5 days in the snow
I had to use up some vacation days from 2012, and a bigger plan fell through, so I ended up with 5 “loose” days. The boys were away at ski camp, and Kris had to work, so I thought about doing multi-day ski traverses, or maybe even a hike. Dreaming of days in the sun high in the Engadin or Bernese Alps, I was saddened to see how poor the weather forecast was. Days would be cloudy, usually with only a little new snow, but poor visibility for the entire week. This put the kibosh on high multi-day tours crossing unknown glaciers. Finally I decided to take it day by day and see how it turned out.
Hoher Seeblaskogel, 3235 m
I left Munich just before the bus came to take the kids to ski camp, and Kris had a scare at home. The bus driver said he needed car seats for the kids, and I’d left them in the car. Gulp! Luckily, we had some old ones he could use. I made the familiar drive to Luesens and slowly got ready. Skins, skis, boots, etc. In the flat part of the valley, and then during the initial ascent through the small forest, I chatted with a guy going to meet his co-workers for a few days of fun at the Westfalenhaus. It was cloudy but visibility was pretty good. I continued alone up the Laengental Valley, remembering what a long way it was to the Weisser Kogel peak at its terminus. I followed a track up and right to enter a lovely side valley with the Grune Tatzen Glacier which I would climb to the summit. I had a difficult time sticking to the skin track in here, later discovering a frozen blob of ice on the bottom of my skins that made life…annoying! But it was nice to be on the narrowing glacier, with rock walls on either side. I skied as far as the skins would take me, a bit below the usual ski depot, then hiked the rest of the way. The clouds were lowering. Here was my blasted Hoth-like view from the top looking back north to Luesens:
And across to the walls of the Luesener Fernerkogel (in old-timey style!):
The skiing was not amazing, because there had been no new snow in a while, and there was a well-frozen crust. I tried to stay in a narrow band of untouched snow on the west wall of the narrow valley, but occasionally had to skreetch and skrunch through icy old tracks. Back at the car I wondered what to do next. I decided to stay for the night at a favorite pension in Gries im Sellrain. They had a sauna and hot tub! I scheduled myself for that immediately, and sitting in the sauna with a bucket of water to pour over hot coals for waves of steam was fantastic. I ate a big dinner, made plans for the next day and slept early.
Pockkogel, 2807 m
My feet felt damaged from the ski boots, and I had some blisters too. On this trip I continually looked in outdoor stores for a chance to buy new liners for my boots, but they were never available. I was also looking for ski-crampons over and over with the same disappointing results. My Dynafit gear is from 2006 and that’s just too old nowadays. Sigh! So I decided to wear mountain boots and snowshoe this peak. This way I also wouldn’t be disappointed with the poor skiing conditions! I parked at Haggen and hiked up the familiar valley. I’d been this way to climb the Zwieselbacher Rosskogel a couple of times before. Today though, I would exit the valley on the right at an abandoned hunters cabin to climb into the Steintal (“Stone Valley”…quite imaginative!). The weather was pretty good so far!
I enjoyed the snowshoe journey. It can be more difficult than skis, but today it was simply more secure. A hard frozen skin track would have been more tiring. I didn’t see anyone the whole day and the solitude was enjoyable. Continuing into the side valley, I eventually turned back north as it narrowed between several peaks. I actually intended to climb the Steintalspitze (2741 m), but I couldn’t resist going for the higher Pockkogel. In a couloir now, the terrain steepened and I switched to boots and crampons. Kicking steps I was soon at a col between the two peaks, then following icy tracks through boulders to the summit with a nice bit of scrambling. Alas, the weather had closed in! Here are my dim memories:
Interestingly though, I could hear voices, and through the wisps of cloud I could see down to the north to the terminus of the Dreiseebahn lift of the Kuehtai resort. Tiny people were getting off the lift and streaming down. They probably never suspected a ghostly visitor high above! Thanks to the hours of sun, the snow was actually quite good on the way down, darn it! It would have provided decent spring “firn” skiing conditions. Still, I made it down to the trunk valley pretty fast and hiked out. I wondered what to do. The forecast for the day had been snowy, though only a few flakes had appeared. It looked like Tuesday would be the worst day. I hoped to buy some equipment and to use the internet to do a little bit of work I was excited about, so I drove down to Innsbruck and began a fruitless search through outdoor stores for gear, and ideas for the next days. I continually hoped for a way to make it reasonable to begin a multi-day tour. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat though in bad weather. I don’t like the idea of being trapped at a hut by bad weather or forced to turn back. And the forecast continually pushed the good weather out another day. First it was Wednesday, then it moved from Thursday to Friday. And the next low pressure system would arrive Thursday at noon. Jeez! I stayed at the Youth Hostel in Innsbruck. This was serious budget lodging. I felt like Milhouses Dad in there…too old to be there…somehow in the wrong place! I could use the internet a while in the lobby while literally swarms of 10 year olds streamed around me. Dinner was Burger King. Hmm. My roommate was a quiet fellow, intent on his camera and computer. It snowed heavily all night.
