Fischer Transalp 2018 - Tour Diary

We’re starting at home! The Fischer Transalp 2018 is starting on the 26th of March, right where Fischer’s roots are: in Upper Austria. Once again the Crew will be leaving the beaten paths to venture into virgin territory to find the most direct route for our destination: Italy.

The eighth Transalp is a long one.

Our guides have already plotted and tested the Transalp route 2018 for us. Ski guide Stephan Skrobar gives us a quick peek: “The winter this year has brought tons of snow to the entire Alps region, so the conditions are right for a good Transalp. What’s new this year is that we’re crossing the Alps from north to south, and are relatively far east compared to last year’s tour. From the village of Hinterstoder the route heads out through the impressive Sigistal valley towards the Tauplitz mountain hut. Then it continues the next day to the first highlight of the tour: up Krippenstein peak to the high point of the Dachstein range.

 

Tough stages await as the route goes over Styria’s Kalkspitze peak and Obertauern, then over Wastlkarscharte, Kattowitzer, and the Gmündner hut, then down into the Maltatal valley. The penultimate stage takes us to the town of Kötschach-Mauthen, before heading over Valentintörl toward Collina, Italy. The stages this year are fairly long, which gave us good opportunities on the scouting tour to find really nice, untouched downhill runs for the participants. We’re really excited about the end of March!”

The Participants

Giacomo Miglietta (ITA)

For me crossing snow-covered mountains on skis is the ultimate freedom. I cannot wait to step into my skis and just go. I couldn’t be happier to be taking part in Transalp 2018! 

Evelyn Gumpinger (AUT)

DE: Ich hatte bisher eine geniale Skitouren Saison, doch die Fischer Transalp wird auf jeden Fall die Krönung dieser Saison sein! Ich freue mich schon darauf mit Gleichgesinnten aus aller Welt meine heimischen Berge zu erkunden.

EN: I had a great ski touring season so far, but the Fischer Transalp will definitely be the highlight! I am really looking forward to exploring my home mountains in Austria together with like-minded people.

Regina Neumeyer (GER)

My friends are quite happy to see me crossing the Alps with the Fischer Transalp crew – finally they won’t be forced to join me for more ski tours on the weekends. 

Dany Vollenweider (SUI)

Crossing the Austrian Alps from north to south is the absolute touring highlight of this season for me. A natural setting guaranteed to be amazing that’s totally new to me, plus cool, like-minded snow fanatics from five different nations... What more does a mountain man’s heart need?

Tyler Falk (USA)

I’ve done a lot of ski touring this season, competed in several Ski-Mo races, instructed several avalanche classes, and have been ice climbing to get myself fit for the Transalp. I know for sure it’s going to be awesome to explore the Alps.

Emilie Aamodt (NOR)

In my home in Sogndal we've had an extraordinarily good winter, so I've been lucky to have had a lot of good skiing days this season. Now I'm really looking forward to Transalp 2018 and to meeting the rest of the team. 

Day 1: Ried im Innkreis – Hinterstoder – Tauplitz

With the US, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, German, and Austria all represented, the eighth edition of the Fischer Transalp has an international flavor like never before. The weather forecast is not nearly as promising, though. Right from day one the weather puts a question mark on everything and we’re not sure if crossing from Hinterstoder to Tauplitz is even possible.

The first order of the day was a unique and interesting start at Fischer headquarters in Ried im Innkreis, Austria. On their tour of the production facilities, the participants got a reassuring extreme close-up at the quality of the gear they’d be relying on for the next seven days.

With the smell of ski wax and fine metal shavings still fresh, it was time to head out towards the mountains and into the snow. The weather seems to hold at first, but the pace of the guides makes you think that things won’t be getting much better. The troops are fit, though, and even through increasing wind and snowfall they quickly put 1400 vertical meters (4600 ft) behind them.

Skins are put on the skis at the Sigistal Saddle and fortunately there are enough breaks in the clouds to offer some visibility. The snow cover is firm and provides a surprisingly enjoyable descent.

Fortunately the second climb goes quickly, because our growling stomachs let us know it’s already been a long day. Spirits lifted, we put another descent behind us, then pick up the pace towards Obertraun. From there we’ll hit the hit the highest point of this year’s tour tomorrow: Dachstein!

Day 2: Across the Dachstein range and on to Ramsau

The Dachstein range is one of the most expansive and impressive mountain formations in the East Alps. It’s also home to the glacier lying furthest east in the Alps. Our guides are from this region, so they’re especially interested in showing the participants the beauty of the area.

We start early in the morning on the 2108m (6900ft) Krippenstein with a short descent to the Gjaid lodge, then fly along at a nice clip through distinctive karst limestone formations to the Simony hut. Break time. It’s wintery out there. Then it’s on toward the High Dachstein, past its western brother, the Lower Dachstein, then past the Steinerscharte. We don’t get to see either one due to the weather- bad and getting worse.

The brief windows of visibility disappear as snowfall mixes with fog, while we kick up the steep grade towards the crevasse between the glacier and higher rock. Beneath the summit we strap on our crampons and move together along fixed ropes already in place. The wind is picking up, but a half hour later we’re all standing on the summit. We take in the panorama and the awesome vistas- deep into Upper Austria in one direction, the distinctive peaks of the High Tauern range in the other… Actually, no. Not even a little. We can barely see the metal summit cross, so we just savor the companionship and the fact that we made it here together.

