Once Upon A Time…
… a young man was invited to spend a long weekend in the Dolomites. It was his first stay in the mountains and he only came to enjoy the companionship. He couldn’t understand why anyone should go into the mountains since as a kid he and his family had tried to ascend the impressive Petzen / Peka
in the Karawanke and they had failed. Actually in the end the whole family had rebelled against the father who was alone wanting to reach the summit. They took the chairlift down and went bathing in one of the Carinthian lakes instead.
Now this young man had been exploring the grassy slopes of Plose with his friends. All were amazed at the peaks and pinnacles all around and the leader of the gang – who had already been in the mountains – proposed to climb a mountain, called Peitlerkofel, which stood out as a solitary piece of rock among the surrounding chains. He promised that the mountain wasn’t much higher than the one the friends stood on and that it wasn’t very difficult. Only the last meters were supposed to be tricky but there cables had been installed. Nothing, a real guy couldn’t do.
Our young man had his doubts – he knew he had problems with heights – but after this bit of speech he didn’t dare to say a word. The group decided to start out early the next day and tackle the mountain from Würzjoch in the north, taking the western loop around it and than head up the normal route from the south. The first hour was easy enough, but after that the rocky scramble to Peitlerscharte started. Our friend was already experiencing slight revulsions of his stomach but bravely went on. They scaled the southern slopes – steeper than anything he had done before, then separated in two groups, one taking the steeper scramble to the south-east, the other the switchbacks to the north-west.
They met in the saddle between the two summits of Peitlerkofel but this was all our young friend could take. To both sides steep couloirs dropped away into nothingness. He refused to move on. The higher summit with its secured route was out of the question and he decided to stay where he was and wait for the return of his comrades. Many people passed him, otherwise he would have tried to coax himself upwards but he was not willing to have crowds waiting behind. He decided to traverse to the lower western summit – but slowly – everything seemed to be so very steep!
In the end the friends met again in the saddle and headed back to their car. Our young friend didn’t keep any memory of that descent, embarrassed as he was.
Plose – Großer Gabler 2006
Twenty years later I am standing on the summit of Großer Gabler, the highest of the Plose summits. The view seems to be vaguely familiar but I have seen it from many a picture postcard and I don’t really remember. Actually I enjoy seeing the chains of the Heiligkreuzkofel Group, the Geisler Group and the Aferer Geisler Group in front of them, even though the wind is fierce and cold. Peitlerkofel draws my attention. I don’t remember having ever seen it like this, a huge chunk of rock rising directly out of the flat pastures south of Würzjoch – very impressive. On our way down the pathless south slopes of Großer Gabler and later, during the long hike along the dirt roads which serve the Plose Alms and ski runs my eyes are drawn by Peitlerkofel whenever I reach a point where I can see it. I wonder how much the aspect of the mountain has changed when now viewing it from the west.
Peitlerkofel seen from the north-west
When starting on this trip, I had planned to climb Peitlerkofel but I hadn’t been sure how to convince Judith. But now, after this day on Plose there is no question anymore. One of these days in the next three weeks we will stand on top of that rock.
Würzjoch, Six Days Later
Peitlerkofel, seen from Würzjoch
On September 19th 2006 the weather forecast calls for cloudy skies in the north but nice weather with occasional clouds in the south-east. Peitlerkofel is to the south-east of where we are staying so this is the day. We take the highway to Brixen and the mountain road to St. Andrä. We know it already as we started our Plose hike there and it seemed to be in a good condition. We don’t know, however, that after St. Andrä the road narrows to one lane and that it is very winding. Consequently it takes forever to get to our destination.
Luckily – or so we think – soon we will meet the road from Klausen and this is bound to be wider and our speed will surely increase. Again we are disappointed in our expectations. If anything the road gets even narrower after the intersection and it is more crowded. We head up to Würzjoch Pass at snail’s speed. Finally we reach the parking lot at the pass at 10 a.m. – far too late in my opinion. Dolomite mountains have the nasty habit of attracting clouds around noon and what use is it standing on a summit without a view? Especially on this solitary summit with its gorgeous surroundings?
The lot is already crowded and a few parties are just leaving as we pull in. After all these solitary days in the Sarntal and Stubai Alps this is bound to be a crowded one. But it is September – most hikers/climbers are older than we are and we start to overtake them soon. Maybe we’ll be able to make up for lost time.
