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Anno dazumal Part 3 | Snowshoeing in the Hohe Tauern

Part I - Big names and long descents

by Bettina Larl ÔÇó 01/02/2017
The third article in the Anno dazumal series takes us to the Hohe Tauern at the beginning of the 20th century. Hans Skofizh and Franz Tursky report on tours to the Schareck, Hohe Riffl and Granatspitze in the article "Snowshoeing in the Hohe Tauern" from 1913. These descents were probably some of the first ski descents in the Hohe Tauern.

Snowshoeing in the Hohe Tauern - Part I

by Hans Skofizh and Dr. Franz Tursky

(T.) Barely two decades have passed since news of the first attempts to use snowshoes in the high mountains reached the public. Today, the literature already contains a whole series of descriptions of winter glacier travel, all of which bear witness to the successes that have been achieved in this short period of time. Year after year, the number of those who seek out the ancient state of the pristine, pure and unspoiled that the mountains still retain in winter grows. The aim of this work is to give these enthusiastic fans of alpine snowshoeing a few pointers.

The Hohe Tauern offer the opportunity for a large number of enjoyable snowshoe tours. Mighty, gently sloping glacier streams and mountains that can be skied up to the summit or even high up with gliding boots make them at least equal to their more popular ├ľtztal rivals, which are often inferior to them in terms of scenic grandeur and the length of the descents. The most beautiful and important tours for ski mountaineers in this extensive mountain world are described in the following lines.

Of the accommodations in the Hohe Tauern that are suitable for winter alpine tours, only the Tauernhof in Kolm-Saigurn and, to a limited extent, the Zittelhaus on the Hohe Sonnblick are serviced. In all other areas, winter visitors have to rely on the lonely mountain huts, which are mostly equipped with wood, but not with food. However, the extra work that results from this circumstance is often compensated for by the moral values of independence and freedom, thus regaining some of the adventurous romance that has long been lost to summer visitors: The valleys open to the north, which all end at the railroad lines of the Salzach, deserve preference over the remote, richly branched side valleys of the Drau. Especially the relatively short length and the easy accessibility from the towns on the northern edge of the Alps mean that almost only these accesses are used. For the Goldberg group, the crossing from the Gastein valley, which can also be advantageously organized as a summit tour to the Silberpfennig, is also of importance. Mallnitz on the Tauernbahn is an easily accessible and convenient starting point for tours in the Ankogel group. Only on these routes is it possible to reach high-altitude bases in the individual groups in just one day without time-consuming postal journeys, so that it is also possible to carry out doors that offer descents up to almost 3000 m altitude in just two days.


SCHARECK, 3131 m

(T.) "We won't get another day like yesterday when we climbed the Sonnblick; today we have to hurry if we don't want to miss out on this tour completely", I shouted to my companion as we strapped on our snowshoes outside the front door the next day. The weather was not yet unfavorable, but the westerly wind whipping the clouds up there, the warm air that surrounded us and had already softened the snow early in the morning, were signs that never deceive.

On an already familiar route, we climbed through the "Maschinental" to the new building and then turned towards the Fraganter Scharte via the rock-free, obstacle-free terrain. During the entire ascent, I "marked" the ascent as best I could with the double sections to ensure that we had a fast ride even if envious fog tried to rob us of this enjoyment again. We made our way effortlessly over meters of firn snow with a few hairpin bends, which were also designed to be used for the descent. In front of us lay the Wurtenkees, which descends gently from the firn gable of the Schareck, separated from us only by an insignificant dip. Crossing this, we first headed towards the Weinflaschenkopf and passed below it to reach the summit of the Schareck.

