Similaun normal ski routeChristian and I had an ambitious plan for the North Face of Similaun, but our eyes were bigger than our heads! I kind of thought we'd need to start walking up from Vent by 4 am to make that work, but ultimately we just left Munich at 4 am. The drive was long, and we were walking at 7.
The wide trail up to the Martin Busch Haus is melting out rapidly. We were able to ski about 70% of the way, but had to take skis off now and then. There were some massive avalanche fans to scramble over. We also noticed this on the drive out down in the valley. In two locations there were 20 foot high walls of snow that came over the road, all surrounded by green hillsides. Very strange!
It took a full 2.5 hours to reach the hut, and with the warm weather we knew we'd be idiots to get on the North Face. So I dropped my ice tools, crampons and helmet at the hut (Christian kept his in his pack for training...he's a real hardman!). A whole collection of folks on skis, snowshoes and foot were returning to the hut from a morning out. We were pretty odd, because no one else was heading out so late as us. In fact, on the way up the valley of the normal route we only saw a handful of people, all descending quickly to the hut.
It was a long and tiring journey under the hot sun for the next hour. We gained almost no elevation. It's hard to understand how tiring flat terrain can be, but it was. I kept mentally kicking myself for not making sure we left Munich at 2 am or something...I was really looking forward to steep snow/ice climbing. Oh well, the weather was great and we were in a remote and interesting part of the Oetztal Alps.
Finally we reached the saddle that marks the Italian border. Apparently sheep that spend the winter on the Austrian side go streaming over the border for Italian pastures in the summer, as part of an ancient grazing rights pattern. That would be fun to see sometime.
Once on the glacier a cold wind picked up, and clouds moved quickly across the landscape. I left my skis and started up the ridge, while Christian managed to ski another 100 feet higher. At the summit I sat down heavily, pretty tired! But it was fascinating to see these strange mountains...the Texel Group, and a beautiful green valley leading towards Merano.
Mostly though, we were surrounded by rock and snow...the green valleys were a distinct minority in this hard landscape. For example, this view to the west:
Thankfully the cold wind seemed to keep the snow from getting too wet, so the ski down was really nice. It was a little tiring keeping momentum in the long flat valley, but finally we reached the hut. I drank a Radler to steel myself for the long trip down to Vent, and all the awkward skiing I knew we'd have to do. All in all though, it wasn't bad. It was funny how we'd manage to keep skis on as long as we had the slightest pretense of "snow" to ski over. Sometimes the snow-path was only one ski wide. The avalanche debris cones were interesting too.
Decent snowcover down low meant we actually enjoyed skiing right to the town, over a little village ski tow area.
Pretty amazing mountains back in here, next time we'll get up early enough for a north face!
Til next time, Ötzi...