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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
The boat is prepared for a high Arctic adventure so this week it was our turn.
In mid April we sail to Iceland's North West Fjord district where we plan to use Shimshal as a base for a ski exploration of this incredibly remote and spectacular part of the world. This of course is the shake down cruise before the big north east Greenland adventure. Having demanding day jobs meant that it is now time to get ourselves, as well as our boat fit for our Arctic adventure.
Leaving Shimshal in the capable hands of Jay our rigger we flew from Reykjavik to Munich to address the couch potato issue. The boat might now be ready but were we?
The warm and dry alpine winter came to an end a couple of days before we arrived in Munich with a 1 metre dump of snow across most parts. We hired a car from the airport and drove first to Conrad Sports at Penzberg to pick up our new touring gear. It is a decade since we last invested in touring gear and technology has moved on in that time, so, for this trip at least, we would be sporting shiny new state of the art skis, bindings and boots. A first for the Currin's!
With avalanche risk rated at 4 out of 5 we were going to have to let things settle for a bit before venturing off piste so the first day we bought a downhill pass for Mayrhofn. Huge though it is the resort was very busy and we had no desire to spend any more time on-piste than we had to so, over dinner with Sally's niece Berta we decided to make a mini tour the next day up a safe valley to a hut for lunch and then ski down for a second night with Berta at Kramsach. This was the first touring we had done in 2 years and there was definite room for improvement!
We had unfinished business in the Sud Tyrol having been thwarted in an attempt to ski tour there 2 years ago when the region had 10 metres of snow that season rendering it out of bounds. This year conditions and forecasts were looking good so Berta booked us into the Zufalle Hutte and sent us on our way.
It was a perfect choice to get us back into the hills though the hut was very busy with weekend tourers and snow shoe hikers. The first day we sweated and panted our way up the Matrispitze sustaining a sunburnt tongue along the way - a sure sign of a sedentary lifestyle. We skied all the way back to the car as there was no room for us in the hut for a second night and so enjoyed some 3 star comforts back in the valley.
On Sunday we skinned up to the Martelle Hutte which was much less busy and they fed us very well. Most folk there were climbing the Cevedale but we opted for the Marmotta which we had to ourselves until we were joined on the summit by a couple from the Sud Tyrol. They obliged us with the summit photo before we launched ourselves down the glorious powder decent.
We paused in our descent at the Zufalle Hutte for a couple of restorative latte macchiatos and whilst basking in the afternoon sunshine we watched the first British party we had thus far seen ski in from Sulden. By an astonishing coincidence Tim sauntered over to our table a minute or two later saying, "Aren't you supposed to be sailing?"
Tim is the husband of Heather who came on our Medex 2015 trip and got serious injuries on day 2 of the trek. I had had to break the news to Tim by satellite phone in the middle of a Himalayan night. It was great to catch up with him and his Jagged Globe party who after an hour of chat donned skins to head up to the Martelle Hutte in the heat of the afternoon. We slithered down the now icy trail back to the car with no particular evening destination in mind.
I has hoped for a day of R&R downhill skiing at Serfaus but, as ever in the hills, I was to be a victim of other people's ambitions. Sally announced over breakfast at an overpriced and unfriendly hotel in Ried that she had other plans. We were, it seemed, heading for the Riffelseehutte in Pitztal in the Nord Tyrol where we would be able to tour to her heart's content despite deteriorating weather!
The first obstacle was to find the hut in a whiteout and rising storm. As usual she was right and by morning the sky was passably clear so off we went again with skis and skins. Along the shore of a frozen lake then up over the terminal moraines to finally join the glacier at about 2,800m. We had the valley and the mountain to ourselves which, though glorious, meant that we had to break our own trail in lovely powder. As the glacier steepened icy blasts of spindrift came lashing down from the col. The temperature was -14 C without the windchill and at about 100m below the summit I declared that our Arctic preparation had now gone far enough. Uncharacteristically Sally agreed so we wrestled with the skins and the freezing, fierce winds blasting us with icy pellets before embarking on a magnificent, untracked powder descent all the way to the valley floor.
The reason, it later emerged, we got the descent to the valley was to pick up our crampons from the car in preparation for an ascent of the Tyrol's highest peak, the Wildspitze, tomorrow morning. And I had thought we were by now already Arctic ready!