Silvretta Traverse Day 6 – Rauher Kopf to Civilization

Post by blogger | April 23, 2009      
Backcountry Skiing the Silvretta Mountains.

Silvretta Traverse

(Note, I’ve got a few more trip reports to file from the latest EU trip, but this is the last of the Silvretta posts. To step through the Silvretta trip reports, start here.)

Six days straight of nearly 100% bluebird in the Alps? You betcha. Today, as Ted Kerasote and I climb from the Wiesbadener Hut to an alternate egress route under the small but nonetheless elegant peak of the Rauher Kopf, the joyful smiles splitting our cheeks simply will not quit. The map reading is easy when you can see everything, with an occasional altimeter and GPS check just to keep us honest. Air temperature on the cool side, perfect for skin climbing and keeping avy danger on the good side of the red zone. Looking behind us, we can see the stunning alpine terrain where as a well oiled (and sunscreened) team we’d spent the last five days rambling through, up, over and down the legendary Silvretta mountains.

Backcountry Skiing

Heading east from Wiesbadener Hut. It seems like a big place when you're there, but the scale of this landscape quickly diminishes the hut's prescence, until it's just a postage stamp sized structure soon to fade behind a snowy ridge.

While the Silvretta has a few fairly high mountains, ski traversing the area is not about getting the biggest lines. Because the glaciers and their newly carved valleys provide such a bulk of easy skiing, and the proliferation of huts provides such luxury, as far as I could tell most ski mountaineers go Silvretta for the plush (and perhaps hit places like Chamonix for the extreme.) Yes, our trip over the past six days was of the former ilk. Sure, we did enough vertical to qualify as less than lazy, but that one-extra-lap seemed to end up as a hot shower at the hut, a tort with warmed vanilla sauce, or the ever essential “water of the Silvretta,” also known as Weißbier.

Thus, today’s tour seemed appropriate. We’d climb over a small glacier, tag the Rauher Kopf summit (3101 meters), then swing north for a beautiful drop of about a thousand meters to a large lake and dam in the valley below at an area called Silvrettadorf. An easy day? That depended on avalanche conditions. Once at Silvrettadorf we’d either slog a hot, flat and possibly dangerous seven additional kilometers down to our parked car in the village of Wirl, or avoid afternoon wet slides by taking a series of buses, cable cars and trains on a circuitous route back to to parking.

Backcountry Skiing

East of Wiesbadener hut, icy Euro-snow, ski crampons ON! Peak in background is the Piz Buin.

Backcountry Skiing

Around the corner, and there is the Rauher Kopf. A few other groups are visible heading up the glacier. Piz Buin attracts most skiers from the Wiesbadener, so it was nice being in this less crowded area. You climb the peak via the marked ridge, only about 200 vertical meters, with one small section we belayed on because of a lurking abyss. In good conditions the small snowy face is skiable, but not for us on today's icy firn.

Backcountry Skiing

View from the saddle at base of Rauher Kopf ridge, showing some of the terrain Ted and I had enjoyed the last five days. Dreilander Spitz to right, then saddle we went over to get down to Tuoi Hut, and to the left the Jam Spitz.

Backcountry Skiing

The climb included a short easy scramble, where a fall would probably kill you. Out came our 'corde de la poche' to make it fun and safe.

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Your earnest and hard working blogger at the summit of Rauher Kopf.

Backcountry Skiing

Ted gets his summit hero shot as well. The east side drops WAY down to the Jamtal Hut, indicated by red circle.

Backcountry Skiing

Time to leave.

Our final run down a vast Alps valley was an emotional moment. I was still pinching myself, thinking how in the heck did we pull this off? Sure, fate brought us the weather, but fortune favors the prepared. We had the gear, the ski and glacier skills, the backup plan. Shoot, we even had a map! Most of all, as innocent Americans we still had enough wide eyed Euro-wonder to not let the crowded huts and peaks bother us. Indeed, quite the opposite. And back home, don’t let me hear you whine about the ‘crowds.’ Other than a few anomalous areas (Wasatch near the roads, Teton Pass) we’ve got it so good in the American West we should be on our knees thanking God for our vast regions of virtually untouched backcountry.

Backcountry Skiing

Ted on his way out.

Backcountry Skiing

All too soon, we were glissing in to a resort area with a T-bar lift, hotels, the whole 9 yards.

Sometimes, reentry to civilization from a backcountry trip can be like hitting yourself on the head with a club. You’re not used to the speed, the chatter — the smell. Today wasn’t too bad in that way. We ended the skiing at Silvrettadorf, a resort area near a large dam where many Silvretta groups finish their trips. The area is still somewhat isolated and alpine, which softens the blow.

We’d carefully located the car so we could ski out another seven kilometers down a long flat valley and finish the trip without trouble. But the mountains had the last word. Our egress valley holds about a zillion huge avalanche paths, all pleasantly baking in the hot sun so they’d be primed and ready just as we skied below. Adding to that, a big CLOSED sign is staked in the middle of the road where we’d start the ski out. Of course, closed signs in Europe are just guidelines and we can head down there if we really want to. But ending such a wonderful trip with a hot slog through the valley of death? We both agree, nope.

Backcountry Skiing

On the transit trail.

Only problem with eschewing our valley egress is that getting out of Silvrettadorf and back to our car involves a convoluted series of European transit options. Not just one or two train rides, but more than six mode changes including: Shuttle bus down from Silvrettadorf; cable car down to valley; ride to bus stop from a friendly local; bus to train station; train to another bus stop; then the endless two hour ride on a local ski bus that stopped at every tiny village and turnoff until the stop buzzer had me ready to jump out a window and walk. Ted applied his considerable adventure travel skills to this process, thanks to him we had not one glitch!

Backcountry Skiing

Back at the car in Wirl after seven hours of transit stress. Ted finally gets his ski boots off, which in turn triggers the smile muscles.

Backcountry Skiing

It's late, we've got wheels, we just got done with the Silvretta Traverse. Moreover, we'd just spent the longest and in some ways hardest day of the trip, so we might as well set things straight. Our priorities? Schnitzel, but of course!

That’s it. In my life as an alpinist I didn’t visit the Alps during my younger years. Just too busy with North America, with distractions in Alaska and South America. So I’d always yearned for the blue sky and endless white summits one always pictures the European Alps as having (perhaps more as a result of marketing than reality, but whatever). Thanks to opportunities created by my work here on WildSnow, a few years ago I finally got the chance to start doing some Europe trips. While those trips were amazing and eye opening, most didn’t have the weather for doing much in the alpine — where I knew those bluebird days and white summits still waited.

Well, with our Silvretta trip the waiting was over. I got to see what Alps ski touring is at its finest. The best huts, the best weather, great people, incredible terrain. And aside from pure selfish gratification, I learned a few things.

First lesson, it was fascinating to see so many people enjoying themselves in the alpine, getting along with each other and just generally having a great time. I’d of course prefer to not always tour in such populated places, but with the growth of our sport that’s going to happen more and more, so it was enlightening to see how it could work. Second, I’ve always felt we need more Colorado backcountry skiing huts that are higher in elevation and closer to or actually in the alpine. We have some like that, but the more the better (with global warming raising the snow line and bringing the spring snowpack earlier, this becomes ever more important). Even locating a hut a few hundred feet higher often opens up the views and makes the place feel much more special, and I’d encourage all hut systems to consider this in their planning. Thirdly, it was super interesting to see how these huts were supported by the use of snowmobiles and snowcats, but totally oriented to human powered recreation — a nice melding and perhaps a lesson for hut systems that struggle with ethical issues of using snowmobiles during winter for support and maintenance. Lastly, I believe that some places in North America now have the population of mountain recreationists necessary to support the full-service European style alpine hut/lodge such as those on the Silvretta.

Would such lodges be a good thing? As a recreation advocate I believe they would be, both as centers for unbridled fun, but also as yet another way to promote the use of public land for low-impact recreation, thus leading to the land being valued for that, thus leading to conservation. Self service huts such as those we have so many of in the U.S. are fine, but a facility with meal service and staff is a whole different experience that I think has a place. Besides, (though it’s been done more than once), I’m not not one for hauling beer kegs up to the huts.

Thanks goes out to Ted for making this trip happen, as well as the Barthel family for their help with planning and before/after lodging, and my wife for her support. And thanks to all you WildSnowers for your comments and the inspiration to blog it all!

(Photos on all Silvretta blog posts by both Lou Dawson and Ted Kerasote).


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


16 Responses to “Silvretta Traverse Day 6 – Rauher Kopf to Civilization”

  1. Tom April 23rd, 2009 9:43 am

    Great trip reports Lou. I have never had much desire to ski in Europe but your bluebird days and glorious huts have me thinking otherwise. Sorry for your loss. I will say a prayer while we are out corn harvesting tomorrow.

  2. Tom Gos April 23rd, 2009 10:44 am

    Lou, I couldn’t agree more with your points (2) and (3). Here in central CO where I hut tour it seems that most of the huts were planned long ago by nordic skiers (i.e. cross country meadow skippers). Thus, many are below tree line and in fairly flat terrain. This isn’t true of them all, but I sure would like to see more huts located in turn-appealing alpine terrain and with shorter (perhaps steeper) approaches.Unfortunately the 10th Mtn Hut Assoc. seems to still be focused on providing a nordic expierience. I’d also like to see some full service Euro style huts here. I think there is definitely a place in the spectrum of BC skiing for these as well as the more primitive huts.

