As the season enters spring I find myself at odds. It has been a long one. A lot of things have happened. After more then 60 adventures things have gone up and down so often I do not even fathom. Still because of other priorities, mostly people, I neglected a part of my skiing I grew into doing out of a simple sense of adventure. Biwaking and looking for cool lines and peaks with my friends. So with a renewed sense of wonder it is time again to wander outside. Back to the place and the people I had neglected for too long. Tyrol. With Easter upon us at least one outing in my long running #biwipowproject will have to do in 2018. With the sun high and strong, and a storm before easter. I take my bets and head off. Where? Now that is an fun story…
I had all but packed my gear. It was Saturday morning. The planing had been hard. With a strong front moving in for Easter and temperatures all over the place, finding a suitable location for an adventure was not an easy bet. Flo and I had settled on the Dolomites after reviewing a ton of possible destinations. Somewhere between the Drei Zimme, Cortina dam Pezzo and the Marmolada.
But as often this season the base plan just would not have it. While checking the avalanche bulletins for most areas in Italy and at home I was frustrated. It would be level 4 at home and in the Dolomites. Since I had sworn not to be stupid enough do to level 4 again, especially biwaking, we decided to divert to one of our first ideas. Obergurgl. Something in “better” weather and less avalanches yet good terrain and, most importantly. High enough.
Obergurgl is the far most in valley resort of the Ötztal. Very close to the Italian border and also very high. The projection saw a good 40-50 cm of fresh coming down on Saturday through the night with one issue. A issue that is a constant problem here next to the sharkynes of the terrain is wind. With gusts up to 70 and wind speed constants somewhere between 30-50 km/h it would be quite extreme. The temperatures would hit -15 so with the added windchill it would be fun to test our sleeping bags for comfort limits.
While I was in transit trough horrible Easter traffic, having to circumvent almost all freeways to make it to Tyrol six hours later we decided to make the whole thing more interesting. We would make a three day biwak instead of two and take off as soon as I arrived. Since I was late we would be setting up our biwak in the middle of the night. Extreme time :).
THE NEEDLE IN THE HAYSTACK
It was already around 1900 hours when we drove up to the parking lot of the Obergurgl skiresort. Since I had left in the morning I had not packed my stuff for the departure yet. Snowfall was picking up with the wind so the first thing to do was to change and get all the stuff I would need for three days into my backpack while it was dumping all out in the open at the back of my car. Undies in windshill… jummy. I also packed a fresh gas cartridge.
We were three warriors. Flo, whom I have known since our rollerblading days back in the austrian agressive inline scene and Paul, who Flo knew and had done quite a few adventures with. I knew he was ok since I trust Flos judgment. We started up. Darkness had creaped in already. I still did not exactly know where our biwaking spot would be since I had not put any coordinates on my Suunto, nore a route. I had explored the Königstal and most of the area in the years before but had not traveled into this back valley yet. The Frewalltal. At its far and, a good 7 km away the Granatenkogel would await. A 3300m high peak with a epic steep north face. The main objective of our little expedition.
I have no pictures of our nightly navigation because the conditions were just to extreme for playing tourist. As we approached the ridge and the snowfall intensified so did the wind. Visibility was almost zero and I had fallen back to runing a breadcrum track recording on my Suunto Spartan to make sure we find our way back in case we got lost. For now the Compas and the GPS seemed to be working.
There was but one navigational point before we entered the valley at around 2200m. The connecting cable car for the two Resort areas. In zero visibility we came in a bit to high but made a ok descent into the valley. A good 5 km from our destination, a old border patrol post in the shear middle before the last part of the valley, we were running on zero visibility. Good for us the valley is not super wide and as long as you know where north and south are you can just continue on until you find something solid in the darkness of the white desert. It felt like an antarctic expedition. Wind blazing and 50 km/h and hour with just white snow blowing into our faces. It was very cold for the last day of march.
A good hour after mistaking a pair of stones for the patrol hut we found it. Flo was leading as he had already been to this part of the valley before. I have known him for years and we always manage to get the best adventures together. His orientation senses did not betray him today either. We had found the needle in the haystack. This would be the place where we would set up camp. Sure it would be easy if the hut were open or had a winter room but it did not.