The Western Leg
From Würzjoch you have to do a half circle around Peitlerkofel to reach Peitlerscharte, the starting point of the normal route. We decide to take the shorter western approach. Soon we stand right beneath Kleiner Peitler, the lower of the two summits. It is still cloud-free but there is already some fog around the main summit. Damn! We don’t take much time to take in the beautiful and surprising vista of Tullen, the main summit of the Aferer Geisler Group. A quick photo and we disappear in the narrow and scree covered valley which leads too Peitlerscharte.
The ascent is steep and most of the other parties slow down to a halt in order to take deep breaths. We, howewer, pass them, always nervously glancing up the mountain. The summit isn’t visible from where we are – the valley is to close to the mountain and far too narrow. What we don’t see: we have been followed by low hanging clouds, closing in from the north-west. The weather forecast didn’t prepare us for this!
However, even in the Peitlerscharte Saddle, we don’t yet really see what we are in for. Though there are darkish clouds above the Puez Plateau and the Geisler Group, only the highest summits are hidden. And Peitlerkofel is about 200m lower than that. There is still hope.
Tullen, Aferer Geisler Großer Peitler Looking west from Peitlerscharte
Ascending the South Slope
Low clouds around the Geisler Group
After a short rest in the saddle we push upwards. Unfortunately a large Bavarian group has started before us and we have to do some speed passing on the polished slopes. I’m surprised at how easy the ascent actually is – I had been prepared for scary traverses and steep steps. At the point where the trail splits we take the easier north-western leg which leads us beneath the lower summit. Now we finally can take in the whole mess: the saddle between the summits is still open, Kleiner Peitler is barely within the cloud and Großer Peitler has completely vanished. Moreover the dark low hanging clouds from the north-west finally have arrived all around us so that there are no views to speak of. We decide to head for the saddle and take out our lunch there. Maybe it’ll clear up and we can tackle the short protected section.
The Bavarians finally come up and crowd around us. There is a lot of discussion going on and most opt for the lesser summit. Three head for the ferrata while the others leave for the traverse to Kleiner Peitler. More parties come up – always the same discussions: few go up, most go to Kleiner Peitler, some stay in the saddle and wait for better weather. But there is no hope. Instead of clearing up the clouds descend even further and soon we don’t see a bit anymore. It is getting freezing cold and we call it quits. I take a few photos down the gullies towards the meadows beneath, a shot at the summit when there is a short lull. Then I strap on the pack and take the first steps downward. Man – am I frustrated!
Looking east from the saddle Down to Würzjoch! Großer Peitler
If you think it can’t be worse – think again! First we are happy that we decided to descend. The clouds get heavier, they drop even lower and there is a hint of thunderstorm in the air. Probably we’ll have to run to avoid the storm. Judith takes a fall on the polished rock. Luckily she only took bruises but her frozen fingers hurt like hell. I take her hiking poles and she hikes down with the hands in her pockets. At Peitlerscharte we have heated up enough to be comfortable again and without a stop we head further down for the western half circle around the mountain.
Would you believe it? Once we are at the lowest spot on the loop we turn around and see a patch of blue sky above Peitlerkofel! The clouds have risen! Aarghh! I start hammering my trekking poles violently into the ground – this isn’t fair! Why didn’t we wait longer? Could we go back? Only for the clouds to return? No – we have failed and slowly I start to get used to that notion and calm down. We only have ourselves to blame.
The Puez North Faces. Hide / Show labels CivettaSomamuntCol ToronnCiampaniZwischenkofelCol dla MuntijelaPuezkofelKapuzinerspitzeÖstl. PuezspitzeWestl. PuezspitzePiz Duleda
The clouds rise all around us and exasperating as it is, it also offers some good views which keep getting better. The Puez Plateau soon is completely visible and I can’t remember having it ever seen from this side. Also, the Kreuzkofel Group is visible, towering above the Gadertal Valley. In the background the Prags Dolomites still struggle with the clouds.
Fanes Group seen during the loop around Peitlerkofel. Hide / Show labels
Finally, we complete the circle around Peitlerkofel. The weather still is far from perfect but it offers one last view of the mountain before we head down to Würzjoch again. The best of them all, if you ask me, because sometimes – and only sometimes – clouds actually have a right to exist. Serving as a backdrop to a beautiful mountain is one of them.
Epilogue – Aspects of a Mountain
The Peitlerkofel north faces towering above Gömaalm
It struck me how Peitlerkofel looks so very different when viewed from different angles. The vertical north face and the sloped south face are well known but there are also aspects where it looks like a pile of boulders. Here are some pictures I took during the loop and during the stay on Großer Gabler a week before. One of the shots is by Goldie_Oz