The beautiful view down into the Na├čfeld and the view of the Ritterkopf, the Hocharn and the Sonnblick with its Hochwarte gave me images and impressions that remained deep in my memory. But almost more than the magnificent mountain world, the view of the surroundings and the distant view, the Wurtenkees captivated my gaze. Again and again, I flew over the icy, glistening snowshoe trail at our feet, where no steep step, no rock seemed to disturb the flying descent. There was no more lingering for us, we hurtled off the summit into the dusting snow. Momentum followed momentum, the snow dust whirled up high, the ride became faster and faster, more and more furious, until we finally came to a standstill just below the Fraganter Scharte. We had given up 400 m of altitude in just a few minutes. - We now climbed the short stretch to the saddle, only to start the chasing game all over again on the other side. The trip had captured our senses so much that we didn't even look at the weather and suddenly found ourselves unexpectedly shrouded in thick fog. We stopped for a short break to wait and see if the grayish-yellow haze that surrounded us would lift, but soon decided to continue, fearing snowfall. How pleasant it was now to see the marks marked in the snow with sticks and our ascent tracks, some of which were still clearly visible! Following these signs, we shot down into the completely impenetrable gray of the billowing sea of fog. The new building passed us like a shadow, we whizzed into the Maschinental valley in a great glide; then a few more swings and bends and the valley floor was reached. After barely an hour's ride, we took off our snowshoes in front of the Hochtauemhof. What a difference there is in this descent, which is like the flight of a bird, compared to the descent of a walker! - When we looked out of the window a while later, countless snowflakes were descending to earth in a tireless whirling dance.

The Schareck probably offers the most beautiful ride in the Goldberg group and those who are guided solely by the suitability of the terrain when choosing their winter destinations will prefer this mountain. But for those who also have a sense for a well-ordered, overwhelming panorama, the Sonnblick will offer even more.


(p.) After an overnight train ride from Vienna and a one-hour carriage ride from Uttendorf in the Stubach Valley, Mr. Assanek and I arrived at the pretty inn in Schneiderau on the morning of 2 June 1911. We wished the landlord that he was not superstitious, otherwise the small bill of the first guests of the season must have caused him some anxious hours. After a simple breakfast, we left the hospitable place and hiked into the valley towards the Rudolfsh├╝tte. - From the Gro├čvenediger and the Hoher Sonnblick, I had been able to admire all the austere beauty of the Glockner and Granatspitz groups in their winter splendor and I was irresistibly drawn to the magic that winter so richly unfolded in its last bastions.

Only the dawning cloudy morning, which differed from its predecessors only in that it was likely to show its damp beauties a little later than these, was quite suitable to prevent our confidence in victory from growing right up to the summit of the Grossglockner.
I will not tell you here about the beauties of the "Fischerweg", which led us along the foaming Ache through magnificent high forest to the graceful alpine pastures of the Enzingerboden with its pre-march landscapes, of the dreamy Gr├╝nsee surrounded by snow between its towering walls, with all the melancholy beauty of a small high lake and the Franz├Âsach hunting lodge inviting us to rest in wintry surroundings. For this would be too much at odds with our grumbling about this "drudge", although it must be admitted that the impartiality of our judgment was, like ourselves, considerably reduced by the weight of the skis and ice axes, the rope, the eight days' provisions, the crampons, as well as by the rain and snow whipping headwind and other such trifles. After overcoming the last steep step "Im Winkel", which is dangerous for avalanches in reasonably unfavorable snow conditions, we were able to use the skis all the time. After five and a half hours of walking in a heavy snowstorm, we reached the Rudolfsh├╝tte, 2242 m, which is charmingly situated in snow-covered surroundings.

There, our predecessors (as we learned in the valley, they were hunters) had already made sure that the rest of the day passed quickly by cleaning and tidying up. Further entertainment was provided by a small iron stove, which, although quite voracious itself, showed little understanding for our hunger and thirst, caused us much trouble and proved to be of little practical use in its design. But otherwise it was very cozy in the Rudolfsh├╝tte.

The beauty of the next morning drove us out early. The Granatspitze and Landecker Sonnblick were our destination. Dazzling fresh snow and a deep blue sky, from which the surrounding peaks stood out sharply with their waving snow plumes and dashing ridges, soon made us forget our sore, swollen shoulders from yesterday. After a short shot to the shore of the snow-covered Wei├čsee, we turned towards the Tauernkogel, taking into account the numerous avalanche paths in our choice of ascent route, and reached the steep hollow leading up to the Sonnblickkees, crossing the northern slopes far below to the west. We soon passed through it and easily reached the glacier. Here the fresh snow had blown away and we made our way uphill in a wide lane between the icefalls on firm firn, then at an altitude of 2700 m we kept to the summer route and after a three-hour ascent reached the Granatscharte, 2967 m, from where you can reach the Landecker Sonnblick after half an hour of spicy climbing over the south ridge.

