Hochfeiler Northwall 55° 3509m #betweentwoworlds - Last winters final adventure

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Since winter is having us wait I took a bit of time to revisit  and reflect on the end of last seasons adventures. As it was winning down, after a few substantial changes in my season plans I saw it fit to end it on a high note. At the beginning of the season a list of goals for a new project that involved steep lines was made. Things often do not go as planned, but regardless of that, I was gonna do a few of them. The “Between two worlds” project was going to go forward :).


Inspired by steep ascends that border between the world of the horizontal and steep vertical, the challenge of climbing icy and technically rocky faces that one then descends on two planks, searching for the feeling of complete controlled exposure to nature… The idea of looking for that elusive line in a state of balance on the razors edge…. hopefully not going over it at some point. It is hard to explain. One of my older posts deals with this fascination in more detail.

Might sound a bit poetic but somewhere deep inside my subconscious a passion has been brewing a long time to get to these place. When I was small I always wanted to be an astronaut and explore the furthest reaches of our solar system. Cheesy I know 😛 I guess going to these remote places, showing to myself that it is possible, on pairs of skis instead of a space shuttle, is damn near perfect in my book.

A WEATHER WINDOW OPENS UNEXPECTEDLY

So on a Thursday in the last week of May 2018 a goal I had put down in the new project list was doable. I had seen it a long time ago in the second episode of the now Iconic Reinhold Messner TV show “Between heaven and earth”. I was fascinated with this wall ever since I had seen parts of it from the Hintertux glacier ski resort behind a huge lake. Little did I know back then that this was the tallest north facing ice wall of the eastern Alps. On the border of between Austrian Tirol and the Italian Osttirol. Researching the route would take us from a Brenner sidevalley from Osttirol. We would then rest at a biwak and try a early morning ascent. We would have to be on top early. It was May already after all.

The weather was supposed to be super and it was still relatively cold. It would be around 0 degrees and the G. Messner-Hochferner Biwak *haha :P* where we would sleep. As for the crew I called up my riding buddy Flo with whom I have been doing the sickest stunts since our rollerblading days back in 2005. A few weeks earliere we had done a really nice tour in the Stubai valley and a sweet Biwak in a storm in Obergurgl and another goal that will be the subject of the next post :P. I had also sparked one of Slovenians cooler snowboarders attention so Matevž Maček and his cousin Luka Čadež would be joining in on the fun. Maček would ascent the whole thing on his split-board with snowshoes while the rest of us would settle for our steep light touring and climbing gear.

SLEEPING AT THE G. MESSNER HOCHFERNER BIWAK

After a six hour drive we arrived at the end of the valley. We were not hungry after stooping at my favorite pizzeria: Tempel near Silian on the AT-IT border. The first rule of business would be to get ready for hiking and carrying a TON of gear on our backs. Being May, it was around 20 degrees in the valley. In my now really messed up Salomon Trailrunning shoes and board shorts with 25 kilos of skis, skins climbing gear, boots, clothing, food and my kitchen on my back, we ascended the first 800 hm passing cows feeding on green grass.

As we were mowing up more and more of the Hochferner (not the to be mixed with our goal the Hochfeiler) Ice glacier, a popular and challenging mixed climbing route, was visible too. One day I will do that too ;). As we arrived at the biwak we were surprised. The hut was almost full. We were lucky to get sleeping places. A few people who arrived late had to camp out. If need had been we were equipped for that option too.

As night fell we prepared food, stored our gear in the back off the biwak in a wind shielded space. We also meet a few cool Germans and  Englishmen IAFM guide with his client .Two of the Germans came late and set up their sleeping bags next to the biwak. They had also brought a whole beer palette up with them. The stars were out but it was getting quite cold and windy. The chill atmosphere with the beer and good company made us stay up late. It was not before midnight that some of us got to bed. Our plan was to get up at 4 am and start at dawn. They days were long already so we would not be in the dark for long in the morning.

As we went to sleep the wind was singing a soothing howl around the biwak box for the whole night. I loved the howling of the wind. It sung me into a nice and deep slumber. Then a hour to early some of our involuntary compatriots decided to start of super early. It was the guide with his client. The biwak was small so we got up earlier too. I have a hate love for getting out of bed while biwaking. My warm sleeping bags embrace exchanged for cold and humid damp air. One also has to get dressed quickly. Cold hands and cold feet. Outside the air was so fresh. Makes one feel so alive. I had brought eggs with me. A nice morning omelette to start a long day would make for a really sweet breakfast. Thanks to my fancy Kadatyne Optimus coocking gear that would be done in a breeze. In the outdoor every little luxury is really a luxury.

THE ASCENT

According to my Suunto Spartans uploaded GPS map, we would still have to make about 1300 hm ascent and a good 18 km round trip to make it back to the biwak. It would be a long one since would would have to change gear often for ups and downs along the way. We left all of the unnecessary stuff in a bag behind the biwak. Still in darkness, it was time to start our ascent. Just as the sun rose we arrived at the first ridge to witness a beautiful and warm sunrise. Then the first surprise. We would not be skiing down the first culi. It was just to messy. I was never a fan of climbing down especially when I  have skis with me 😛 Still after a good 15 minutes we were on the first glacier. We also caught up with our early birds from England. The guide was talkative but the client looked a bit tired. We opted for a faster tempo so we proceeded alone. As this glacier was stable and there were no visible crevasses we did not need to rope up. Quite a few people had traversed this in the last week so safety was better then I had expected.

