#biwipowproject 5th trip – Stubai Alaska Our best lines of the winter are ridden in May

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After our adventure at Kaunertal it kept on dumping. With a good weather window of almost three days coming up in between the extended dump in the Stubai valley, we were determined to do a few more steep lines while biwaking outside. The #biwipowproject was still not over. This time we would stay for three days at Stubais Ferner Glaicer or, as I like to call it Stubai`s mini Alaska.

It was a late Thursday. Jan and I had had a rather long drive from Ljubljana. It was raining hard all the way trough the alps. We were somewhat tired. We had discussed a rough plan for the adventure on chat over the previous days but with work being work, and “grown up life” being just that, aka a pain in the ass, our plan was pretty rough. Basically after my extended weather analysis we were sure we had a good window at the area of the Stubai valleys Glaciers. Temperatures would be around -5 to -10 and after extended snow we were looking at two days of bluebird with almost no wind. All in all it looked good.

Powder-hunters assembled. This time it would be Flo, Alex, Jan and myself.
Powder-hunters assembled. It would be Flo, Alex, Jan and myself. Also no backup tent this time. We were confident.

What we were not so sure about was where to setup base camp. Initially we considered two spots. My first thought was to go into the Daunjoch direction. We knew the area pretty well and there were a few safe spots there at the pass bellow the peak. Also good lines were plenty. But they were not the hard technical variety. It would have been the “safe” playground.

Flo on the other hand had a better idea. His location was way to the north. The Ferner glacier and the crazy Alaksa like lines that were in the north wall of the Pfaff. These were the technical lines with the steep that we dreamed off in our wet powdery dreams. Conditions permitting that would be the optimal choice. I am told that good riding conditions for these are rare. Even with a good forecast claiming these lines would be quite a gamble. As we were driving into Innsbruck late that day we still had not decided. So it would be a last minute thing at the parking lot before we setting off the next day. Arriving in Innsbruck Flo was already half asleep. Jan and I occupied the couch and dreamed of the lines to come.

I slept well but was awake first light when morning came. Motivated we grabbed a quick breakfast, picked up Alex. With all the gear in tow, Kegl Airlines Octaviajet 3000 was off once again into the great unknown. As we arrived the weather was ok. It was not super sunny, but it was ok. Something we could work with. As we took the gondola up we surveyed our options. North to South. Which one would we choose. After comparing the terrain we could see from the cable car. It was a quick decision. We would head to the Ferner and try to do the Mini AK-like lines at the Pfaff. After all we had a three day window and the forecast was still stable.

Day 1 – Basecamp

We arrived with all our gear in tow at the Ferner glacier at noon. The sun was shining full powder but the snow was still staying fluffy. For the basecamp we would have to find a nice spot that was not all to exposed to the possibility of spontaneous avalanches. That meant it would have to be in somewhat of a shade and have some natural obstacle.

Under the wall we were scouting for our biwak location.
Under the wall we were scouting for our biwak location.

Luckily we found a nice area a short jump from the entry to the line of the Hoher Pfaff. We saw three skiers already  on their way up. Since it was late the snow at the top had already started to give way. Sluff avalanches were forming. A short while later they had to turn around. It was just to steep and the fluffy snow made the ascent hard. Good for us thou. That meant that the line would remain prestine for our attempt the next morning. Since we saw the conditions at noon deteriorate we would have to start early. But first we had a basecamp to build.

There it was right before us. Like in a dream.
There it was right before us. Like in a dream.

As we were staying at an altitude of about 2600 m on the glacier with a good snow cover, this time would be the first time we would try to stay for three days and without a backup tent. We also wanted to make a snow hole that would last and not make the same mistake we had on our previous trip to the Wildspitze at Pitztal Glacier. We would have to dig deeper and make a entry point that would keep some of the warmer air in the cave. Ideally the temperature in the cave would be at around 0 degrees.