A strong south-westerly wind, which hurriedly drove heavy clouds towards us, prevented us from admiring the magnificent panoramic view for long, from which the elegant pyramid of the Gro├čvenediger in the west, the Hocheiser and the Kitzsteinhorn in the east particularly caught our eye. From the Granatscharte we then traversed diagonally upwards towards the east ridge of the Granatspitze, which allowed a higher ascent on skis than the nearer north-west ridge. After a quarter of an hour's quite nice climbing over icy and snow-covered rock, we reached the summit.

In the meantime, the wind had picked up in intensity and a storm, whose approach we had reluctantly observed, must now soon be with us. So we hurriedly climbed to our boards, had a quick snack and then got ready to set off. And now we made our way down the glacier in the tracks of the ascent in a swift, glorious descent. Once we knew the icefalls were behind us and had wide, clear slopes in front of us, we let our skis run free and enjoyed the wonderful skiing. But soon there was a change in the snow conditions. Warm rain had made the snow down here watery and treacherously soft, so that we had to ski very carefully. Then came the steep hollow we had used on the ascent. My companion stopped, cast a longing glance at the hut visible far below, a spiteful one at the snow, stretched the ice axe far away from him and glided, no, raced down the hollow in a straight line! I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him safe and sound at the bottom and realized that his ice axe had refused a closer union with him. I followed in short swings. After three quarters of an hour's descent, we reached the Rudolfsh├╝tte.

Under normal conditions, this tour can neither be described as strenuous nor particularly technically difficult and its beauty will satisfy both the mountaineer and the chiman to the same degree.


(S.) The next morning, the storm continued with undiminished force. The storm howled and chased fantastic fog formations across the gloomy Odenwinkel in a furious rush. The ascent via the Obere ├ľdenwinkelscharte to the longed-for base camp, the Oberwalderh├╝tte, therefore had to be postponed. A short stroll up the Schafb├╝hel, 2350 m, the "H├╝ttenberg", gave us a nice view back to our approach route and the Tauernmoosboden. The subsequent descent to the hut, which was as beautiful as it was short, prompted us to extend our stroll around the hut. Sunny sunbathing on the roof of the hut, which was still covered in snow on the north side, allowed us to enjoy the serious beauty of the surroundings at our leisure until the purple shadows of the slumbering day colored the glaciers. The peaks peered down from a delicate haze. A last wave of parting light shimmered over the white firn ridges of the Hocheiser and the Riffl. High drifting clouds shone in all colors. - The involuntary rest day ended with fragrant tea and a cozy chat in the warm cooking room. -

The following morning we woke up at 3 o'clock. An hour later, the necessary hut business was taken care of and after a hearty breakfast, we steered our boards towards the ├ľdenwinkelkees.

In the pale dawn light, we saw the thick fog billowing high up in the ├ľdenwinkel. A fresh easterly wind urged us to keep warm. We followed the summer route, which leads over an 80 m high wall down to the ├ľdenwinkelkees. This section required a lot of attention. Because where the meltwater trickled down over slabby rock and steep grass during the day, we encountered glassy ice. And the steep gullies, which are crossed in summer on a good little path, turned out to be treacherous snowy hollows, in which stones, ready for the ride, made their hasty tracks. The few iron steps of the summer path were unusable. With great caution, our skis clipped on like carabiners and meticulous attention to maintaining our balance with every step, we traversed downhill to the right. In the last section, we were able to descend more quickly by unhooking from nicely "glazed" holds, whose purity was less deceptive than their strength, and then descended over the short, steep snow slope to the glacier.


In less favorable conditions, you would probably have to bypass this section, follow the route to the Kapruner T├Ârl to its lowest point and then enter the ├ľdenwinkelkees from the north. An attempt to descend to the ├ľdenwinkelkees via a snowfield at point 2348 after a short traverse under the east face of point 2487 on the Alpine Club map should produce a satisfactory result. This route would be the shortest with the least loss of altitude and should, as far as we could see from the ├ľdenwinkelkees, allow more extensive use of the skis.

