Picked Andy up at Munich airport at midday on Sunday May 30th. The plan was to drive down into Austria on Monday and ski up to the Kuersinger Hut and do the Grossvenediger on the Tuesday. If all went well we also had time to do another peak as well.
Monday May 31st dawned fine and we set off at about 8.30 am, no real need to hurry, for the drive. Although it was a public holiday the roads were quite and we got to the Hoppfelboden car park in about 4 hours of leisurely driving. To climb Grossvenediger from the north this is the usual way in. The road that runs up the valley past various farm houses for about 11 Kms is for residents only so from here on it’s either on foot or you can take one of the two service taxis that run. Beware they can be expensive if there’s just two of you! In winter the road is of course snowed in so one can ski up. We were in luck, a taxi arrived at the car park as we arrived and dropped off climbers who were coming down, he had to drive back up to pick more up so we got a cheaper lift up. The way up to the road head and hut supply cableway is steep so what with skis and rucksack we were glad of the lift. We spoke to the people who’d come down and all said that it had been a great day; they’d got to the summit and had a wonderful ski down.
The driver didn’t hang around on the way up, throwing it round the hairpins with great ease, I don’t know how often he must have driven this route, but it looked like he could drive it with his eyes shut! After what felt like only a short time we arrived at the road head, unloaded our gear and said goodbye to the driver who quickly loaded his next group into his taxi, and was off. We got our things together, fiddled around with our boots trying to get them as comfortable as possible. What I can never understand is why my boots, which ever pair I’ve got on, always feel different. We put the skins on the skis and set off over the relatively thin snow cover toward the glacier.
In summer the route to the hut cuts off to the left and climbs up the hillside, passing various crags and after about 1.5 hours reaches the hut. The winter route takes a longer and not so direct route along the valley, passing a small icefall at the start of the Obersulzbachkees (Kees is often replaces the word glacier in Austria). One passes a spot, which is called “Tuerkische Zeltstadt” which translated means Turkish tent town, who knows why, maybe someone can tell me. We skied easily up the glacier in sunshine, getting in superb views of the Grosser Geiger. The path follows the right side of the glacier for quite a way; one can see the hut after a while high up above the other side of the glacier. The path then bends round towards the hut, climbs quite steeply through small crags and ends at the hut.
We arrived in cloud and fine snow. The only people there were two Austrians who told us that the weather had been fine and they had climbed the Grossvenediger that morning. We registered with the hut warden and settled down in one of the rooms with a welcome beer.
The forecast was not so good for the next few days. To illustrate this it started to snow more heavily. We decided to give the Grossvenediger a miss in the morning and do the Keeskogel, which at 3291 meters and only a few hours from the hut would probably be a safer bet. With not much else to do we went to bed early hoping that the morning would be better.
The next day dawned fine, with about 30cms of new snow. We had a quick breakfast, packed our sacks, donned skis and headed off. Trail breaking through the new snow was tiring work but about half way the two Austrians caught us up and took over. We reached the short ridge below the summit, but on checking out the snow conditions on it, which proved to be loose, wet and generally uninviting we decided to ski down to the hut. A second breakfast pause enabled us to get great views across to the Grossvenediger. The clouds were coming in quite quickly now anyway. The ski down was really wonderful; although the snow was rather wet we still managed to do it in some style. Back at the hut we ordered a beer from our hut warden, as we were now his only guests we got instant service, and watched the bad weather coming in. It was soon to cold on the terrace so we retreated into the hut.
That night it snowed even more heavily and we woke to clouds, snow and wind. There was only one thing for it; we decided to ski down to the valley. This was not now so easy. The new snow was very wet and unstable. The steep parts near the huts caused us quite a bit of worry and to reduce the risk of avalanche we skied them separately. After we reached the glacier, it was relatively plain going and we were quickly back at the road head. We tied our skis onto our sacks and set off down the road. The weather varied between sunshine and heavy rain, but we didn’t really care. The road was a bit of a drag and we were glad to reach the car and the welcome relief of getting rid of our ski-touring boots!
We didn’t do the Grossvenediger, but that didn’t really matter, we’d had a good couple of days on the hill, got some good touring in and anyway it’s not going to go away, I’ll get it in next winter!