We started digging an soon noticed that we were a bit off the glacier on a rocky plateau. That meant the snow cover was not as deep as we had hoped so we left only about a meter of snow above our heads. We also dug the cave a bit to small and had to excavate side tunnels for our long feet to lie comfortably. What we did not know by then was that the ceiling would slowly becoming lower. The warm temperature inside the cave at night and the strong sun from the outside by day would take a toll on our construction later on. Three of us would sleep in the big snowcave while Alex prepared a tunnel to the side of our “cook and chill trench”. I was very happy with that one. It was kinda like in a WW1 movie, deep enough to shield us from the wind that picked up substantially during the evenings.

At least one line a day. We did the kleiner Pfaff here.
At least one line a day. We did the kleiner Pfaff here.

As we were putting the last touches on our camp the first ideas for kickers and drops were already going trough our heads. And of course, even thou it was late already we would do at least one line on day one. We headed up above our camp past a few glaciers towards the Kleiner Pfaff. When we set out it was still nice and sunny. Half way up that started to change. The wind was picking up and some nasty cloud cover started to annoy us. When we arrived at the top we were in the clouds. You could barely even see the other side. We descended one by one in the bad light. On our way down we found a interesting little drop just above our camp. Flo of course had to try it first 😛 how that ended you can see in the picture.

Back at camp the sun came out again. As it was going down the light was becoming more and more perfect for one of those evening shots you see in so many powder movies, mostly thou at the same location at Folgefonna in Norway. Alex wanted to use that and I took another great picture. Dragging the big camera up started to pay off. The atmosphere was really chill. As the sun began to set it was already 8 pm and it was time to cook.

Alex doing a picture book sunset turn near the basecamp.
Alex doing a picture book sunset turn near the basecamp.

Again my little Pinguin Aura came in handy. Like the previous weekend at Kaunertal Jan and I had brought a bit of home specialties with us. This time it was Prebranec and Jota. It is true that I am not a big prebranec fan because of the beans, but nevertheless it is powerfood and with all the non stop action power is what we needed. With the stars showing us the milky way it was time to go to bed.

The camp.
The camp.

This time we switched it around with the sleeping bags. Again I was set on the D400 and the XP Top. If we build the cave right this time the temperature would be a lot higher then in Pitztal.  Flo would change the WTS Silver Pro, a high performance down sleeping bag with the G-Loft filled G350. It would be interesting to see how he would sleep. Jan on the other hand kinda stuck to the Ferrin Nightec 800. He really seems to like that one 😛 Soon after we were all snoozing with the timer set to 4 am.

Day 2 – the best line of the year

The alarm came quickly. It was 4 am.  My sleeping bag was nice fluffy and warm. I turned around and Flo was already moving. Hyped he wanted to start as quickly as possible. I was lazy. I turned around yet again to face Jan. The look on his face let me know he was thinking the same thing I was. I don`t wanna get out of my sleeping bag just yet. The D400 and the Nightec 800 had us firmly in their comfy grip. I told Flo to go out and ask Alex if he also wanted to sleep in a little bit longer. To my surprise he was also on our team. Flo gave up and hushed himself back into the sleeping bag. About two hour later thou we were getting ready. It was time to start the ascend.

As we approached the steep chute that we would have to climb one thing quickly became certain. The wind at night had been strong. All sings of previous attempts at conquering this line form the team of the previous day were gone.  A nice crust had formed at the top. Very icy. As the sun was starting to come out it was changing quickly. Two hours earlier we would not have been able to start. It would have been to energy consuming. This was good and bad at the same time. It also meant we would have a little less time then we thought before the whole wall turned into a avalanche trap.

The way up was quite long and steep.
The way up was quite long and steep.

Jan and Alex pushed forward. Myself and Flo followed. Every step we sank into more snow. Unlike the ascend last week this one was a bit more stable thou and a lot less exhausting for me. We were making good time when we arrived at the upside down Y crossing where he guys who attempted the same feat had to turn around the day before. From there it became a bit harder. The snow was becoming more loose and the stones beneath were slippery. We crossed a bit diagonally and finally after 2.5 hours arrive at the ridge.

