I was looking forward to a solo trip to the mountains to get some exercise and make friendships with some new peaks. I rambled here and there over a 3 day weekend, not doing anything really exciting but just soaking up the mountain air and tiring myself out. Good enough!
In the end I skied:
Geier (1500 meters)
Lampsenspitze (1200 meters)
Rietzer Grieskogel (1000 meters
"Kaiser Max" via ferrata
Day One: Geier
I decided to ski up a mountain called Geier in the Tuxer Alps. I'd never been in that whole group, but it had long been on my list. This tour would be 1500 meters elevation gain and loss (about 5000 feet), maybe more if I was tempted to do a variation. I could get a good view of the Zillertal Alps from up there, as well as a picture postcard image of Innsbruck with the Kette behind it, it's treasure of snowy pearls. I had to ski up a road to a hut in a military base. It was all very strange. Signs forbade picture taking. I felt like Clint Eastwood in "Firefox." The ski up to the hut was on a mixture of road and trail, and took close to two hours.
After the hut I saw a long valley I'd have to ascent. As I plodded along the flat valley floor, I felt the first gusts of wind, with a blast of icy snow. I started climbing, and looked to the head of the valley. Oh boy, was I in for it! The snow whirred in spin devils and big clouds came in and out. Yes, it would be windy up there!
Conditions became tiring. There was often kind of a track to follow, but it was useless. My skins couldn't get purchase on the powdery snow that partially filled the tracks. It was the weirdest thing. I pretty much had to always cut new lower angle trails. If I really wanted to use the steeper one for a few minutes I could, but my arms would get really tired using poles to prevent me from sliding backwards in the track. A few bundled up people came down on snowshoes, then a few more on skis. I still had a good ways to go.
But time passed. I was working really hard and had to force myself to move more slowly. I'm done with the whole thing of ending up soaked with sweat in icy winter! Still, I am amazed at how lightly I dress compared to others. Even in this cold wind, I had my sleeves up a lot, no hat, no jacket. The snowshoe people were all bundled up in Gore-Tex, baclavas, goggles. Finally I did put on a wind layer, and was glad I did. This route has a few little saddles it goes through, and by the last two or three, the wind was screaming so hard. I had to keep my face averted. Once I failed to do so and the smacking spray of ice taught me a painful lesson. At least my face went numb! I had to really lean into the wind.
Finally I reached the summit, and for a moment I saw an amazing view down and across to the Brenner Pass. Wow! But then a cloud came in and just never left. With the screaming wind, I could only afford about 5 minutes of waiting. Oh well. I started down, sometimes finding a powder stash for one or two turns, but mostly descending ice or, much worse, "breakable crust." Near the flat part of the valley the breakable crust really did me in, I made a massive faceplant fall. I sat up, face covered in snow, only to get a blast of icy wind that really hurt. "Aaargh!" I screamed, suddenly chuckling because I reminded myself of a bad horror movie. Or maybe when that Nazi guy grabs the hot medallion in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Heh!
Lonely skis on the summit.
I love this little bird thing on the summit. Nice break from the usual crucifixes...
Descent continued, punctuated by interior remarks about how tired I was. An embarrassing thing happened, but funny too. I was skiing quickly down through a bunch of cut up skinny trail, and came to a flat spot just as I saw out of the corner of my eye about 12 people coming up to the same flat spot. Whoa! I thought. I hadn't seen anyone in hours. Then, standing there, I lost my balance and crashed comically into a snowbank. I had to extricate myself while all these people walked by me, doubtless thinking what a sad sack I was. One guy made a sympathetic joke, but I didn't quite understand him.
I listed to more of the book Unbroken, about the track runner and soldier Louie Zamborini. I was in the part where "The Bird," a sadistic camp guard, tries to break him over and over for months. Everyone was starving, and poor Louie also has to deal with getting cracked upside the head with a belt buckle over and over for days. Maybe listening to that tired me out!
I went back to the great pension in Gries that I'd been to the week before. The old couple who ran the place were happy to see me. They said lots of people come and don't talk to anyone. They were really happy that other guests and myself talked to each other at breakfast.
Day 2: Lampsenspitze, Bafflfall
summit panorama from Lampsenspitze
A bit tired from the big day before, I decided to ski the Lampsenspitze. I'd never been up there, and it's a really popular mountain. May as well see what all the fuss is about.
Getting a late start, I passed 6 or 7 people, then missed an important turn. I found myself all alone, which was nice, but there was a good reason. I ended up trying to break trail up a skied out slope of steep and deep snow. Wow, it was tiring! While I laboriously climbed about 150 or 200 meters, about 40 skiers below caught up to me. I skied over to their prepared trail, then stopped for a long rest and some tea while they went by. "Oh well, it's not a race!" I told myself.
The Lampsenspitze is kind of a demonstration mountain for ski touring. At strategic points there are signs about the gear you need (shovel, transceiver, probe), and information about avalanche slopes, search patterns, etc. I didn't mind all the hullaballo, there are so many hundreds of peaks with no such infrastructure. I reached the ski depot, which must have had 50 people milling about. But it was clearing out quickly. The visibility was great, and the sky was pretty blue. Geier, my Tuxer peak far to the east on the other side of the Brenner was in a roiling cloud. Good that I came over here! I took some pictures at the summit, then found a wind protected spot to hang out and drink more tea. I came back to the top and chatted with another party. "Berg heil!" we said, and shook hands. A girl came up and we all talked a while. One guy produced a flask, and we shared some schnapps which tasted like grappa. I took a picture of the girl for her. She said it was lonely skiing by herself, but I didn't understand the whole story as to why she was doing that. "Better than staying home," I chirped. Heh.
