King Ortler

Austrian crow Leo Rauch, his brother Josef and Julian Resch took their band of merry men to the wings of Mount Ortles (Ortler in German) in the southern Tirol. Together they repeated one of the most mythical steep skiing routes, the Minnigerode couloir opened in 1971 by Heini Holzer.

Ortles (3905m): Hintergrat- Minnigerode couloir.

On a Wednesday evening around 10:15pm we started driving from Innsbruck towards Sulden. We were all excited about our upcoming little adventure. My friend Julian Resch lives in the same house as me on the second floor. He regularly rings the doorbell to announce another ambitious enterprise for the coming days. So this time it’s going to be the Minnigerode couloir from the summit of Ortles down to the Sulden glacier. A nice classic piece of ski-mountaineering in the southern Alps. Start: Wednesday after work! My brother Josef joined the program spontaneously, so we were three friends, ready to receive a portion of springtime skiing.

After three way-too-short hours of sleep in the Sulden parking lot (1900m) we started our hike together with approximately fifty other skiers at around 4:20am. After a while we saw with relief, that they were all running towards Monte Cevedale.

The three of us crossed the Sulden glacier in the first morning light. The Grand Zebru with its mighty seracs was glowing over us with intense salmon-like colors. The snow situation, like almost everywhere in the Alps, was quite poor and some of the snow bridges responded to our weight with a groaning, settling noise. As we got to the bergschrund, clouds came in and covered the summit, as well as the upper part of the Minnigerode couloir, in dense fog.

We hiked up the Schück couloir and soon reached the Hintergrat, just 300m below the summit. Climbing the last parts of the Hintergrat was an unforgettable experience. The clouds provided the dramatic feeling of mountaineering, which got even stronger once we caught a glimpse of the surrounding mountains and down into the North-east facing walls towards Sulden, almost 2000 meters below us. Some parts of the climb even required considerable physical and mental effort. Other parts where just scenic and impressively exposed. Right on cue, the clouds vanished completely, as we took the last steps up to the summit at around 11:45am.

The clouds had preserved the snow in the East-facing couloir. So even though the climb took a bit longer than expected, there was plenty of time left to enjoy the dramatic scenery in the sun.

One of the best things of skiing the Minnigerode couloir is the fact that you start skiing directly from the summit and the fall-line leads you down to the Sulden glacier. Our euphoria was very quickly replaced by respect, as we realized that the snow didn’t soften up at all in the upper part. Rocks randomly distributed in the cone-like couloir and the deeply frozen corn snow led to the fact that none of us dared to do a turn in the first 50 meters of the descent. But as we got lower we got used to the conditions and after a first defensive jumpturn there came another, and turn by turn we started to really ski this beautiful line with its >50°. After about 400 meters a rock-barrier blocked the way to the glacier, so we took our chance to traverse out of the Minnigerode couloir to the less exposed Schück couloir and got to enjoy perfect corn snow, in wide and fast turns.

Reaching the glacier we were all filled with joy and respect. We made our way through the labyrinth of slightly snow-covered crevasses by looking for the most stable looking snow bridges. Many of them presented big black holes and because the sun had come out they were made up of trench-like structures because of the decrease in stability. The obligatory look back up at the line brought up a familiar mix of satisfaction, respect and disbelief.

This feeling still keeps us motivated when we go to our jobs and to university, where we dream about the next adventure!

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