This last winter has been good for me. Incredibly good. So many new people turned into friends. So many foreign corners turned into familiar places. So many awesome adventures turned into everlasting memories.
But thats only one more reason to keep on going. So as I was invited by a group of Tyrolean people to head out onto the next great adventure somewhere along the Öztal Alps, I of course couldn’t say no!
Summer is coming, but winter is still full-on high up the mountains. The perfect time for some steep skiing, that is! Our goal, Hintere Schwärze, would lie deep in the back corners of Öztal, on the Italian border. The tour starts from the small village of Vent and from there you have a nice warm-up approach of 9 kilometers to the beginning of Marzellferner (the glacier).
There is a hütte for accommodation, but for that extra spice of adventure we decided to camp on the glacier in our tents. You might consider (and I did, many many times) the rationality of lugging many kilos of extra weight, when there is a nice & heated cabin just next to you. But hey, you have to use the expensive equipment sometimes (though with the price of the tent, you could’ve easily overnighted at the hut for weeks).
But the sun was shining, it was warm and we were about to head out for an adventure. And what an adventure would it be! Our mountain, Hintere Schwärze, is at 3628 meters the fourt-highest-peak in the Öztaler Alps. It is so prominent that the view from the mountain top is theoretically only limited by the curvature of the Earth. It can be reached relatively easily from the glaciated west flank. But we had something a bit more demanding in our minds – Die Nordwand.
Die Nordwand is a majestic ice wall ascending down from the peak with a 45 degree sustained steepness – just a bit over fifty at its crux. We would wake up early in the morning, skin our way up to the root of the mountain and climb our way up through the north face, then drink some Jallu at the top and ski it down.
Photo is from Summitpost.org, thank you username Troll! (http://www.summitpost.org/hintere-schwarze-routes/404921)
The conditions should be safe and the weather perfect. And when the sun was shining and our little expedition was hiking through these magical mountains, I couldn’t help but to smile. Tingles of excitement were going through my spine. This would be one hell of a ride.
And after a couple of hours we had reached the glacier. The boys immediately started setting up the living room.
…and the kitchen.
…while Ben was working up on the bedroom facilities.
This five-star-luxury accommodation also came with a separate outdoors dining room equipped with a star-gazing-balcony – now how many cabins have that, I ask you?
For some reason, I always seem to know how to choose the coldest days of the year for camping out in the mountains. In February it was damn cold (and we were staying in a hut then) and now the April Takatalvi (finnish: the-winter-that-came-back, lit. ”backwinter”) greeted us with a fresh -18 degrees. But hey, at least it was the perfect night for stargazing! After a satisfying dinner of S-Budget add-only-water pastas (note to self: never buy them again) I was happy to snuggle into my sleeping bag and spoon with Ben and Daniel in a-two-man-tent.
But the cold night and having to wake up at 5 am is a small price to pay for being able to watch the sunrise on a glacier. The blueish haze, rising from behing the mountains, turning slowly into glowing orange bringing the much-welcomed warmth. Can’t you just see, how happy Ben is? That is, if you can see his face behind from the down burkha.
Oh, and on a side note: do sleep with your boots in your sleeping bag, but NEVER EVER SLEEP WITH YOUR LINERS ON YOUR FEET. They might be super comfy and warm, but now mine smell like Graukäse, a Tyrolean cheese variety known for its peculiar taste and horrible stink. Disgusting yes, but also interesting: does that actually mean the same fungus or bacteria on my feet is also living in Graukäse?
But enough about cheese! We are on a mission! Hintere Schwärze! Adventure! Glory and fame shall await us! They’ll greet us with women, land and knighthood when we shalt return!
Well maybe not, but there might be afterwards some good photos to post into Instagram for that extra amount of internet-points…
Die Nordwand looked even bigger on the spot, then in pictures. In the morning glow you could breath in the majestic beauty of the nature. The glimmering ice and the blinding snow, curling their cold embrace around the mountains. This is a battle lasting for eras: the eroding stone quietly resisting the glacier which is slowly eating it away. There probably won’t be any life to witness the end of this ever-lasting battle and there were no life there on that day. Except for a small group of animals, called humans (Homo Sapiens), who got an idea that climbing and skiing these things would be fun!
I’m before anything, a skier, and my ice climbing experience is not that huge (actually, it is exactly zero). But there was no place for fear, only excitement arising from our group! So while trying to figure out which way you’re supposed to hold the ice axes, I headed out to the wall.
Only to find out that there were good news and bad news.
Bad news were that the wind had blown the top part of the wall free of snow. It was only glare ice, totally unskiable — but hey, thats awesome for climbing, lets try it anyway!
Good idea, but the snow from the wall had stuck into latter part of the wall creating an extremely dangerous avalanche situation. At 15cm and 50cm, there were two buried weak layers – the dreaded surface frost. When trying out the extended column test in three places, at the moment we freed the column, a fracture propagated through the whole area creating a scary slab sliding off from the pillar. In case the snow underneath us broke, there would a big hard slab rumbling down the face. In other words: not good. And definitely not something you would want to be climbing on with seven people.
Good news were that we were all still alive. Which is actually really nice when you start to think about it. And I still had a Snickers in my rucksack – oh, the happy days!
Defeated by Mother Nature we headed out to the west flank and decided to climb Hintere Schwärze from the normal route. I have to say, I was disappointed. I had really looked forward to it. Riding something BIG was to be my goal for this winter. I really wanted to climb and ski this line. Maybe to prove myself something? Or maybe to be able to brag about skiing this face? To get the extra comfort of Facebook likes? Hell, I don’t know – but I really wanted to ski this!
But maybe this was a good thing. Maybe this was meant to be. Many young people have (or at least I do) this comic thought that if they really want something it is their god-given right to have it. But life doesn’t work like that.
A wise man I once met told me that the only way to happiness is to accept life as it is. To fully embrace it in anyway it chooses to unravel itself to you. Not to fight it, but to surrender yourself completely to it.
And if Mother Nature says, ”no, you’re not skiing that today”, then there is no way around it. You can not force it. But why should I even? I had spent a magical night on a glacier. I had hiked up on one of the most beautiful places on this planet. I had eaten the most delicious past– okey, the pasta was total shit, but all in all: I had experiences and memories that would last me forever. Not enjoying all this would be stupid, and it would be running away from life.
It’s not about skiing and it’s not about climbing. It’s not about proving something in effort to be able to feel comfortable about yourself. It’s about learning to live in the now, to breath in life and to cherish every single moment of it with your friends.
Realizing this filled me with joy. And after that the top only seemed like a pile of rocks. There would nothing for me to accomplish with climbing this pile of rocks. I was hungry and thirsty and tired. But still I had everything I needed. I was completely fulfilled. I could just wait here and pose for you, waiting for you to paint me like one of your French girls.
But the adventure still wasn’t quite over yet.
On the last part of run before our base camp, Teresa decided to try the world first ”knee-twisting-360-cork-backside” from a cornice drop. And she landed it perfectly! The only problem with this trick is that then afterwards you have to be flown away with the Heli-Heli-Helikopter.