I hiked down from the top, snapped into the skis and enjoyed a pretty nice descent. The snow was so much better. Man, I hate breakable crust! Happily none of that here today. There were so many people it had become like a prepared ski slope, with extensive mogul-fields. I picked my way through, soon back at the car.
The Karwendel Mountains from the Lampsenspitze
It was early, so I decided to climb some easy ice if it looked okay. I read about a climb near my village called the Bafflfall. It was two pitches of WI3-. I parked and made the short walk. It looked good! Hiking up to the base, I decided not to take anything...just my gloves, helmet, crampons and tools. It was late in the day, and too warm, so sections were weeping with water. I could avoid the worst of that with some steeper lines. The ice had that "hero" quality it gets when it's too warm...the tool just thwocks deep into the ice with one swing. I like that better than cold climbing, when plates shatter off and it takes 2, 3 or 4 swings to get a secure bite. Still, the warm ice is probably a bit less trustworthy.
The first pitch felt pretty long. After 40 meters was the crux vertical section. It wasn't very long, but there was a lot of air tugging at me. I planned moves carefully, feeling a little nervous only once when I ended up kind of contorted between two pillars, and had a hard time getting a good stick with the left hand. "Take your time!" I said, reminding myself that both feet and one tool were quite secure. Thwock, kick, kick, thwock. I emerged on a snowy ledge which divided the two pitch climb.
I had the option to walk off here, but continuing on almost looked easier. The second pitch had the best ice in a shady constriction where a wall overlaps part of the waterfall. Outside of that it was thin with water running over and underneath. Ugh. I crabbed into the shady chimney, trying to keep my gloves dry even as my picks broke through and created little waterspouts. But it was still good enough.
This was great. My tiny pack, far below, and even lower, the road with cars going by. Mountains all around. Just me with the sound of good sticks in the ice. I was glad no one else was here, though I saw evidence of ice screws from some hours before.
The climb over, I walked off to the left. The "walk off" required using tools in frozen mud, descending a fixed line and some nerve-wracking cramponing on cliffy slopes.
Back at the pension, I discovered they had a whirlpool bath. Score! I soaked for a while. I just wish it had been warmer. The owner had built a beautiful "krippe" (nativity scene). I took a few pictures of it. I hung out a while in the "Alm-bar," a great 1970s basement bar. He said that no one uses it anymore, everyone just wants to watch TV at night. He used to make a lot of money from people celebrating down there and ordering beer and schnapps. Kind of sad!
A scene from the Krippe in the pension...
What to do tomorrow? I feel tired, it'll take some discipline to get out for another ski tour! Some ice would be nice but I'm leery of doing too much of it. Soloing is still soloing and I don't plan to make a habit of it. I definitely wished for a partner to do some WI4 climbing! Maybe next weekend!
The day added up to about 1500 meters elevation gain/loss with the ice climbing thrown in.
Day Three: Rietzer Grieskogel and "Kaiser Max"
I'd never done anything in the little mountain group on the north side of the Kühtai ski resort. The Rietzer Grieskogel, at 2800 meters or so elevation seemed like a good high peak to look north across the Inn to the Mieminger Kette and Karwendel mountains, as well as get a good view back south to the Sellrein, which is truly my "ski touring home."
The hike in is almost right at timberline, you spend a few minutes among trees, then make a long journey back into a cirque with a high plateau called the Narrenboden. People had opportunistically skied every bit of clean snow around here, leaving nice curving lines. But with the southerly aspect, and too many days without fresh snow, it seemed less pleasant to go hunting that way. I followed tracks into the Narrenboden, then across and up to a hidden basin below the West Ridge of the Rietzer Grieskogel. I skied up to the ridge, where the wind was merciless and nearly knocked me over. I made the hike along the ridge to the summit. This took about 20 minutes, but was well worth it. Hiding behind a rock, I could spy out at all the mountains around. This is the best view peak around. Some of the views are 5000 feet deep into the Inn Valley. And I never saw the Mieminger Kette so completely. Sadly I left my camera in the car for this one, though I made a poor movie with my iPod Nano.
The ski down was really fun in the upper half. The lower part was kind of "meh" as you mostly traverse an icy valley slope. Back at the car I drank some tea and ate a sandwich. What to do now?
I decided not to climb more ice because the rest of the easier falls in the area required rappel descent and I didn't have a rope. So I drove down to the sunny Martinswand, put on my helmet and harness, and climbed the "Kaiser Max" via ferrata. I'd done it once (or twice?) before after a ski tour, finding it good exercise but uninspiring from a climbing or wilderness point of view. It felt about the same today.
The best part was in the "crux." I was resting on my harness, halfway through the vertical-to-overhanging 40 meter wall when a 60 year old man came down unsecured to the steel cable. He stopped to chat a while, and tell me he does this once a week, "and fast on Sundays." Later, on the descent I met a girl who had wisely chosen to go up this easier way because she had a heart injury that occurred when she works too hard. I told her that her easier way was actually more aesthetic anyway. It's hard to get excited about doing pull ups on a steel cable, when off to the side people are actually climbing rock!
Climbers on the Martinswand
It would be quite a job to work at this quarry, wouldn't it?
But the views were good, I'd gotten in some good exercise, and could go home happy. I have to say I'm really happy I learned ski touring. However you get out in the winter is great, but this particular activity gets you in and out of remote backcountry lightning quick.