Down-climbing on soft snow is never a pleasant activity but with a light rain falling and mist thickening to completely obscure the glacier we recalled the old alpine adage of ‘To summit is optional, to descend safely is mandatory’ and reluctantly decided to abandon our objective and return to the hut. In Summer conditions Habicht is a popular route with 900m of ascent taking four hours to the summit at 3277m but in June 2016 a late season fall of snow had slowed our progress dramatically.
The trip had started well with a gondola up from Neustift in the Stubai valley to the top station at 1747m and overnight at the Innsbrucker hut. The forecast was reasonable and after the customary meagre breakfast of rye bread with wafer thin cheese and a splodge of jam our party of three had set off: myself from the Gentians together with Justin and Kevin, both AAC members. The aim of the trip was to to complete as much as possible of the Stubai Hohenweg and take in peaks en route where possible.
It looked like Habicht wasn’t going to be one of them but once we had descended a good 150m of hard-won height, the sun flickered back into view and the mist cleared. Having rested on our axes for five minutes to see if the weather had stabilised sufficiently we decided to follow the more recent alpine adage of ‘JDI’ and started back up. A slog of another hour was rewarded with spectacular views from the summit cross, itself almost buried in snow. To reach this point had taken five hours and the return took a further six hours before we reached the hut, some two hours late for dinner. Fortunately the hut warden responded ‘Kein problem’ to our enquiries.
The following day would have been a good choice for an easy peak and some sunbathing with a weissbier or two but the description of the route to the Bremer hut said ‘no place to be caught in poor weather’ so we took advantage of the reasonable weather and pushed on, reaching the hut after eight hours across boulder fields and snow patches with the occasional wired stretch.
With a poor forecast for the next day we decided to go directly to the Nuernburger Hut and forego the possibility of a large peak on the way. In the event, enough interest was provided en route by a tricky snow slope with a nasty run-out. Other parties seemed to be relying on luck and trekking poles to get across so we felt distinctly over-equipped as we unstrapped ice-axes and roped up.
Ideally we would have completed the Wilder Freiger from the Nuernburger but with another poor forecast we continued to the Sulzenau hut taking in the Mair Spitze from the col, our achievement rather spoiled by the provision of a couple of park benches near the summit cross.
Excellent weather was promised for the following day so the Wilder Freiger it was. After forcing down yet more rye bread at 06.30 am we set off. An excellent alpine day followed with the inevitable soft snow balanced by the opportunity to cross some knife edge ridges and scramble up rock steps. The compact summit (3419m) was somewhat crowded with ourselves plus an American group and a German group, both heading over the border to the Muller hut. After a long descent we returned to the Sulzenau hut in good spirits to find the warden was distinctly unimpressed by our late return for dinner. Suitably deflated, we were further depressed by her news that the next days route taking in the Grosser Troegler was closed for path works so we would have no option but to take the direct route to the Dresdner hut.
Easily reached by cable car from the valley the Dresdner is rather commercial at the best of times and on this occasion turned out to be in the centre of an enormous building site with a new cable car station being built next door. It was no place for an overnight stay and after joining the construction workers in the lunch queue we refueled and descended to the valley for a bus to Neustift a day early.Visible from the hotel’s balcony, the Elferspitze looked like part of the Dolomites and was the obvious choice for the final day. Using the gondola again we were soon among the limestone spires and on a cabled section to find that a party from a well-known British holiday company had decided that the narrow and exposed path was the ideal place to sit down for a lunch stop. That obstacle surmounted with a little patience and diplomacy we dropped rucksacs and ascended the narrow chimney to the summit cross and last peak of the tour.