Previously alpine mountaineering was firmly limited to the main holiday of the year, but having moved to Munich it is now possible to do it over a weekend, this was a concept that I spent a large amount of the weekend being amazed by!
We stayed at the Wiesbadener Hütte for two nights, with an aim of climbing Piz Buin on the first day, and Dreiländerspitze on the second day if the weather was perfect. After weeks of wondering if the snow was ever going to go away, and then it being far too hot, we were lucky to have a perfect weekend with relatively cool temperatures and excellent weather.
It was a brilliant weekend with great company, excellent mountains, sometimes challenging card games in a wonderful mountain hut environment with a friendly guardian.
After finishing work slightly early, but evidently not early enough, we drove down to the Bielerhöhe in the Silvretta Alpen. This was an excellent place to start a walk in as the car park was at 2040m, which significantly reduced the ascent. Unfortunately there was a considerable amount of traffic on the drive down, so we arrived much later than anticipated which resulted in us arriving too late to make dinner! Thankfully the hut guardian was very sympathetic and we just had dinner late, but with specific instructions that it was definitely at 6 on Saturday!
While the forecast for the weekend looked excellent, the forecast for the walk in looked somewhere between mixed and atrocious. Thankfully it was even better than the worst forecast from the night before and we didn’t even get wet! The walk in was very straightforward up a good track all the way to the hut, and after admiring the view from the dam, and going through a very strange tunnel, we were at the hut 90mins later. Our bags were unfortunately much bigger than normal as due to Covid we had to carry full sleeping bags to the hut, which certainly made the bags fairly weighty!
The next morning started with an unusual alpine start, as despite having breakfast at 5:30, it was after sunrise as we are still close to the longest day. While I love alpine mountaineering, the early starts don’t get easier, even when they are not that early!
The name Piz Buin is very well known, as it is a popular suncream brand due to it being invented after the inventor became very sunburnt while on Piz Buin. We planned on doing a circular tour, starting up the Ochsentaler Gletscher and descending over a col and down the Vermuntgletscher, however this did not appear to be possible on the day so we ended up ascending and descending mostly the same way.
On the ascent we climbed via Grünne Kuppe which was a fantastic start to the day due to the inversion over the Stausee, and resulted in us loosing less height than the standard approach. The disadvantage turned out to be crossing the soft snow below the snout of the glacier! With the snow cover the glacier felt very safe, either the crevasses were very well filled or they were non existent, either way there was nothing which appeared to be at all concerning.
We made good time up to the end of the glacier and the walk/easy scramble up to the summit. Other than a few steps the ascent to the summit was very straightforwards, and in between the summit cloud the views were brilliant. After enjoying a leisurely lunch on a fairly crowded summit we headed back down.
The descent was very quick, and before we knew it we were back off the glacier. As we only had to get back to the hut we were in no rush, so stopped to cool our feet in a very cold glacial pond. Despite the ice in the middle of the pond, it was still colder than we were expecting! We also explored an amazing ice cave formed by meltwater which was really interesting.
The walk back around to the hut was beautiful, but in the afternoon sun the ascent back up to the hut felt like hard work, although this did just make the cold beer at the hut feel even more rewarding.
Max elevation: 3308 m
Min elevation: 2432 m
Total climbing: 1026 m
Total descent: -997 m
After an afternoon and evening of playing games we had an early night to ensure that we were fresh the next day. Having carried my tripod up to the hut, I was keen to actually use it, but when my alarm went off I wasn’t so keen on getting out of bed so turned it off and went back to sleep. When we all woke up later I looked out of the window and just say lots of cloud so was glad I stayed in bed, however after brushing my teeth the sky exploded, so I grabbed my gear and ran out of the hut and down the hill so that I could get a view down the valley.
Believe it or not, the sky actually looked like this, I have added no saturation to any of these photos!
While the Piz Buin was a fairly short day, the Dreiländerspitze was even shorter, which as good as we were all feeling a bit tired on day 2. After a short approach we were soon at the glacier, which looked tiny on the map, and in person looked very safe. However we all roped up just to be on the safe side and made the ascent up to the peak. Soon we were at the steep slopes below the peak, and due to the extensive snow cover we were able to take a slightly different route to that in the guidebook.
This reduced the time on the rock ridge, although did involve some fairly steep ascent up not great snow which was hard work kicking steps! I was fairly lucky as when we stopped to remove our crampons for the ridge I managed to drop my ice axe which was very embarrassing, but thankfully the group behind us were able to pick it up as it didn’t go very far! A good reminder to be careful when storing an ice axe between your rucksack and your back.
The rock ridge was much better than the Piz Buin, as it involved plenty of good scrambling with impressive positions, but was never difficult and was easy to protect. We made good time up the ridge, keeping pace with the guided group in front of us. The last section up to the summit was really the highlight as we traversed the for summit and then ascended up to the summit. The views were stunning and we really wanted to chill out, have some food, and take some photos. However there was a group of 8 approaching and the summit was really very small, so we briefly admired the view before heading back down.
The descent back to our crampons was quick and uneventful and we then made the quick descent back down to the end of the glacier. The walk out was harder work than the walk in as the snow as softer, often ending up knee deep in the snow.
Max elevation: 3166 m
Min elevation: 2455 m
Total climbing: 713 m
Total descent: -695 m
After a quick drink at the hut, we picked up our sleeping bags etc and made the hot descent back to the car. Thankfully it wasn’t very long, and after about 80mins we were back at the car. We were very jealous of the bikes which overtook us on the descent, as it really would make the walk out from the hut painless!
The drive back to Munich was even worse than the drive to the hut, but we still got back in less than the time it takes to drive from the Lake District to Bristol. On the drive back I was still in some disbelief that I had just spent the weekend alpine mountaineering, without taking any holiday!