The Gleirschtal valley off the SellrainWe started walking up the road from St. Sigmund at 7:30 am, and soon reached the Gleirschhöfe. It was a sullen morning but little patches of blue convinced us it would be a good day. After the hut, we skied across two meadows into the narrowing valley. Here the wind began to pick up, to the point that sometimes we couldn't hear each other and had to keep our heads down against the stream of spindrift and icy particles. Mysteriously, the gust would quiet and we'd look around and chat as we kept skiing up the valley. Were we protected by some terrain ahead? Perhaps. The views gradually improved, and finally we came through a narrow constriction in the valley, just beyond there was a wide meadow and the Neue Pforzheimer Hütte could be seen on the western slopes, about 400 feet above us. The wind at the constriction was very strong, and we were careful crossing below an eastern slope loaded with windpacked snow. Indeed, on our return later in the day, we found that this slope had some light avalanche activity, at one area our tracks were obliterated.
Now we came into the sun and zig-zagged up to the hut. One of the caretakers was outside, a really friendly guy. He advised us to be careful for avalanches, something Josef was already well-aware of. The Lampsenspitz across the valley occasionally had a plume of snow raking from it's summit, and we saw graceful clouds of spindrift ghosting down it's slopes into our valley. The heavy winds were moving the snow around in dangerous ways!
We wondered what was the best thing to do. Josef had been to the area before, and liked equally the three tours he'd done. But the dangerous conditions made two tour ideas kind of sketchy. The third, a long walk to the Gleirschferner glacier at the head of the valley was the safest. After a Radler (combined beer and lemonade - better than it sounds!), we headed off. My right ankle was feeling sore, possibly because I was wearing a thicker sock than normal, and had upset the delicate boot/sock/foot equilibrium. The sun was hot and a trail from people in the morning had been obliterated by the wind. The going felt very slow, or maybe it's just that the scale of the landscape was huge. Josef broke trail for a long ways in deepening snow. Even following his tracks was tiring. Later I went in front, and before long I worried about the next day! I was realizing that I'd gotten pretty out of shape, and was still weak from my "month long cold". Thinking to conserve energy for the next day I broke trail slowly and looked around at the jagged mountains. Hmm...did I get enough sunscreen? My neck feels hot.
Now we saw three skiers coming down from a side valley on our right (The Südlicher Sonnenwandferner). After thinking about it a while we decided to go up there, rather than continue on the gentle slope to the broad glacier. It looked steeper and possibly more fun. My ankle was pretty sore now, I think due to the long periods of low angle terrain, because it immediately felt better when we switchbacked up steeper slopes. Also, the altitude was really getting to me, and my cough seemed to be getting worse.
Have I ever had more complaints?!?
We reached a point marked by a small pond on the map just below 2800 meters, with the option to continue a few hundred feet higher to where the slope steepened below a pass. Knowing that it wasn't safe enough to go up the pass and bag the local summit, I was content to stop here (Josef would rib me about that later). Here, Josef had the great idea to do some avalanche transciever practice.
And boy was I embarassed. I am really bad at it. It has been several years since I did this practice. Also, I never used a probe before and wasted 2 precious minutes (3?) incorrectly unfurling the probe (this should take 3 seconds max). Anyway, I took over 7 minutes where Josef took under 3. I was guilty of the sin of complacency. I will definitely improve on that.
Also, I'm forming an attitude about ski touring influenced by Josef. He isn't so motivated by attaining a summit. That is an attitude I carry over from mountaineering, but I think, especially in these colder, drier mountains it is something I should leave behind. So, many tours culminate in a bowl below a pass. The summit would be nice, but if you want to live a long life, you don't ever want to get caught in an avalanche...there is no amount of gear that provides any real safety at all. As long as you remember to think of a beacon as a body recovery tool, you will stay pretty conservative.
Now we headed down in some heavy snow. Josef got a picture of me falling in an ungainly fashion. Later, we had long schusses down valleys below the line where we plodded slowly up. Eventually we had to walk for some periods, man was that tedious! (hurt my sore ankle too) The snow was so wet and heavy. Eventually we reached the broad valley below the hut, and then the constriction (now with an avalanche). We passed folks skiing up the valley in the afternoon, and skied tiredly into the Gleirschhöfe for a beer. It was fun to sit on the benches outside and watch avalanches come down the western slope of the cliffy Freihut mountain. I really enjoyed the last bit of skiing. Josef led us down through light forest left of the snow-free road we walked up in the morning. This got us to the car in just a few minutes.
What a great day. We found a great pension to sleep in, and though the view of the Lisenser Fernerkogl for the next day was exciting, I felt too miserable the next morning to go. Josef and friends from Munich who drove up went in for a great time while I occupied myself with two Klettersteig (via ferrata) climbs from my guidebook to the region. One was on the Martin's Wand, the other is called the "Crazy Eddy" Klettersteig, near Silz. It was fun to play around on cliffs in a snowfree environment. I picked Josef up at 2 pm, and we drove back to Munich. It was a great 2nd visit to the Sellrain area.