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Anno dazumal Part 4 | Snowshoeing in the Hohe Tauern

Part II of the snowshoe tours in the Tauern

by Bettina Larl • 01/08/2017
The fourth article in the Anno dazumal series also takes us back to shortly after 1900. In the second part of their article "Snowshoe trips in the Hohe Tauern" from 1913, Hans Skofizh and Franz Tursky talk about "tours" of the Große Wiebachhorn, the Johannisberg, the Breitkopf and the Großvenediger. Again, some of these descents may have been first ascents in this region.

Snowshoeing in the Hohe Tauern - Part I

by Hans Skofizh and Dr. Franz Tursky


GLOCKERIN, 3425 m, BRATSCHEN KÖPFE, 3403 AND 3416 m, GROSSES WIESBACHHORN, 3570 m

(S.) The next morning we left the Oberwalderhütte at 4 o'clock. There was opaque fog over the valleys, up here it was clear and windless. On the south-eastern slope of the Eiswandbühel we crossed to the Bockkarscharte, 3046 m, crossed the gently sloping Bockkarkees and reached the Keilscharte, 3136 m, after a short, steep ascent. Then, remaining at the same altitude, we crossed the western slope of the Großer Bärenkopf, an extraordinarily steep mountain flank that is certainly not to be trifled with in poor snow conditions. Lurking crevasses to the left and the steepness of the slope shortened our route. After bypassing the north-west ridge of the Großer Bärenkopf, we easily reached the Gruberscharte, 3093 m.

From here we climbed up to the Glockerin on increasingly steep and narrow firn ridges. When we reached the steep, ice-hard firn ridge quite high up, we took off our skis. After some aerial step-by-step work, we reached the summit, which slopes down into rugged rock and ice flanks. We were careful not to let the glistening cornice take us on one of its fantastic descents out of sheer joy at our rare visit on skis. The view of the wild tangle of crevasses of the Karlinger glacier was beautiful from here. Our route continued down the slender firn ridge; very steep at first, but soon allowing the use of skis again on a broad ridge. Despite our indignant growling, we had to give up more than a hundred meters of altitude. Our next destination was the Einsattlung between the Vorderer and Hinterer Bratschenkopf. We stopped up there for half an hour at 7 o'clock, enjoying the magnificent views of the surroundings to the full. A short, steep snow slope still separated us from the Wielingerscharte, 3267 m. Opposite stood the Große Wiesbachhom. The slender Schneehorn rises in sharply outlined lines from the sunlit sea of fog. The eastern ice wall throws back the sunlight, dazzling in all its colors. Next to it, sharply delineated, the shaded areas appear in their purple colors in a repellent steepness. The ice crown on the summit, which juts out into the wall and is adorned with a shimmering cornice, shines wonderfully.

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The rocky, icy south-west flank was supposed to be the ascent. We underestimated the distance and left our boards behind prematurely. Equipped with crampons, rope and ice axe, we descended the snowy slope to the Wielingerscharte. But it took us half an hour to reach the foot of the summit. We took the rope. Half an hour of painstaking, attentive work allowed us to gain the last 300 meters. We reached the summit at 9 o'clock. The sun shone large and brightly on us, flooding all the countless peaks with dazzling light. The morning wind is fresh. The forest glistens at our feet and the dizzying depths yawn below us, losing themselves in the shimmering white that covers vast expanses and only merges into the dark green of the forests deep below. The valleys are veiled by drifting morning mists and in between, wherever you look, mighty white mountains. And towering above them all, towering up to a majestic peak, the Grossglockner and behind it in the far distance the slender pyramid of the Grossvenediger, both covered in ice and snow as far as the eye can follow their magnificent lines! And over there on the rigid mountain height of the Adlersruhe, a tiny, flashing square, barely recognizable in all its splendour: the Erzherzog Johann Hut, a bold landmark of human values.

