The 17th of July, 2011, was the day Hilda and I were lunatic enough to climb the real Mondscheinspitze, aka EBD’s “Tiernjoch”. The day dawned bright and sunny, with just a few puffy clouds around. We left the apartment somewhere around 9.30, heading towards 10am, and walked out towards the toll road, getting stuck behind weekend tourists.
However, we made good time to the further end of the Pleztach alm, which is where the path separates – to the left is the (car-usable) white grit path up the Feilkopf, straight on the road continues to Gernalm, and to the right, a white grit path crosses the currently dry riverbed, and heads up in a zigzag. A rather steep zigzag.
By then it was 10:35, and the sun was hot. We stopped on average every couple of zigzags, to drink, breathe and reapply suncream as required. As Hilda said, it wasn’t so much that her muscles or lungs were complaining, but that the heat was a real killer.
However, it only took us about an hour and five minutes to get up, which was better than the projected hour and a half (all the major paths have signposts with predicted times on them).
At the beginning of the (very beautiful, rolling, green) alm there was a shrine on the lefthand side of the path to Our Lady, asking her to take care of those on the mountain. Nearby was a seat. After sitting to get our breath and reapply suncream, I picked some flowers to add to those on the shrine. The ones already there were no more that a couple of days old. I also asked Her to look after us.
Walking on, we turned to the left, still on a wide grit path.
We went through a gate and shortly after that saw another little shrine to Our Lady. At this point, Hilda noted that she was beginning to get a little nervous – so many shrines not dedicated to those who have died, but asking for the safety of those mad enough to climb the mountain! Shortly after this, our path branched to the left again, and became a regular goat track, up through the rocky grass and alpenrose bushes.
We had not been going all that long on this path, long enough for me to be barefoot, but only about ten or so minutes, when we saw a group coming our way. We stepped to the side to let them pass, the first was dressed in a truly Austrian manner, with green hat covered in badges, and traditional hiking gear, carrying an amazingly huge alpenstock, about on a par with Gandalf’s staff! In the middle was a girl about our age, dressed in jeans and boots, with a camera case swinging by her side. The man behind her also had a Tyrollean hat with badges, an alpenstock, and was wearing an interesting blue all in one suit at shorts length. We greeted them, and they us. Decided afterwards that they looked like guides for her. The first was rather like Herr Marani, and the latter like a small (er) version of Herr mensch. (he was nearer blond than the former). We continued on and it was not unlike a spread out grotto. Lots of alpen roses and bushes of firs, with flowers everywhere and turfy grass. We reached a flatter area and had a gorgeous view over behind the Mondscheinspitze to the Mantschenalm, and then a hamlet, which for a moment I thought might be right for the Mechtau in Rivals. (Wrong mountain side, it was one peak too far)
At this point, we had walked over the Schleimsattel and were on the back slopes of the Kelberg (1748m). The Mantschen, a beautiful green mound of a mountain was over to our left, behind the Mondscheinspitze, and it looked gorgeous and fresh on the sunlight.
Walking on, we came to a steeper path, and just as we were starting, a couple came down. We greeted them, and it was after they had gone on that I commented to Hilda that I felt the need to greet everyone we met on this mountain with Gruss Gott. Somehow it
seemed important to give God’s Greeting, no matter how they greeted me. Up the steeper bit and then we came to a lovely alm, with lots of cattle. This was as near to the peak of the Kelberg as we got – we did venture off the path to take photos of the lake. Technically
speaking we were in the same gradient line as that peak. As we went to head up a bit further we met a beautiful calf, all fawny coloured and with Greta Garbo eyes. She posed for us.
We got by her, and around another cow, and over a ridge, and saw a nice little dell to sit in for lunch – figuring that the tough bit must be coming soon and we would rather have some food in us. There was a strong enough breeze, and both of us kept looking for any sign of weather it might be bring in, but the sky appeared to be clear.
Walking on, over another ridge, we saw the path wended its way along a very steep grassy plain – about 145 degrees from vertical. The path itself was no wider that two feet at any time, frequently less than 18″.
This was ok enough as it was similar to something we’d done at the foot of the Rotspitze peak previously, and we’d just been able to concentrate on the path and not look at what might happen if we fell. A similar case.
Along we went, with two places where waterfalls had run away the path so we had to scramble up a little get a safe gripping to get over. The second of these, Hilda had to take her shoes off to do, so I got a photo whilst waiting on the other side. By this point the camera had otherwise been relegated to the rucksack.
