This is the photo diary of Dave Butcher for a 6 day ski mountaineering trip in the Otztal Alps of Austria, starting from Solden
After a couple of days of skiing solo at Solden I met fellow client Bob Cheesewright (a University lecturer from London) before our guide Jon de Montjoye and his wife Hilary Sharp arrived. I had met Jon the year before, he was the second guide on the Haute Route. We were all staying at the Hotel Fohrenhof in Haiming nr Otztal, a very comfortable hotel. The landlady kindly gave me a lift to the next village a couple of mornings to catch the bus to Solden.
Day 1, Sunday 27th March 1994: Solden to Braunschweiger Hut
We had a bit of a late start, Jon de Montjoye forgot about the clocks changing so we lost an hour! Hilary drove us into Solden where we caught the bus to the Rettenbach Glacier and up the chair lift onto the glacier. From the top of the chair we skied down about a hundred metres, then we skied off to the right through deep powder above some cliffs. Jon pulled a rope out of his rucsac, threw the end over the cliff and asked, “right, who wants to go first?”. Bob and I quickly decided that Hilary should go first, I followed thinking that I might be able to take some striking photos from below looking up. It was a mixture of abseil and side stepping down. Bob came after me and Jon was last since he had belayed us all from the top and had to take in the rope. Unfortunately, the rope was way too short for the drop so we side stepped the last bit without it. Once we were all at the foot of the cliif it was onto the glacier through fresh soft powder snow maybe up to 60cm deep. We skied over to the foot of the slope we needed, stopped to put skins on the skis, took off layers of clothes as it was quite warm and started skiing up towards the Linker Fernkogel. There was a big metal cross at the top held in place by concrete and cables. Bob pulled out a miniature of Bailey’s for us to share to celebrate. So much for travelling super light but it seemd to go down quite well! After some photos it was time to remove the skins, put the skis on and ski to the hut. Good snow and patches of ice at the top, porridge at the bottom near hut. We were close to the hut so took off skis and walked up the last 400m to the Braunschweiger Hut. Had Chamois for dinner. We had a room for 4, luxury.
Peak: Linker Fernkogel (3277m)
Day 2, Monday 28th March 1994: Braunschweiger Hut to Vernagt Hut
We skied down from the hut then put skins on and skinned around to catch the T-bar to Mittelberg Joch (quite a long tow). It was quite a tricky ski descent from here over rocks and down to deeply rutted ski tracks to traverse around until we were at the foot of the Wildspitz. There were lots of other skiers here and we all went up the Mitterkar Joch and up to point 3686m to the west of the summit. Skis were left here and we put on crampons and made our ay up using the deep bucket steps in the soft snow, steep at the top below the summit ridge, then along the last bit to the metal summit cross of the Wildspitz, 2nd highest mountain in Austria. Spectacular views all round with blue skies. Came down same way back to skis, took off the skins and clipped into downhill mode. we skied down carefully around the cevasses, then fast section. Stopped for lunch and to put skins on then made way up to Brochkogel Joch (3423m). People were queueing up to descend from here. Jon just skied past them all and we followed, not waiting for all the others to move on. We continued down the Kleine Vernagtferner and across the Grosse Vernagtferner. Snow very heavy now and we skied up a moraine bank and down to the Vernagt Hut. From here it was skins off to ski down the last half mile. The Vernagt hut was a very large busy hut and we were in the second sitting for dinner. For the second night running we had Chamois for dinner. Again we had a room for 4.
Peak: Wildspitz (3770m)
Day 3, Tuesday 29th March 1994: Vernagt Hut
We left the hut on skins heading north, as were lots of others, there were some icy zig-zags to negotiate on our way up. We made our own way rather than following the crowds, mostly in the clouds. The rocky top of the Hochvernagt Spitz was covered in ice and snow, very similar to a peak in the Scottish Highlands. We stopped for lunch. It was tricky navigating for Jon in thick cloud but we soon found ourselves near the hut again. We skied below the clouds at about 3250m and had good snow so skied below hut until snow softened. Then put skins on and skinned back to the Vernagt Hut.
Peak: Hochvernagt Spitz (3539m)
Day 4, Wednesday 30th March 1994: Vernagt Hut to Schone Aussicht Hut
Breakfast was at 6.30am and we were on our way by 7.30am with blue sky and cold temperatures. We skied down a few hundred yards before stopping to put skins on and ski to the Guslarferner, quite an easy slope until near top of the pass where it steepened and was icy. This was the Ober Guslar Joch at 3361m where we left our skis and climbed up the Fluchtkogel. There were spectacular views from the top with blue skies everywhere and it was hot. We returned to our skis, took the skins off and skied down to the west of the Kesselwand Spitz. We soon hit breakable crust which made turns difficult then it was deep porridge. We skied left into the crags and down a snow covered footpath, then the snow ran out so we took skis off and carried them as we walked around the Hochjoch Hospitz. We walked down the valley, crossed the stream by a snow bridge. Then it was skins on and we skied up to the Schone Aussicht Hut, reaching it at 2.30pm. This was a large hut just in Italy, also called the Bella Vista Hut. We had a large room for 4 people on the second floor. It was quite a creaky old building and busy during the day as there were some ski lifts and pistes quite close.
Peak: Fluchtkogel (3500m)
Day 5, Thursday 31st March 1994: Schone Aussicht hut to Similaun Hut
We had a late start with breakfast at 8am and leaving at 9am. We skied downhill for a half mile, stopped to put skins on and continued uphill across a steep icy slope. Bob had difficulty keeping his edges biting into the ice so Jon laboriously cut steps for him and lifted each ski up into the slot. Eventually we made it to the Hauslab Joch. Here we took our skis off and put crampons on before starting up the ridge with ice axe and a ski pole. Bob was nervous about the exposure on the snow arete so was put on a short rope with Jon, Hilary and I went up unroped which meant I could take photos when I wanted to stop. Clouds were swirling around the mountain and we reached the large metal cross on the summit of Fineil Spitz. We returned the same way, took the skins off, skied down to the col, across a plateau and then traversed around to the Similaun Hut. The weather had closed right in now with the clouds down and it was very cold. The hut was being refurbished and was very cold so put several layers on for sitting in the hut.
Peak: Fineil Spitz (3516m)
Day 6, Friday 1st April 1994: Similaun Hut to Vent
We were up at 7.30am but the weather was bad so we waited in case it improved; we wanted to climb he neighbouring mountain – Similaun. It didn’t improve so at 9.45am we left, heading straight down. Had to ski close together because the visibility was less than 100m. Bob’s axe fell off his rucsac as he skied but fortunately I spotted it as I was behind and picked it up for him. The clouds cleared as we skied lower, just above the Martin Busch Hut. We picked up the footpath, mostly covered in snow but had to remove skis and carry them a few times. Came down to Vent and finished tour beside the river. We stopped for a team photo then along to a bar for a celebratory drink. Hilary made her way back to Solden to pick up her van and come back to collect us, we carried on drinking while we waited!
Camera: Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Ilford 100 Delta 120, Ilford FP4 220