After a climb of about 1000m from our starting point in the village of Gargellen, the Tübinger Hut (2191m), where we would be spending the first night, finally came into view and was a welcome sight indeed. Rather less welcome was the view of the route we would need to take the next day to cross the Platten Joch (2728m). A huge snowfield bounded by rocky buttresses stretched up towards the pass at an angle that appeared impossibly steep. We could only hope this was an optical illusion.
This daunting prospect was soon put to the back of our minds, however, as we sat on the hut’s sunny terrace to enjoy a well-earned beer. The hut was not too busy and we were pleased to have two bedrooms for the exclusive use of our group of eight. After a hearty meal of typical Austrian fare, we settled down for the night and slept reasonably well, except for one person who complained of cold when the rest of us were as warm as toast.
Next morning it wasn’t long before we reached the snowfield. Although close up it did not seem quite as steep as it had from a distance, it was still steep enough and, with no one else having passed this way recently, it made for hard going in the soft snow. We were joined by Alex, a young guy from Stuttgart, whom we’d met at the hut and who now teamed up with us in the belief that there was safety in numbers.
On reaching the Platten Joch and looking down the other side into Switzerland, we were confronted with the formidable prospect of a convex snow slope that was apparently even steeper than the one we’d ascended. However, we managed to get over this without too much difficulty on to some rocks and beyond that to a somewhat more gently angled snowfield. About an hour later we said goodbye to Alex, who was going to the Saarbrücker Hut, back over the ridge in Austria.
This was the toughest day for the whole group. After the initial climb over the pass we had to descend 1100m and then climb 700m up again to reach the Silvretta hut at an elevation of 2341m. Despite its remote location the hut was busy with a large school party and other groups. The evening meal was Fleischkäse – a typical Swiss dish, which literally translated means ‘meat cheese’ – not to everyone’s taste, especially for the vegetarian among us.
Our accommodation was in a ‘mattress room’ in an annex that resembled an old shed. Although we had a room to ourselves, it was cramped and claustrophobic and none of us could get a decent night’s sleep. It was rather annoying that the single lady and her dog in the adjoining room both slept like logs. Our purpose in coming here had been to experience the different atmosphere of a Swiss Hut; it certainly was an experience - as well as being about twice as expensive as the Austrian huts.
The person who’d been feeling cold at night now realised that he was ill and not capable of another arduous climb just yet, so in the morning he and his partner descended to the Swiss resort of Klosters, from where they would make a circuitous journey and spend a night in a hotel before rejoining us the following evening. The remaining six of us climbed up past the vast Silvretta Glacier over the Rote Furka pass (2688m) back into Austria without difficulty. We then had a pleasant but rather lengthy and in the end tiring walk down one valley and back up another.
Our accommodation that night was in the spectacularly situated Wiesbadener Hut, with its views of iconic peaks, such as Piz Buin, and the surrounding glaciers. Being a popular base for Alpine training courses, the hut was very busy, but this only added to the atmosphere.
In theory this should have been a relatively short day in terms of the number of hours of walking required to reach the next hut. It started pleasantly enough with a gradual ascent through meadows to reach the Radsattel (2652m) followed by a descent to the lovely Bielstal. The weather was perfect.
However, as we ascended towards the Getschnersharte, which at 2839m was the highest point of our trek so far, we were once again confronted with a long and steep snowfield that looked even more daunting than those we’d previously ascended. The degree of exposure was beyond the psychological limits for one of our group, so he made a tactical retreat down the valley, caught a bus and then a taxi up the next valley to rejoin us at the hut that evening.
The remaining five of us were a bit doubtful about whether we could get over the pass, but were reassured by a Lancashire lad coming in the opposite direction, who told us that there was nothing to worry about. However, a professional mountain guide who passed us a bit later gave us a rather dubious look implying that this was no place for a bunch of amateurs.
The view down the other side was once again scarier than the ascent route. It looked steeper than ever, but this time the slope was concave, so that we could see all the way to the bottom, which increased the feeling of exposure. Although the guide and his two clients got down without difficulty, we baulked at a direct descent and instead took a convoluted route through a narrow gap between snow and rock around a large boulder and then traversed a snow slope one at a time, so at to maximise the security offered by our sole ice-axe. The onward descent on steep snow and eroded scree was relentless and it was about two hours before we reached terra firma where we could have a proper rest and replenish our water bottles.
The five of us eventually arrived at the Jamtal Hut at about 6.30pm, having taken nearly ten hours to do a route that would normally take about half that time. We were pleased to be greeted by the other three members of our group, who had been starting to get anxious about us. A shower would have been nice at that point, but we were ushered straight into dinner, which had been postponed from 6.00pm for our benefit.
Our original plan had been to cross the 2980m Kronen Joch to get to the Heidelberger Hut. After the previous day’s epic, however, we really weren’t up to it and so elected to stay another night in the Jamtal Hut, which was quiet despite the onset of the weekend. What a pleasure it was to be able to go for a leisurely stroll without having to carry a week’s gear! Some of us climbed the nearby Rußkopf, which at 2693m was not as high as some of the passes we’d crossed, but still a proper peak with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The name of the Gay Outdoor Club is now inscribed for posterity in the Gipfelbuch (log book kept in a metal box at the summit).
There was a light drizzle in the morning as we descended to the village of Galtür – the only time on our trek when we had any rain. Otherwise the weather had been perfect almost the whole time. Only on the ascent to the Silvretta Hut had it felt uncomfortably hot.
The damp conditions had brought out numerous Alpine salamanders – shiny black creatures that resemble lizards, but which are amphibians, not reptiles. On a post-prandial walk the previous evening we’d had a good view through binoculars of ibex (mountain goats) on the ridge above us, while the two who’d descended from the Silvretta Hut had been vouchsafed the sight of Chamois (mountain antelope) at close quarters. The birdlife encountered en route had included Alpine chough and ptarmigan, but among the flora and fauna, it was the Alpine flowers that won the most prizes for their amazing variety and colours, as well as their sheet quantity.
From Galtür we caught the bus to the railhead at Landeck, with one person heading east to Innsbruck and the rest of us travelling in the opposite direction to spend a night in the lovely town of Bregenz, situated on the shore of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), before flying home from Zurich the next day.