Saturday I got myself motivated to get up the local hill near my hut, despite the temperatures in the middle teens (C). So – while my wife and kids and our visitors lounged about in the sunshine after breakfast, I gathered up my stuff and got my wife to give me a lift to the Pfaffenbichl.
Its a good choice for a ski tour in the early season because its in a ski resort, starts at a high elevation, and long before the ski season has actually begun, they are usually doing some kind of snow creation or rationing at the place, so you can often ski there even when its green to the left and right of the slopes.
Saturday was particularly daunting. The snow of three weeks prior had not had any significant refreshes and there was grass well down the mountain. A couple of guys who were finishing up told me that there was snow up higher – but it was for masochists only.
I figure that all ski-tourers are masochists.
I shouldered my sticks, and started up the green and succulent-looking pasture. After about 150 meters of vertical gain, in a shady spot, I was able to get on snow and start skinning – but there were patches with very little or no snow for another 150 meters of vertical, at least.
There was no shortage of optimists, however….I saw about 10 people or so on the way up. Again – continuing the trend of two weeks ago – all go-go racer-types in super-light gear and tight pants. While I have a lot of respect for them, these guys must be the real masochists – they take the best part of the sport (in my humble opinion) and reduce it to inelegant, poorly controlled survival skiing, in order to optimize the running-uphill-until-you-vomit part.
I remained – as is my style – vomit-free.
The snow up top was tracked and rutted. I stuck to the shiny bits to optimize my uphill sliding and soon made the ski depot. I started up the last climb to the peak and enjoyed the rock formations on the way up.
Up top – I drank the beer I had stashed in my pack. It was a .33 liter little beer….my wife bought these, and since she is one of my two readers I want to make use of the opportunity to say that .33 beer is acceptable only in foreign countries – like, you know, America, or Hessen or something like that. In Bavaria and the Alps, all beers are .5 Liter. After nearly 1000 meters of elevation gain, sitting on the top of the Pfaffenbichl – you want more than three sips of beer.
I started the route down after enjoying the last rays of the sun, and scoping out a few ideas for the coming weeks, when I hope the snow will be more plentiful. Several people had been down before, so there was a little track that I followed through the deeper snow on each side.
This wasn’t such a good idea. I slipped at one point, and began sliding. I was lucky enough that I had time to roll on my stomach and I was able to stick my arms into the deeper snow on the sides of the path. This stopped me – but if it had been at all steeper – things might have been very different. Ditto if there had been a drop off below me – which in some places, there are.
The moral for me: either take crampons – which is kind of a pain, or stick to deeper snow. The obvious paths are not always the best ones. I was able to continue down without further incident by getting off my little path when it got steeper.
The ride down was uneventful – as these kinds of marginal snow rides tend to be. I gave the off-piste a try, but there was a crust on it that was nasty – unsupportable – and the only way to ski that stuff is to go really fast….but the snowpack was not deep enough to give me confidence to do that. It was certainly only a few centimeters thick in places.
I had to walk down the last 200 vertical meters or so….and since my wife was buying grub at the supermarket in the valley – I continued walking down the road to the hut. It was a nice walk – with the day slowly fading into night and the sounds of the forest all around. Soon – the green woods I walked though will be still, and white with snow. I am looking forward to it – but I wouldn’t want to miss this time. Everyone’s getting ready for winter – here’s hoping you are too.