Next came a scramble down a scree path – as Hilda said, don’t you just hate going down to go up? It was very zigzaggy, and narrow, and probably about 20ft high, but the edges rolled off onto that grassy plain that disappeared down for a long time, before going into a sheer drop. At the bottom of this path, we found ourselves in a dried out waterfall bed, along the two to three metres where it was horizontal. And the Austrian flag path markers that we like so much seemed to go straight up the wall in front. Well, there was nothing for it. Up I went, finding footholds and handholds as I did. It was nearly thirty feet of fairly vertical wall, easily 160 degrees from vertical. But, that said, it was limestone and so there were cracks and crevices to wedge hands and feet in to (being careful that it wasn’t rotten, first!) After that, there was a 9″ wide scree rabbit track zigzagging on up, sometimes getting up to 15″ wide (ok, in truth, there were moments when it was 2ft, but they were rare.). I will say that it was very well marked, even if I didn’t like what the marks were telling me to do. After one particular hike up, I was waiting for Hilda, who was putting her shoes back on, and we saw a couple coming down towards us. We were in as good a passing place as any so stayed put. We greeted then and they stopped to chat, in English as soon as they realised how limited our German was. He was very sweet, asking which way we were intending to come down, and on learning it was the other, telling us not to be nervous if we found it got rather steep. They both wished us good luck, and told us to take care, and we returned the sentiment. Really lovely couple. On we went. It was a definite scree path and very steep, but it was a path. There was the odd more scramble up bit, but not distinct climbing as before. That said, I felt very fragile, as on both sides it was one hell of a drop, and scree is so slippy. Nearing the top we saw the monument marked on the map – a plaque to someone who had died on the mountain. Hilda stopped to take a photo, wedged between two pillars of rock.
Very shortly after this, to the right, I saw the rock face to the right looking just as like a knife edge as it does from Pertisau. Which was a little breathtaking! And a very sheer drop. A minute later we were clambering up to the peak, where a man was already sitting on the cement base of the cross. We greeted each other, and he commented on my lack of shoes. I said I didn’t like to wear shoes. Then Hilda got up, and he asked us which way we were going down – in fast enough German that we were unable to understand or reply. We told him we had very little German, and he did speak a lot slower, with gesticulation (clearly had no English). Basically, he said, the path we had just come up was the easier of the two. Did we intend to go down the other? We said we would see. We sat down behind him and had some food. I’ll admit, my appetite was non-existent! As I turned around to look at the view, which was tremendous, I could see clouds blowing in from the west. And not good, nice clouds. Low clouds. I got up and took a panorama shot of the view and then asked Hilda what she thought.
We decided to go on, as planned – which I was ok with, as I had no wish to go down the way we’d come up. We said goodbye to the gent, and got on our way. The first bit was a scree path, quite narrow (2ft or a little less, mostly) and quite slippy. Hilda particularly didn’t like it. I did it mostly by hanging on to things, and occasionally on my bands and feet, with my bum touching the path. I don’t think I even let myself take in what danger might lie in a misplaced foot. To keep us moving as fast as we could was the weather – it was now clear to see that a heavy wall of mist was moving in – and fast. At the bottom of this bit was a clambering part, which, whenI first saw it, made my heart rise, at least this was something I knew we could do, and do easily. There was a little wall of rock to climb over, on the right hand side of a crag, and then a path not more than a foot wide across, about 15feet, and then a hoik up over another little wall of rock (almost like a stile over a fence, but stone, and a 10 foot fence!) Then, to the left, an entrance – and through that we could see that the way was down. Fairly straight down. Thank you map markings. This is the bit marked “only for experienced”. It was rather like steps down, between a quite narrow wall. We both did it facing forwards and slightly sideways, and both found it easier than the scree paths – unlike, by the sounds of it, most normal hikers. On reaching the end of that climb, it was a 50ft shelf, mostly horizontal but going up and down a bit, no more than 1ft wide at any point, going across the right hand wall/crag. When both of us had safely crossed that, I stopped to take a photo – this, I felt sure, was Grizel’s ledge, or at least, the nearest thing to it.
...Follow the flags! Yes, that is the path!
I also took a snap of the now firmly encroaching mist, coming round from both sides.
The path carried on round a crag, going down all the while – it was very scree-y. But, grass was visible in the distance (the Mondscheinsenke, little did we know.) Neither of us liked that shaley path, with the quite definite fall on the other side, the left hand side, but we kept moving, grasping to rock and fir bush. I love fir bush for this reason – it is a sturdy, easy to grip hold of entity, great for steadying oneself! We also met one tiny little edelweiss, which I stopped to photograph, in memory of Herr Mensch as a young boy.
Sadly, the photo isn’t really in context. By this point the mist was really firmly in, and in to stay.
Fairly soon after this, the shale path eased down to about a 135 degree angle, and after that we met the grass path and were able to walk on an almost horizontal plain for awhile, which was lovely. Around about then we put on our coats because it really was cold and horrid.