The descent to the Wielingerscharte was short, the way back through the soaked snow to our luggage long. Up there between the Bratschenköpfe peaks, we took a happy, sunny break for an hour. A short stroll took us to these two summits. We then used the rope to ski down the narrow, steep ridges of the Bratschenkopf and the Glockerin, in places only one at a time, until the broader firn ridges allowed a faster pace again. The sun was burning hot and avalanches of rock and snow came crashing down from the Hohe Dock against the wild, jagged Hochgruber- kees in short intervals. We also saw a mighty ice avalanche thundering down there.

We happily crossed the north-western flank of the Großer Bärenkopf, which had worried us a little for the way back, and after a brisk ride we reached the cozy Oberwalderhütte again at 2 o'clock.
The Schimanne, who appreciates a closed descent more than mountaineering pleasures, will not like the interrupted rides over sometimes very steep and narrow ridges. The mountaineer, on the other hand, who regards the interruption of the rapid descents by ice or rock work on steep slopes or airy ridges as no less enjoyable variety, will be highly satisfied by this magnificent tour.

ICEWALL MOUNTAIN, 3197 m, FRONT BEAR'S HEAD, 3263 m, JOHANNISBERG, 3467 m(S). When we looked out of the window at 4 o'clock the next morning, we had long faces. Chasing rain clouds and a roaring north-westerly gale are not friendly morning greetings for mountaineers. At 7 o'clock we finally crawled out of bed and got to work in the kitchen. At half past ten, the clouds were considerably higher and the storm weaker. We decided to go for a morning stroll. Without a word we drove up to the Eiswandbühel and, following the connecting ridge, reached the Vorderer Bärenkopf after an hour. All the mountain peaks are hidden under dark clouds. High above, the chasing clouds are in all their gloomy colors. Avalanches thunder down almost constantly over the Hofmann Glacier and from the Glocknerwand. The storm roars mightily. The storm weighs heavily on our minds and we instinctively long for physical exertion to free us from this nightmare. But we'll probably have to cross Johannisberg off our program now.

I look over with a thought. For a moment, its mighty canopy shatters. I quickly decide to turn around. I turn to my companion: the eye language is clear. I might have thanked him for his yes. But the snow is already hissing under the hurried skis that carry us down the south-eastern slope to the Oberster Pasterzenboden. The flight over the white expanses is sensational. There, a fine streak in the soft firn - a crevasse! It's already behind me. There's another one, a wider one - several more! I feel that the speedy ride is carrying me safely across. I can't look around, but I know for sure that my companion is safely behind me. We'll be down in a moment and then we'll take the rope! We head over the Oberster Pasterzenboden towards the southern flank of the Johannisberg. The clouds sink deeper and deeper, the storm blows ever more roaringly. When the fog breaks for a moment, we check the direction and fix it with the Bussole. Where we casually cross the previous day's descent from the Hohe Riffl, we make deep marks in the snow to show us the shortest way back to the hut.
The southern flank is reached. A few black yawning crevasses are crossed on safe snow bridges. Step by step we gain height, fighting against the storm. Chasing fog means we can only see a few steps ahead. Burning hailstones hit our faces. - Just keep zigzagging uphill! We have to reach the summit!
I have to relieve the first one again. As we pass by, our serious gazes meet inquiringly: good for us, unbowed will and cheerful strength flash in my eyes! One being has become the two people walking on the rope, for one will controls them and binds them with iron force: the will to win and to live.
We must already be quite high; the slope is getting steeper and steeper. The storm howls eerily from the corner of the wasteland. Individual gusts of wind are so violent that we have to secure ourselves for minutes with hand loops on the deeply rammed pimples. We bend our heads down to the snow to protect our faces from the grains of ice that tear our skin bloody. There, a firn ridge to our right, it must be the east ridge. The summit is near!

