IntroductionOur second to last day of climbing, or better, what should have been our second to last day of climbing. Looking out of the window and rain is pouring down, the Teplizerhütte hidden from the outside world in a thick fog. After a brief consultation within our climbing party we decide to cancel the last two days of our climbing journey and head down towards the valley, the Ridnauntal (South Tyrol) and return to our starting point in Innsbruck. Our original purpose of traversing from the Teplizerhütte towards the Nürnberghütte (Stubaital) over the Rote Grat (3099m) seemed to dangerous in this kind of weather, heavy rain, fog and higher up the mountain probably even snow, and all this in a region none of us really knew. ‘Stupid weather!’ After packing we started our long walk down towards the nearest busstation in Maiern. After some grueling long hours of marching through the rain, no views at all, our heads completely down, we finally arrived at the busstation. Not much later, unsurprisingly, it stopped raining and it even became sunny. Back in Innsbruck it was even summerly! ‘Really no luck whatsoever!’
PreparationsAfter last years mountaineering course we decided to go out on ourselves in the Alps, the first time without mountain guides. After some deliberation we decided to go to the Austrian Stubaital, south of Innsbruck. The main reason we chose the Stubaital was for its high number of relatively easy mountains; ideal for mountaineers –like us- who haven’t got enough experience yet to try scaling the higher, more famous mountains in the Alps, as well as it’s a great place to gain this experience.
More difficult was to decide how we would travel from Belgium towards Innsbruck. Car or train? Eventually we would chose the train, a choice I was really in favour of: a safe, fast (high speed trains) and relaxed way of travelling. Perhaps a bit more expensive than going by car (specially if you’re with five persons as we were), but I didn’t complained.
As a way to prepare ourselves for our trip to the Alps we decided to go to the Ardennen (our Belgian hill range), where we would climb a bit as well as practice and revise some alpine techniques. Unfortunatly the weather turned for the worst that day -which now seems to be a mere prelude to our trip in the Alps. Due to this bad weather we couldn’t climb anything. Instead we decide to make a nice –or rather wet- hike in our Belgian hills.
Back home we went into the last straight line towards our departure, two weeks later. After buying our last bits of equipment, clothes or food and packing we were finally ready to go!
Mountains without a view, the sequelLate in the afternoon we arrived in Innsbruck, checked in at our youth hostel, did a final check on our material and went to sleep rather early, eager to get going the following morning. From Innsbruck we took the bus towards the Stubaital where our trip would really begin. From the Grawaalm (1530m) we headed for the Sulzenauhütte (2191m), where we would spend our first night in the mountains. A nice, though not particulary long or heavy, hike. As this hut can be reached fairly easy, and specially while it was weekend, it was very crowded. The best thing to do in such case is to go out to enjoy the mountains. Nearby were some rocks, ideal for some rock climbing, which, off course, we wanted to check out. At the same time this was a good opportunity for us to practice some climbing techniques. By the time we set off the weather had already changed when clouds covered the sky and hid most mountains from view. When we arrived at those rocks it only got better when mist came in. However, this didn’t really bothered us as it was great fun being back out in the mountains after too much time in mountainless Belgium. Even that fun, we almost missed our evening dinner in the hut, a superb lasagne.
The next morning the climbing would really begin when we would hike/climb to the Müllerhütte (3145m). One of very few mountain huts in Austria that can only be reached by doing some -fairly easy- climbing. Probably one of the main reasons not many, even none, of the many people staying at the Sulzenauhütte went there. On our way we had planned on scaling the nearby Wilder Freiger (3418m).
Starting very early under a clear blue sky spirits where very high! Quite fast we reached the upper part of the Fernerstube (glacier) which we had to cross on our way to the Müllerhütte. Always a superb feeling when one can once again put on crampons, specially if you, like we, had to wait a year to do so. By the time we stepped on the glacier, however, clouds were coming in, even though weather forecasts were good.
A bit later, when we were higher up on the glacier, just after we’d climbed the short steeper section of the glacier, several helicopters started flying over and circling around the east face of the Wilder Pfaff, very near to us. At first we thought it was some sort of exercise for mountain rescue teams. At the same time a small rescue team was climbing this east face. Only when we arrived at the Müllerhütte some hours later we found out a tragic accident had happen as an older lady had slipped and fell while climbing the E-ridge of the Wilder Pfaff. Unfortunatly she didn’t survived. The helicopters and rescue team on the mountain were there trying to find her.
