June. Not my favorite time, to be sure. I’ve got a habit – and that habit is not fed during the warm summer months. Sure – you can lug your ass down to South America or skid around on a glacier with a bunch of rich Ukrainians who call themselves their country’s ski team, but the air just doesn’t have the same smell, and the sun has a hazy, thick feel – even at four thousand meters. I’m a junky for the winter – but my family was dying for some sun time and for Italian ice cream, so we went down to the non-snowy bits of Italy for a while and had some city-time at home as well. While nice – Tuscany doesn’t get me bubbly in the same way the Italian lakes do – and while the days at home were nice – heading back up to the hut last weekend, I was dying to get some time on my sticks before the great melt finished it all.
I settled on a long tour – all the way out to the Rastkogel and back from Hochfügen. I’ve been touring around this area all winter and I had been wanting to get back there for a while. Its the major peak of the Tuxer Range, quite a way from my usual starting point, and I knew that the long, shaded ravine on the eastern side would probably still hold snow because of its shaded nature.
I also knew that the major portion of the tour would be on foot, as there were only patches of snow starting around 2000 meters, and that the total length of the tour was going to be somewhere around 20 km….so I got ready for a big day – and started hiking at three in the morning – trying to beat the melt and hopefully make some summer corn – and get home in time for a late breakfast.
Good luck on that!
Starting out on a tour alone in the deep of night is kinda spooky. Everything is quiet, but you are all in motion. I tried not to push myself, but its funny how if I sense emptiness – something in me wants to always instinctively fill that space up, with noise, with action, with motion. It was hard to keep from moving ever faster – but I knew that in order to go fast today – I would have to go slow – so I did my best. Going slow to be fast – the most counter intuitive and singular most important lesson I’ve learned in the hills. A lesson for anywhere, really.
I made slow time up the long Finsinggrund, past the ski area and all the way to the back, where the trail steepens and climbs up to the Sidanjoch – round about 2000 meters. I went in full-bore, and eschewed trail shoes, as is my habit for hikes to skiing, and wore my touring boots the whole way out. I am really liking these TLT 6s – no way I would have made this on some beef boots – and the idea of carrying them strapped to my back seems nearly ridiculous to me.
The late, great Steve Romeo – whom I never met, but who’s blog I was an active reader of, used to call this “Teton Style” – I don’t know what everyone else calls it – but I miss that guy and it makes me happy to think of him. I suppose that doing it his way also makes me feel a little “big time” too…so Teton Style is a good name for it.
I like it so much – that I could imagine getting still lighter boots for these kinds of things. On these kinds of outings – I just don’t need the stiffness, and the lower weight would please me more than a more gripping turn….we’ll see. My wife can’t understand my gear stash as is….I know some of you hear me.
The sun started popping up as I was making the Sidanjoch – which was a beautiful view, but it was also at least a half hour later than I had hoped. I enjoyed the sunrise as I walked along the ridge towards the Rastkogel, and I quickly realized that I had misjudged the time it would take me to traverse into the next drainage and get up onto the flank of the mountain. I knew I’d miss breakfast.
I picked my way over dozens of smaller creeks, swollen with snow-melt and got down into a hanging valley that marked the start of the snowline and where I could put on my skis. I was already more than 3 hours in by now and the sun was starting to warm up, so I zipped my trouser legs open, got my sunglasses on (bro tilt fully engaged – natch) – but the shade kept my softshell on. I clicked in. Such a great feeling after four weeks off snow! skinned up suncups and got to a moraine which had been blocking my view into the main part of the little basin. What a beautiful scene! The snow-melt was filling a little lake, shallow and tame at one end, with wide, gentle little brooks running into it, getting ever deeper and green-blue at other end, before spilling over the edge of the little valley tumbling into the deep below. I could have stopped right there for a week and watched the snow melt – but I had things to do….
I went up the gut of the ravine I had spied some weeks ago from the Rosskopf – and it was good. Well-filled, with firm, but grippy refrozen, not too hard, not too soft, and holding up well due to the ample shade. I was already feeling it – I had been out a while already and was in for about 1000 meters of vert already, so I did my best to cruise.
I topped out into the sunshine and a view of the world! The snow didn’t go all the way, the steeper sides of the summit area were getting pounded by solar radiation, so there was no choice but to dump my skis and scramble to the top over rock, and in some places, rotten snow with semi-supportable crust on it. I was glad I had my ice-axe with me – but I didn’t feel a need to don crampons.
Last summer – I had a death-slide on the Hoher Riffler – so I’ve gotten more careful and take my axe often on spring and summer tours. Its worth it – I suppose.
The peak was grand! To the north, I could see all the way over the Inn Valley and the imposing Wetterstein and Karwendel Ranges opposite. This wall blocking paths north must’ve been an imposing and important symbol for travelers in the days when everyone crossed these mountains on foot – and you can’t understand this place without having seen them that way – I think. Stretching to the east, I saw the pass over towards Salzburg, and to the south and southeast the massive, glacier-covered peaks of the Main Ridge of the Alps. From up there – the glacier at Hintertux looks strangely small, and massive at the same time. Strange to think of the times I have been there – from up of the Rastkogel, it looked like a flat rock in the sky, not much like a ski hill.
I enjoyed it, but not for long – I had to get moving.
I scrambled back down, drank some water, and clicked in for some turns! The snow was perfect summer corn, fully isothermal and breeze to ski. I made nice Euro-Turns down the gully,milking my 700 meters of goodness. I stopped a few times to admire my work, but in no time I was back at the bottom, back at the little lake, and looking at about three hours of feet-beating to get back to the porn pit.
I saddled up and got to it – but by this time the sun was up high and baking, so I dropped the softshell and went in sleeves. The way down, was just like the way up, just hotter, brighter and tired-er. The wind was right (wrong for groundhogs) so I snuck up on a groundhog and got a good look. Winter wasn’t too bad for them, is my guess.
My route was also peppered with a mix of hikers who either were genuinely curious about my skis and where I had found snow on the seventh of June, or people who gave me the stink-eye for no good reason. I suppose some of them are of the opinion that anyone who skis when others go sunbathing is a nutter – and as such – should be informed of it. They don’t bother me though….some people just love putting other people down.
By this time – my legs and feet were aching – and the distance was taking it out on my toenails. I was REALLY late for breakfast though, and the missus had already told me on my call from the peak (had reception up there) that she was not pleased I had missed my deadline. So I ran. In ski boots.
For about 8 miles.
While my lungs and my heart may be iron-man tough – my tootsies are delicate swans. That run did them in. Perhaps for good. My toenails are all beat up from years of too-small boots and actions like these – wearing sandals is an exercise alternating in pride and shame – depending on my mood, and I think this trip made it worse.
So – after getting home about midday – I sucked it up and went to lunch with the family and some friends, and managed to be somewhat sociable until falling asleep at about four pm. Now – several days later – I still haven’t gone jogging – but it’ll happen.
That may be it for this summer – unless one of you wants to go to a big hill somewhere!