Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Not the right way home

Gr Traithen fromUrsprungtal
So, with my commitment to head north and eventually home, what did I do? I drove east to Ursprungtal near Bayrischzell. Most people tackle Grosser Traithen (1852m P1007 – a Major) from the eastern side from Gasthaus Rosengasse. However I did not want to drive all that way. 

Gr Traithen from Fellalm
So I set off from the Stockerhutte car park (820m) on track 658 which winds its way through the autumnal coloured forest to an alp at Fellalm. At that point it meets track 652 which climbs through the dwarf pines to the summit. With another great view of the Wilder Kaiser – and I could see that the rest of Bavaria to the north was covered by an extensive blanket of low cloud. And that later that day I knew I would be driving under that cloud – oh bother! My internal dialogue, as I watched the leaves fall off the trees and headed back down to the van, was along the lines of the old Clash song. What  should I do?

Bavarian coastline!

View of Fellalm
Rock dog with lipstick?

Wilder Kaiser, again
Willow leaved Gentian, again

Welcome to Bavaria

Wilder Kaiser from Rotwand

The weather was so good. Why not just stay in the Tyrol? I was so tempted. But I knew I had to head north and better to do it at a leisurely pace in fine weather. So, I crossed the German border near Kiefersfelden by the river Inn and headed into the more gentle Bavarian Alps.

As it was still very sunny and a weekend the roadside huttes and car parks were very busy. And I had some difficulty finding anywhere to park near the lake Spitzingsee. I started from the Stumpflingbahn ski-lift car park on a traffic free but people busy tarmac road. There weren’t many people going up, but a lot coming down. At a junction, not having a map, I took the gamble that the Hermann-Klebber Weg would lead me to the summit of Rotwand (1884m P741 – a Major) – which in English means red wall. This unpaved road traversed back and forth through the forest before breaking out onto the alp meadow below the decidedly non-red wall of Rotwand. 
Not red wall
There was a very well worn track to the summit. 

Ignoring the cross, I admired the view south the Austrian Tyrol and north to the lowlands of Bavaria. Hey look , there’s the Wilder Kaiser.

Trig point

There was a rougher track that traversed below the wall that met a maintained path heading north. I took another gamble that this might take me back to the junction by an alternative route. Where it did take me was to a hut and a ski lift that was operating. That explained the crowds. Not for me though – there were a few hours of daylight left, the weather was great, there was a big queue, it would cost money and all I had to do was walk downhill, if I could find a way. 

Below and, sort of, in the right direction I could see another hut, the Obere Maxlrainer Alm -  but there were no signs to it. I made my way down a rough track and found that it was open and had a welcome glass of pop. No evidence of a path, though. Isn’t it odd how quickly you can become Europeanised? In GB in a similar situation I would just simply walk downhill and thrash my way through the pine forest in the hope of picking up a forest road or firebreak. I was so busy berating myself for becoming so trail dependent to notice that there was a skilift – surely one end of the skilift will have an access road going to it. So down I went and yes, there was a track and this eventually took me back to the unpaved road I had started on.
Grosser Traithen (on left) from Rotwand

Last Ultra of the trip, probably

Wilder Kaiser, indeed

What a magnificent sight is Wilder Kaiser with its highest point of  Ellmauer Halt (2344m P1552 i.e. an Ultra). It is a range of hills in the Kaisergebirge Alps that just seems to soar up out of the earth. You can see it for kilometres around. There was no way that I could just drive past it and ignore it.

Nursing my hangover, I parked up in St. Johann in Tirol with the intention of getting a non-alcoholic drink and wandering around to see if there  was a bookshop that sold maps. Not sure if the day was just an ordinary day or a festival, but it was buzzing with activity There were market stalls around the quaint Tyrolean buildings.

I couldn’t see a  bookshop, but by chance I found a remainder shop selling outdated Kompass maps for only four Euros. Oh, bliss upon bliss.  Let me explain if you are not a hilbagger, or even a hillwalker (a different animal altogether) that is like a gourmand accidentally discovering a four star restaurant giving food away for free. I mean, how can a map of a mountain become outdated, geologically speaking?
Next day, with a very early start for me, I set off as daylight broke from the parkplatz at Wochenbrunner Alm (1084m) up an unpaved road to Gaudeamushutte (1263m). This was the point where I became momentarily confused, the map said take track 813, the signs only offered 824.That’s how a map of a mountain can become outdated. 
The first obstacle
The next section of the track has to overcome the obstacle of  getting up a cliff  on to Gruttenkopf – none too hard, but not really a tourist path. 


On the top was the, closed for winter, Gruttenhutte and the start of track 813 on both map and signs. The track starts innocently enough on the grassy alp. 


However it soon enters into a rock strewn corrie with a small glacier in the bottom and magnificent views of the almost vertical sided main ridge. 
 How on earth will the track take me up there?

Glacier from above
The answer to that question was by means of a series of kletterstieg assisted climbs and some long traverses across the rock.

One section consisted of steel rings forming a long ladder – see picture  – I assume they are set so high because in winter they are above the snow . This ladder was fine going up, but I wasn’t too keen coming back down it.

Onwards and upwards
Near the summit is a small hut precariously lodged into the rock in a very exposed position. You wouldn’t want to step outside half-asleep  during the night for a  pee.
Ellmauer Halt summit
Starting down agaiin
Here's the bit I didn't like going down

The return route as far as the Gruttenhutte was very much the same as the ascent, although I took the possibility of missing out some of the rocks lower down by running down the scree and walking across the glacier. As it was a Saturday and glorious weather,  now there were a lot of people on the paths that cross the alp. I discovered later that it is also half-term in Germany which explained the numbers of children.

From the Gruttenkopf I used the alternative track 825 (812 on my map) back to Wockenbrunner Alm. This was a bit easier than the ascent path. Back at the van, I celebrated bagging the Wilder Kaiser with a bottle of Kaiser beer and then went for a meal and a couple glasses of weissbier at the very busy alm, sharing a table with a friendly family from Frankfurt.
After the weissbeer

Birnhorn passed o’er


Steinberge Alps

I had a dilemma, the morning after I came off Hochk√∂nig 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