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BeitragVerfasst: Sa, 25.11.2006, 17:19 
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RetroRebel
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Registriert: Mo, 09.02.2004, 5:42
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Wohnort: Hannover
It?s the cold, chill hour before dawn. The air smells like dew in the meadows, when I quit the house walking towards the car. Around and behind there?s still night, above and in front though the skies draw first signs of the approaching day in a dark and saturated oriental blue. I breath in deeply - how I love this hour of dawn, for me the finest time of all day. It?s still all open, still nobody knows what the day?s going to bring yet, the world around me still hides its face in a silhouette-like grey of shadows of a past night while the sky initiates an overwhelming kaleidoscope of colours, silent and nearly unseen. A strange euphoria spreads inside of me - partly due to the tremendous atmosphere of the dawning day, partly result of the huge amounts of coffee I just drunk. Two hours of sleep - that?s even few for me.

The little southern German village I pass is still fast aslept. A few meters further I stop again. I park the car and walk back the the old railroad bridge, the camera in my hand. The tracks reflect the morning light, the fume of the paper factory?s boilers forms bizarre schemes against the clearing dawn.

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Minutes and minutes I watch this spectacle, taking images. Only the first cock's crow reminds me of my original intention for the day, so I get back to the car. It?s somehow eerie to glide through these empty forests and meadows - often hidden in the morning mist near the little brooks marches. When the mist only covers the ground a few centimeters high reflecting the light of the meanwhile bright dawn, then it?s already almost like flying... ?Oxygen? of Kju: - how many times this song was fellow in such moments. This one is the morning of May 29th 2004.

I drive towards Leutkirch and the A7 highway. The road via Lindau and Arlberg is not faster, but costs a lot of toll. Especially to Pitztal it?s easy to drive via Fernpass coming from the lands around Ravensburg. The highway passing Memmingen may be some way around, but the direct roads passing the hills of Allgäu take ages. Only annoying thing: the last kilometers of the highway between Mittelberg and Füssen are still unfinished - the last kilometers on German ground therefore cost a lot of time. Anyway: only one hour and 15 minutes after I started I pass the Austrian border - it?s quarter past six. But it?s Whit Sunday, too and the road crossing Fernpass is one of the main routes for south-west German campers traveling towards Lake Garda and to northern Italy. Already by now the road it full of them, there are so many, that it even doesn?t make sense trying to overtake any. All the way crossing the pass I drive in convoy therefore - however, I?m still good in time. Unfortunately the girl at the fuel station informs me incorrectly which road to take (there?s one heading towards Innsbruck and another leading towards Landeck at this point and I forgot which of them passes closer to the entry of Pitztal Valley). Following the wrong information I drive two kilometers in the direction of Innsbruck until remembering which road to take: it is Landeck you have to drive towards. Just twenty minutes later I cross the high bridge over the Inn, driving up Pitztal Valley. At this early hour in the morning the road to the glacier lifts still is good to drive - few people are on their way. You just have to take care of the agricultural vehicles, it is the hour of the slow tractors with their heavy trailers, that often come out of field tracks unexpected behind narrow bends. However, once again I am surprised about the distance to the Pitztaler Gletscherbahn (PGB) and how long it takes to pass all the valley. Even if I see myself revising today some of the advantages I granted the glacier skiing area in Kaunertal against the one in Pitztal - at least the often discussed disadvantage of a too long drive up to Kaunertal glacier is void. Alone driving to Mittelberg in Pitztal (valley station of the subway train to the glacier) takes as long as to the quad Ochsenalm II in Kaunertal, which is the first lift in Kaunertal, but already in center of the skiing area and including buying the skipass at the toll station. In Pitztal you still have to walk to the station, buy the skipass and then you have to wait for Pitzexpress and take it up. All in all it costs much more time before meeting the first snow than in Kaunertal - same thing at Sölden by the way! It?s just incorrect to declare the drive to Kaunertaler Gletscher would be too long compared to the other tyrolian glaciers.

Anyway, what disturbs me most at this moment is weather conditions. While having seen a fair day in Germany yesterday already, the webcam on Pitzal Glacier showed snowfall and fog. The clear morning in Allgäu has given way to a milky grey cloudy sky, growing even darker and densier approaching the continental divide of the Alps. But this contradicts not only the weather forecast but also the general continental meteorological situation, so that I have not yet given up all hope to possibly meet better conditions closer to the main ridges of the continental divide. A few miles before Mittelberg the clouds burst open, providing an impressing view on the gleaming white ice fields of Taschach and Mittelberg Glacier.

