The Hungarian system of mountaineer qualification has three steps:
- basic rock climbing course
- winter alpine course
- summer alpine course
The last two can be finished in an optional order so I just took the first opportunity after my basic exam to take part in the winter alpine course organised by my club, now all that’s left for me is the summer alpine course. The scenery was truly breathtaking: the Stubai Alps in the Ötztal, Tirol. After an early start at 4.15 a.m. and a 800 km drive we finally arrived in Gries at 1 p.m. We quickly changed into our winter outfits, put on our heavy sacks and started our 4 km slog up to the Amberger Hut (2135m).
On our way we constantly had to watch out for (and sometimes jump aside from) the skiers and sledders racing down from the hut at full speed on the icy route. We could already picture our way back the next week and that gave us some extra motivation! (Of course we could not know that our way down would be completely different.)
Needless to say we were not cold when we arrived at the hut where we were welcomed by the very friendly keepers and a delicious dinner. Before the meal we tried Zirbenschnaps (made from pine cones) which was a great way to relax from the hardships of this very long day. During/after our first meal we could already suspect that this week would not help us in losing any weight (despite all the calorie burning exercises we had ahead of us). Each dinner consisted of 3 courses + salad buffet. I think this time pictures talk better than words:
Sorry, no picture of the world’s most delicious „Kaiserschmarrn” as it was all eaten before I could even reach for my camera.
And this went on for 6 nights, in the end we had a serious suspicion that there was a conspiracy against Hungarian climbers organised by DAV and they wanted to do away with us by shocking our digestive systems. Fortunately their great beer and some more Zirbenschnaps helped us to survive the week.
But we sure needed all the calories as it turned out already on our first day. Each day we went out into the huge valley (Sulztal) in front of the hut which is a totally closed area surrounded by 3000+ peaks. (This way it is protected from the winds which was a blessing in temperatures sometimes around -15 C.) The highest one is the Schrankogel (3496m) which we did not attempt due to the snow conditions. The place is perfect for ski mountaineering too, there are plenty of routes leading into altitude ranges of 3000 – 3400 metres.
On our first day we had some avalanche rescue practice: the hidden avalanche transceivers had to be found and digged out by pairs as fast as possible. We used Pieps Freeride which is a great 2 antenna transceiver and we had really good results when we combined it with the use of the iProbe. We also learned a lot about the different types of avalanches, avalanche danger grades, how to move together on snow fields, snow profile analysis and as an extra bonus we could get a taste of what it feels like being buried by an avalanche (and how to breathe under the snow).
The course included:
How to build different types of snow & ice anchors:
How to dig ice caves:
How to arrest your partner’s fall & crevasse rescue:
How to move as a team in the waist-deep snow, how to stop yourself when sliding down and many more:
And the winner of all:
I’ve just found my new favourite sport!!! Too bad we really could only get a very small sample of it. It felt like after a week of starving someone had been pulling away my favourite food in front of my nose, I could have smelled it but they wouldn’t have given me a bite! (I seriously hope I haven’t mixed up the tenses too much in this sentence…) My poor ice axes are whining like doggies that can’t go for a walk! They want to dig their teeth into hard ice again!!! They want more ice and steeper ice, they have a craving appetite.
The one week flew by at supersonic speed and soon we found ourselves dragging our sledges behind us with our heavy sacks in the more than 30 cm of fresh snow that had fallen the night before we left this wonderful winter sanctuary.
So today I’m off to the climbing wall just to keep my forearms in shape for the next weekend when we’re hopefully going to explore some more Austrian ice!!! I’m definitely hooked!