Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

This was the fourth and final stage of a multi-year project to ski from the French Mediterranean coast to Vienna. In the previous three winters we had completed 86 stages in 112 days covering 1750 km with 99,628m of ascent. With the major mountains of the Alps behind us we were hopeful that the final short journey through the mountains of eastern Austria would be less challenging and less stressful than the preceding legs. Despite the lower altitudes this was not always the case.

We were fortunate to choose a year of excellent snow throughout the entire Alps. There were no problems with snow cover and we were able to ski into the suburbs of Vienna at an altitude of 200m. However we were unlucky with prolonged periods of dull and overcast weather and some exceptionally cold temperatures. We skied for 16 days from 19th February to 7th March (with a single rest day) covering 363km with 15,430m of ascent. We spent 15 nights in guesthouses or hotels, one night in a hut winter room, and one night bivouacked in a tractor shed.

The team for the 2018 leg was David Hamilton and Steve Kentish, with Claire Marvin driving a support vehicle. We started in Großsölk in the Schladming valley and travelled northeast through the province of Steiermark to the eastern extremity of the alpine chain on the banks of the river Danube. This is not a region frequented by British skiers or those making multi-day ski tours, but there are numerous day tours popular with locally based Austrians and on some days we met a few other skiers. The tour divides naturally into three distinct sections.

The first part exits the Niedere Tauern and travels through a predominantly forested landscape to the mining town of Eisenerz. This was a six day journey with overnight stops in Donnersbachwald, Gulling, Rottenmann, Johnsbach, and Radmer. These are similar days, each with some road walking, a mixture of forest trails and footpaths, and some good ski terrain. The summer hiking trails are generally well marked but a GPS is essential for winter navigation. The forest access roads enabled fast and efficient travel while the narrow and indistinct footpaths could be frustratingly difficult to follow. On the first day we climbed to the summit of the Großes Bärneck (2071m). On following days we were satisfied to cross obvious passes linking the various valley systems. The weather was not great and we saw very little sun. However the visibility was just good enough to navigate the largely non-technical terrain.

The second part is distinctly more mountainous, traversing five high limestone massifs, each with multiple summits: Hochschwab (2277m), Veitschalpe (1981m), Schneealpe (1903m), Raxalpe (2007m), and Schneeberg (2076m). This would be considered a substantial tour anywhere in the Alps. Four out of the six travel days took nine hours or longer. There was plenty of deep snow in the forested approaches to the peaks but the summits were often wind blasted and coated in rime ice. We encountered a lot of poor weather including strong winds and temperatures below -25°C. During this stage we had two very cold overnight stops: a bivouac in an outbuilding next to the Sonnschienhütte (which had unexpectedly closed after telling us they would be open), and a night sleeping on the dining room tables in the Schneealpenhaus, a hut not set up for winter visitors. In both cases our food and water froze inside the buildings and it was necessary to light candles under the gas stove before it would operate.

The third section leaves the high mountains behind and traverses the undulating hills of the 'Vienna woods' gradually losing height until it reaches the city limits. At the planning stage we had assumed that it would be necessary to hike much of this without skis. However the excellent snow cover enabled us to ski on a combination of footpaths and forest access roads for almost the entire distance. In four days we covered 95km and climbed 2722m. From the small resort town of Puchberg at the foot of the Schneeberg we followed the forested ridge of the Dürre Wand (1222m) to Pernitz. The following day was shorter, taking in the summit of Waxeneck (785m) on the way to Pottenstein. The next day was similar in character, taking in the summit of the Hoher Lindkogel (834m) on the way to Gaaden. The final day was split between a morning on skis and an afternoon on foot. We skied through woods to the Kammersteinerhütte (582m) and climbed the historic Josefswarte Tower for our first view of the city below. A short ski descent led to vineyards on the edge of Vienna where we packed the skis and walked the final 15km to Stephansplatz in the city centre.

The easternmost leg of the Alpine crossing was always going to present different challenges from the sections in the higher mountains. We were lucky to find sufficient snow at lower altitudes but less fortunate with the weather and low temperatures. Finding accommodation out of season in small villages far from tourist centers was a problem, compounded by the lack of German language skills in the party. It would have been very difficult to complete this trip without a support vehicle. Garmin and Suunto devices gave different figures for distance and ascent. Taking the Garmin figures (which are slightly higher than Suunto) the four year TransAlp ski project covered 102 stages in 129 days, travelling a distance of 2,118 kms with 115,058m ascent.

A detailed ‘guidebook style’ description of the entire tour is available at: https://highadventure.org.uk/introduction.html

David Hamilton 20th March 2018

David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
Hartshill
Nuneaton
Warwickshire
CV10 0SG

Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

Telephone:    From UK    02476 395422
From other countries     +44 2476 395422

Skype:  davidhamilton8848

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