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Area where the future cable car as a second access and ski run to the valley station is projected.

A map of the skiing area is found here (you might wish to open it in a second window while reading the report):

http://www.snow-online.de/bilder/pp_pitztal_gross.jpg

After three hours of drive I arrive a few minutes past eight a.m. at the valley station of Pitzexpress. There?s an astonishing crowd already waiting, however, my fear, this could be representing the load of the whole day, will turn out to be uncaused. Instead it seems as if nearly all skiers of the day did arrive already this early. The skiing area at least is pleasing empty this day - good service of the PGB to keep open all lifts anyway!

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I just take a picture of my new skis, whose premiere it is today - fullplast in sandwich architecture - that?s what I like! A little disappointment I face at the ticket sales point. Just one employee sits a way back in the room with its five counters. He looks up briefly without taking notice of my person any further for the moment. But then I do not yet stand directly in front of one of the counters but some feet away, trying to figure out, if the sales point is meant to be open or not. I look around and find a sign, lying like fallen down on the counter ?Closed - please use upper sales point.? But having the impression that at least the counter in the middle looks open and not willing to walk up and down all the way twice, I decide to ask the employee anyway for sure. ?Well, that's evident, isn?t it? If the counter wasn?t open, I wouldn?t have taken down the sign, would I?? he replies. That was just way to arrogant for my favour, so I let myself go to articulate a brief but sharp correction about what is evident and what not. Not to mention that I stood around for at least one and a half minute in front of the counter, a brief nod of the employee would have been all, to make things clear. To my surprise he behaves very friendly after, maybe he had just had a bad night. Anyway I will find, that all employees of the PGB are very helpful and friendly that day, so that I can easily announce to have felt as a guest and not as a paying client in a mass transport system, like sadly it?s too often the case in other skiing areas.

It?s 8.20 a.m., ten minutes to the first Pitzexpresses ride up. Meanwhile I take some images. The ride in Pitzexpress is as narrow and due to the steps in the carriage as uncomfortable as ever, some way up there?s then already some argument, for someone feels like some other guy wouldn?t have passed in far enough to let him in. It increases, until a third, broad guy with a suntanned face and somehow weather withered skin, turns towards the first and states in a wonderful tyrolian accent something like:? ?No spiel di net so auf, Du Depp!? (something like ?don?t play up, idiot? but somehow in a more rurally style :) ). For an instant everyone holds breath, than giggling here and there - at least now it?s calm up there. I spare just half an ear anyway. I test the camera for tunnel shooting, which according to the terrible light conditions and reflections in the windows will be an advanced challenge.

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Uphill a chill breath of morning air strikes me out of a fair blue sky. The summits shine tangerine against the dark indigo firmament, the shadows still are long and blue. That?s the big advantage of these tunnel trains: they catapult you directly in this breathtaking mountain scenery - and the greater is the effect reentering daylight world in the remote glacier bowl up there. And due to the fact Pitztal valley below remains invisible from this high place, hidden behind a crest, the feeling of having entered a different world still is magnified - an effect unique to Pitztal Glacier and overwhelming every time again one leaves the uphill station of the tunnel train.

And gliding the first few meters, it comes back: the Euphoria. I do not even really realize my environment for the moment: I am stupefied by the scenery and flashed by the brilliant feeling to be on skis again: last time lies back already three months again. Gently at first, getting faster and faster, the freshly waxed skis glide downhill. The downhill station of Pitzpanoramabahn - the highest cable-car in Austria by the way - whose gates are still closed at this early hour, I leave to the left side and betake myself in the slope down to Gletschersee (Glacier Lake), the eyes still firmly fixed on the scenery of summits beyond 10.000 ft of altitude, which divide this beautiful spot from Oetztal Valley. The fresh snow of the last days brings some of the magic of deep winter back to the ridges and summits, but the clear blue sky and the cool but not at all icy air that smells like life and spring however tells me it is almost june: today is a day when summer skiing will see its perfection - rarely I saw conditions like these. The snow is already soft, but dry and light. The rush of wind in my ears becomes louder, a feeling like freedom floods my senses. Only thirty seconds later I am harshly pushed back into reality: snow in the lower part of the slope is still harder and my skis cant on the rear edges, while performing some stylish Jet-turn, to which I was tended by these skis made in the early seventies. I correct and escape falling. Anyway it becomes evident that he who dares to ski in Jeans and Polo Shirt, has to be of modest nature: a wet shirt this early would have meant serious trouble.

