Crampons, rope teams and Zirbenschnaps. A mountaineering course on the Dachstein.

A roap team crossing an Alpine glacier

Crossing the Hallstätter Gletscher as a rope team

At the end of August I spent a weekend playing in snow and ice on the Dachstein. Led by the exuberant Jürgen from Laserer Alpin, myself, Constantin and a crew of six Austrian lads learnt how to use crampons, walk over a glacier and got an introduction to crevasse rescue. With much work-related delay, here is a quick summary and a few photos of our exploits on the Hallstätter Gletscher.

Saturday

We met Jürgen, our mountain guide for the weekend, and the rest of the group at the Südwandbahn cable car station at the foot of the Dachstein. After a short talk about glacier travel gear, we picked up our crampons, ice axes, harnesses, carabiners and ropes and set off for the cable car. Once on the glacier we set up two rope teams and slowly started walking towards the Simonyhütte, our base for the weekend.

Jürgen crawls out of a crevasse

Jürgen hiding in a crevasse

It was largely sunny, but a few thick clouds rolled over the Dachstein ridge into the valley. We zig-zagged pass a few crevasses. The ice was nearly light blue in the sun. In a couple of places, we walked along thin streams cutting deep down into the ice and carrying off the day’s melt. Nearly like David Attenborough’s Antarctica minus the penguins … nearly.

Water flowing through a glacial crevasse

The blue ice of the Hallstätter Gletscher

After a short break at the Simonyhütte, we spent the rest of the afternoon skidding and sliding down a snow field close to the hut. We were practicing how to stop falls on snow and build anchor points to support a rescue effort in case of a crevasse fall. When all playing in the snow was over, we headed back for the Simonyhütte.

Halstätter Gletscher

Late afternoon on the Hallstätter Gletscher

a shot of zierbenschnaps

Zirbenschnaps, the pine cone delicacy

Back at the hut we had just enough time to enjoy a beer in the sun before dinner. After dinner and a few more beers we proceeded to sample the hut’s stock of schnapps. Zirbenschnaps, aka Zirben, a high percentage distillate infused with pine cones !?! and a local specialty, proved to be a success. While making our way through 55 shots of this Austrian liquid gold we also made several attempts at playing the guitar and the accordion, which proved to be less successful.

Sunday

Thank god the weather on Sunday was quite bad. As it was foggy and raining, we had a slow start to the day, going through some theory about planning mountaineering trips, assessing the weather and NEVER being out and about during a thunderstorm.

Prussiking up a rope

Crevasse rescue: prussiking up a rope

With no sight of the weather improving, we headed to a big shed a few meters away from the hut. As it turned out the shed provided shelter on top of a substantial rock wall where we could practice crevasse rescue, which mainly involved climbing up a rope using an intricate constellation of prusik knots. After much knot tying and prussiking it was time to head back to the Hallstätter Gletscher and eventually to the cable car station.

Walkers on a glacier wearing crampons

Heading back to the cable car at the top of the Hallstätter Gletscher

The weekend was a great introduction to glacier travel. I don’t quite feel like heading out on a glacier without a guide yet, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for trips to or over glaciers with the Alpine Club next summer.

I’ve written up my notes on the techniques I learnt about during the weekend in this post: For future reference: glacier travel and crevasse rescue.

Related posts

Here are few more trips I did this summer:

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3 comments

  1. aquavista · · Reply

    Great blog, and thanks for sharing your experiences. Am yearning for the mountains after reading this. Roll on 2014 :)

    Best wishes,

    Chris.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the praise! A little bit of skiing and then it will be hiking time again :)

      marketa

  2. Martin Chaplin · · Reply

    You’re lucky. These days as the leisure industry expands there is no shortage of courses on all aspects of mountaineering. I did all my training prusiking up the side of the house or hanging on the rafters and occaisionally throwing myself of a snow slope in the lakes. Great fun but there’s no substitute for the real thing. I have subsequently crossed many glaciers in the Stubai/Otztal and fortunately without incident. Courses at the time were beyond my means and in those days learning was more about going with more experienced people from the local mountaineering club and learning from them. Enjoy, Martin

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