Silvretta Traverse Day 4 – Hut Hut Hut

Post by blogger | April 9, 2009      
Backcountry Skiing

Silvretta Traverse

After yesterday’s partly cloudy skies, and thus cutting the last of the day’s goals, we, of course, picked roast bluebird off the Day 4 fantasy menu. And yes, next morning our dreams became reality: perfect azure skies, hundreds of square miles of melt/freeze snowpack, soaring peaks and fall-over views everywhere you looked. At this point Ted is telling me this is the best trip he’s ever done in the Alps. Sure, he’s ticked off a worthy list of ski descents around Chamonix, and been on several other classic hut supported high routes. But by hitting such good weather, staying in some of the Alps’ most high quality huts, as well as setting our own pace by self-guiding, he’s thinking we’ve nailed the ultimate six days in the Silvretta and that it just can’t get any better than this. I tend to agree.

Backcountry Skiing

Me on the third leg of today's route, heading about 1,000 vertical meters down to the Tuoi Hut in the Val Tuoi, a less common accommodation in terms of the Silvretta Traverse, but nonetheless another terrific stopover for meals or a bed.

Before continuing the travelogue, some of our readers have been wondering exactly what the Silvretta is. Basically, this is a fairly high altitude (many peaks above 3,000 meters) glaciated area in the central eastern Alps, with the Austria/Swiss border running through it. Alpinism has been popular here for a century or more, with many of the huts first built during the golden age of mountaineering (since expanded and rebuilt/remodeled many times). Note that what we call a “hut” in this region is really a hotel located in the backcountry, with smaller than normal rooms and an overall more rustic ambiance than a hotel or lodge in the city.

All the huts we’ve been staying at have electricity, running water and heat, and are commonly stocked and accessed via a snow-road using snowcats or snowmobiles. While most guests access the huts via human power, it’s not uncommon for people to get hauled in via snow machine. What’s more, as we did the first day, some of the huts are also accessed via ski lifts and cable cars. The mix of mechanized and non-mechanized is fascinating, and quite well blended in my opinion.

But don’t get the idea this is too civilized. Once you leave the hut door, you’re in your harness, have a rope stashed in your pack and ready for deployment, and you’re worshiping your map and GPS. In all, the ethos of the place is this thoroughly enjoyable contrast between comfortable accommodations and full-on backcountry skiing. All topped with easy summits where boredom is soon remedied by the common no-fall zones European hill scramblers seem all too nonchalant about.

Backcountry Skiing

This morning we leave from the Jamtal Hut deck. Here Ted is chatting up this friendly woman who'd been telling us stories about she and her husband having been coming here for fifty years! Now that's some mountain culture. Our route heads back up the Jamtal Glacier, only this time we'll swing west, climb a peak called Drielander Spitz, reverse east, cross over the divide, drop south to the Tuoi Hut for a snack, then slog north over a pass and arc perfect corn turns down to the Wiesbadener Hut beer garden.

Backcountry Skiing

Naturally, a bit of carbo loading had been accomplished at the Jamtal. These concoctions are the new 'Chocohoney' product from Cliff Bar EU, which WildSnow has been testing secretly, but are now being marketed everywhere but Pakistan, or so I'm told by the PR folks.

Backcountry Skiing

Once we're up on the glacier we'll head to this pass (joch), where you swing a bit left and park your skis for a quick few hundred meter scramble up the Drielander Spitz. Some of the guides call these 'baby peaks,' and yes they're not like climbing Mt. Blanc or something, but they actually make the perfect side trip when your day involves lots of other activity.

Backcountry Skiing

In terms of ski alpinism, the questions in Europe go something like this: Do we leave our skis here? Should we boot from here? Or, do you think ski crampons will be the ticket? Here, Ted takes the latter strategy, and demonstrates what I came to call his 'Pilates' method of attaching his cramps', one has to wonder if this method helps with back problems, or causes them?

Backcountry Skiing

At what the English call the 'ski depot' where you start the Dreilander boot pack, we noticed some folks were roping up. We'd heard a rope was unnecessary, but when in doubt I've always been in favor of at least bringing along the lightweight line. Thing was, the place was crowded. So I discovered this new use for a rope. When a big pack of Swiss, Germans and Austrians crowd around you, stepping on your gear and blocking the sun from drying your skins, you just swing out your rope in what I came to call the 'Eurowhip' technique of crowd clearing. I thought this novel use for our cord would never catch on, but the next day I saw a UIAGM guide doing the same thing, only in his case he was using the technique to lure girls to the seats next to him at the hut bar, rather than for crowd control.