Step by step, pitch by pitch, we fought our way further. At 1 o'clock we reached the summit ---
The descent was immediate in the unabated storm and fog. We were careful not to lose the tracks of the ascent. The lower we got, the weaker the storm became and the faster the skis glided, our turns became bigger and bigger. Once we had the strong wind behind us in a straight line, a great race began with the ghostly figures of chasing fog surrounding us. We reached the Oberster Pasterzenboden in a sizzling shot and soon afterwards the marks we had trodden into the snow on the ascent. We returned to our accommodation at half past two and were genuinely pleased with our victory, while gusts of wind rattled the Oberwalderhütte.
This tour, which is not usually considered difficult, had taxed our willpower and skill to a great extent; the conditions make the mountain.

BREITKOPF, 3154 m

(S). A clear morning followed the black stormy night, shimmering in snowy winter splendor. The sky was cloudless and blue, all colors deep and rich. Sunlit mist lay over the glaciers. It was with a heavy heart that we left the Oberwalderhütte to start the descent. The detour to the Breitkopf was to comfort us.

We set off at 5 o'clock. In half an hour, we reached the Bockkarscharte via the familiar route and, unfortunately, ten minutes later we reached the summit along the western ridge. At six o'clock we were back at the Bockkarscharte with our luggage. The sun's rays refracted teasingly in the light fog, on light firn, a few meters in front of the gliding boards, simulating a deep dark steep slope, which soon rushed ahead of us at breakneck speed. After a brisk descent, we reached the summer path, which leads past the Gamsgrube to the cozy Hofmannshütte, 2443 m, where we sat outside for an hour.

In the bright early morning light, the Pasterze lay before us, surrounded by mighty sentinels: Grossglockner, Glocknerwand and Johannisberg! If the pleasant satisfaction that fills us at the infinitely perfect sight of a landscape is coupled with the magnificent grandeur of such a picture, must not the impression remain an unforgettable one? -
We then descended to the Pasterze on a path that had run out of snow. We were able to cross the narrow crevasses visible from afar without any worries until we reached the rocky path to Franz-Josefs-Höhe. There, we had our skis put on and chatted for a quarter of an hour with an old Heiligenblut guide who wanted to inspect the hut at the Hofmannshütte. When we told him our doors in response to his question, he cradled his white, weathered head thoughtfully: season, weather, skis and map! He could hardly conceal his dislike of these things.
The descent to Heiligenblut is rightly considered extremely dangerous in winter due to avalanches. Due to the advanced season, it was considerably shorter for us, but carefree and enjoyable. At 3/4 9 o'clock in the morning we were already standing on the Franz-Josefs-Höhe in silent admiration of the so well-known and yet always moving, magnificent picture that the king of the Hohe Tauern offers the observer. Before we hurried on towards the valley spring, we said goodbye to this wonderful part of our German homeland: we enjoyed happy victories under our own steam, whizzing rides on twisted glaciers, blissful rests on lonely, deserted peaks up there - happy, unforgettable hours of blissful freedom! -

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GROSSVENEDIGER, 3660 m

(T.) When the earth's dress renews itself in a hundredfold splendor of blossom, and youthful green climes herald the approach of spring, when the sun threatens to take away the frost-glistening armor with which the Nordic winter gods have encased the mountains, then we are once again urged to bid farewell to the infinite silence of the wintry high world, to the noble splendor of sun-drenched snow domes. Once again, in the time that for so many years has made the mountains seem a closed, inaccessible area, we want to penetrate the shimmering high region, we want to chase down to the valley in a breathtaking glide, once again master the steepness in bold turns, before retiring our faithful companions for the summer and getting out our ice axe and rope again. Easter! For alpine snowshoers, this is the perfect time for glacier tours. The days are already long, the weather is often fine, the ice streams are often covered in meters of snow, the crevasses are well bridged: the longing for a bigger undertaking can no longer be suppressed. Following this urge, I traveled in the company of like-minded people on the Krimml Railway through the Salzach Valley. We had already passed the main town of the Pinzgau, Mittersill, and were approaching the mouth of the Untersulzbachtal, where we had a magnificent view of the unchallenged ruler of the whole region, "our" peak, and soon afterwards we had also reached the Rosental-Großvenediger stop. It was 1/2 10 o'clock in the morning - an overnight train journey of more than twelve hours had brought us here from Vienna - and now it was time to set off to conquer the significant height of the Kürsingerhütte, 2558 /n, before nightfall.