The route then climbed gently up the glacier. The wild beauty of the ├ľdenwinkel seems almost oppressive. Sky-high walls to the right, mighty icefalls in front of us, from whose shimmering ice formations the deep shadows of their lurking crevasses clearly stand out and above them wild, snow-covered walls again. And to the left, wide, steep firn fields peer down between mighty rock ribs above the looming wall, merging into the wildly jagged Rifflkees even further to the left. And high above this mighty circular structure, almost unreachably high, a fine, shiny silver line stands out against the now bright sky, connecting the towering peaks and slender ridges. There, a brief flash up there, a soft tremor flits across the glittering firn and the snowy peaks stand in shining gold at a light-flooded height'. - We humans stand there, deeply moved by the majesty of the sight and enchanted by its beauty.

Our next destination is up there, the overgrown saddle between Riffl and Johannisberg. The wall that rises from the glacier turns out to be surprisingly good-natured. A splendid terrace, which begins nicely hidden behind a rock pillar, provides a way through. Then you enter easily skiable firn slopes until the increasing steepness and icing in the last third of the height forces you to put down your skis. And then a varied ascent begins: Icy rock and ice-hard firn, whose steep surfaces bear the traces of the avalanches that fell during the day, bring crampons and ice axes back into use. A small firn pulpit provides ample seating. Skis and backpacks are carefully anchored and the load on your back is reduced by the crampons and a small snack. However, it is less pleasant during such a rest when one of us discovers that his snow cap is in the box in Vienna and the other struggles in vain with fingers stiff from the cold to close the crampon straps, which are far too short for winter boots. Soon we are on the move again. Step after step takes us upwards. We no longer notice the floes whirring down into the depths in merry dances, we no longer feel the steepness and length of the path, no longer feel the pressure of backpack and snowshoes. Our willpower gathers around the diligently curved ice axe, our attention is focused on the narrow steps where our feet stand. Now we are finally in full sunlight. The snow becomes noticeably softer. Then we see the boldly curved cornice above us. A moment's thought, a brief glimpse of its weakest point and the last zigzag trail brings us to the glistening crest of the ridge.

A far-reaching view opens up from here of wide, white glaciers and nobly shaped peaks, dominated by the Grossglockner on the right and the Gro├čer Wiesbachhom on the left. At our feet glistens the mighty icefall of the Pasterze, which glides calmly as a wide ice stream in its giant bed far below. You can't dream and contemplate at such a sight! No, your whole will is roused to a joyful venture and in the face of all the dangers of this icy world, and perhaps for this very reason, you feel the beauty of existence for the first time and a powerful confession forces itself upon you: Yes, existence is beautiful, I want to live! -

On the Gro├čer Burgstall, thick clouds of mist already shrouded the welcoming Oberwalderh├╝tte. As the hut can be reached from the Riffltor in an almost straight line to the south-east, we didn't shy away from the detour to this firn saddle to make it easier to get our bearings when the fog set in. A short shot on hissing snow brought us there. We left our luggage there and headed for the Hohe Riffl, whose summit we reached after half an hour's enjoyable ascent. After a short summit bliss, a wonderful shot brought us back to our backpacks. It was 10 o'clock.

Since the firn was soft, we decided to use the rope for the onward journey; we each had 15 meters of it and rode on the double, fairly taut rope, which we each equipped with a hand sling. In the event of a detour into a crevasse, one sling was to serve as a stirrup for the runaway, the other as a handle or to attach to the anchored ice axe for the second person. With a bit of practice, the descents can be carried out fairly undisturbed in this way. On very steep glaciers, which are usually full of crevasses anyway, only one person can ski while the other has to belay. For larger sections, this caution may be less necessary; on our "two-one" glacier trips, without any possibility of timely help from a third party in the event of an accident, we considered it appropriate in softened snow. -

After a wonderful trip over the uppermost Parsterzenboden, we reached the Oberwalderh├╝tte on the Gro├čer Burgstall at 11 am. Its incomparably beautiful and convenient location, its exemplary facilities for winter visitors and its scrupulous cleanliness make it a truly ideal base for snowshoers.

The ascent to the Obere ├ľdenwinkelscharte in wintry conditions is strenuous and at times technically difficult. However, the rest of the tour turns into a wonderful ski tour.

This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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