Backcountry Skiing

Showing our amateur European crowd management skills, we let this guided group get ahead of us on Dreilander. Once the group's Bergführer had hung them like laundry from the summit cross, we knew we our chances of touching the true apex were about as good as making fresh powder turns in the moguls below the ski depot, so we settled for a glance from twenty meters and headed down. After all, we had a bunch of skiing left to do.

Backcountry Skiing

Next step, reverse east and cross this divide. It looks tougher than it was, but still involved some scrambling around looking for something that didn't involve a 200 meter rappel. Yeah, Silvretta is casual, but don't let anyone fool you. This is still the Alps, where things can go from roses to rot in several steps. I think what makes Silvretta so special is indeed this mix of truly easy skiing, spiced up by a scramble here, or a serac over there, or some clouds moving in and causing you to wonder if you really got your GPS route entered correctly. Kind of a civilized adventure, if you get my meaning.

Backcountry Skiing

So, here is some of the scrambling. It reminded Ted and me of traversing through Colorado's Elk Mountains back when we were young, bold, and frequently stupid. In this case the snow was quite stable, so perhaps stupidity is too strong a word, but a better boot pack might have been nice.

Backcountry Skiing

Those of you reading these trip reports might recall we'd been to the Jam Spitz just yesterday. Crossing the divide placed us at the Jamjoch saddle between the two Jam Spitz summits, where we made one of the best runs of our ski mountaineering lives from 3078 meters down to the Tuoi Hut at 2250 meters. Shown here, Ted makes his last turns to the Tuoi, to left in photo. Varied terrain, super tanker loads of perfect corn, all enjoyed knowing a perfectly constructed strudel was patiently waiting below us.

Backcountry Skiing

Every hut seems to have a different entrance, and thus a unique first impression. Tuoi one gave me the feeling a lot of people stop by for lunch, as the skis seemed to be propped for only a few hours wait.

Backcountry Skiing

What do you do without a live band on the porch? Watch the avalanches but of course! Ted and I were not amused, as we still had a 600 meter climb north up to Vermuntpass, our gateway to the Wiesbadener Hut.

Backcountry Skiing

Carbo action at Tuoi Hut, Strudel and Nusstorte, along with a half cup of instant coffee to mobilize latent glycogen for that one-last-climb.

Backcountry Skiing

Looking north from Tuoi, at Vermuntpass. Problem was everyone else had quit touring for the day due to the warmth and associated avy danger (as well as basic Weiss beer requirements). Of course, as crazy Americans we were expected to take off up the valley, which we did. Doing so really wasn't too bad, as most stuff had slid, and the terrain had a variety of safe lines you could take. Nonetheless, for an hour of furnace hot slogging we were thinking about that one chunk of snow up on those cliffs to our right, that perhaps had NOT avalanched yet.

(Photos by Ted and Lou.) Stay tuned for part 2, as we make it to the Wiesbadener.


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11 Responses to “Silvretta Traverse Day 4 – Hut Hut Hut”

  1. Doug April 9th, 2009 11:41 am

    Awesome Lou. Looks like the weather is holding up nicely for you guys. Hope it continues…

  2. Dave April 9th, 2009 1:27 pm

    so jealous…

  3. Mark April 9th, 2009 7:51 pm

    Amazing! Sorry, but I have to be brief as my taxes beckon.

  4. Anton April 10th, 2009 4:19 am

    Hey Lou is that duct tape on the tips of your skins? Is it for better sliding purposes?
    In the picture dubbed “ski depot”.

  5. Lou April 10th, 2009 7:30 am

    Anton, I usually cut the skin pretty short where it doubles back through the tip loop, then wrap a bit of duct tape around the doubled part so it doesn’t come apart during storage. Because of the low tip on the Bakers, the duct tape was catching on the snow, so I extended it forward a few inches to keep it from catching. Nothing more than that!

  6. Brian April 10th, 2009 9:53 am

    Hey Lou, really enjoying the trip updates. Will you post an overall map of the trip in the end? Can you recommend some reading on the area so my group an I can do some planning? Thanks Lou.

  7. Lisa April 10th, 2009 12:35 pm

    Dustiest Colorado spring in years…here’s the link:

  8. jim zidell April 10th, 2009 4:16 pm

    I’m coming next week and have thoroughly enjoyed your report. That is, until I saw the “scramble” up on day 4! Looks serious, especially if it ices up before we arrive. So, keep the good weather and good thoughts and have a beer on me at the finish.

  9. Lou April 11th, 2009 12:20 pm

    Jim, the photos always exaggerate!

  10. Mike Darrah April 14th, 2009 6:33 pm

    This trip looks like telly terrain…what do you think?

  11. Lou April 14th, 2009 6:51 pm

    Sure, run what you brung.

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