These skis are splendid - that?s the feeling I looked for so long. Originally I only intended to use them for nostalgic reasons, but to my great surprise, they match easily any pair I skied in the last ten years. As hard and stiff as anything but easy to turn nevertheless - measuring only 1,80 meters they are rather short for me, but perfect for the sometimes tricky summer snow. Only that the rear part of the edges hasn?t been cut broken correctly by the service. Using the jet-turn technique too intensely means canting therefore, in case snow isn?t really light in the place - and that?s what's just happened. Anyway, I got that point now, and so I just have to relax a bit on the next run, until snow is soft overall.

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Having passed flat part of the slope, view opens towards the bottom and I recognize that the double chairlift Gletschersee also still is closed. But that doesn?t matter either, especially now with that great morning light conditions, I look forward towards skiing the Mittelbergjoch run, exposed to the sun already. I therefore ride up on the draglift and once more I'm surprised, how fast this more than one and a half mile long installation brings me up to the pass. At the same time the scenery gets more and more stunning with every meter of elevation: Pitztal rests the most beautiful glacier skiing area of Tyrol!

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Mittelbergjoch II draglift also doesn?t run this early, which can?t disturb me either, as its great feature is giving access to the famous freeride run ?Schweizer Weg?, for which it would be to early anyway. Instead I take the rather smooth, but beautifully broad, perfectly groomed (thanks PGB: you did a great service despite the rather few clients that day) and meanwhile sunny slope, which runs down on the right side of the lift looking downwards and which represents the actual outer border of the skiing area in the shadow of Hinterer Brunnenkogel. The snow is so stunning, that I forget anything else. Only just several hundred feet further down I stop, to get a glimpse on the summits and glaciers around me: my eyes fall on the uphill station of Pitzexpress which I have left just minutes ago, from there they travel to the refuge Braunschweiger Hütte and the Rettenbachjoch - intermediate station of Sölden?s glacier skiing area.

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Braunschweiger Hütte and Rettenbachjoch.

The final part of the run is a long and flat schuss. As the chairlift Gletschersee still isn?t operating yet, I consider climbing up Mittelbergjoch again. Still, there?s something different arousing my curiosity: a caterpillar prepares two tracks on Mittelbergferner beyond the limits of the skiing area: one up the valley on the southern flank of Linker Fernerkogel onto the high pass below Tiefenbachjoch and a second that leads up behind Rechter Fernkogel in the remote basin of the upper Mittelberg glacier. Apart from promising great views on the area of the projected future extension on Linker Fernkogel and Tiefenbachjoch, this second track attracts me to start a little glacier hike. Briefly I get nervous about the PGB staff - usually the lift guys don?t like seeing skiers hiking around out of bounds, but the bully driver I meet after 300 ft just raises his hand friendly - pleased, I return the greeting.

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Again a view on eastern Mittelberg Glacier, the first track - the one I climbed up - has already been prepared. The second leading up to Tiefenbachjoch is still buried under the fresh snow the last night brought and is only going to be renewed half an hour later.

Slowly views are changing and new perspectives are opening. Anyway it?s hard to hike. Snow may have been compressed by the caterpillar, anyway one sinks into several inches with every step. While the first part of the track is really flat, it becomes more and more steep by now. The hard snow blocks on ground, result of the chains of the caterpillar, don?t really ease walking either, and carrying the skis shows some disadvantage of this seventies? model: they are really heavy and my arms are getting longer and longer.

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Linker Fernkogel and track to the pass.

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Views back to the Pitztal glacier skiing area.

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Refuge Braunschweiger Hütte and hikers on the other track.

Nevertheless the views become more and more interesting in the steep slope. Passing seracs and huge crevasses the track leads up further and further into the remote upper basin of Mittelberg Glacier towards the lonesome and untouched ice fields of these huge glacier.

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Groomer and staff of PGB on their way up to Linker Fernkogel - the place where the future gondola is projected to arrive.

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Slowly I recognize an opponent, I hardly expected in such a situation: the sun. Different from winter it reaches an intensity in may, which is hardly to bear at this altitude near noon. Wearing my cap is stiffling hot, but without, sun burns like hell on my skull. The thin air beyond the 3000m limit doesn't amend my situation. Reaching a flank in front of a flat I decide to leave behind skis and bag to climb the following height: the shoulder of Rechter Fernerkogel.