Fortunately for us on the south side in the wind shadow a giant mountain of snow had been blown up and compressed. Just the perfect consistency to build a snow hole in. Still the hut was small and with the high wind it was not giving a lot of protection.
We started digging. Soon it was apparent, that we would not all fit into it. Flo volunteered to sleep out the night testing his Charinthia D600 down sleeping to comfot limits while myself and Paul would use the snow hole.
This was Pauls first winter biwak so he got the extreme -44,9 degree limit Catinthia G490x sleeping bag. I stayed in my standard ultra portable setup. The Carinthia D400 light and a XP Top for cover. Since it was around -15 and wind I was interested in how well the combo would work since the base comfort rating for my light is -7. I do have a few biwaks under my belt and have learned to sleep well but since I had not done any this season I was not sure.
I have learned a lot on taking stupid risks this season so I was not taking any chances. Still we were hungry regardless of the high winds and snow. We managed to cook up a nice bowl of Noodles. I was to lazy to cook after excavating the snow cave but Flo and Paul insisted. And it was a good idea since I had not eaten anything in the whole day except a few nuts that Ana and Bogie gave me in Innsbruck while passing by to pick up the boys. Then finally a bit past 1 am we went to bed.
APRIL MAKES FOR FOOLS
Morning came. I had slept so comfortably. I really love my sleep setup with my little Ferrino Ultra small mattress. In fact I was so comfy that i did not even wanna get out of our snow hole. We woke up and the weather was still a no show. Visibility was crap but it was good enough to make a decent breakfast :). Then we made water. Staying hydrated is very important especially on Glacial terrain. It is the same conundrum as on sea. Surrounded by water, but not accessible.
Then we decided to plan out. According to the report the wind should die down around noon and the sun should come out. We still had no chance of seeing our ultimate goal, the Granatenkogel. Towering at the end of the valley now only a good 2 km away. Ti would be another 800 hm to the top. A few early touring skiers had crossed our camp and were already turning back in the wind and snow. No one would go to the peak. We decided to check the conditions by traversing to a side ridge that forms the border to Italy, the icy Frewalljoch. On its south side the Granatenferner glacier resides.
The snow conditions were really good. Lucky for us the ton of wind pressed the snow so the packs layers were hard but stable. It was good for touring. As we made our way up the weather started to open up. Finally we could see the Granatenkogel. I was getting giddy. There was one way up. a North wall. Nice and steep. First a bit of touring from the left side of the middle flank to the right over exposed terrain. That would be a avalanche risk zone. Then towards a narrow chute. The only way to make it up to the ridge. I was already painting my line down the whole thing. In my mind I already had a epic line.
Then we made it to the ridge. In a good 15 minutes the weather switched again to full on storm. I must say that in this season I have become very accustomed to changing gear in extreme wind and snow. We suited up and decided to return to camp and make lunch, then maybe hit another kicker and try our main goal the next morning. The forecast was still on for bluebird on Sunday so we were all eager. But first after food we might want to build another kicker.
The ride back to camp was fun. Soul turns on huge flanks full of snow with not a singe track in them. I love skiing and the freedom in these remote location.I must be felt to be understood. Away from noise, away from the tons of stressed out people doing tons of stuff they really do not need. Surviving in hostile, yet beautiful places like this reduces all of this to its bare minimum. You operate in real time. You solve problems in real time. No batch processing or putting things off. That is a luxury one does not have here. No bullshit. No procastrinating. Just “get it done”.
We came back to camp in full sunshine. Wind was still annoying but the sun was warm. It was April fools day after all. And the sun is already pretty high in April. I had also brought a few bags of super compact Kadatyn Trek-n-Eat food. Here a big thnx to the swiss guys from Katadyne for keeping my belly full and giving me the best kitchen I ever had. My Optimus Vega. In the end at these extreme conditions my Pinguin Aura just was not up to the task. Neither was Flos. I deiced to try Pasta Primavera noodles. Cooked up water, put it in a bag, mixed it up and 8 minutes later I had a full meal that tasted really good. Well a lot better then the noodles I make.