The last part of the Fernerstube was rather flat, but as temperature was rather high the snow had become very soft –and deep, making progress rather slow. Eventually we reached the end of the glacier. From this point onwards a ridge (rock) commences which leads to the Übeltalferner (glacier), which one has to follow a bit till one reaches the Müllerhütte. One can’t say it’s a difficult ridge, on the contrary, but even though it’s fairly easy, it’s a pleasant scramble till the end of the ridge (some 150 meters higher). Arriving at the end of the ridge one normally is rewarded with –I guess- some excellent views over the Stubaier Alps. We, however, couldn’t see anything. By this time we even could hardly see the glacier stretching out right before us when we got at the end of the ridge. Completely surrounded by thick mist we descended a bit onto the Übeltalferner. At this point we were lucky to find some footsteps in the snow leading to the Müllerhütte. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have found the hut, as none of us had been there before. We knew we had to follow the glacier close to the ridge on our right, but as mist was so thick it was often even impossible to see the ridge from a few meters away. As we couldn’t get closer to this ridge, due to a rather massive Bergschrund, we were really lucky to be able to follow these footsteps leading us to the Müllerhütte, where we finally arrived after five or six hours of hiking/climbing and searching for a trail through the mist. Quite obviously we didn’t climbed the Wilder Freiger, rather we spend the afternoon in the cosy and pleasant Müllerhütte. In contrast to the Sulzenauhütte, we were almost alone here. Thanks to its remoteness this would remain so the following three days we were planning on staying there.
The following day we planned on climbing Botzer (3250m). We woke up relatively early, eager to start our first real summit-attempt of the week. Looking out of the window we got our first glance of the mountain we wanted to climb. The views from the hut were absolutely fantastic this morning. The surrounding summits floating on a sea of clouds with the first rays of sun shining brightly upon them. This spectacle had, however, a serious downside. Instead of slowly vanishing, these clouds only got bigger and higher. Lucky for us we didn’t need to traverse the whole Übeltalferner (four kilometers as the crow flies) towards the Botzer though these clouds as they rose higher towards the sky. Unfortunaltly this meant we wouldn’t be enjoying lots of views. When we started hope prevailed these clouds would still disappear during the day. In good spirits we started, immediately onto the glacier, the first part descending to a height of about 2800m, after which we started going up again. At first gradually until reaching the Hochgwändscharte around 3050m. The Hochgwändscharte was the most tricky part of our ascent of the Botzer.
This scharte isn’t particulary high, some 20 or 30m, but it’s steep and the state of the rocks was just awful. The cabanier had warned us for the conditions, but reality was even worse. Every single rock, big or small, was completely loose. As everything was as loose as it possibly can be we decided to ascend this one by one, in order to minimize the chance of someone being hit by falling rocks. Once the first person got onto the ridge he would try making a solid anchorpoint to secure the others. The last part of the glacier towards the scharte was rather steep, not really the ideal place to wait while we ascended this scharte towards the south-east ridge of the Botzer. I went first and I have to say, I’ve never really experienced such terrible conditions. After we’d got all atop I was rather surprised this scharte hadn’t disappeared altogether after we had, unintentionally, kicked down an awful lot of rocks and loose stones.
At this point the SE-ridge commences. Not a difficult, but a pleasant scramble nonetheless. By this time we were once again surrounded by clouds. When we arrived at the summit we couldn’t, as the day before, see anything. The only thing we saw was the summit cross and a small part of the ridge we just ascended. On our descent we took a slightly different route. Instead of following the SE-ridge we decided to ascend a bit towards the nearby glacier and simply ski down on our boots. Much faster and much more fun. In no time we got back to the Hochgwändscharte where we once again were confronted with this loose mess. A bit later some clouds disappeared at last, though only briefly, to give us glimpse of the mountains around us. After descending fast to the lowest point of the glacier we still had to ascend 300meters back to the Müllerhütte. A perfect moment to check out our endurance after multiple hours we were already en route.