As we were skinning up Maček decided it would be better to use the snowshoes on the hard icy and avalanche debrie ridden terrain. As we ascended we passed millions of metric tons of fallen snow. The winter had been cold and long. The snow pack had lost a lot of snow in the last week. I was sure now that this was the last option for this ascent until the end of next season.

We passed two crappy exposed sections of slushy snow. No fun. In the distance we could finally see it. The Hochfeiler Northface was almost in front of us. As we navigated the glacier with it´s giant crevasses you could see a big  group at it´s bottom. There were around 20 people lined up for the climb. Orderly they proceeded one after another. Some where even roped up like in the old TV episode I remembered. But this was different from the old days. As alpinism matured and ascend techniques became more advanced so did the approach to climbing steep faces. Gear is light and ergonomic. No bulky stuff. Clothing is sleek and functional. We are faster, leaner and safer.

As we approached the bottom and got ready before starting the 250 m 55° steep climb with ice axes and crampons, we would have to pass a giant crevasse that, like in a lot of steep faces these days, had formed because of the receding main glacier. We ascended in line. Nice and slow. At some point it was almost as if one was standing in a waiting line. The alps have gotten crowded I thought. As much as I was hoping to do a cool solo with my buddies this late in the season, apparently we were not the only people with this idea. At this rate it would take a while before we reached the ridge at the top…

As we came to the top of the wall it was already past noon. We lost a lot of time on the slow last part of the ascent. But before our descent of course we had to claim the peak. The last few meters were so cool. A super exposed ridge with huge drops to both sides. The weather was perfect. It reminded me of our ascent of the 4000 m Castor a few years prior above the Ferrino base camp at the Refugio Quintino Sella at the Monte Rossa.

Then we reached the top. The sight was epic. I also had to hang myself from the top cross again 😛 It was super fun. We were happy smiling kiddos. The climbing goal was achieved. We returned to the ridge for a short break. The line up the face had mostly dissipated. We waited for a little while longer so we could start our descent down the face on our skis and Maček on his board.

THE FUN PART – DOWN WE GO 🙂

As I rode into the face it felt like a giant super steep slope. The snow was still ok thnx to the northern orientation. It was actually still quite hard. Now a bit better then the icy crust on the top we made a nice and slow descent. I was not into doing it in one swoop. After all it had been a long day, and it was the last adventure of the season. Summer was coming up and I had big bike plans already 😛 No point in taking unnecessary risks.

We descended in double teams to stay on the safe side. I liked the face. Except for the big crevasse at the bottom it was a fun ride. But you could feel the spring moving into the high alpine. The lower part was already pretty beaten up. Slabs of heavier snow were going down left and right. It was a mix of cold ice crust and slush on top on the side more exposed to the sun. Fascinatingly a few meters to riders right, in the route of our ascent it was a lot better.

When we approached the bottom of the face a little fun obstacle was waiting. The crevasse line form our ascent. It was quite deep so no fall territory. I lined it up and jumped while a shitload of snow was coming up behind me from someone either ascending or descending behind us. It got my Adrenalin rushing a little. Still my mind was clear. No other thoughts. Just the ride and the goal. Not even it`s end in sight or mind. I really love riding down these steep faces. It is just a different world there. Between this existence and something else entirely coupled with bliss.

We had made it to the bottom. Smiles and high fives all around. Thou our goals were all achieved it was still a long way to go. By now I was starting to feel the strain. My body was aching. I like to pride myself with the fact that even if I am exhausted half way, on skis I can make it back easy. We made it back to the Biwak, were we left the rest of our gear, in good time. After a break and repacking we descended on skis and board as far as the snow allowed. Since it was spring already, and hitting 25 degrees in the valley, it was time to put everything on our back and head back to the the car where we would part ways.

Flo would be heading back to Innsbruck to pack for his summer in East Asia and me and the Maček boys would head back home turbo to catch a basketball game and to be honest, I do not even remember if we made it in time, or who won. What I do remember is the adventure, the good company and the super fun peak and ski descent from a season goal I had thought that, because of a freidnship gone astray, would stay just what it was at the beginning of the season. An idea. Fortunately it did not. And while being there, I spotted a ton of good lines for the coming winter to explore 🙂 Btw. since my caption function in the pics is not working right. Photo credit goes do Flo Graf, Matevž Maček, Luka Čadež and myself :).

Also if you wanna check our route go to my movescount at the links here and here.

Next up as we settle into 2019 season, another tale of a daring steep descent from the end of 2018. This one I actually did not plan on doing this early in my #betweentwoworlds steep skiing project. But we did it anyway with a few new powder firends :)… The Torstein Eisrinne adventure. Up next. Stay tuned !!!

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