Weather Report for Austria: "Tomorrow, on September 22nd 2004 at around 10 AM autumn will start. Fittingly the first storms of autumn will be rolling over the country with lots of rain in the valleys, snow and hail in the mountains. The southern part of Austria will see some sun in the morning but by noon the storms will have reached East Tyrol and Carinthia."
This is what we heard on the night news show the day before our ascent to Lumkofel, a solitary mountain located south of the Lienz Dolomites. We had seen the mountain before - on a far from perfect day at the beginning of September, when we had to give up climbing Böses Weibele (Rosenköpfl) close by. Lumkofel had appeared to be an easy summit, almost like a hill, with grassy slopes all around. This and the lack of height - the mountain is only 2286m (7500feet) tall - made us overlook it in the planning of our day tours. To be true - we sometimes had discussed the mountain but always decided there were more deserving destinations.
So when the weather would be bad anyway, maybe we should climb something short and easy to be back at the apartment when the storms started coming in. So what about Lumkofel? And we both decided, that this would be the place to go. But still we were not impressed with the outlook at all. It was just a substitute for something better and more interesting.
The next morning saw us getting up early - we had the storms to beat - and set out towards the trailhead at Assing, the highest hamlet of the Lesachtal Valley. The drive was short, 20 minutes, but we had to search for a place to park the car. Once that was found - beside the ascent road to Assing but somewhat further down - the hike would start. The first part was supposed to be the "Almwanderweg" and we expected to trudge along some meadows to Oberrasteralm at about the same elevation as the trailhead. The weather in the morning was very nice, the views to the Carnic Alps crisp and clear, the ridge between Letterspitze and Raudenspitze was in full sight.
But no! The Almwanderweg never offered any view - it went through a densely populated forest and I started to get fidgety because I had glimpsed great views from Assing but now had to hike through a tunnel. Bummer! On and on we went but it was so dark in that forest that even plants and animals were invisible. Luckily at Oberrasteralm the forest stopped. Here we were on a real alm, meadows, cabins, cows and all. In addition the view opened and the whole Carnic Alps Main Ridge between Plöckenpass and Zwölferspitz moved into sight.
I relaxed and turning northwards towards Motalm, expected to see our destination, Lumkofel. But no! Again those blasted trees! How was I supposed to write a page about the mountain here at SP when it and everything else always hid behind some trees? It was here that I first consulted my map to see if our assumption of a grassy hill was true or if we had got something wrong. The map revealed, that indeed, above Motalm there would be no more trees, but also, that the mountain had some rocky parts to the north.
The trail from Oberrasteralm to Motalm runs along a dirt road so the latter was reached soon. We stepped out of the meadow and there Lumkofel was, glimmering in the morning light. We could see that it was steep but everything was covered with meadows. Here it was, our easy summit. Looking around us and still seeing no trace of a storm cloud, we decided to take the long approach. To circumvent the mountain on its southern side and go to the eastern "face". There a path should go straight to the eastern ridge from which we should be able to look down upon the rocky north face. We overlooked the fact that on our map the path was marked with a dotted line which in the Dolomites always means a tricky trail. We also didn't see that we would have to climb 300m along the steepest part (apart from the north face) of the whole mountain.
We soon found out. First a level trail to the east face - but where was our path to the ridge? There were no marks, other than some footmarks and the marks of a truck or tractor. "But what the hell? This is a meadow, let's just get on up here." - The next hour we struggled up this "hill" often slipping, more often stopping to catch our breath. You couldn't go up straight - too steep. You couldn't zigzag like you wanted - too many rocks which from the base had been invisible. Several detours and backtrackings took their toll on our humour. We almost hissed at each other, each blaming the other for the stupid idea to climb this "easy mountain".
But in the end everything turned out for the better. Finally on the ridge we had a great 360° view. To the north the vertical faces of the Lienz Dolomites greeted us, blinking in incredible sunshine. To the west in 50km distance the whole eastern side of the Sexten Dolomites could be seen. And to the south the whole 130km main ridge of the Carnic Alps was on full display. Eastwards Reißkofel in the Gailtal Alps and parts of Hohe Tauern as well as the Julian Alps glimmered against the morning light.
And the weather? The winds were high, no storm though. And sun wherever you looked - It seemed that after all we would be lucky! And here the incredible traverse of the east ridge started. See the picture for yourself. To the north sheer drops of down to 400m with bowling alley like gullies every 40m. To the south the steep meadow and all around those perfect views. Though taking our time - and shooting a lot of pictures - we soon reached the summit, way before noon, so that we took a long rest before starting with our lunch. The winds were high and quite cold so we had to lie down in the sun to hide from them.
But every happy hour draws to a close and clouds started rolling in from the north-west. So far they parted in front of the sun but since it was cold anyway, we decided to hike down. We decided on the western face and - if time allowed - to do another ridge traverse to Milnazenkofel and Milnazen Saddle before returning to our car in Assing. Turning west we crossed the ridge - and stopped! Here there was a 45° - 60° rock face with a scree covered trail crisscrossing the face. Certainly not the kind of descent you would expect from an easy mountain! The picture below tries to give an impression of what we saw but unfortunately the depth is missing. It was a very slow and careful descent. We had no ropes with us but there wouldn't have been any opportunity to fix anything. Being the second to descend I had to be extra careful not to break lose any of the gravel and dropping it on Judith's head.
We made it finally - still in good weather. More and more clouds came in but still they parted in front of the sun! The remainder of the hike was spectacular for its views but easy to be found. A fence ran directly beside the trail, so Milnazen Saddle could not be missed. Looking back at Lumkofel we kept wondering how we could have been able to get down the west face - or rather how an easy ascent trail could be placed in what appeared to be almost vertical rock!
And what did we learn?
- Never trust the weather report!
- Never underestimate a mountain, especially those "low easy hills"!
- It doesn't have to be a high mountain if you like to have some nice views.
All no-brainers, aren't they?