Paul and Flo then decided it was time for more noodles. That is when April made a fool of us. We had depleted the first gas cartridge. I was a bit baffled that it went so fast but still we had made a god 7l of water and had cooked two meals for each of us till now. With the altitude, low temps and the wind I had to run the Vega on Overdrive so with the Butan depleted it was kind logical. We exchanged cartridges. We had a full spare. Our basic planing had been ok on the supply. Two cartridges for two days worth of cooking for 3 people. It would have all been great if the second cartridge did not have a ball bearing defect. The penguin cartridge did not open up. Sure it was full but neither the Penguin Aura nor the Optimus Vega could get gas from it. Paul was already laughing because he had left his spare in the car. Weight after all is a factor when you sleep outside.
That was were it hit us. We went into assessment mode. How much supplies did we have left and would we have enough for the really hard climb on the next day. After all being dehydrated and hungry for a day and to a steep line like that, come back to camp and get back. We had two beers and a good 0.7 l off water left with enough bread for one small sandwich each. With a long cold night in front of us and only me having eaten a trekneat bag Paul and Flo would be hungry.
And hungry is bad for threat assessment and processing. Also the lack of water would mean cramps and exhaustion. I am good at managing dehydration but still not for what we had planed. We were bummed out. We decided to chill in the sun and make a informed decision, but the more we went into the calculation the more we knew. The Granatenkogel would have to wait. This late in the season and 2018 being what it is it seemed to be the better choice. Sometimes you win some, and sometimes you loose some. It is all good for something. At that point we did not know what yet but the next day I would find out. Still this would be the first time I had to break up a biwak without concurring the acclaimed peak :P.
We started packing and made our way back to Innsbruck. But still we had one more day, the one that had the best conditions. And we would not spend it at home. We would head to Stubai Glacier to do a few of the classics before I would start my 6 hour drive back to Maribor.
TROUBLE AT THE DAUNJOCH
Ah the Daunjoch. I love it and hate it the same. Like Krvavec at home it is what I like to call a Mordor peak to me. Don`t get me wrong. It is not the peaks fault. Still in my long mountain travels I have run over a few peaks that seem to have trouble written all over them. The morning was perfect and there was not a cloud in the sky. We wanted to use the noon before midday to score some freshies and the Daunjoch, easily accessible was perfect for that. Score a pristine Hoher Duan virgin pow run and then end to the Hintere Daun to do the Daun north wall. A steep super sexy line.
We did the first part ok. Unlike the report it was super windy at peak altitude again. We did the Hoher Daun scharte first and scored big time. Rock paper scissors got me to do it first. Not hard or anything a sweet powder run for soul turns. Just the thing to warm us up for our primary objective. Then on our second ascend toward Hinterer daun in happened. My right binding popped out while walking. I did not think much of it. Then on a icy traverse overhanging a nasty fall line full of rocks unexpectedly, it did it again. I was freaked out. I almost lost my ski and went tumbling. Then I remembered that I had a issue I forgot on my last day with Jan at Begunjščica. My confidence towards my gear was bust.
I was pissed. We made it to the top and the only thing going trough my head was this. Can I trust this thing to hold the steep North wall. The answer was of course no. After another involuntary puck out. I had to face it. There would be no steep line for me today. I talked to Paul and Flo as they got ready to drop in the steep chute. The conditions were epic. And looking form above I was disappointed. But I know when to say “not now” and this was one of this days. Once in a lifetime, you put the gun down and walk away :P. I tired to take a lower route to the north but 400 hm lower I had to turn back and go back to the top. More soul turns. Back at the Hinterer Daun peak ready to drop again pluck … and this time I had to run to stop me from loosing my ski. Not cool. Really not cool. I went into redundancy mode and skied down like your grandma on the way we came up.
Back at the car I had mixed feelings. It was a fun day but still with a bit of sour after taste. 2018. Still I thought to myself. Maybe our gas ran out for a reason. What if I would drop from the Granatenkogel and my ski just ejected. I did not even want to think it trough to the end as a cold shiver ran down my spine. Still I was in one peace and we had 3 days of epic adventure behind us with a lot of new experience points. All in all more plus then minus 🙂