Nassbachklamm / Hochstellerbach north couloir

The ski season 2013-14 continues to be much on-off, and I’ve been on slopes just once in the last five weeks. The Ajelutiimi kiddos have on the other hand been riding enough to exhaust their motivation for standard lift-assisted freeriding and have been keen on hitting something more exciting. One particular plan was drafted two months ago, and we’ve been just waiting for the right time and solid conditions. This week the weather forecast was favorable for a two days’ trip.

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How can you resist that in the middle?

First the Zillertaler newbies were introduced to the Banana couloir in Hintertux. All Ajelutiimi boys are really good skiers but haven’t been exposed to lines that require climbing gear and rope handling skills. Lessons were given, and they were quickly ready for their first short rappel.

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Taneli going – and pics taken from all possible angles.

Because something bigger was in the plan for the next day, I had thought the Banana is just a tick without much more interest, but it proved to be a good run once again!

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These boys do know how to pose – thumbs up after a good run down!

Yet the first glimpse of the couloir sketched in the Google Earth view above was even more interesting. It’s hidden for the most part of Hintertux glacier, but on the way up to Höher Riffler, we realised that it can be seen just behind the ridge we were skinning up.

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The couloir can be seen from further to the hiker’s right from here – you should recognise the place if you’ve been here before.

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And this is how the range looks. Compare this pic to the first sketch above to know better where to look. The couloir is behind the ridge, just to the right of the small glaciated area in the middle of a lot of rock, coming down near the end of the lake.

For the afternoon / evening plan, we just needed to ski quickly back to the Hintertux resort, in the far back of it, and over it down to the Olperer Hütte‘s Winterraum. Gotta say kudos to the people who’ve built it and are maintaining it – a five star accommodation with all modern facilities but nothing too fancy to ruin a hut experience. Highly recommended!

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Olperer Hütte’s Winterraum. (Picture by Kuutti)

The plan for the 2nd day was to ski down to the next valley and hike up to between the peaks of Kleiner Hochsteller and Hochstall. We just couldn’t figure out at first if we should go behind it (presumably easily skinnable) or on front the side, where the couloir sits. After a delicious carbonara dinner, with bellies full and brains working again, we agreed to approach on the front. The call was made this way, because we didn’t know exactly the nature of the route and the name indicated it might be icy (“nass” = wet, “bach” = creek).

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Front side on the left, back on the right.

In the morning, we were late as usual. Then the weather was very warm, and the fön was blowing. Funny to ride corn at 10am, but sort of nothing to complain about at this point, even some concerns for snow / rock stability started to build up.

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The lakes here are often dammed creations.

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A labyrinth of snow on the sunny side.

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Cross the river over a bridge near the Zamsgatterl kiosk…

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…and continue past the warning signs.

We passed first what we had already named Training Couloir I and Training Couloir II, both looking surprisingly good, TC2 just sketchy in the warm weather hinting of wet slides and rock falls.

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TC1.

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TC2.

We all had silently decided for ourselves that we’re to settle for TC1, and that the main objective will have to wait for another day, better conditions and an earlier timing, but then we saw it.

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Ta-daa!

We were late, the weather was warm, and the TCs were there, so I was still 100% sure in my head that we’re not gonna do it – until Taneli started to ask questions about the conditions. I didn’t first even understand he was vaguely proposing that we would actually do it now. Once his intentions sank in, I was on the throttle. The couloir was a lot more in shade than TC2 just minutes earlier, and there were no large snow fields above it. Kuutti backed off, which was both understandable and respected for a possibly icy slope and his handicapped telemark setup ;)

I had checked a map earlier and sold the climb as a “550hm at 45-55 degrees”, which we would now run quickly up and ski safely down, as the conditions were good. Taneli and I took off skinning with skis and switched to bootpacking with crampons after the initial approach, when the snow was getting harder.

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Taneli’s first day on crampons, and a push per that :)

The first leg on crampons wasn’t technically anything really hard nor physically demanding – a pretty standard walk up. At a little Y-crossroad, we followed on the right side into the main couloir, where the going gets steeper but completely OK.

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Still on feet only – the slope gets later 4WD steep.

The higher we reached, the harder the climbing got; I had just come from low-lands and would need a couple more days up in the mountains for the rhythm. We knew that the top part will be blocked by a rocky section and that we can’t reach the highest point of the couloir, but we wanted to carry on as far as possible, as the couloir just got better and better with every step – it’s steeper and the snow was softer there.

But it was getting strangely late. I couldn’t believe how slowly we were moving. How can a 550m high couloir take so much time? Then Taneli checked his altimeter, which said we had covered 670hm, and there was a way to go. I thought I had screwed up something small with the low point when planning the trip and estimated that the remaining bit can’t result in more than maybe 750hm in total. Finally after about 4hrs we were standing 920m higher than the starting point. Hmm…

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If you approach from the back side, you must be prepared to rappel here. It’s probably skiable on a good snow year here on left but no guarantees.

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Anyway, a cool ride awaited. The half-empty lake in the back is the only stain I can name here. It’s quite ugly from this angle at this time of the year.

The rest is in the film. It’s again a long and boring POV video, but the couloir’s big and the riders are slow. And the main point to post a complete run is to describe the entire route for anyone interested in skiing it. Some snow is good, some is bad. Some turns are off balance, some are linked well. I just hope this video inspires Zillertal visitors (or even the locals) to hit these wonderful spots the valley has to offer! They’re not always served on a shiny tray, but keep on looking and your efforts will be rewarded!

 

Or, no, I have to tell about the exit still.

So we had started late, had a bit longer than expected approach, spent extra time checking out the Training Couloirs (as we thought that’s where we would be going), climbed 920hm instead of the expected 550hm. All in all, we were quite very late. Safe but late, and to return in darkness.

Here are my tips for you if you plan to do this route:

  1. Ski a day in Hintertux (the Banana or anything else you find interesting).
  2. Spend the night in Olperer Hütte – the winterraum is really good. Respect the facilities, leave the place in a tidy condition, and pay for your stay (4eur for DAV members, 8eur for others, you can also leave tip).
  3. Ski the couloir with an approach either from the front side or the back (bring gear for the rappel!).
  4. As you probably have a car parked in Hintertux, go back to Olperer Hütte and spend another night there. I think the best way up is from Dominikushütte in the north-end of Schlegeisspeicher – we went past it and it looked good. Enjoy the atmosphere of a (relatively) remote place after a great day of skiing.
  5. Skin the following morning back to Hintertux, spend the day there or go straight back to your car.

Instead of the described way above, we went past the big dam for Schlegeisspeicher, hoping that there’s enough snow to ski down to Breitlahner. Yes there was some, but not quite enough, and we ended up walking a lot. There are also three tunnels on the way, which you walk in any case. Note that the tunnels are closed at this time of the year, and we were seriously shocked by this, before we found the switches that the doors can be opened with! It was pitch-black at about 9pm, when we finally reached Breitlahner, and my car was still parked in Hintertux…

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They’ve got the colours, they’ve got the tan!

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