The Ötztal Alps with their glaciers offer such a beautiful views that every ascent results in a tip for several more. This is what happened to us at the top of the Wildspitze when we looked to the southwest. Fifteen kilometers distant Weisskugel, Palla Bianca in Italian, is only a few meters lower.
A few months have passed, summer is almost over and we are planning a trip. Austria's third highest mountain can be reached from several directions, and since the peak lies on the national border, most of them start from Italy. We choose the village of Melag east of Lago Resia. Arriving at night, we pass the illuminated church tower, which sticks out of the water as a monument to the villages flooded by the construction of the dam. Soon after, we turn left and climb the long Vallelunga valley to the parking lot just before the end of the road.
Climbers usually spend the night at the Weisskugelhutte hut (Rif. Pio XI) at 2544 meters. We have ambitions to manage the entire ascent in one day, via the northern ridge. We will then return via normal route.
Cold morning in the valley
It’s gonna be a long day. While having breakfast by the car, my hands are quite cold, but the forecast promises beautiful weather. We leave before 6am. Short start along the road ending with a large parking lot and a bus stop. We slip between a few buildings onto a wide path that leads us along the Karlinbach stream to the Melageralm hut. Behind it, we cross the river over the bridge and start to climb along the footpath under the material cable car. The trail is pretty steep.
The first rays of the sun dazzle us on the plain in front of the Weisskugelhutte mountain hut. It's not too big and looks nice. There is nobody here in the morning. There is a sign in the hut, that it is best to climb the glacier along the moraine from the left side, i.e. along its right side. A large photo of the glacier hangs in the hall of the hut with a recommended route: after descending to the bottom of the valley, cross the bridge over the river below the face of the glacier and ascent it from the right. After passing the steep part, at the point where the glacier turns to the right, we should traverse to the normal route.
A bit of a shortcut...
Various ideas come to our mind while having breakfast on the sunny terrace. Actually, it is convenient for us to get on the glacier from the right and then try to avoid the traverse to the normal route and a little later back under the northern ridge. From the bridge, we look into the black hole at the head of the glacier, from which the gray river flows. On the steep stony slope, we become happy how we avoid the glacier, which falls into the valley on our left. We are gaining height nicely. We really avoided it a lot, but not enough….
At the point where the glacier turns to the right to the south, the rocky ridge along which we climbed up to here just disappears. But we still need to go around two rocks on the left before we reach the ascent to the northern ridge.
We rope-up and begin to zigzag through the labyrinth of crevasses and ice bridges. Although the ten-centimeter layer of snow was not enough to mask the large cracks, we still cross and jump very respectfully. After all, there are only two of us with a remarkable weight difference.
Finally we get to 3000 and there is almost a 45° snow slope on our right. Thus we gain more than 150 meters in height and soon we get to the first rocks of the ridge. We turn back and look at the ragged glacier trying to catch our breath.
Climbing up the north ridge
The next route is obvious. The north ridge straight up, to the south, to the summit cross. About half a vertical kilometer to go. Scattered rocks are mostly covered with a layer of frozen snow. Crampons are necessary. Weather is nice and warm so wa can go all the time without gloves.
The crest sharpens and the slope rises. Technical steps are more frequent. Some other tracks come from the left in the saddle below the final ascent. We were the only ones here until now.
We trust the other climbers who made the tracks. First they zigzag on a steep snow slope and later between rocks. I can already see the summit cross, but it will take a while to get there.
Feeling the altitude
It is half past four and we are standing at the summit cross. The views are magnificent. Wildspitze, Similaun, Ortles and many more, There are glaciers everywhere below us. There is no time for a long break. We have a long descent via normal toure ahead of us.
We're taking the crampoons off for a while. The short ridge to the south is easier than it looks. Again to the snow, again with the crampons and roped up. We descend to the Hintereisjoch saddle. Here, before the rocky peak of Cima della Sorgente di Dentro, we take a sharp left.
We are now heading north. Travers runs away quickly, but this is only a rock rib, behind which so much more traverse hike. Finally, pass over the Weisskugeljoch and look down on "our" glacier. The path on its right side looks good.
Long way back down
The shadows stretch longer and we are getting tired. We pass the beginning of the northern ridge. The crevasses in the glacier are colored orange. We continue on a scree slope on the right side of the glacier.
We run down the unstable rocks to use every minute of daylight. Later we take our headlamps and continue to descend. We can see the light of the hut, but it will take some time to get there. We are approaching the dotted line on the map. "There will be a way" we hope.
In one moment we get to the upper part of the glacier’s face. "What now?". Those tracks we saw up there...they had to get down somehow too. Finally we find our way. We slide down and along the gully to get down to the river.
In a little while we are already climbing from the river to the hut. It must be some kind of mirage - the open window of the restaurant welcomes us. The hut-keeper watched our headlamps. Come on, this year it's better to start from the other side of the glacier. We know, we were there in the morning. "And you went from the parking lot?" When he hears that we won't be sleeping in the hut even now, he gives us an extra schnaps.
We say goodbye and head for the final two hours to get to the car. The lights of Melag below us approach slowly. Finally the bridge, the Melageralm and the endless Valle lunga. Such a nice midnight return…