After a deserved drink of water. We took it all in. The view was fantastic. With the huge amounts of snow it looked like a warmer January. You could see it all. On one side the resort and all the Peaks and on the other the Zuckerhüttli and the great Glacier. So majestic. And as per usual we were the only once to do it. Happy kiddos.

We had made it to the top. Powder avengers assembled.
We had made it to the top. Powder avengers assembled.

Then it was time to descend. On the previous day we all had analyzed the line possibilities. There were so many. You could do this wall with a Heli all day and still not get them all.

Our team is very diverse. We ride very different styles with Flo and Jan more on the aggressive side and Alex and myself more on the Zen side of the spectrum. I like a good Flow. With that in mind we split into two teams. Jan and Flo would head to a western chute with a nice spine and do two lines there while Alex and I wanted to descend from the Peak of the Hoher Pfaff directly into the main chute and then make our way down from there. Time was of the essence here. The sidewall had already started to drop spontaneous avalanches and we would have to be quick to stay on the safe side. With one team off it was time for Alex and myself to drop.

Checking our lines before the descent.
Checking our lines before the descent with one of the Pfaff peaks in the background.

Alex would go first. The start was a tricky one but it looked nice. There was no room for error. It was steep and narrow with a no fall zone to the right. Alex started and bum… he got stuck. Stones. Lots of them. Loose stones. This would be tricky. We quickly decided to switch places. This would be a bit safer on skis. I would make my way down the loose part and make a way for Alex. Question was only where I could finally let go and start my line. It was not the best of feelings dangling there on my skis slipping a bit to the left and to the right getting stuck on a area the size of a small table. But sometimes it just is like that. At that point you have to bite your tongue and just get trough it. After a good 15 minutes of nerve wrenching I was finally free at an area where I could say drop.

Then the fun part started. I am not going to describe it. In fact it would be quite hard to find the words. Check the video above to see what I mean.

At the bottom we had to pose a bit pro. We were proud. It all worked out :) Best line of the winter.
At the bottom we had to pose a bit pro. We were proud. It all worked out 🙂 Best line of the winter.

At the bottom I looked up. Alex was already on his way and Jan was also dropping his line.Flo came last with 100 km/h.  All of us had giant smiles on our faces. We were happy. Plan was successful. Funny thing was we did not have a single ounce of doubt it would not work out. When I think about it… that is how I always like to do it. ;). We then descended down to the closest hut and Jan and I got ourselves a treat… something we deserved 😛 A good Weißbier and something sweet. A Gernködl. It tasted soooooo good.

Now it was time to chill on "Chill beack 2.0".
Now it was time to chill on “Chillbeach 2.0”.

Beeing pumped of course that was not quite it for the day. Then we started with the mayhem. As it was a nice and sunny day we decided to make a “chill beach 2.0”. We brought all our sleeping bags out and just chilled. It is so cool that teh Charintias have Peritex outer shells. They do not pick up any moisture at all. And being super fluffy, they are just so much better then my couch. Then Jan and Alex build a few kickers. When I wanted to jump thou I noticed something.

I took another classic shot of Alex. "A game of turn and ice".
I took another classic shot of Alex. “A game of turn and ice”.

The line, and the season had taken its tool on my gear. Sure I had it for only the second season but with all the crazy shit we have been doing lately it was only a question of when. Like an old car you know when it really starts falling apart. And so it was with this. My ski boot lost one of its side support screws. It must have happened on the line where the pressure was to great. With the upper part unhinged I would not do any more lines on this trip. I would be lucky if I made it to the bottom on skis. But regardless of that it was turning late and it was time for some more gourmet cooking.