After a focused retreat down from the summit and a descent through the deepening snow we climb up to the Hunerkogel lodge and take the south face gondola down to the Türlwand mountain inn. As we arrive, we look back at today’s summit. Then, as if to spite us, the Dachstein flashes us its best side bathed in sudden sunlight. We can only smile and head on out through the forest toward Ramsau, our final destination on day two.

Day 3: From Preunegg Valley to Obertauern

This wide variety of conditions in just the first two days is something not often experienced in an entire week. But if you went by the mood of the team, you’d think there was nothing but sunshine, which is definitely what everyone’s hoping for on the third leg of the Transalp.

It’s snowing and snowing and snowing, and continues to as we depart Preunegg. Not exactly an advantage for a flat 7 kilometer (4.2 mile) trek towards the Kalkspitze peak in Styria, but we still maintain a good clip. After an hour and a half we finally start ascending- a nice little 1500m (4900ft) increase, in fact.

We rise upward like we have wings, though, because today we finally have the sun in our faces and the endless panorama of the mountainous Styrian-Salzburg landscape shines brightly back at us.

There are constant pleasant surprises and today everything goes off without a hitch, including bagging a summit on the Kalkspitze; a fantastic descent with what’s described as a short uphill heading towards Obertauern; even a quick stop for some après-ski enjoyment; then a playful descent through a kiddie ski section. We are ready for the long fourth stage! We just have to clarify what the exact definition of a “short uphill” is with our guides.

Day 4 – flying blind from Obertauern to Zederhaus

Today’s stage has an air of uncertainty about it. For starters it was unclear how the stage would actually unfold, based on the “interesting” weather conditions. Another thing was that our surroundings weren’t always, actually almost never, recognizable. We were moving through heavy fog…then standing…then sitting. Then skiing again. We definitely didn’t see much today, yet it was still a memorable day.

From the Gnaden cabin between Upper and Lower Tauern we head out toward the Südwiener lodge. There’s a light, rainy snowfall and it’s uncomfortably warm. Wet on the outside and wet on the inside, you could say. After a coffee break at the lodge, the route is covered in heavy fog. Our guide Peter leads in through whiteout conditions to the 1862m (6100 ft) Höllkogel.

We wait there till there’s enough visibility to make the next three steps possible: our first descent, a new ascent route to the 2375m (7792 ft) Taferlnock, and finally the descent to the Zederhaus lodge. To pass the time in the fog, we practice an avalanche search drill. Then we wait some more. We finally see that we’re not going to see anything. We opt for different, somewhat safer route through the forest to the rest stop on the Tauern autobahn. The fog in the forest gives it a mystical quality and the descent ends being a lot of fun.

 All in all, a most unique day in the history of the Fischer Transalp. Conditions were really unpleasant and we found ourselves asking, “What exactly are we doing here?”. Yet once again we end the day with beaming faces.

Day 5 – En route to the Hochalmspitze through a snowstorm  

An early 5:30am breakfast means no one’s really into talking about the weather. On top of that is today’s absolute monster stage with 2200 vertical meters (7200 ft) of climbing awaiting us. For the first time we’re putting on our skis in darkness. But as far as the weather goes, it’s groundhog day, and once again we start the tour in oppressive snowfall. Let’s put talk of the weather aside for now, though.

Hochalmspitze is our goal. At 3360m (11,024 ft) it’s the highest elevation of the Ankogel Range. More specifically we’ll cross over the plateau of stone formations - called “Stoarnene Mandl“ in the area dialect- to Mallnitz. So it turns out the Dachstein won’t actually be the highest peak of this year’s tour- or will it?

Unfortunately, yes. This time there’s just no way forward. Just short of our goal, after 1800 long meters (5900 ft), strong winds, low visibility, and 40cm (16 in) of fresh snow force a retreat. There is however a reward for the 1800 meters we worked through: perfect powder and improving visibility as we descend, which makes some of the group call for reattaching our climbing skins. Nothing doing, though, as coffee and a hearty lunch are too tempting.

The day’s not over, though, as planning the next few days is a real challenge. Difficult and demanding tour stages are coming, with worsening conditions and massive new snowfall. We have to reach a decision and we choose to change the plan. That will take us back into the Northern Alps, where we’ll have the only opportunity to actually see a little sun or at least be able to climb again. The Jeeps are saddled up and the whole crew makes its way back the way we came. Dachstein, here we com again- this time from south to north!

Day 6 – we turn back

As much as we’d like to stick to the planned route, the weather just won’t permit any safe, and definitely not smart, climbing. So what to do in a case like this? Find alternatives. A new plan. It looks there are only a few small windows of visibility in the entire Alps, most likely in the morning around the Dachstein. It’s déjà vu with the previous year’s Fischer Transalp, where we had an out-and-back route. Not quite the same thing, but yes, we’re heading back toward Upper Austria into the Northern Alps.

We start early through the Edelgriess slope on the Dachstein glacier. At least there’s a little blue sky to see at the beginning, but once again today the sky closes up after the first few meters and snow begins to fall. Even though we’ve gotten used to this scenario, the mood of the group makes it clear they were definitely hoping for a little sunshine. With no improvement in sight, we take the small final rise from the Dachstein plateau up toward the Wiesberghaus lodge. From there on towards Hallstatt in sloppy snow and rain, with the final 30 minutes on foot towards Hallstätter Lake, our skis on our backs.

Rerouted towards Upper Austria and still no better weather in sight, we’re forced to bring down the curtain on Transalp 2018. We’ve put six strenuous, demanding days behind us. You’d think after a week like that people would be happy to be back…but, no. The skis have barely been put away when the first questions about next year’s tour already ring out.