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I walk much easier and more lightly without all the stuff. And slowly restarts altitude thrilling. Blinding white ice fields, silence (the skiing area has got out of sight behind Rechter Fernkogel by now), the vastness and beauty of the scenery are simply thrilling. At this altitude you feel emotionally on a different level...

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The outer basin of the Mittelberg Glacier with Weißer Kogel, seen from the shoulder of Rechter Fernkogel

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On the opposite of Weißer Kogel the track reaches a maximum of altitude of estimated 9,500 ft on the shoulder of Rechter Fernkogel, to wind down again crossing the outer basin of Mittelberg Glacier and finally climping towards Schluchtkogel / Hohe Wände / Mittelbergjoch. Time to turn for me. I walked up for one and a half hour by now and firstly I still also want to ski that day and secondly I do not think I would get any new interesting viewing angels in near future by following the track any further. Descent is quick. No ten minutes later I reach the place where I left my equipment. Half way down a caterpillar passes - it is manned by three or four man of the PGB and vanishes behind the shoulder of Rechter Fernkogel in the remote basin of Mittelberg Glacier. Later I hear they were exploring this area, too, for possible future extensions of the skiing area.

But now all fun starts. Getting back on skis, I dive down the flank of the glacier slope. This steep slope is rich of crevasses, but I already noticed the dangerous places while still climbing up and most of them are securely covered under feet of snow anyway. A short, but intensive flush. Airstream hits my face, snow dusts into the the air. After a few meters the ski tops lift up and out of the deep snow, gliding smoothly on the surface while gathering speed, now it really feels like flying. A minute later this magic moment is all over, I take breath while letting the skis run out. From this place I still have to carry them back for almost half a mile across the flat at the bottom to get back to Gletschersee Chairlift. However, this was definitely worth the expedition.

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My traces... :D

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Rettenbachjoch and gondola Schwarze Schneid with the pylone, that requests heating the glacier for protection of the foundation. Congratulations Sölden, heating a glacier, what a clever idea..... :roll:

Before having a lunch break, there?s still Hinterer Brunnenkogel waiting, the top of the area. This is the highest point in Austria reachable by cable-car and lifts. Especially impressing is the design of the system called Pitz Panoramabahn. First all three stations request very little space, which makes them fit much better than most other lift infrastructure usually is. Second, it has got an intermediate station, which is a fascinating fact, regarding that nearly all the terrain is glacial and therefore not at all suitable for placing any structure upon. Knowing that this kind of system requests exactly equal distances between all stations as it has to slow down for boarding and unboarding, it is quiet amazing that it was possible to build it with an intermediate station. Finally it runs in so called pulse operation (that means it has groups of gondolas which go full speed on climb and slow down only while passing the stations) and therefore most of the time all section is empty. This leads to an optically much more decent installation than common lifts in rotary operation are. An interesting and clever construction all in all. The limited capacity critized sometimes was not even entirely exploited that day.

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On top traditionally follows the break, dedicated to the mountain world, especially to the close Wildspitze (highest peak of Austria) facing behind the huge glacier basin beneath me.

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In front: Mittelbergjoch and the two drag-lifts. Behind: Hohe Wände with Schluchtkogel and, following the left ridge parallel to Mittelbergjoch I draglift, at the edge of the image Rechter Fernkogel. Behind the remote basin of Mittelbergferner can be seen, even this very shoulder of Rechter Fernkogel, where I ended my little glacier promenade (the place is visible on the image). On the far side this basin is limited by Weißer Kogel, which can be seen also on the images of my glacier hike of the morning..

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The run down Hinterer Brunnenkogel is fascinating: steeply dropping down 1,800 ft of altitude, today in powder and summer firn. The run is well grooemd, the upper parts holds some very attractive freeride slopes, which are pure fun in such snow conditions. Back on piste I continue racily- on this exposed mountain flank you get a feeling of doing all the slope in one giant leap.

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But now, I grant myself some drinks and the chocolate bar menu in the snow bar. Again: nice service, nice talk - I like that. And gleaming high noon sun for free! On the subject: good pricing there! Honestly, any coke in my home town's cinemas is more expensive: again, thanks PGB! And best: I ask whether it is o.k. for them if I pay a chocolate bar with a 50 ? note. My counterpart laughs: "As long as you pay with 50 ? notes, you can buy as much as you like!" That's it, man. Not this usual "Oh, 50 ??? You don't have any coins?" lamentation.