The next day we’d planned on scaling the Sonklarspitz (3467m). Starting early with, finally some clear views on the surrounding mountains, we set of in good spirits, hoping to have, at last, a fine climb in good weather with some beautiful views on the mountains around us, perhaps even a glimps of the impressive and more or less nearby Dolomites. However, the moment we set off, clouds were, once again, coming in. As if that was’nt enough, temperature was quite high which had softened the snow on the glacier so we had to plow our way through often more than half a meter of wet and heavy snow. It goes without saying, this was rather tiresome. My four companions didn’t quite liked these conditions. I, on the other hand, had a good time, as it was a good test for me to test my endurance by making (rather plowing) some sort of path over the glacier until the beginning of the ridge (II grade) which would lead us eventually to the summit. Specially the last part of the glacier was rather fun as it got a fair deal steeper. The ridge itself was a fun climb, not very difficult, but not too easy as well. We climbed in two little groups, of two and three persons, as this would normally be faster, as well as safer to climb. I was in the party of two and we climbed really quick, at least a lot faster than the other group. Quite often we had to wait on our companions. Specially on one occasion we had to wait a very long time, even though it wasn’t that difficult. Weather, in the meantime, was getting once again worse. Temperature fell and it even started snowing a little. Not really the best conditions imaginable to wait for more than half an hour on our companions. To avoid getting cold me and my climbing partner had the idea -probably not the most brilliant idea of all times- to start doing/inventing some new climbing sports. A thing we kept on doing the next few days. On this occasion, our first idea was to start rope skipping with our climbing rope on a much to narrow ridge. High altitude rope-skipping as some sort of improved version of normal rope skipping. Even though this sport would have lots of Olympic potential, we were lucky we were only the two of us, so we couldn’t actually start jumping. Luckily our other companions arrived before we would have perhaps started jumping for real.
Eventually we arrived at the end of the ridge with only a small glacier still to cross to reach the summit. By this time weather turned for the worst as it started snowing strongly. We couldn’t see almost anything. Fortunately we didn’t need to take our compasses to find the route as their where still some faintly visible traces in the snow. Almost in a complete white-out we finally arrived at the summit, once again without anything even closely remote to what one could call a view.
During the decent we had to be extra careful, due to the snow, and lower on the ridge wet snow. Eventually we got to the glacier again. And, by this time, perhaps not surprisingly anymore, the clouds suddenly vanished. Immediately temperature rose strongly which softened the snow even more, making the final part towards the hut even more tiresome.
As most peaks around the Müllerhütte aren’t very far away most climbs don’t take all day, just like our trip to the Sonklarspitz. At noon we were already back at the hut. At this time the cabanier came to us –we were almost alone in the hut, apart for a group of friendly Dutch- telling us there was a cool icefall just behind the hut, perfect to gain some ice climbing experience. While we told him we didn’t had the right equipment (above all those technical ice axes) for ice climbing he offered two pair of his own ice axes, a really nice gesture! Me and two of my companions immediately got down to the glacier to start installing our rope (the ice fall was about 20 meters, making it easy to install a top-rope) so we could commence one of the best climbing experiences I’ve had till now! This really was a fantastic afternoon!
After a little thunderstorm during the evening the sky cleared (a bit) offering some great views towards the surrounding mountains. A superb end to our stay at the Müllerhütte, as we would be leaving the following morning, heading towards the Teplizerhütte (2586m).
Next morning, after a hearty farewell towards our cabaniers, we set of towards the Teplizerhütte, climbing, on our way, the Wilder Freiger (3418m). At first we traversed the glacier towards the nearby Becherhaus, where the ridge towards the Signalgipfel and further away the Wilder Freiger starts. This day would prove to be our best day in terms of the weather. After a quick, easy and above all pleasant scramble up the SE ridge we reached the summit where, to our utmost surprise, we even had something one could call a view. The sky was nowhere like cloudless, but we had, in between clouds, the chance to get some glimpses of the great mountain around us, like the Wilder Pfaff, Zuckerhütl and Sonklarspitz.
After our descend back to the glacier clouds were once again all around us. After a short break we grabbed our sacks and started the relatively long hike towards the Teplizerhütte. After a couple of hours of hiking we finally arrived at our next hut.
Next day we wanted to climb the Feuerstein (3245m) by its south ridge (grade II), starting at the Magdeburgerscharte. As we didn’t need to cross any glacier we decided to sleep a bit longer. However, at 5.30am I was already awake, and after looking outside I praised myself to be so lucky to be awake as the views from the hut towards the Dolomites were simply staggering. Just beneath the the hut a carpet of clouds covered the entire valley, with all the higher summits floating, in what looked to be a fantastic sea of clouds. About an hour I sat outside the hut, amazed by these stupendous views!
When we got down to breakfast a bit later this show was over while clouds had surrounded our hut. Shortly afterwards we took off towards the Feuerstein, hoping for –finally- some clear views on the summit.
