Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Birnhorn passed o’er


Steinberge Alps

I had a dilemma, the morning after I came off Hochkönig the weather that I had me worried I might get caught up in whilst up there, arrived. In the valleys it rained for 36 hours and on the hills it snowed. I kind of resigned myself to start heading northwards through Germany and home. However, I could see that the weather forecast was offering one day of sunshine later in the week, so I took the risk and waited. Well, as it turned out in the Austrian Tyrol/German Bavarian Alps this one day turned into a fine Indian summer for several days  once you got above the valleys full of temperature inverted mist that lasted until lunchtime each day. 

Good job too, because I overslept on the first fine day – and therefore just spent the afternoon wandering around the lower slopes of Birnhorn without a map.
Leogang under the clouds
On 18 October, still without a map, however by now with some idea of the layout of the mountain, I set off from Ullachtal in thick mist, past a picnic site with heavy duty barbecue facilities on a vigorous track that has a series of those nature trail information boards way up the hillside. As ever, the track started in forest and then went through dwarf pines to break out above the cloud level  to reveal the rocky outline of the Steinberge Alps. 

The path crosses a dry river bed and then becomes a mixture of easy cabled kletterstieg and concrete steps. There are a few sections of very narrow ledges that are quite exposed but not too difficult. To the right there are a couple of  proper kletterstieg routes that lead to other tops in the range.
Passauerhutte from below
At the top of the corrie there was the now closed Passauerhutte – although it does have an open winterraum and a room, like a conservatory, where you can sit inside in poor weather. Beyond the hut was the evidence of the rain/snow earlier in the week and this evidence took some pioneering and navigating work. Both the pioneering and navigating slowed me down quite a bit – in other words, I lost the track for a while and spent a lot of time and energy ploughing through fresh deep snow.

Behind the hut
Now which way?
When I eventually reached the  steep rocky slopes of the summit ridge I was quite pleased with myself as I had found the marked trail, again. However, it seemed rather odd because instead of fixed metal cable etc the route up was aided by rather ancient rope that at times was decidedly frayed and worn. As I had already passed my planned ‘turn round’ time I very nearly gave up at this point. Half way up the slope (cIiff?) I came across this sign:
Now they tell me!

Can you see my footprints?
There is no such corresponding sign at the bottom, mind you.  But, anyway from this point on the difficulties were only presented by the snow and ice rather than the climbing difficulties. All the while I was muttering to myself ‘you should be turning back, I know the winterraum is open but you haven’t got anything but a sandwich made from stale bread and an apple, you should be turning back, you know’. The obsessive hillbagger is replying – ‘yeah, but you don’t want to have to do this all again, do you?’ Guess which side won?
The summit of Birnhorn (2634m P1665 i.e. an Ultra), as ever, has an unimaginative and dull cross spoiling the view. Otherwise the views were great – but the lateness of the hour was pressing. By now I was beginning to worry if I would be able to get as far as the Passauerhutte before dusk.

Leogang without the mist by now
Summit view
The new kletterstieg route turned out to be fairly easy, despite the snow. The only disadvantage it brought was that I had to pioneer a new route across the deep fresh snow in the corrie rather than use the one I had made on the ascent. Eventually I found my original track and then an easier way back to the hut, than I had used on the ascent. 

By the time I had reached the hut there was just about enough daylight to be able to find my way around the room to discover the candles, lighters and wood burning stove. And, thankfully (because I was the first person to use the room this winter) a plentiful supply of  teabags, powdered soup, chocolate and alcohol.
View from the hut in the morning
 At daybreak, in the morning, I set off back down the mountain – with a hangover.
Birnhorn from the west
Chuffing flight

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