DAY 17 – CLIMBING THE WEIβSEESPITZE 3,526m
Got up early; 05.00 kind of early. It’s not so early really. Not for a mountain day. We would prefer to leave the hut at 05.00. The snow and ice are often safer. However, The Austrians will have no truck with such soft talk and refuse to provide breakfast before 06.00 and having paid, wait for it… €116 (!!!) for the 2 of us for each of our 2 nights in the hut we were going to eat as much breakfast as possible and stuff what we couldn’t eat into our pockets.
Our aim therefore was to be ready before breakfast then first in to breakfast and away a.s.a.p. Ah, we can but dream of such efficiency.
Our aim for the day is the the Weiβseespitze (pr: Vice-see-schpitzer), 3,526m with a guide book ascent time of anything from 2 – 3 hours from the Brandenburger Haus and a total ascent height of a mere 400m across the huge Gepatschferner gletcher [Glacier].
- Bad news: Away from the hut at 07.40 (must try harder next time)
- Silver lining: 2 groups ahead of us with same goal in mind.
Having 2 groups ahead of us means that there ‘should’ be a trail to follow which makes crossing the almost 4 km of glacier much easier and a fair bit safer because they can fall into any hidden crevasses on our behalf and we can simply step carefully around the person shaped holes. However, the previous day had seen high temperatures. This melts the snow removing most traces of any trail that previous parties may have made. Then it had rained heavily. This removes all traces of a trail and turns the snow into a nightmare of peaks and troughs. Then it all freezes. The French have a name for this type of snow which I don’t remember. I have a name for it which can remember but can’t print. Do let me know the name if you are privy to it. I promise to instantly forget it and stick with my own.
These peaks are solid, frozen snow. When you stand on them you barely make an impression so following someone else’s track is almost impossible. They range in height from about 12cm to 1 metre and are unevenly spaced. They are hard work and our gentle bimble across the glacier to an easy peak was slowly slipping from our grip.
We did eventually catch up with both groups ahead of us who were struggling through the snow. This may be good for the ego but it means you have to take your turn in front, breaking trail. This is not so good for a number of reasons:
- It is hard, hot work in front. The snow is now starting to melt as the sun is up so every 3rd step now sees you sink up to your knee or thigh in soft snow with the next step being back onto frozen lumpy porridgy stuff.
- If there are any hidden crevasses it will be muggins who falls into them
But do you know the main reason it is hard in front?
3. Because I don’t know the way.
It may seem obvious to you, dear smug reader at home in front of the telly. “Why Mr P,” I hear you say, “…surely you simply head across the white stuff straight at the big white summity thing with the rock and cross on it in the distance. Stop when everything around you goes downhill. Job’s a good ‘un”.
What your oversimplification ignores is the undulations of the ‘white stuff’ of which you speak, which obscure the view of the ‘summity thing’ and you try fixing your gaze on a point 200m ahead of you when everything is the same colour! Also, you can kind of see where crevasses might be and you learn where they hang out in groups; places where the ice falls over a steeper section of ground for example, and you have to go round. Equally you don’t want ANY descent in your route so you often drift off the straight and narrow to avoid depressions. Which can be very depressing (sorry.) Added to this you now have 2 roped parties behind you who also don’t really know the way happily following you assuming you will get it right.
Anyway, long story short, we slowly left the other 2 parties far behind as we forged a route through the worst snow conditions I have ever faced on a clear day. We made it to the summity thing in a mere 3hrs and 15 mins and it was worth every trudging, sweating, slipping and sliding step of the way.
We spent an hour on the summit. We were the 2nd group to arrive and the last to leave.
The return journey was long. For 2 hours the hut was only an hour away. It felt like 3 hours.
It should be quicker back, it’s downhill all the way for heavens sake. It was quicker. By a whole 15 minutes. Another long day but what a day.
Weird thing on the way back. A woman, sat alone on a section of ice in a sea of snow. She had been left there by her roped group as she felt unable to get to the top. She must have been there for at least 2 shivering hours. She looked like she was waiting for a bus. This is not recommended practice. There are no buses. We offered her a ‘lift’ but she seemed quite happy to wait for her party to pick her up on their return. For those of a nervous disposition she was seen alive and well in the hut later that day.
DAY 18 – WHY DIDN’T WE COME IN THIS WAY?
Since a picture paints a thousand words I think I will insert a few here to illustrate the astonishing and varied walk out. Save me some ink (for our younger readers, ink is a magic, liquid substance for making marks on paper. Paper is… Oh, for heaven’s sake! Google it.)
It worth saying a little bit about the Brandenburger Haus at this point and considering what a feat of engineering and willpower it was and still is.
It was conceived in 1903 and built between 1905 and 1909. All materials to build it had to be taken up by animals as far as the glacier and humans beyond that. Everything. Tables, chairs, stoves, pots and pans and all the wood, nails, tools etc. Admittedly they had a lot of rock on hand for the walls but, everything else. They even had to build a path up as far as the glacier because one did not exist. Amazing.
Tmorrow look out for tales of daring do as we laze about in a campsite doing nothing.
Spoiler alert: Nothing happens.