I never get tired of watching a clear night sky, studded with countless bright stars. Tonight we are lying on a nice grassy ledge, some 2300 meters high. I'm using a tent bag as a pillow, the night is dry, and the warmth of my sleeping bag from time to time makes me close my eyes for a pleasant moment, which then sometimes turns out to be a minute, next time perhaps an hour. It's true that stars don't care much for our human time, but among them bright dots are gliding; these must be planes at high altitudes. From behind Saeuleck one of them is regularly coming in, having a white and red light. An Austrian fighter? Its lights alternately pulsate which makes an impression of a dizzy butterfly. Comets are rarer, but I can still count half a dozen. And I can't explain why, suddenly low on a horizon, a bright dot appears, gets brighter and brighter; brighter than any star on the sky, and then slowly vanishes. A comet, flying directly towards me?
Periodically I stretch my tired legs. This afternoon we had biked around Ossiacher See. Visited the grave of the Dumb Ossiacher, took a short bath, then drove by car into Malta valley and further on by a narrow asphalt road into Goessinggraben. From the big parking place at the dam at an altitude of 1670 meters a decent mountain road ascends up to Giessener Huette, 2215 meters, so we opted for bikes again. But the road is steep, rucksacks heavy, we are concerned already how to brake down on tomorrow's return. Jasmina goes more on foot; I'm using my bike also. I am a bit faster but also soon feel tiredness in my legs and I don't want to use all my resources today. We reach the hut all wet with perspiration, have just one beer and immediately continue up the hill. "Where to?" eyes of surprised hut guests are asking silently. Soon we hide our bikes among rocks and walk-up some more 100 meters, until the steep slope flattens into a beautiful terrace. We make our beds in front of two big marmot holes.
Next morning, it's day already, but the sun will not come on these slopes soon. We do our breakfast like yesterday's dinner - in our sleeping bags. Four Austrian mountaineers come by and on Jasmina's remark: "Wir sind nicht Huettenschlaeffer" (We are not hut-sleepers) their guide wisely says: "Yeah, but you slept in a hotel with more stars than any other". They also attempt Hochalmspitze.
Half an hour later we are on the path, which gets more and more lost among big boulders. Over a steep snowfield ice axes help us and soon above it, we already overtake those four Austrians. Through another labyrinth of rocks we reach the steep snowfield, which ascends up to the “Steinerne Maenneln” notch. Now the serious part of the job is ahead of us. At first we are still looking how to avoid the snowfield but signs on top of its cone undoubtedly mean that we need to go straight up. It is fine going with crampons, but when we reach a rocky ledge we already feel our calves and Jasmina also has cold hands.
With ironware again in rucksack we start climbing. The wall is almost vertical, but the route is well protected by steel ropes. And this is one of ordinary ski descents from Hochalmspitze! Of course you go on foot here, but in hard winter conditions this wall would certainly require belaying. Soon we pop our nose over the notch edge. This is a nice place! You reach a flat stone table and pull yourself up. Suddenly you stand in the sun, watching a broad glacier on the other side of the notch.
Soon we pop our nose over the notch edge
Unfortunately the glacier does not reach the notch. I would dare to jump over the end crevasse, but would have no idea how to get back on return. And we have no rope with us! Anyway, signs follow the main ridge. But already the first passage requires light steps over a narrow ledge, actually on top of a steep ice slope, finishing some ten meters below in a crevasse. The polished wall in the beginning offers no grips, later an unsteady scale gives help, I wish her a long life. Once over, we are soon on the ridge, approaching the next gendarme. There's a pale sign right below it. To get down, we try first a narrow ledge, then directly over a rock. Below the crevasse is still grinning. Perhaps this is the last trouble, but nevertheless we return. There are some old tracks on the glacier; we shall try to reach it. So we put on crampons for the icy ledge and just when we are back over it again, our four acquaintances reach the notch. They also advise me not to try to reach the glacier over a suspicious snow bridge without a rope. Their guide offers to rope us up, but we want to follow the rocky ridge.
Suddenly we have plenty of time. When everyone has crampons and when ropes are fixed, we go over the icy ledge for the third time. Beyond, the guide allows us to proceed, while he's busy with the others. And before that gendarme - what a kind of idiots we were! Jasmina is already shouting to the group that we have »einen eklatanten Denkfehler gemacht« - made a clear mental fault. Nice, big signs go also by the left side! We only preconceived that there is a vertical drop.
Before the deceiving gendarm - see a clear sign on the left!
Now we easily follow the passage and above on the ridge for some time all troubles are over. A broad rocky ridge, a fine German word for that is a »Blockwerk«, leads towards the summit. So we reach the final tower. A vertical drop on the left, steep ice on the right, but reliable steel ropes lead safely over the rocks in the middle and after short gymnastics we get out on a flat ground just below the »Schneegipfel« - Hochalmspitze's Snow Summit. This is the usual point, where ski tours finish - or start, as you wish. The narrow summit ridge is then a pure joy - who said that it can be problematic? But yes, when there's more snow, or if it is icy, this part can be tricky and the lower part, where we played at blind man's buff, can be easy. Finally, on all sides rocks go only down.
On the summit of Hochalmspitze
For some half hour we can enjoy the summit alone. Then from all sides clouds start to rise, on the fore summit we spot three mountaineers, who came from the northern side and we begin descending. We meet on the ridge; one of them even speaks Slovenian! Further down below, we say hello to our four friends. And thank them for their help, even if it was only a moral one. To descend the rocky tower, we must wait some time - it's getting crowded here. To get some rest, one of the men, coming up says to Jasmina: "I'm frightened already now, how to get down." "Me too", says Jasmina, to calm him down. At Steinerne Maennln Jasmina once more puts up crampons for that ledge, the wall below the notch is in descent even a little harder, my rucksack is trifling with my balance and on top of the big snowfield we must put crampons on for the last time. Even if the snow is soft, we go step by step, enjoy a short drive down only on the last part and, reaching rocks again, it's time for the last cold beer.
After the descent over snowfield.
The descent over the rocky desert is quite boring. You must be attentive to follow the path, from melting glaciers water is dripping everywhere, so we are jumping from one rock on another and only far below we reach a decent path and our bivouac place. When both rucksacks are packed, it is always funny, they seem no smaller than yesterday. Then we pick up our bikes from their hiding place. How those 'Jodelns' - that's how we Slovenians name Austrian hikers - are surprised again when we drive by the hut. "Where from?" their eyes are asking, seeing us coming from nowhere with two monstrous rucksacks.
By the road it goes down like hell. You can almost physically feel how the rubber on the breaks gets thinner and thinner. So from time to time we must stop to cool the breaks down and to stretch our spastic fingers. How worthy it was yesterday bringing bikes up there! I propose to Jasmina to bike down to Malta valley. She could have done a 1600 meters bike descent. But we have enough. A hot drive home is still awaiting us. At home Jasmina realises, that Sepp Schnuerer's book describes this ascent (hike) as »schwierig« - hard. But I didn't conceal that from her; at last, it was she, who had proposed this tour.
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