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Trip Reports 2010-04-31-Otztal Alps Traverse

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This article was first published in the Tararua Tramper Volume 82, no 6, July 2010

TTC (unofficial) Otztal Alps traverse

On the Schalfkogel Joch. Photo: John Nankervis
On the Schalfkogel Joch. Photo: John Nankervis

We skinned away from Langtalereck Hutte on an exquisite morning, our second day. The frost was hard; to hold our edges on the first steep traverse above the valley floor was tricky. Tim took the lead as we neared the 3,000 metre contour. I silently cursed him. Over recent days Rob and I had skied at high altitude above Hochgurgl, Soelden and in the Stubai. Yet Tim, who'd just arrived from London (delayed by that Icelandic guy with the unpronounceable name) seemed well-acclimatised. But relief was at hand! Below the Annekogl Joch, our first pass on the tour, one of Tim's bindings sheared in two under its housing. It could be cobbled together for downhill but not for climbing. I thought to myself that man and his equipment should be in perfect harmony; maybe the binding hadn’t acclimatized. Tim was forced to ski back to the hut, and then down to Obergurgl to go shopping for new bindings, dodging wet snow avalanches on the way. Loose arrangements were made for him to meet us somewhere soon.

At a more leisurely pace Rob and I crossed the pass and made expansive turns down the broad névé to the Hochwilde Hutte. Nobody was home. It was unguarded, but the winter quarters were open and comfy and there was hut food... ...better even than Julie had promised us. Julie and Karen had done all our refuge and village bookings, some in fluent German. But Iceland had turned them into strand-by passengers. They couldn't leave Wellington in time to join us. The following day was grey and still. We ventured out with light packs but retreated, chastened by the boom and swish of wet snow avalanches in the mist. "Just throw more kindling on the stove for the rest of the day."

Tim and Rob, hut bashing.  Photo: John Nankervis
Tim and Rob, hut bashing. Photo: John Nankervis

By the morning it had cleared, with a skiff of powder on the glacier. It was a long hot climb to the Schalfkogel Joch. But what a reward awaited us. After a short descent on crampons carrying skis, we farmed corn (snow) for 1,000 metres to the valley floor below the Martin Busch Hutte. Well, I lie just a little. Lower down it turned fiendishly slushy and the slope was littered with bear traps. I got to the bottom where a bridge crossed the stream, thinking Rob would be turning elegantly at my heels. He wasn't, but some time later a figure appeared floundering waist deep on the fragile snow bridges above the stream, carrying but one ski. The other ski was erect in a bear trap somewhere above, unrecoverable for the moment. But with just one ski there was no way Rob could get up the slope to the hut in such wretched snow. Tim was the saviour. He'd just arrived at the hut from the valley. Rob made contact with him by walkie-talkie. The logistics were then obvious: I skinned up to the hut to meet Tim who then skied down carrying one of my skis. Soon we were together again with Rob, as was his wont, tucking into a monstrous apple strudel with his afternoon latte. A huge meal replete with wine followed and the recovery of the lone ski in the frost next morning seemed to become a more attractive proposition.

For two days we skied the nearby glacier and descended from the summit of Similaun (3,600m) on the frontier. It looked hot and smoggy down in Italy. We refrained from shouting down a warning about the coming onslaught from the All Whites. The weather was packing up; it was time to retreat. As we walked into the village of Vent, summer had truly arrived. In Innsbruck we dined well and went our separate ways.

Team: those who did the hard work and who should have been there: Julie Melville and Karen Brown. Tinny freeloaders: Rob Rowlands, Tim Stern and John Nankervis

Page last modified on 2011 Jan 26 00:55

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