22 Jul to 02 Aug 2004.
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This was a holiday taken by four friends, all of whom are Tour Leaders for Ramblers Holidays. We had wanted a trip to the Alps for some time and, finally, we had managed to fix a date when we were all free.
The day began with a very early start, when we all got a Ryanair flight from Stansted to Salzburg, arriving there early morning. Next we got to Salzburg by bus and took a train to Landeck in the West of Austria. Buses onwards into the Kaunertal were a problem. Whilst there had been a bus up the valley early in the day, now the furthest we could get was to Prutz. Then we had to get a very expensive taxi to take us to the head of the Gepatsch Stausee.
Our target, the Gepatschaus, was the lowest of our huts at only 1928m. The taxi took us right to the hut! This did not seem quite in line with our plans for a near-epic trip. Indeed it seemed quite embarrassing to arrive by taxi at our first hut.
Still, it is surprising how quickly one can forget such embarrassments when the hut is comfortable and there is a rich variety of food on the menu, as-demanded by plebs who arrive on wheels! The matratzenlager was comfortable, the hut was not crowded once the daytime lot had gone and, after a long day, a night in a comfortable bed seemed very welcome.
During the night it rained. It rained heavily. It was still raining in the morning.
This did not look good. When it rains in Austria, you can get really wet and sometimes it can rain for weeks. With gritted teeth we fitted rucksack covers, waterproofs and umbrellas and began the journey to the Taschaschaus. The path was surprisingly small and looked little-used. Also it went up fairly relentlessly to the 3050m Olgruben Joch.
Conditions were fairly warm and we arrived amongst the snow of the joch with it still raining. Happily the rain stopped and we were able to sit surrounded by snow and eat our lunch. Afterwards we hastened to continue and to warm up a little.
The descent was initially down over shattered rock between snowfields. When the rock ran out there was a very awkward transition to the snow, which we achieved in three different ways (leaders!!). Moments after getting on to the snow, I had a minor slip. No problem! I had already got my ice axe out, so all I had to do was get the pick into the snow and apply pressure. I did this; the pick sliced through the soft wet snow like a Stanley Knife! I continued to gain speed. This was certainly not the first time I had used an ice axe brake, but it had always worked beautifully before on harder but steeper snow. I looked down and could see a good run-out on snow, if I could avoid a couple of sticking-out rocks. So I decided to go with it rather than using my heels as a brake. Soon I came to a stop away ahead of the others and considerably wetter. Add it to experience!
We continued down, with the Taschaschaus in clear view below us. There were a few problems fording streams which flowed into the main river. Then a big shock: the remains of the footbridge over the river was just visible in the water below a dangling water pipe. This did not look good, but we continued on down, jumping from rock to rock over various minor side-streams. About level with the hut was a concrete structure which looked like a water collector and there was a good bridge over it. We crossed this with great relief and soon we were in the comfort of the Taschaschaus.
Being a Friday, the hut was quite crowded with weekend climbers. However there was plenty of room and the evening meal was one of the best I have ever eaten in a hut.
The day was wet and the cloud was down low. Of the many plans we had concocted last night, the best seemed to be to do a traverse to the Riffelsee Hütte, even though a visit here had not been part of the original plan. This proved to be an enjoyable route with even a little cable-protected traverse included. Sadly the rain never let-up and we saw little of the valley scenery.
A prize at the end was the Riffelsee Hütte itself. This is a modern building with all comforts and luxuries. In the evening we nearly had it all to ourselves. It is not in a brilliant location for mountaineers, but it must be wildly popular in the ski season.
We set off in light rain, heading down to the Pitztal en route for the Braunschweiger Hütte. The path followed down past a steep attractive stream which splashed merrily over big boulders. The walk to Mandarfen in the valley was on a vehicle track and so was the initial route up towards the next hut. By now the weather was sunny and rather hot. At the head of this little road there was the seilbahn for the hut and a notice offering to carry your rucksack up the 1019m ascent to the hut. Rosemarie succumbed to this delightful offer. This seemed fair enough - she never looks big enough to carry that huge rucksack.
By now the weather had improved a lot and we were walking in the sun and seeking shade where it was available. The path to the hut is fun with lots of mild scrambling on the way up the cliff. We arrived to find the weekend crowd all relaxing on the hut terrace with their beer and preparing to go back down to start work on Monday. We joined the terrace activities with gusto.
We were still in enough time to enjoy the extensive glacier scenery around the hut. Also we were appreciative of the hot showers and the drying room. We could also have a look at our onward route and watch as the evening changed the views of the day's valley.
The weather was good now. We set off up the slope to the joch, although we had the wrong idea of which joch it was. It turned out that the obvious joch above us was the starting point for a traverse to another joch on our right.
This was no problem since the route was fun. Quite a few people had stopped on the ridge to admire the scenery and to take photos. We did the same before setting off down the snow towards the vast brutal-looking ski area below us.
We had been asking quite a few questions at the hut last night. It appears that what we needed to do was to go to the ski centre and find a minibus driver. Then we should get a ride through the road tunnel to the other side of the ridge. We duly did this and I must admit that it was a lot pleasanter than walking through the tunnel would have been. A crossing of the ridge would have long undertaking.
Once through it did not take too long until we were away from human-created turmoil and away along a lengthy traverse towards the Breslauer Hütte. This was a fun path again and the weather was good, offering stupendous views along the Ötztal.
We had intended to continue the traverse all the way to the hut. But, when we found the continuation path, it was not well marked and looked very little used. Since the forecast had a warning of storms, we opted for the lower path. Unfortunately this meant losing a lot of height which had to be regained later on a rather boring 4wd track. Since this was followed by a long steep plod to the hut, none of us felt exactly bouncy by the time we arrived. (I did enjoy a stop along the way where I drank a delicious Apfelschorle)
Again we had a fine traversing route onwards and reasonable weather to enjoy it. We arrived at the Vernagt Hütte early and decided that, rather than explore the surrounding area, we would continue on to the Hochjoch Hospitz.
The hut proved a puzzle to me: neither the building nor its surroundings fitted my memory of it from the 1960's. Happily it was much better than I had remembered and we were given a comfortable room in the basement Winterraum. We did not have to share it, which was probably just as well, since Alun was keen that we worked though the full drill for rescue from serious crevasses and we did that in the said Winterraum.
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