Our first real encounter with the mountains as a group. A week where the men were to be seperated from the boys (or Mariet from the girls). And the first test of commitment and perseverance as we would now for the first time be with the entire expedition group.
As we had the prospect of (unfortunately only) eight days of Winter Wonderland we wanted all what were able to get from these wonderful days. The list was clear, a week full of touring to train the endurance was wanted as well as freeriding on some fresh fallen snow, learning an awful amount of intersting and useful stuff about the mountains and maybe even some winter camping for the commitment towards the extreme conditions expected at Kang Yatze.
All of this was indeed going to happen and to reach our goals of the week we would get the support of the Dutch UIAGM Mountain Guide Jelle Staleman together with the pleasant 9th group member of the week, his girlfriend. Jelle would be especially prepared in trying to learn an awful lot to us about the mountains, weather forecasting, tour planning, expeditions preperations and we could go on and on about what we were about to learn.
Now the bars were raised for the week, everbody was well prepared in a good shape and we were ready to go ...
Floris doing some extreme snowboarding
to Austria. Saturday the 31th of Januar was our first day on the road and after a long day of driving there was a nice apartment waiting for us in the valley of Ötztal. As Jelle was going to tour with us from Tuesday till Saturday, we were going to use Sunday and Monday for getting the hang of how to ski like a pro in the powder. In this way we were hoping to make at least some impression on the one and only 'mountain goat' (as we like to name it in Delft) of the week, Jelle himself.
Thus, after two beautiful days in Obergurgl and Sölden (oh yes, I forgot to mention that we almost had an entire week with just a warm sun and blue skies), we went to the village of Kühtai for some tourskiing and freeriding.
Jelle and Tino ascending the Vordere Karlesspitze
The first day started of with some final checks for avalanche safety, as we already trained ourselves the evening before, Jelle mentioned some final checks before we headed towards our first peak of the week. The first on the list was going to be the Wetterkreuzkogel. As this was our first day of the season going up on skins, everybody still needed to get comfortable again on these sticky things. Especially, when Jelle choose to go straight up some steep bushy terrain. This also lead to one of the most funny moments of the week, as it was not only our first day on skins of the season, but also Floris his first time on skins ever! As he was ambitious enough to go up the mountain with only skiers since he is a boarder, he rented a splitboard for the week. This made him to go just as fast up the mountain, at least he was told. I honestly have to say that Floris did a great job being out there on his splitboard as that increased the speed of the group for sure. And well, those first moments on skins for him, were also quiet enjoyable.
Enne descending the Vordere Karlesspitze
Then, after some pleasurable hours of walking upwards, there he was, our first real summit. A summit as can be seen only there at such an extreme remote place ... he stood there, snowy and firm, rising above ... at least enough mountains to be nameworth. With his 2591m the Wetterkreuzkogel was a humble first mountain to ascend, where many others were and are to follow.
After a well deserved descend and a good night sleep at the Dortmunderhutte, the second day at Kuhtai was about to start. Again, blessed by good weather, a nice day up the mountain was ahead of us. This time, with the approval and under the supervision of Jelle, we planned to go up the Vordere Karlspitze. Directly from the hut out tour was going to start with a small descend towards the dam close to Kuhtai. From here, the skins were again placed under our skies (and boards) and the same routine as yesterday was about to take place. A beautiful ascend with as main challenge not to get sun burned, at least, that was the expectation...
Enjoying some sun #1
...But since we were about to challenge ourselves with some steep passages we aspired to master the technique of kick turns (or 'spitzkehre'). For some, this was just as an everyday ascend and for others the most difficult challenge of the week. Thus, after half of the group tasted some of surrounding snow, our second summit of the week was a fact! This time it was the Vordere Karlesspitze with his 2574m who gave us the feeling as if we had just reached the quarterfinals of the Championsleague. Of course, the final will be held in the very north of India, probably somewhere in July.
Crossing "the cloud line" heading to the Steinmandl
As this was such a nice day with some really good snow on the way down, most of us wanted more and more of these descends. Therefore, when we were almost back at the dam, half of the group had still enough energy to go for one more (slighty shortened) trip upwards. Not more than an hour later we were back again, now on the opposite site of the valley, back again for a beautiful descend. With as a setting the powerful sunset of Ötztal reaching our exhausted body's, we stept into a flank surrounded by trees and bushes. Probably, this felt as one of the best descends of the week.
