Well this was it. It was time to go prime time. We thought that winter was coming to an end and as I had planed for the #biwipowpoject the “last” trip of the season would take us to the next level. After having a look at possible destinations and going trough the list of descents that seemed far off in the next season the conditions started to change rapidly. It was dumping as hell above 2.500m in most parts of Tirol. April was here with lots of unexpected freshies and we had all but one more big goal for the season. To ski the second highest peak of Austria. The Wildspitze.
It was one of those trips that I will remember for a long time. This time was for real. The setup was pretty good. We would head to the Pitztal ski resort and take the gondola to about 2.500m and then leave the ski area towards the big glacier of the Wildspitze. The weather forecast was not that good for the first day so we would setup base camp somewhere between 2.800 – 3.000m. This time we would also make a snow cave and use the tent as backup. Since the Charintia gear had arrived we would be able to have a bit more manpower. I picked up Gašper in my new Kegl Airlines “Ocitaviajet3000”, made a detour to Maribor to sell the old “Vectrajet2000” and off we were. Late on a Friday evening we arrived in Innsbruck. There was Flo, my good old buddy from the rollerblading days and pro Hocey player, Alex the Beer shaping legend and all good Burton guy, Phil the skier dude, Manuel the splitboarder and of course my Japow buddy Gašper from home. Even before the start our crew was chill.
Not to early on a Saturday we were off. First things thou it was time to pack smart. I had upgraded my cooking setup to a Pinguin Aura gas cooker. The thing can bring water to 100 degrees in just a few minutes and as we would find out later it had enough gas in one cartridge for 6 people worth of food for two days. In short we would test it in an excessive use scenario. Then the sleeping bags. Since the Carinthia stuff had arrived we would be adding three more sleeping bags to our gear list:
- D400 with an XP Top cover – A top of the line ultra light super compact bag with a characteristics comparable to the HL Silver pro but superlight with only 670g (jup that is not a typo) and more compact but not with welded seams. The XP top is a GLOFT filled outer cover that gives additional insulation and in itself is a sleeping bag up to around 0 degrees. I was eager to test this system together to see how well it isolates the down from humidity. The D400 has a comfort of around -7
- G350 – Carinthia has a special artificial nano filling called GLOFT. This is the allarounder bag that is a really good for anything. Also it isolates so well that you might not even need a matt. It`s rated for comfort at -15 degrees.
- G490x – This is a multiple award winning sleeping bag. It`s rated for -20 degrees comfort. Like the G350 with that much isolation you might not even need a isolation Matt. The outer shells of both are Peritex material so it will hardly pick up any moisture and even if it drys super fast. In our use scenario there was no need to dry any of the bags.
So added to the Ferrino HL Sliver Pro and the Nightec 800s we would all be testing a lot of different bags. I was really interested what the boys would say and if we would all sleep well. Also for the first time we would be making a snow hole. And it would have to be a big one since we were 6 people.
We would also take the Ferrino Snowbound 3 tent but as we had originally planed this time we would set it up as a backup. For the primary base camp we would have to dig out a snow cave big enough for 6 people and have the tent ready as in case of emergency.
We also had quite a lot of climbing gear with us for the ascend to the top so in order to keep the load nice we used a little snow sled to carry some of the additional gear and we also fixed the tent bag to it. On our way up we exchanged it to share the load. For something that is a kids toy it proved to be quite useful. We also packed rations for a bit more then the two days we had planned in case we had to remain for longer. It consisted mostly of noddles and Ramen, Fruttabela power bars and some liquids. The motto was to keep it light. Skiing gear added an we were ready to go. We took the cable cars to the resort boundary and were soon descending towards the glacier.
Day 1 – Setting up camp
The weather forecast was not that great for our first day. Since day two would be complete bluebird we were kinda banking on that for our early ascend. We had a bit of a overcast with pockets of blue coming trough from time to time. It was a high overcast so at least we were not getting fogged in. The day before we planed out our route and with the help of google maps spotted out three possible sites to put up our base camp. Depending on the conditions and how fast we would move we would pick the spot.
The first one was at around 2500 m just at the base of the big glacier. It would be the option we would choose at the least favorable conditions. The second was a bit higher at 2800 and if we were really into it the third would be at around 3200. That was the high option. Bering that high that one would probably prove to be the most problematic for sleeping since we were not that adapted to high altitude. Generally everything up till 3000m should be ok if you are reasonably fit but until you do it one will not know. I learned that lesson at the Ferrino Highlab at 3500 m where I made a bad mistake of leaving my head uncovered over the night at -7 and had quite a groggy morning awakening.
As we were going higher and higher and were making really good time it was soon clear. We would press on to the highest possible option. That gave us the added bonus of being closer to the Wildspitze peak and it would cut our morning ascend by at least a good hour and a half. It basically guaranteed that we would be the first attempting the peak in the morning. Exactly what we wanted.
When we arrived at the spot it was time to pick the detail site to dig the snow hole. The whole glacier was really well covered and there were not all to many crevasses. We picked a spot that was not to far off the well established track yet far enough away from any steep that might expose us to unforeseen avalanches. When we picked the spot the first thing we did was mark the perimeter area of the camp with our probes. It would make sure that no one wonders off to far or falls into a crevasse in case of a fog out. Then we started digging our holes. While doing that we also setup the backup tent and put some of our gear in there.
