A full night’s sleep in a comfy feather bed, a leisurely breakfast of kaffee, muesli, bread, butter, jam, ham and cheese…what could be better? Perhaps looking out the window to clearing skies and sparkling snow. That is how our first day of alpine touring begins in the Ötztal.
Today we hope to climb the Hintere Schwartze (Italian: Cima Nera), a peak on the border between Austria and Italy. At 3,628 meters (11,903 ft), it is the fourth highest peak in the Ötztal Alps. The Martin Busch Hutte sits at 2502 meters (8,205 feet), so we have 1,126 meters/ 3,694 feet to climb.
We are one of the last to leave the hut. A few small guided groups have left earlier so we have a neat path to follow up through the Marzellferner Glacier.
Drifting clouds and an occasional breeze keep it cool, but we move fast enough to stay warm. I wear a light wool top with a hood, which I pull over my ears when the wind picks up.
We ski across a ravine, rope up at the glacier: Lou first, then Ted, then me. We go at an easy pace with Lou checking the GPS occasionally, which gives me time to enjoy the scenery and take a few photos.
After crossing the Marzellferner Glacier, we ski half way up the peak and stash our skis. With crampons on our boots, we climb with ice axes to a high saddle, and rope up for the last section to the spitz. Lou goes first and sets the anchor for a short section of fixed rope. Ted and I follow, me using a prussic knot and Ted his ascender so we can move together on the fixed line and not do the tedious roped-up climbing that we’d otherwise have to fiddle with.
The path up the knife edge ridge to the top is narrow: sharp steep rocks to the left with a bottomless snowy drop off to the right. After a quick glance, I keep my eyes on the track.
On top is a large cross, making barely enough room for three people to sit. We look across one of the widest parts of the Alps and the clear air gives us a view of a thousand peaks all the way to the Dolomites. Between the snowy ranges the valleys are dry, turning green with the onset of spring. It is glorious to sit on the top and take in the vastness.
Sastrugi: is it a pastry awaiting Lou back at the hut or an Italian pasta? Sadly, it is neither, but the condition of the snowfield below. Originally Zastruga, Russian “za” groove, and “struga” deep place. We ski down hard packed, wind blown snow, with long wavelike ridges. Luckily we chose wider skies for this trek and they serve us well. After carefully skiing through the crevasses we get to the bottom, our knees ache, but our ACL’s are intact.
We reach the bottom of the glacier by mid afternoon. The afternoon sun has thawed the dirt covered ravine and boulders bounce down the east side as we skin back to the hut on the west, which is in the shade and thankfully frozen. After stashing our skis in the indoor ski room, we toast the end of our excellent day.
Hintere Scharze isn’t labeled on the Google Map below, but it’s marked with the classic red teardrop, easterly from the Similaun.