Naviser Kreuzjoechl, 2536 m
After a utilitarian breakfast, I just wanted out of the incredibly loud hostel. The avalanche danger was very low despite the heavy snow, which was dismissed as small potatoes. This seemed a little weird to me because I thought it was quite a lot. Innsbruck was blanketed in white, and I had a hard time making it up the roads to Patsch and Matrei. In the Navis valley, I parked at the base of a road leading to the Naviser Huette, then started skinning up, taking every possible shortcut through meadows. I stopped at the hut for some cake and coffee, then geared up again. Higher, I followed more open country to a ridge crest in steep and awkward switchbacks. It quit snowing, but the clouds descended and I was in the usual murk on a high plateau. A few days later, a colleague at work showed me what I should have seen up here on a panorama picture he took earlier in the winter. Ah…blue sky, beautiful mountains all around. Grate…:D Meanwhile I ended up on a narrow ridge and had a scare by nearly walking off at one point…the visibility was so bad I couldn’t tell snow from air. With one foot off the ridge, I scrambled awkwardly to pull back. Jeez. I continued somewhat cautiously to the summit, marked by a cross. I was actually not far from a peak I had climbed a few years before, Geier, just a bit further along the ridge. That was also a summit in bad weather. Going down I wanted to vary my route to avoid the narrow ridge. I dropped onto the steep slope to the north, traversing northwest to a rounded ridge, then circled around to hopefully rejoin the route at a flat area before the final steep descent to the Naviser Huette. I could see nothing…I only knew the angle of the slope I was on by the feeling of acceleration in my stomach! I created a method to…well…turn when my stomach dropped too fast. In this way I got down a slope where all I saw was uniform gray-white. Amazingly, I ended up pretty much where I expected too. Thank God for some visibility an hour before! I skied down the steep slope, which was pretty nice with the fresh snow, and just blasted through all the way to the car. It was snowing hard again. That was fun and all, but I give up! It didn’t take me long to decide to drive home to Munich for a visit with Kris, Mexican food with her and Evangeline, internet, my own bed…whew.
Supposedly, Thursday would be better, at least until noon. I had learned something about my ski boots and I thought I could prevent blisters if I just walked the right way. Also, I wanted to do something bigger or longer than usual. For a long time I’d known about the trip to ski the Weisskugel from the Hintereis Glacier. It seemed punishing, but elegant too. That was enough to put me back in the car Wednesday afternoon and to head for Vent. After the 3 hour drive, I hurried up the Rofental on skis, hoping to find a place to sleep at the Hochjoch Hospiz. I had called them a few times but no one answered. I had left some crucial things at home: sunglasses, sunscreen and headlamp. Drat! I did have some bulky old ski goggles, and I thought I could beg someone for sunscreen. As long as I hurried to the hut, I shouldn’t need the headlamp. It was rather difficult in the Rofen valley. The ski trail went above steep cliffs…as it turns out they were water ice climbs down there! (looked fantastic). I skied along the icy “trail,” but finally the via ferrata handlines along the way made me nervous, so I switched to boots and crampons. This was not only more secure, but probably a bit faster too. Eventually the country opened up a bit, and I switched back to skis after crossing a bridge. By the time I saw the hut it was getting dark rapidly and I was relieved. It still took more than 30 minutes to get there, and it was full dark when I arrived. The warden told me I could sleep on the terrace (har, what a funny guy :p). No, they had a couple of bunks left, and set me up right away with a beer and a good dinner. I readied my gear for the morning and slept. Leaving the hut under a dark blue sky in the morning, I was pleased to see mountains and valleys in all directions. Yay! First, an awkward hour where I made no effective elevation gain, descending into the long, long Hintereis Valley, then slowly crossing level basins and measuring elevation gain in inches. But I was happy…feet felt good, and the exercise of the previous days had put my into shape. I listened to music and admired the valley walls.
Scenery on the approach
The Hintereis valley
The Hintereisjoch is on the left
Views into Italy
The summit ridge
Man approaching the ski summit
Eventually I was clearly on the glacier, seeing big icefalls here and there, however these interesting areas were avoided by a wide margin. The peak and the “Steinschlag” ridgeline mark the Italian border. On that side, a ski area comes pretty close, making it the normal way to climb the Weisskugel. But I liked my way: a semi-solitary nomad emerges from the Northlands! Anyway, I was alone with my thoughts. I had to bundle up at the Hintereisjoch due to strong wind from the south. The weather was already beginning to deteriorate…blue skies were gone, I only hoped the cloud ceiling would stay above my summit long enough for me to have a look around! Difficult, windy conditions slowed me down, but I reached the ski-summit, and felt like I’d have to turn around before the true summit because I couldn’t engage in many gear changes in this wind. Luckily, there was an abatement for some reason. Without asking why, I dropped my back and quickly switched to ice ax and crampons, then took off for the ridge scramble to the summit. Up and over a tower, then along a spectacularly narrow ridge, I was there! It had taken 4 hours and 45 minutes from the hut, almost exactly guidebook time (it said 4.5-5 hours). I had great views, though it was punishing to look south into the wind. Wow! I scrambled down, and found a couple at the ski depot. He continued to the summit while she waited. The wind was getting worse again. Finally I was ready to descend, and began a long, enjoyable journey…down the wind-swept southern ice wall, through the Hintereisjoch, streaming down the glacier in a long schuss. Then the clouds enfolded me and I was unable to see again. No problem, I’ve learned about that! But I did fall a couple of times due to hilarious mis-calculations of slope and body angle. This prompted a party below to ask me if I was really alone?!? People always seem to think I have no idea what I’m doing just because I sometimes appear clumsy or am perhaps too open and friendly. So I continued. Things were awkward around the Hochjochhospiz, with climbs and traverses that ultimately saw me taking off my skis for a while. Then again after the bridge for the walk above cliffs. Finally I skied again near Rofen, but the traverses were marked by stops to haul skis up muddy slopes. I reached the car, and drove home. 4 mountains in 5 days. This was fun or at least an approximation of it! :)