Digging the holes took quite some time. First we dug a lowered passage way that would keep us safe from any possible wind. Then we dug three holes perpendicular one next to the other. Once these were done we connected the three holes to ensure a good airflow. It was quite a lot of work but we were finished way before nightfall. We toasted to our success with some good whisky but after all that digging hunger was setting in. it was time too cook.
I duplicated the great kitchen setup Jan and I had setup the week prior on Soriška planina. This time thou the upgraded Aura Cooker making water from snow was a breeze. Alex being the mountain man he is had his own version of a cooker. It was cooking paste and a self constructed pot with undercarriage. A thing that looked like it would work even if you lit it up on mars :).
We made a few rounds of pasta and Ramen. Farley blend food but Alex did quite the gourmet opposite. Fine rice with pumpkin seed oil. Yummy :). As the night kicked in the sky cleared up and finally after a long time we were able to see the stars again. Who needs a five star hotel if you can have a million stars for free in nature. We enjoyed the scenery and then hit the sack. After all we would kick of our ascend at 4.30 am.
Day 2 – claiming the wildspitze
I woke up wrapped into my D400 in the XP-Top right when the alarm rang. It was 4.30 am. My sleeping bag was nice warm and cozy. I did not not want to get up 😛 I had a mild headache from the altitude but it was nothing compared to my experience at the Monte Rossa. I was all good :). By now we knew that we had setup our base camp at 3300m, a bit higher then highest target. We started getting up and ran into the first problem. Getting our ski boots on.
It had been quite cold in the night. It was -15 and since we had build our snow cave as direct holes they did not keep that much heat. Our sleeping experiences were mixed but no one was freezing so we were ready to go. Sure the altitude did it`s thing but it did not take a big tool on our team. That was better then I had expected. Still it was obvious that the few of us that had already slept at altitude were adjusted. You learn this with practice. One of us for example did not put anything under his feet so he did not sleep that well.
As we had left our boots outside our sleeping bags and the cold the plastic contracted it was quite a challenge to put them back on. Since my Salomon Quest 90s have a relatively soft flex and are really comfy I managed without to much of an issue, so did Flo and Phil, but Gašper with the Quests at 120 flex and with his foot a bit wider had less luck. After fiddling for half and hour even cutting himself he had to give up. He would not make it to the peak of Wildspitze on that day.
When we got out of our hole the stars were still looking at us from above but you could see the onset of the new day. Since it was cold and relatively humid all our gear was basically frozen shut so it was a bit of a problem to get the bindings to open on the skis. Temperature is a big factor in these things and nature was teaching us a lesson. When we were almost ready to go we started collecting our probes that we had used to mark the base camps perimeter. All of them were stuck and we basically had to dig them out.
We lost a lot of time with these little ‘details’ and so we left the camp almost an hour later then we had initially planed out. We wanted to be at the peak on sunrise. Still it was quite a long way to go to the base of the north wall that we would have to climb to reach the peak. We were getting slower and slower the higher we got. The altitude was getting to us. We crossed the long flat glacial plateau. Made our way up a steep part of the glacier with very deep crevasse and finally made it to the stony north ridge. As we were gaining altitude the temperature was dropping.
My gloves were not doing me any favors as the temps hit -20. Approaching the stony final ascend I was reluctant to put on my crampons. I preferred merely my Ice axes. My feet were sore from my heavy ski setup and I knew that there was no room to make wrongs steps from here. The ice axes were for me the better support mechanism. That was the right choice but it came with a price. Since the temperature had fallen so low the metal on the axes was becoming very cold. Combine that with my frozen gloves that was not very pleasant.
The continued ascend went quite well despite the altitude thou I thought. The route was quite frequented and you had to be very careful with your steps. There was no room for error here. The key point was just under the peak. A protruded bolder that one had to cross to make it to the top. Using my ice axes I made it across and so climbed the peak. We were the first on that day. We enjoyed our victory but the best part was yet to come.
It had snowed on on the first day and a good 10-15 cm had covered the icy west flank. We had eyed it on our way up. It was truly a nice steep run. Fresh just for us. Ready and waiting for us. Without further words check out Flos GoPro footage of the line in his season edit.
With our goal claimed we made it back to the camp. As we descended we noticed that we had adapted to the altitude. It was still early when we returned to the camp. Gašper was already awake making breakfast. We decided to stay for the rest of the day and enjoy perfect sunshine.
As a lot of touring skiers were heading towards the peak we had already claimed we put our sleeping bags outside and made a chill area 🙂 Alex even started building a kicker over the camp but when he was finished everyone was to exhausted to actually take a shot at it. As the day progressed we packet up and descended the 15 km descent into the back valley to finish our adventure.
We learned a lot of thing on this trip. Small details that make a lot of difference. I also noticed that, like with normal powder skiing my packing for these trips had improved substantially. Bear necessities. Take what you know you will need and not all to much more. As with everyone single one of these adventures here a few tips:
- Make sure to pack well. Less is more specially when you go high altitude.
- Make sure not to leave your snow boots outside. Take the liner out and put it in your sleeping bag for drying.
- Don`t leave to much stuff outside in the full cold. Your bindings will freeze up, your skins will collect and Ice layer and your probes will get stuck in the snow 😛 Keep it tidy.
- The more you do before sleep the less you will have to do once you get up.
- Take a second pair of gloves.
- Kids sleds can be a cool additional transportation device.
With our third adventure successful the basic plan for the project for the 15/16 season was complete. But with a lot more snow on the horizon and motivation high and this was only the beginning. Encore time :). A week later Jan and I headed to Kaunertal on a whim to do another awesome line. One I had lined up for a long while 😛 More on that in the next post.