Also, the wind kept picking up and whooshing across, which was not the biggest amount of fun ever. You could hear it in the mountain crags, but the real problem was feeling that it might blow you off course – quite dangerous at this point, because although we were on a relatively flat path, it was still only a couple of feet wide over an isthmus. After maybe five minutes of fairly speeding walking, we started to go up again, (Hilda: don’t you just hate going up to come down!) and there were a couple of scrambly bits here as well. Nothing quite as bad as anything we’d previously done, but not so much fun in the mist. I’m making it sound awful, but really, it was just a case of getting on with it, of taking a good look at each scramble before starting it, and making sure that foot and hand holds held good. Soon enough we were on the next peak, the Mondscheinkopf/Plumsjoch. And from here it became much more plain sailing, to a medium grade path. There were some definite moments where I felt like the escapees in Exile – the path was often a hollowed one, and between that and the mist, it seemed quite
plausible that we might see a Swiss guard standing by the cross to the peak. By this point as well, we could hear cow bells – never have I been so glad to hear that sound! And very quickly we were down a little and the cows appeared out of the mist. The Mondscheinkopf/Plumsjoch is very close to the alm in comparison to any other peak we’ve climbed. We walked through the cows at a good pace, and noted a path to the right that went to another nearbypeak – but there was less than no point our trying it, given the visibility was thicker than ever, and, once we reached the alm, the rain had started too. We were very thankful to God for holding off the rain until we were off the limestone. After that junction, the path twisted round, and then I found a little shortcut, cutting off another twist. As we got back on the path from that, we had a gap edged with bushes on either side in front of us, and out of the mist appeared three beautiful grey ponies and one smaller, chestnut. It was truly like something out of Lord of the Rings.
At first they seemed nervous of us, but as we walked slowly towards them they seemed to sense we weren’t a threat, and one of the greys and the chestnut led the way towards us. They were all very eager to see if we had anything to feed them, and I think they could smell the chocolate in Hilda’s pocket! They certainly were very interested in it. The chestnut one as well, kept licking our toes and legs. Hilda reckons it was licking the salt off. If it hadn’t been so cold, we could both have stayed cuddlingthem for ages, but as it was, we had to leave them, and carry on down. Shortly after this we reached the road path, and a junction of a number of trails. By now I was ready to put my shoes on, and this done, we ran down the path for the next while. It was a good way of warming up! Within a couple of minutes we could tell we were properly on the way to the valley, the path got that zigzagging, going down a mountain look and feel about it. We ran quite a way of the first third, and about two thirds down stopped under a tree (it was quite definitely raining now) to have our last bit of tea and our boiled eggs. Then it was onwards.
Once down, we were only five minutes from the Gernalm. And then we crossed the river, on a bridge this time, and headed down the blissfully tarmacced road. We were both completely soaked by this point, and Hildasaid we should sing, because the road was more-or-less deserted, so we did. Must have gone through nearly or entire repertoire of folk music (which is quite extensive…) A few cars passed us, going the opposite way, and did give us such looks! I suppose we did look rather odd – sun hats, scarves, raincoats, apparently nothing else because the coats covered our shorts, dripping wet.. Oh well. It did begin to feel that that walk would never, ever end. But eventually it did. Never, ever have I been so glad as I was that day to climb in to a hot shower. I had to build up the heat because at first I couldn’t bear more than luke warm. Meanwhile Hilda got tea made and then we swapped. Our first act on getting in had been to thank God for getting safely home. The second had been to have a portion of schnapps each, a la Anna with Joey (and yes, it is fairly foul. Give me whisky any day!)
Distance : 18 miles according to my phone’s pedometer, but easily a bit more. Metres climbed -circa 1,200, if you include the separate hike up to the Mondscheinkopf.
Notes: with retrospect, I begin to doubt whether the Mondscheinspitze really is EBD’s basis for the Tiernjoch, or at least the complete basis for it. Helen McClelland identified it as such with the note that the ascent of the Mondschienspitze was almost identical to that described in School At – but really, it’s not. In School At, EBD writes that, after the ledge upon which Grizel got stuck, the path is half an hour of a fairly easy walk… And I defy anyone to claim either ascent after the two ledges (either the grass one, or the rock one, dependant on which route Grizel took) as being easy. Also, given how thick the mist is after Grizel leaves the alm, I would question whether she could have safely made it as far as the ledge – remember, we had path markings almost every five foot to guide us, which Grizel would not have had. My third reason for querying HMcC is more subjective: Joey frequently comments on how cruel the Tiernjoch looks. Now, the Mondscheinspitze does look like a knife edge; he looks as dangerous as he is. But… The Sonnjoch also looks cruel. In fact, Hilda and I both were struck by how the shadows on him look like blood spill… And how his peak curving over resembles somehow, a creature laughing about the death he has wrought. I shiver more at him than at the Mondscheinspitze, to be honest.
In terms of time, the average climb time from Pertisau to the top of the Mondscheinspitze is (officially) 4 hours. For the Sonnjoch, it is 6, or 7 depending which route you take. It would be more common to have to leave before Dawn, as Herr Mensch mentions for the Tiernjoch, to climb the Sonnjoch. (also, being a few hundred feet higher, it might make more sense for Prof Richardson to be climbing the Sonnjoch rather than the Mondscheinspitze…)
On the other hand, the Sonnjoch can’t be seen from the Chalet, whereas the Mondscheinspitze can. But, the Sonnjoch can be seen from most of Pertisau, whereas the Mondscheinspitze can’t…
Most likely, EBD combined the both of them to create the Tiernjoch, in the same way that she combined 3 valleys to make the Tiern Valley. But this hasn’t stopped us wanting to climb the Sonnjoch now, to see if that climb is closer in description to the Tiernjoch!