Winter ascent & bivouac Totenkirchl, Austria (2,190m)

‘The adventure starts where experience ends’

(Paul Koller, Austrian Mountain Guide)

I wanted to use some of my time on family ski holiday to prepare for Lhotse, pick up some new skills and expand my comfort zone somewhat. I turned to the Austrian alpine guides and ended up on a two-day tour with a very seasoned, local guide Paul Koller. He had been on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Everest (3 of 14 8,000m peaks) and completed the 7 summit series (several peaks multiple times). Born and bred in the Kaiser-mountain range he took me to his favorite peak – Totenkirchl (100+ ascents and has ascended & descended from Stripsenjochhaus top summit in one hour). The trip left no wishes open …

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We set out from his home after checking the gear. From my original pack I left my soft shell trousers, ridgerest and one of the axes behind … but added a tent instead. Best guess about 20kg were waiting to be carried up the hill. The starting point of the route is the ‘Griesneralm’ at about 1,000m (leaving 1,200 to climb). We used snow shoes throughout the first day (make MSR are best in Paul’s view … funny enough Irish made though US origin … as was the stove & tent of the same brand – https://www.msrgear.com/ie/). Its great walking in these with their broad step and spikes though it took me a while to get fully used to them. Particularly some steep sections required some trust in the gear, as I was tempted to swap snowshoes & ski poles for crampons & axe.

The hike took us about 3,5hours for 2.2km until we reached our ‘camping ground’ right underneath the guide fingers at 4pm. There was, however, a lack of snow leaving too small a platform to put the tent. We enlarged it manually by shovelling more snow from above. Once the tent was up the usual procedure of melting snow, re-hydrate and eat began. I was terribly hungry and it felt that I ate most of my provisions including a pack for two of Tortelloni. By 6pm it was getting dark and we began to prepare for the night. Paul took some great pics of our orange shelter glowing in the night.

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Next morning we started neither too early nor too late though seemingly a bit behind Paul’s agenda. By 7.30am we were walking. This time equipped with crampons and axe to maneuver the steep terrain and the technical climbing beyond (i.e. we would definitely need it). It would turn into a hard, but fulfilling day that certainly expanded my comfort zone significantly. Be it to trust the frozen snow, climbing with crampons on rock, abseiling. What Paul lead-climbed looked spectacular to say the least and left me feeling comfortable all the time.

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We reached the peak at around 1pm. An hour behind schedule. The views were spectacular and together with a bit of sun made for a nice resting place. We also entered our names into the summit book. The last entry was from 30 October 2016 making this the first winter ascent of the season. Then came the abseiling. It has been a while since I did this with crampons (takes me back to Mt. Blanc I believe), but slowly I got the hang of it. We abseiled down the steep rock, but Paul also showed me a light version of abseiling used to descent from high camps quicker than walking the zig-zag in crampons. The whole trip took us 8h 30mins. Once back at the Alm, we enjoyed a good meal, beer and an ‘Obstler’ on the house.

… and here the go pro cut … bit shaky at times, but some good footage too! Enjoy.

Thank you Paul. Hopefully we meet again soon and I can pick up a few more skills after a really good session on Totenkirchl. There is plenty to catch up after all ;o)

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