The weather forecast for this weekend promised perfectly clear skies and no wind. So I called ahead to reserve a spot in the Dom hut for Andrey, Ralf and me. I was surprised to learn that we might not get breakfast on Monday as the hut is closing down for the end of the season. At nearly 3000m altitude I guess that's fair - not much higher and you enter the magical world of eternal winter. The approach route is probably the most beautiful I've hiked yet. It starts in the pittoresque village of Randa and after leaving the forest offers some almost via-ferrata like scrambling up steep slopes.
The hut is freshly renovated and extremely comfortable with only four bunk beds to a room. After arriving we have some soup and continue on higher for an acclimatization climb. Trying to climb to an altitude of 4545m on a single weekend without any acclimatization is an extremely tight schedule and a gamble. We want to minimize the risk as much as possible. So we hike up to the Festi glacier serving the double purpose of acclimatization and scouting the route for the morning where we'll be starting in the dark.
We wake up for a mountaineer's breakfast at 3:30 in the morning. Leaving the hut in the pale light of our head torches we slowly make our way up frozen ground to the glacier. We don crampons and rope up and ascend to the Festi saddle at 3723m. This features some easy rock climbing and a decision: Either continue down the other side and up again over the Hobärg glacier, following the normal route, or head straight up the more challenging Festi ridge.
The Festi ridge is steep but in perfect condition. The snow is solid with good tracks to follow and there are no blank ice or rocky sections. The air is thin up here. There is a saying in German "dicke Luft" meaning a bad atmosphere or bad mood. I'm starting to think thick air, as it would be translated literally, isn't all that bad after all! The rule of thumb is that you lose about 10% atmospheric pressure for every thousand meters of altitude. This means our lungs are now pumping at about twice the rate they're used to.
We reach the summit at around 9:45 in the morning. It features a small plateau and the summit cross about 15m away. It may not sound like much but these particular 15m pack quite a punch! A lot of people stop here and do not go all the way. You have to balance on a razor sharp ridge over steep slopes. A fall in either direction would end on the glacier 800m below. Better not sneeze or stumble... All three of us walk the plank and we shake hands at the cross.
On the way down the steep summit pyramid I have tears in my eyes. Not all of them due to sunscreen and sweat. My injured foot and hand from my fall in November will remain crippled for life. Still being able to enjoy the mountains I love so much and measure myself against these kinds of benchmark problems has huge psychological value for me.
Instead of retracing our steps on the way down we descend via the normal route. A good decision as it is much less steep and exposed. Andrey is suffering from altitude sickness, giving him a headache, nausea and dizziness. He's stumbling and falling often. Just goes to show how randomly this strikes. Andrey is very likely the fittest of the three of us and Ralf and I are feeling fine. The only cure is to descend quickly, which is what we are doing anyways. Once we reach the base of the Festi glacier and get out of our crampons Andrey throws up violently. He is feeling much better immediately afterwards, so I guess that was good.
Celebrating our success back at the hut Andrey surprises us by saying he wants to go back to Zürich right away to be on time for a meeting on Monday. We are trying to talk him out of it, but alas, he leaves. Ralf and I spend a relaxed afternoon at the hut which is emptying rapidly. At some point I feel a bit uncomfortable as it seems we are now the only guests and maybe should be leaving as well. Instead we take it easy and descend on Monday morning. The crew at the hut is preparing everything for winter and we see the supply helicopter landing directly in front of our window.
Awesome trip in fantastically beautiful surroundings. The weather and mountain were as perfect as you could possibly wish for. Thank you Ralf and Andrey for making this possible. Always an honour to share a rope with you. Special credits to Ralf for carrying the rope most of the way and being a diligent rope leader "on the sharp end".
And a video of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner climbing the same mountain: