Eastern Alps Day 2 – Hoher Sonnblick

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 1, 2012      

After our big day yesterday on the Hocharn ‘narr,’ (see previous blog post) we wondered if another 6,000 vert would feel that terrific. So we picked something in the 5,000 foot range. The goal today is the Sonnblick, a glaciated alp that has the interesting feature of a huge alpine hut on top (Zittelhaus), as well as what’s said to be the longest continuously operating alpine weather station in Europe. After fiddling around with some ups and downs we ended up at around six grand anyhow — and feeling every inch of it. Nonetheless, the satisfaction of a big day done well eases the sore muscles.

Heading up from Ammererhof hotel to Sonnblick, route it a long loop to the left, out of photo.

Heading up from Ammererhof hotel to Sonnblick, route is a long loop to the left, out of photo. Click most photos to enlarge.

Yesterday’s day of hero pow on the HochNARR was a welcome break from the challenging snow we’ve experienced on this trip. As we hike up the east and southeast exposures to Hoher Sonnblick, I’m disappointed to see the return of crusty snow. My eyes tear as frigid winds whip my face like splashes of ice water. Lou figures out a route. I put on my goggles and follow.

Sonnblick and Hocharn as viewed from Ammererhof berghotel.

Sonnblick and Hocharn as viewed from Ammererhof berghotel.

About half way to Sonnblick we pass another Naturfreundehaus hut that looks quite nice.

About half way up Sonnblick we pass another Naturfreundehaus hut that looks quite nice. You can imagine staying overnight in one of the upstairs rooms, waking up in the morning to gaze out the small windows overlooking the alpine. Sonnblick is the sharp peak up ahead. To reach it you do quite a long circle around to left out of photo.

When we go out on tours, climbing up a peak is usually the best part for me. I like to work off the schnitzel and luckily, I’ve gained the physical stamina to do so. Skiing down when conditions aren’t good is tough. I struggle on breakable crust. Wider skis have really helped and wow, am I thankful for my K2 Gotbacks, but still I fumble.

As we hike up ridge after ridge of scoured snow, I think about the body banging falls I could take on the trip down. A feeling of dread starts to grow. We make a few wrong turns and it takes us about four hours to get to the top.

After a lengthy slog that included one wrong turn with about 400 vert.

After a lengthy slog that included one wrong turn with about 400 'bonus' vert, we reached the summit. We were fascinated by this structure on top of a fairly radical mountain (80 bed Zittelhaus left, weather station right). They do their logistics with a cable way as many of these high alpine installations do. Goldmine operator, Ignaz Rojacher, built the weather station in 1886. At the time it was the highest meteorological observation station in the world, and still is the highest in the Alps. The cable car which supplied the weather station on Sonnblick was completed in 1954. Until then, everything had to be carried from the valley to the summit with human power (or animals in summer). Such cables are not rated for human travel and usually look rather sketchy, but it's rumored that the hut folks ride them sometimes.

Zittelhaus spec knodel is a bit salty but still hits you better than just about anything.

Zittelhaus specknodel is a bit salty but still tastes better than just about anything.

A big bowl of Specknodel soup makes me feel better, but my spirits deflate when Lou says that the weather has worsened and we need to hurry. I slurp up the rest of my lunch and reluctantly head outside to mustard thick clouds. Lou heads down the slope and cuts through the crud like the butter he spread on his bread that morning at Ammererhof. I watch him with envy and my attitude gets darker than the sky.

My legs ache, its cold and there’s 5000 vertical feet of crummy snow between me and the car. I’m afraid of falling and blowing out a knee. I wish I was at the top of a ski resort with an easy groomer below rather than a stormy glacier. I look into the cold mist and try to think of something positive. Lou yells for me to get going. I double check my tech binding’s grip on my boots, and take off.

Flat light combined with fog is like Vaseline smeared on my glasses. I make a few turns and don’t fall. I recall Lou telling me to just ride the skis — especially in difficult snow. Sure enough my Gotbacks hold me and I relax into the rhythm of following his tracks down the slope.

The glaciers have shrunk quite a bit, but patches still exist.

The glaciers have shrunk quite a bit, but patches still exist.

When we break through the clouds, the valley comes into view before me. The vastness is stunning. Swirling clouds drag shadows across the snowfields below. It is so beautiful that I have to stop. I am amazed that I am perched here in this glorious place, that I am on a three week vacation in Europe, and that I am blessed with this incredible life. I feel humbled and ashamed about my negativity. I resolve to make it a better day.

Lou, during the trip back. We did make turns but for the most part the snow had been

The storm blows through, clearing the sky by the end of the day. Lou looks back at our tracks. We did make turns but for the most part the snow was not causing our cameras to motivate. Quite a summit at any rate, and we both vowed to return in better weather -- on better snow. Indeed, a night or two up at the summit gasthaus would be an amazing experience. We've also heard that with only a 400 meter climb, you can tour from the Sonnblick around back west to Hocharn where often the snow is less scoured. So those of you planning a Europe trip, perhaps add this to your list.

It takes us a while to get down the mountain and it’s evening by the time we get back to the gasthaus. Lou checks the website while I sit in the restaurant and warm up with a jagertee. The friendly old cook stops by to see if all is right. For three generations, her family has lived there and she speaks no English. She understands my halting German and we have a nice conversation. I compliment the jagertee and she gives me the recipe. The day is redeemed.

Jagertee: Equal parts red wine and black tea. A shot of schnaps and orange juice. A teaspoon of brown sugar. A dash of cloves and cinnamon. Yes, it’ll improve your day.


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5 Responses to “Eastern Alps Day 2 – Hoher Sonnblick”

  1. Sue M. May 1st, 2012 10:22 am

    Lisa, I am going to the alps next week and was wondering which ski to take. I have Gotbacks so I’ll take them. Thanks for the recommendation and trip report. Glad I found your site.

  2. Lisa May 1st, 2012 10:37 am

    Have a great time, Sue! Hopefully you’ll hit the corn snow season. Lisa

  3. Tom Gos May 1st, 2012 11:33 am

    Ummm, jagertee! Nothing better on a cold day.

  4. Lisa May 1st, 2012 11:42 am

    Yes, jagertee is yummy. I’m surprised Lou never told me about it.

  5. AK Jack May 1st, 2012 10:26 pm

    Loved the report!

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