chli Bielenhorn or elsewhere, you can simply head left to bounce along above the spine of the main ridge, which should provide plenty of lift and fantastic views.  The header image on this page shows two gliders in the far right of the picture doing just that.  I always try hard to maintain good height here – at least 3000m – because a conservative lower line further to the right above the south-facing slopes is less lifty than a higher route, and brings the risk that you may suddenly find your progress impeded by a strong headwind, as the (expected) northerly valley breeze flowing into the village up the Schöllenen gorge from Göschenen turns into an easterly which can extend to considerable height.  The slightest sniff of a headwind spells trouble, and should motivate you to prioritise finding a climb to get above it, as there are no windward faces between Realp and Andermatt which can be used to turn this valley wind to your advantage.  If you simply accelerate in the hope of lift ahead, you will need some luck to avoid getting decked, because this wind usually strengthens inexorably as you get lower, and inhibits the thermal development which you might reasonably expect off the south-facing slope below.

Snip+G 2014-6-12 Urserntal good3

High route along the Urserntal after catching a nice climb off the Chli Bielenhorn (click here (and >>> to 62km) for ayvri visualisation, here for XContest details)

The ayvri visualisation of this flight shows how (after a lot of fumbling about!) I found a great climb off the Chli Bielenhorn to the east of the peak, which provided a great springboard for good progress thereafter along the rest of the Urserntal.

If approaching Hospental with less than 3000m, you are at risk of having to start your transition past Andermatt with inadequate height unless you can gain more altitude. In that case, you may need to find a good thermal which collects in a large gully running up from the valley to the west of the village, and releases off a big rocky face, Mutzenberg, just before some large power lines.

Location of Mutzenberg thermal

Location of Mutzenberg thermal

The power lines are shown in blue on the diagram below:-

Location of Hospental power lines

As you can see, they run along the south-easterly facing side of the Urserntal, and then cross the valley to the west of Hospental. Unfortunately, they divide into nine separate cables, extending across the slope for 400m from the point where they are slung across the valley, at 1750m ASL.

Location of Hospental power lines, viewed from the west

If you have got low and failed to get up in the Mutzenberg thermal, your best bet for staying airborne is likely to be to head for the slope to the south of Andermatt in order to soar up to Gurschen in the valley breeze (covered in detail elsewhere).  In that case, the cables will force you out away from terrain more than you might prefer.

Location of Hospental power lines, viewed from the east

The other circumstance when the cables may interfere with your progress is if you are heading from Andermatt towards Realp (e.g. to land there in expectation of safer conditions).