As day approaches one o'clock, I get on my way towards "Schweizer Weg", which I would not ski too late the day, as the sun starts weakening the snow. Mittelbergjoch II draglift, which leads up there, is by the way in my opinion a perfect example for a short draglift with little altitude difference that nevertheless is a real enrichment for the area. And therefore, that dismantling such installations without replacement - sort of fashion lately, especially on glaciers - makes a much greater loss than one might think at first. Regarding the small high valley this lift leads up while passing only 300 ft of altitude from the bottom (therefore from the arrival point of Mittelbergjoch I), it looks as unspectecular as a valley can look. Standing at the top however, it evokes a striking different impression. First, the narrow valley enclosed by rocks on three sides, provides a certain special athmosphere of quietness and silence. Further, the view over the rocks to Wildspitze behind is fascinating, making this place special as this view is not possible from below, where the other lift ends. Finally the installation gives access to a splendid freeride track, the Schweizer Weg - a famous slope you would never expect lying hidden behind the rocks of this unimposing looking little valley.

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View from below: still doesn't look very impressing , does it?

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But far from it!: would it not be serviced by the lift, you would miss - apart from the freeride tracks of Schweizer Weg - this stunning view. A fact, one might oversee in a discussion about dismantling such a lift, which might be considered not a great loss - a misfortune that stroke quiet a few other glacier lifts of this style. Unfortunately by now the lifts company has spoiled all that, as they built in this beatiful valley a huge gondola, modifying the rock scenery with catepillars to gain space and converting the former freeride run into a boring usual ski piste, which might be the greatest loss of all.

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In 2004, it was still different: a smal climb accross the last slope to the ridge north of the arrival station, and you met a small gap in the rocks, marking the entry to the freeride track. The view and the silence aloof of the main skiing area invite to take the time for another short break. But then it's getting serious: the first slope is extremely narrow and quiet steep for it - it reminds me of the former first slope of Forcella Paradiso at Passo Tonale, Italy: somehow ironic to see that both these great slopes had to give way to arteficially blasted into the rocks stupid ski pistes for everybody instead of saving these few great spots for the experts as there are well enough easy runs in all the rest of the skiing area. Not to mention the ruin of the unique atmosphere these places once held.

But well, fortunately this misfortune had not happen back in 2004, so that I could still benefit from this little legend. Unfortunately at this time of the day the narrow part of the slope has been ploughed up too well by my precedessors, on the other side the remains of some avalanches triggered earlier the day lead to a very harsh and compressed snow. As I still have little ambitions to meet the snow in Jeans and T-Shirt, I restrain from diving blindly down, even if the fast widening breach invites to do so. However, just behind the lower wall of the former avalanche snow is getting beautiful creamy.

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Having passed the flat below providing a lovely creamy summer snow I meet the black ski run coming down from Mittelbergjoch and - what a great surprise - it is marked, but not groomed! Normally it would have been another great freeride slope, however my earlier glacier promenade did not leave my leg's muscles untouched. Nevertheless it's a great descent, even if I have to stop from time to time. Finally, I did enough off-piste skiing for the day. I glide back to Gletschersee Chairlift and ride up to the departure station of Brunnenkogel Cable Car.

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Again I take it upwards and again I benefit from its great run. At the bottom I remember Brunnenkogel draglift, last sector of the skiing area I didn't visit to day. Its runs are nice and easy, but today I am too late: the sun has made snow already very wet and heavy.

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Half down the slope I start wondering, why all the time I get the impression of feeling more free to move than all day before. Than it strikes me: I lost my bag in the cable-car some minutes ago! Anybody finding and opening it will find an expensive CF-MemoryCard (with all my images upon!), a precious analogue altimeter, a looking glass, my cell-phone and some other stuff. Unfortunately there is something for everybody among these valuables, so I start fearing, a finder might wish to keep them. Imediately I return to the departure station asking the employees (I still had the number of the gondola in mind - bless you if you are interested in cable-cars and lifts! ;) ). A short call later I am relieved to hear that at the arrival station an other employee saved my stuff. Thanks again, PGB. And I am lucky: this is the very last uphill ride - some minutes later I would have needed to wait a long time, to get hold of my bag again.

Finally then, it's time for the last run of the day. Once again I ride this impressing flank in high speed, using the lower and less steep part for some last of my beloved seventies style Jet-Turns and BANG!!!! I meet the snow!! I slide down serveral meters and within seconds all my clothes are stuffed with loads of wet and perfectly watery snow... Bah! Well, seems like I will find use of my car's heating after all. And basically it is really warm - in fact I did drive back with the canopy open as it still had almost 30°C down there. At 4 p.m. I take the Pitzexpress down to the valley. What a great day!

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