Ascending the mountain with Tino, Raoul and Enne
The next day we started very ambitious with plans to go towards the col in between the Pochkogel and Steintalspitzen and were planning go over it to make a roundtrip to the other site of the Pochkogel back to Kuhtai. However, as Jelle's tips & tricks were starting to pay off, we as a group decided not to complete our trip half the day. Just below the col next to the Pochkogel we (almost) crossed some 35 / 40 degree couloir of snow, which would not be wise knowing that the avalanche risk was a 3 the entire week in Kuhtai. Thus, after we independently of Jelle convinced each other to return, we were one step further away of our third summit of the week, but one step closer to a better controled and safer trip at Kang Yatze. Gradually the influence of Jelles stories and helpful tips were better and better received by the group. Thus, after a relatively short trip with also some deteriorating weather on the way down, we were back at the Dortumunderhutte.
Preparing a delicious meal by night
Tonight we had something special planned as we wanted to do a winter bivi in tents tonight. After finding the perfect spot for out campsight, we were ready to dig some snow. Not an hour or so later, all the tents stood and were filled up with very warm sleeping bags for a good night sleep. After all the preparations, cooking was on the menu, and it must be said that cooking on such a small burner with a limited amount of cooking volume in the pan, let you make the most delicious dishes ever made. Luckily we were starving the moment the food was finally ready and we all ate our dishes as if we were eating homemade pancakes with extra syrup and sugar.
Now, after we were fed up with our lovely food, a cold evening breeze made us to quickly go into our warm sleeping bags. A cold and adventurous night was awaiting us!!
Some telemarking by Tino
The fourth day in Kühtai, after a wonderful rising from our campsite, was a day quickly to be forgotten. As the snow conditions worsened we were forced to go to another valley close to Kuhtai where it was expected to have better conditions than around Kuhtai. Thus, we planned to go up to the Windegg (2644m) three valleys away from where we were. After some driving we were, as planned, going up the path towards Windegg. A path, because there indeed was a path for sledding in winter or driving in summer. After this path and some nice shortcuts in between we reached the Juifenalm halfway our trip to Windegg. From here, we had the unfortunate pleasure of seeing that all the snow above the hut of Juifenalm was blown away by the wind. Luckily, as we are such a flexible team, it took us a few short momentents to decide to go inside the mountain cabin for some hot choco with whipcream and a fresh apple pie with vanilla custard while of course playing the always challenging game of 'klaverjassen'. After maybe a very fast hour of playing cards, we wanted to do something in the snow. Hence, we decided to try and see if there maybe was another way to go up the mountain. When we were packed and ready to go on our skies we tried to find a new route up Windegg but this proved itself to be impossible without hitting at least a dozen of rocks upwards and downwards from the summit as well.
Thus, this meant that we had no way up and we had to go down the sledging path. A small race and some jumps in between made the trip enjoyable on itself, but the descend was definitely not our highlight of the week.
The trip on our final day near the Fernpass
Thus, that evening we were intensively discussing where to go next, on our final day with Jelle. After numerous options went by, we noticed that there was a very nice valley next to route back to Holland. So it was decided and we were about to go to the Fernpass and make a tour from there on up to the Steinmandl. However, before doing so we had one of our most important nights of the week as we discussed our goals and ambitions for the summer and how we wanted to reach these. Lets hope that all of these goals and ambitions will work out just fine this summer and make it just as enjoyable as this week was.
The abandoned mountain cabin near the Fernpass
There we were, the next day at 7 am, just seconds after the breakfast was ready, we were on the road going towards the Fernpass. Not much later we grabbed our skies out of the cars and went deep into the valley next to the Fernpass, heading towards the Steinmandl. As this was a very elongated valley, it took us the whole morning to get above the treeline. But as we reached this treeline, ont of the most beautiful located mountain cabins I know came into our sight. A well deserved lunch as well as our final tanning moment of the week was good to go.
Enjoying some sun #2
After this well deserved pause we went back on the track and continued our way up. Finally we were again ascending above the treeline and going steeply up to the summit. Unfortuanetly, again, the snow conditions would not allow us to reach the summit, so also on our final day, we had to settle with a few meters below the summit. Nevertheless, we were able to make a great and long descent from this point and our last day of the trip was a fact.
What an amazing week this was and definitely a good preparation for the summer.
We especially want to thanks Jelle Staleman for the great week of training and sharing all his knowledge on the mountains in all different conditions!
Of course we end with some more photos of the week:
The pack leaders deciding whether it's safe to go on The group heading towards the Wetterkreuzkogel Last steep section on skies of the Vordere Karlesspitze Final climb to the summit of the Vordere Karlesspitze Raoul making some long turns on our final decend of the week