We hiked across the snow-free valley floor, our boards on our shoulders, towards the opening of the Obersulzbachtal and followed the Alpenverein trail to the hut. After an ascent of barely more than half an hour, there was already enough snow to strap on our skis. We continued further and further into the valley over the remains of numerous avalanches, which may have fallen into the deep valley a few days ago, to the steep step of the Seebach Falls. We passed through the snow-covered forest, along the long hairpin bends of the bridle path, and reached the Berndlalpe, where we chose a sunny spot for a lunch break. This valley step offers the first view of the Obersulzbachkees. With sharp contours against the blue sky, it seemed to flow around the snow-covered rocks of the Geiger like a mighty river. The glacier world lay before us in shimmering fairytale splendor and unwavering silence - a glorious image of the unchanging rule of rigid natural laws, a place to understand the reverence that our time pays to the beautiful and sublime in the high mountains! -

After we had given our backpacks a hearty meal, we continued past the Aschamalpe, over undulating alpine pastures up to the glacier. With every meter of altitude we gained, the surroundings became more magnificent. The ice cataracts of the "Turkish Tent City", which form the fall of the expansive Keese towards its tongue, are indelibly imprinted on my memory. The tangled fissure system lies next to us in a cascade of wildly piled up blocks of ice. Abyssal, bluish chasms next to shimmering snow, strangely shaped ice formations next to cracked walls - these are the natural wonders that await us here. All too soon we had the labyrinth of crevasses behind us and continued on the terrace above, now already in view of the overwhelming northern drop of the Venediger, until we were able to cut the slope to the hut at a suitable point; soon afterwards we began to make ourselves at home in this high shelter, which is so favorably situated and often visited by snowshoers.

It was now evening when I stepped outside the hut alone to take another look at the winter wonderland before us. A last pale glow of day flitted over the icy heads that surrounded me. The wide glacier stream flowed down the valley below me like liquid silver. Not a breath of air stirred, not a cloud was visible. The first star shone above the noble head of the Venediger, the proud edifice of the ice giant was bathed in a soft light of indescribable transfiguration and towered into the steel-blue azure --- The following day we had climbed up the slopes of the Keeskogel to the Zwischensulzbachtörl, where the first rays of sunshine greeted us with a flashing light, and were now heading along the Untersulzbachkees towards the saddle between the Groß- and Kleinvenediger. Just below this we left our snowshoes behind, as we hoped to make better progress in the steep firn without them. We entered the Schlattenkees on the usual summer route, crossed several crevasses and climbed the last, rather steep firn slope to the top, from where the immense panorama opened up to us in crystal clarity.
The Ötztal rivals greeted us, the Northern Limestone Alps from the Zugspitze to the Dachstein, the horns and snow domes of the Glockner group, the bold towers of the Southern Limestone Alps in a long row, Ortler and Bernina in the distance on the horizon, they were all visible today in full splendor and their unforgettable image the reward for those "efforts", which are in themselves a great pleasure for the mountaineer. The streams of firn flow down on all sides into the young spring, which breathes so vigorously down there and revels in the delights of the light. Only here on our sunny and yet so deeply wintry height does time seem to stand still, for here winter reigns eternal, the youthful budding, the mighty rain of spring never penetrates up into this region of shimmering rigidity!

