2016-03-19

Pizol (2844m)

A perfect bluebird day. Andrey and I leave home at around 5:30 with the plan of climbing Pizol. This is a popular destination in summer and in winter because you can cut short the approach dramatically by using a cable car. According to my code a mountain only counts as climbed if you do it entirely under your own power, so we start all the way down in the valley at the small village of Valens. Of course this plan implies that we'll have to ascent a total of about 2200 vertical meters, breaking trail in an untouched valley for most of the way. We certainly have our work cut out for us.

Andrey decided to bring his skies instead of snowshoes, a decision that would backfire soon. The first few hundred meters of elevation gain have too little snow to use the skis and carrying ski boots and skis is cumbersome to say the least. Thus he turns around after only about half an hour of hiking. Bad for me, as soon after there will be a lot of snow, and a strong partner to take turns breaking trail would have been really helpful.

Chamois on the slope.

I share the valley with a few deer and chamois but not a human soul. It is stunningly beautiful and deafeningly quiet. I'm afraid I may unknowingly violate a winter wildlife refuge, but even that thought cannot spoil the moment. I'm breaking trail through virgin snow, arduous work. Wherever I can, I try to choose a line in the shade. It's cooler, which suits me well, and the snow is frozen more solidly, making me sink in less.

I've been through the desert on a horse with no name...
View towards the summit from the Wildseeluggen pass. It's a highway from here on out.

Once the Wildseeluggen saddle comes into view it is clear that my lonely toil will be over soon. The slopes are scrubbed out like groomed pistes from the number of ski tourers heading up the mountain. From the cable car to the saddle of Pizol there is a veritable highway trod out into the snow. While I preferred the serene solitude from before, I have to admit I welcome a bit of easier progress. I was beginning to doubt whether I actually had enough reserves to reach the summit if I had to plow snow all the way up.

People scrambling up to me.
Summit!
Better not stumble here.

Crossing the Pizol glacier I reach the ridge, just 50 meters shy of the summit. This is where a lot of people stop. For one, it is impossible to continue on skis, so many people just ski back down from here. But the other reason is that the summit tower is very steep and very exposed. In summer, this is defused by a steel cable you can use for protection. Of course the cable is buried beneath the snow now. So I very carefully find my way on icy wet snow. I literally bump my head into the summit cross at 1 o'clock. Yay!

My lonely tracks from the ascent. A lot of sweat went into this inconspicuous line.
Chair lift with a view.
Hmm. I was hoping for easier going at this point. This path hasn't seen much use yet.

I choose a different route for the way down. It's longer, but it takes me through the ski resort area, making for easy progress (or so I thought) and allows me to stop at a hut for a hot soup. I need some calories - at the end of the day I will have hiked for nearly 11 straight hours, worth around 7000 kcal, on a soup and a snickers bar. I hike past the base station of the chair lift, thinking that the trails from here on out should be well used. What a misconception. There are huge accumulations of snow in the forest beneath the trees and nobody has gone there before. So I'm back to breaking trail.

Breaking trail again.
Avalanchy forest.

When I finally emerge back into civilization (defined as a gravel road) and meet another lone hiker, I earn some incredulous looks at my answer to the "where from" question. Very satisfying ;-) I make it back to the car at 6pm after leaving it at 7 in the morning. Great day!

~25.5km ~2277m elevation gain

Cool bridge under construction.
I wonder if they'd admit a smelly hiker to the sauna paradise?
The story as told by my fitbit heart rate monitor.