Jota it would be for us while Flo and Alex ate some of Alexes better cuisine. Rice with pumpkin oil. So good power food. I really need to up the value off the food we take with us. The Jota and the Gulasch were great but are rather heavy. But for first day to base camp it does work out. Ramen packs are super practical but just not the best in taste. Weight compromise. Flo also tired some of the sealed bags where you just add water. They seem to be the best solution but the downside is that they are rather expensive. But they are good.

As the day set we enjoyed the peace and quiet.
As the day set we enjoyed the peace and quiet. Not far they were working on the new cable car 24/7.

As the night sky came we went to sleep. But there was a problem with our snow cave. Our construction was good on the temperature side. With our great sleeping bags we slept like babies the day before. There was one problem thou… the ceiling was coming down. In fact it was so low already that you could not sit upright anymore. so less then a meter and a half. I was a little worried. I did not want us to die in a snow cave under tons of snow after doing the best line of the winter.

day 3 – WARPING things up

It must have been very early when I woke up. I looked up and the ceiling was only about 30 cm from my nose. It was dripping from it. It had held. But getting out now would be a problem. It had been really cold tonight. I rolled out of the cave in my sleeping bag. Outside everything was still frozen.

Unlike the shade the sun was hitting us hard again in the morning.
Unlike the shade the sun was hitting us hard again in the morning.

The sun had not quite reached us when I made some more water from snow. Our gas was also running low. Again the little cartridge had worked well. I tucked my skis out of the snow and noticed that the top layer had delaminated in the cold. I would have to fix them when I got home.

Flo, Alex, Jan … we were getting up one by one checking the lines they would do. One more for the last day was the plan. I would have to stay in the camp since my ski boot had given inn. I figured I could use the time to start packing things up and clearing the camp. Then we noticed something interesting. Once the sun came the temperature went way to high. It was  5+ degrees in no time. 20 minutes later the avalanches on west wall were already starting to come down. The snow on the sun was already glowing. Finishing breakfast the guys knew.. no more lines today.

We had slept well in the Carinthia sleeping bags.
We had slept well in the Carinthia sleeping bags.

Our window was closing. We had used it as well as we could. We also survived three days without to much of a hassle. Our workflows were starting to work and the little improvements were really paying off. Not having expected to do all this that late in the season we were not going to push it any further. It was almost middle of May anyway. The season had lasted so much longer then any of us had anticipated. Like every trip we learned a few things more:

  • Do not leave your stuff in the snow cave over the day. It is humid.
  • Sleepingbegs dry super fast if they even get wet. The G350 and GX490 did not even get wet. The Nightec was bit at the feet coz Jan did not use any underlay but dried in a good 10 minutes in the sun. 
  • The XP Top with the Down sleeping bag (D400) works wonders when keeping the humidity away from the down. I love this combo.
  • Do not be lazy. Maintain your snow cave. Snow changes with temperature. Keep that in mind so you will not have your celing come close to your nose.
  • Bring high power food. Those steep ascends eat a lot of energy. Have stuff that replenisches it. Frutabela power bars are excellent before the descent.
  • Check your gear. Doing these things is a bit more on the edge then a regular powder day. Sometimes your gear will fail or have a defect. Factor that in so you make it of the mountain too. 
  • Always take toilet paper.
  • Making a deeper trench for your snow cave is very usfull when it becomes windy. 
  • When you are cold turn up that bloototh speaker and dance to some music while you wait for your food to cook in the dark. Turn off your lights an see the stars as your endless  disco bowl :). Epic.

Packing stuff up we made it to the bottom. At the parking lot it was already +20 degrees and we had to take our shirts off. I think we look pretty hot. Instagram did not think that thou 😛 we only got like 30 likes hahaha. What do you think ? Is our vanity apprechiated XD ?

Bruce Willis style. Shirts off!
Bruce Willis style. Shirts off! After all it was 24 degrees in the Valley.

But with my birthday on the horizon I had one more thing on my mind to finish the whole project in style and have the best birthday ever. A week later we would head to Switzerland for a grand prize victory lap… a long lap… more on that in the next post. 

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