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Climbing in the Otztaler Alpen and the Bernina

By Malcolm Holt & Eddy Welch

The first week was spent in the Otztaler Alpen, staying at the Iaschach Hut (2,434m). the way to the hut is via a pleasant valley road from Imst to Mittelberg, then via the track to the hut – three hours laden with food, climbing gear, clothes etc.  The hut comes into view very early on the walk, and seems more arduous.  The hut is situated at the junction of the Iaschach and the Sexergerten Glaciers and the surrounding peaks are ideal for a first time visit to the Alps the area having snow, rock and ice climbs.  Behind the hut to the right can be seen the Henter Olgruben Spitze.  This is attempted via a long walk up the Sexegerten Glacier, then via an easy snow slope to the summit (3,296m).

To the left of the hut and behind is the nearest peak – the Pitztaler Urkund (3,201m) a rock summit, nowhere difficult and was climbed by the south ridge.  From the summit good views of the second highest peak in Austria, the Widspitze (3,770m) were obtained (Gross Glockner is 23m higher). The peak was not attempted due to the soft condition of the snow, a party which attempted it set off at 03.00 hours and reached the summit at 16.00 hours reporting snow conditions waist deep, but this was very warm weather.

Having given the sun the chance to sort out the snow conditions an early start was made the next day for the Widspitze region.  Initially came a walk across the Iaschach Glacier, taking care to be past the avalanche zone before the sun came on it, then the Iaschach Wand (3,365m) was climbed. This is a snow slope fairly steep and heavily corniced on the face.  A traverse to the Peterson Spitze (3,484m) followed.

Finally a rock peak was attempted the Mitlle Eikasten Kopf (3,260m).  The main ridge is about 1½ hours from the hut and is about V.D. standard, the hardest move is beneath a window in the ridge with considerable exposure, the route can be continued to the Bligg Spitze (3,454m) if time permits.

These are some of the climbs that can be attempted from the Iaschach Hut, the summits being reached in less than hours and thus pre-dawn starts are unnecessary and returns can be made by early afternoon.  The area is ideal to those with little or no Alpine experience.

The Bernina, visited on the second week, is a more serious undertaking.  The range is very compact but is higher than the Otztal and is much more beautiful.  Again the hut – the Ischierva (2,573m) is three hours from the car, initially through sweet scented pine woods which can be traversed using a horse drawn vehicle to the Roseg restaurant.

The first peak attempted was the Piz Roseg (3,937m).  A start was made at 03.30 hours to cross Ischierva Glacier before dawn approximately 2,000m in distance.  Initially we were competing with about eight others to get on the ridge first but were soon outpaced and afterwards discovered them to be trainee guides. The ridge is gained is rock giving way to a hard packed snow slope where crampons were an advantage.  The route is quite spectacular, the second summit being the higher one.

The next day the Piz Scerscen (3,971m) was climbed.  The party consisting of Roy Bennett, Malcolm Holt and Terry Taylor.  The crux of the climb is the Ice Nose, a 200ft. nose of steep snow and ice, which led out onto the final ridge before approaching the summit. Several routes were obvious, one leading up the centre and traversing right, around the overhanging ice walls, another to the left climbing up the least inclined angle of the nose seemed the most worn route, the third, which we took, involved a series if ice chimneys then joining with the left hand route.  Terry led, making a quick work to the first stance, no serious difficulties were apparent.  Roy followed managing admirably, despite lack of forward points on his crampons.  The three were soon at the top, and reached the final summit at 10.30 hours.

The descent conditions proved hazardous due to sun melting the top layer of ice, and great care had to be taken when descending the nose.  The hut was reached at 15.00 hours with them feeling pretty tired.

The following day we intended to do the Piz Bernina (4,049m) the highest peak in the area, requiring a midnight start and an overnight stay at the Marco Rosa refuge (3,597m) in Italy.  Unfortunately weather conditions, up to now perfect, started to deteriorate, so a day was spent on the glacier improving snow and ice techniques.

On Thursday, the last day, we did one of the smaller peaks, Piz Morteratsch (3,751m).  This proved more of a slog than anything else, although a deviation of route took us up a steep ice slope necessitating much step cutting since we had left behind our crampons.  We descended the climb in traditional English style, arseadding, passing a roped party of Swiss plodding steadily upwards, who from the looks on their faces didn’t approve.

Members in the Alps – Roy and Joan Bennett, Terry Taylor, Malcolm Holt, Eddy Welch and Bob Chapman.