  3. Lou April 23rd, 2009 11:15 am

    Yeah, I think if a non-profit ran a lodge style hut, it could be affordable and elegant. They’d have to copy what the Euros do. Minimally heated rooms, coin operated showers, simple menus, that sort of thing. I’d be interested to see what cost it could be done for, considering huts such as Janet’s are already up to $33 a person, meaning you can get a hotel room in Leadville for two people, and you’ll spend less money than you would for your hut night for two!

  4. FrameNZ April 23rd, 2009 11:54 am

    Lou, build a hut, get the chef from Woody’s bbq place, pack up your laptop… I’ve pretty much planned your summer (maybe future) for you! (insert some type of smiley face here)

  5. Matt Lanning April 23rd, 2009 12:13 pm

    there’s a new hut going in near Ophir Pass (in the San Juans) that promises to be quite nice, as well as the existing huts on Red Mtn Pass, and the Treasure Mountain Hut outside of Silverton…

    Kim Havell got some shots of the new hut near Ophir here:

    Thanks, Lou, for the great images and stories from what sounds like a fantastic trip. I hope to do some of that (as my brother did a few years back) very soon.

  6. Tom April 23rd, 2009 12:31 pm

    What is Ted up to these days? I read “Blood Ties” while I was a wildlife biology student at CSU and thought it was an excellent book. How’d you end up touring with him in Europe?

    Is there a connection between responsible eating and Silverretta:-)?

  7. Greg April 23rd, 2009 12:34 pm

    The AMC runs some full service huts in NH, but only June-September. The cost is ~$90 per night including dinner and breakfast. No showers, internet, or bars. A few of the lower elevation huts are open in winter on a self-service basis for a better price, but the weather is too severe to open the higher huts during the winter months.

  8. Christian April 23rd, 2009 12:48 pm

    Great trip, Lou.

    You paid your dues with weather in the past, and they finally paid off. Your father would be proud.

  9. ScottN April 23rd, 2009 12:51 pm

    Always inspiring to read your trip reports Lou. Let me know when you need a carpenter for building the new huts (grin).

  10. Tom Gos April 23rd, 2009 12:58 pm

    Lou, I think it would probably be easiest to build a lux hut in CO on a piece of private land as opposed to trying to do it on FS land as 10th Mtn does. I suspect that the FS would prefer to work with a larger citizens group like 10th Mtn rather than a priviate entity or even a small non-profit. Time to start researching in holdings and old mining clains I guess. I think there would be a large group of people who would pay a rate comprable to a hotel for this kind of expierience. Incidentally, what did a night at a euro hut cost per person?

  11. Dan Powers April 23rd, 2009 3:39 pm

    My wife and I just did our first Euro hut trip, and had a great experience as well. Got to meet a number of very nice people along the way, mostly very willing to put up with my language limitations. Met very few Brits or Americans at huts, although that was very different in ski towns like Gressoney and Chamonix.

    Most hut fees were in the 55E range, about $75, for the hut, dinner and breakfast. Food was very good overall. Wildstreubel hut in the Western Bernese Alps got the highest marks overall. No showers anywhere we went.

    Made us wish for a hut at the Garnet Canyon moraine.

  12. Lou April 23rd, 2009 4:47 pm

    Indeed, the prices are an exceptional deal in my opinion. Amazing they can keep them as low as they do.

  13. Dave N. April 24th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Lou, I agree: huts like that would bode well for conservation recreation use here in the Northern Rockies; unfortunately, the current push for more wilderness areas is going to negate the possibility of that ever happening (see link).

    I remember one existing cabin in the Gros Ventre wilderness (Ted’s backyard), that was grandfathered in during the initial legislation, almost got torn down because of extreme wilderness advocates trying to pursue the “no structures” rule past rational directives.

  14. David Aguilar April 30th, 2009 1:39 am

    Hi, Lou:
    Excellent information, we’ve used a lot of it to make a shorter version last week.
    Our trip has been
    1. Palinkopf-Piz Davo Sassé-Heidelbergerhütte
    2.Heidelbergerhütte-Breite Krone-Jamtalhütte
    3.Jamtalhütte-Austenbergerspitze Nord-Jamtalhütte
    6.Wiesbadenerhütte-Silvrettahorn (col)-Wirl-home

    Weather has not been as good as yours, but we’ve enjoyed a couple of days of sun and Austrian powder.
    Here you will find a short video teaser of our trip, and here
    photos and information in Spanish.

  15. David Aguilar April 30th, 2009 1:41 am
  16. Lou April 30th, 2009 7:05 am

    David, looks like a good trip!

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