During our ascent towards the Magdeburgerscharte (3105m) views weren’t great, but from time to time we were able to spot parts of a blue sky. This made us hopeful, as by gaining height we could perhaps get out of the clouds. How wrong could we be! When we arrived at the Magdeburgerscharte things were still looking good. However, when we neared the foot of the ridge it became clear this ridge was in a very bad state, with loose rocks everywhere. Rather quick we decided this climb might be too dangerous –even more because we aren’t the most experienced climbers. So we cancelled –with regret- our plans for the Feuerstein, turning our attention to the nearby and safer Agglspitz (3195m). After a fun scramble we attained the summit. By now we were, once again, completely surrounded by clouds, making it impossible to see even the most nearby mountains. Nothing but mist. Such a disappointment. Up to now we were in the mountains for six days during which we attained four summits, but we still hadn’t got any cloudless sky or really clear views. Specially the fact we had attained four summits but weren’t granted with a single view was quite a disillusionment.
Weather was even worse than last year, were we, notwithstanding the bad weather and heavy snowfall, still had some good summitviews (A mountaineering course in summer in the Val des Dix. Or was it winter?). Before our departure we’d said weather couldn’t be worse. Wrong, clearly, it could still be worse! Weather wasn’t very worse, as –apart from an occasional shower and our last two days- it didn’t rain or snow. Still, mist isn’t anything better, as one of the main reasons for going to the Alps, their views, are completely ruled out, as well as mist only aggravates the chance of getting lost and thus getting stuck in tricky or dangerous situations.
Our second to last day would be worst of all, mist and heavy rain, all day long, bringing our climbing journey to a premature end. Our last day was spent in Innsbruck where weather –it becomes almost boring to repeat- turned once more for the worst as rain kept pouring down all day long. Still, I had a great time together with my friends, visiting i.a. the museum of the Austrian Apline Club.
Luckely the atmosphere in our group was good, we had a lot of fun on the way and did some pleasant climbs, gaining quite a lot of experience. Albeit the weather was poor I had a wonderfull time in the mountains, just like our bad-weather-climbing-journey last year.
Two weeks later I was back in the Alps, Grindelwald (Switzerland) this time. Not for climbing, but to hike and cycle. As bad the weather was two weeks earlier, as good it was during this week. Cloudless skies, warm and sunny weather, outstanding views as far as the eye can reach. What a compensation Grindelwald and the Eiger!
Epilogue: some new mountain sports.This year as well as last year we tried to entertain ourselves a bit when weather wasn’t really great. When it’s raining heavily, one can’t do a lot but staying inside. On the other hand, when it’s snowing (as occurred often last year), one can’t be outside quick enough. Nothing beats a good snowfight in the midst of summer!
During our trip, as weather or climbing conditions weren’t great, we started, as a way of entertaining ourselves when we couldn’t enjoy some lovely views on our surroundings, ‘inventing’ some new, mostly highly potential, mountain sports. Most of the things we did can be called rather childish or perhaps silly and absurd, but still, we had an awful lot of fun doing these things (specially because all these things aren’t meant seriously). So none of the mentioned things here below may be taken seriously!
One of the first things coming to mind is the well-known and classical crevasse-jumping. Perhaps an idea to change, at the next Olympic Games, hurdling by crevasse-jumping. The spectacle would be absolutely fantastic! Another classic is sprinting. Not just a flat sprint, but uphill (the steeper the better), with heavy mountain-boots and climbing gear. If you want to feel your legs burning heavily and be out of breath like never before this is the right discipline (the higher one is on a mountain the better the effect). I’ve done this a few times now (only on marked paths) and I have to say, I’ve never experienced something similar when it comes to be exhausted!
After we scrambled up the Agglspitz we made a beautiful hike towards the Pfurnsee (2467m). A small lake near the Teplizerhütte. At the lake, we couldn’t see anything but the lake itself. Nevertheless we took a break and after eating a bit we started to throw some little pebbles or small stones in the lake. Soon this turned into a real competition. At first trying to throw as far as possible, a bit later trying to throw stones as heavy as possible. However, as this was great fun, we started doing all sort of things with pebbles and little stones, for example, high mountain golf (all one needs is a hiking pole and a pebble, the rest is just like normal golf), baseball (trying to hit a pebble with a hiking pole is extremely difficult), snooker (which is extremely silly), javelin-throwing (with stones), discus-throwing, stone skipping (a classic)(I just found out there are even European- and World Championships stone skipping), etc. It goes almost without saying we spent quite a lot of time by the side of this lake.
On our trip we had just such a lot of fun, I can’t think of many moments we weren’t laughing or enjoying ourselves! I can’t wait till next summer!