Highly satisfied, we finally took our leave of the lofty pinnacle. We carefully descended over the already softened snow bridges and soon reached our faithful boards. I wouldn't have swapped places with any king as I glided down the Untersulzbachkees at lightning speed in the deep powder snow. Knowing that I was free from the worries of the world and the troubles of life, my chest swelled with a feeling of jubilation, so that a cry of joy escaped from it, echoing my sense of pride and victory to the walls of this high valley! The Zwischensulzbachtörl reunited us all and now we descended in the damp, salty firn over the Obersulzbachkees. Once again our snowshoe tips cut through the snow, hissing and crackling. An uninterrupted double line, the trail of our previous day's hut ascent, which leaves the glacier here, becomes visible, our gliding boots rush on and on in unhindered speed until we stop in front of the "Turkish Tent City". Now it's a case of skilfully weaving our way between the lurking abysses and ice walls of the quarry. Carefully, past meter-wide crevasses, we descend. The crevasses get closer and closer from both sides until they only leave a narrow passage; we can't see what follows. Slowly and expectantly I try this way out and with a shout of joy I announce to my companions what I see before me. I have reached the gently sloping glacier tongue and I am already hurtling straight down the white element that gives the boards so much life. We then descend from the end of the Kees to the Aschamalpe in numerous turns and curves and, after a long rest, across the almost flat valley floor to the Berndlalpe. Here the brisk ride begins again. The route now descends through the high forest towards the valley opening, and as long as there is still wintery white, we ride. Then, shouldering our trusty boards, we hike out to the cable car with a sense of satisfaction.

We have brought down new joy and strength and carry it home into our everyday lives. I still think about it today and want to shout out with gratitude, as I did on the summit that looks out into the distance!
A visit to the Großvenediger is undoubtedly the most beautiful snowshoe tour in the Hohe Tauern; it offers a happy combination of what the winter mountaineer demands as both a climber and a skier. The magnificent views offered by the ascent to the Kees, the "Turkish tent city" and the summit itself, the views of the extensive winter glacier areas of the group, the extremely long descent, which takes place everywhere in favorable terrain and, with the exception of the short section between Ascham- and Berndlalpe, allows uninterrupted gliding, are advantages that perhaps few ski mountains in the Alps can boast of.
(S.) When I remember my winter trips, I always think gratefully of the snowshoes that made it possible for me to climb our most beautiful high peaks at a time when they try to hide their fairytale-like, untouched beauty inhospitably from anyone who has not learned to use the slender poles. Just think of one of these high-altitude tours carried out with snow tires, consider the time and effort required for this and you will understand that these time-consuming undertakings - insofar as high peaks have been climbed in this way at all - have almost completely ceased. However, to speak of a flattening of alpinism by skiing for this reason seems to me to be just as unjustified as the fact that in some very serious alpine circles the skis, these valuable friends of the mountaineer, are still looked at with shy eyes and the old snow tires are preferred. On closer inspection, however, there is an explanation for this at first glance astonishing fact: many an old mountaineer, who did not immediately want to make friends with the new aid, the boards, had to see how the more easily accessible mountains, previously almost exclusively his realm in winter, became the stomping ground of the Ekel family, which was growing almost out of all proportion! Not only was he driven out of his territory by them, but they also made it almost impossible for him to escape them due to their greater efficiency. Therefore, he soon grew weary of going out at all in winter and stayed at home, resenting the flattening of alpinism through skiing. It is difficult for him to convince himself with the help of the tour books that it is precisely because of the increased traffic in the foothills of the Alps that real mountaineering retreats all the more longingly to the lonely high regions and that this often results in winter tours that would probably be among the greatest rarities without skis.
Some people were also reluctant to part with the stagecoach at the time and remained bitter opponents of the railroad all their lives, whose construction brought some disadvantages along with the advantages of increased traffic, but nonetheless resulted in an undreamt-of efficiency. With the exception of a few selfish, traveling merchants who hated the superior competitor, it was often the best who lost their impartiality in anxious concern for what they loved. -
May we succeed in reconciling the opponents of useful and enjoyable alpine skiing through the serious and dignified practice of genuine mountaineering, even on our winter trips, and win them over as supporters of the new type of winter mountain hikes!

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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