Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

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Königsspitze – Hochjochgrat – Ortler

It is mid-January and instead of copious amounts of the finest powder snow, there is only some snow above 2000m. A long period of high pressure and low winds is expected. The avalanche situation is rather relaxed. Actually the ideal weather conditions for a cool spring ski tour, or so thought our team pilots Daniel Oberauer and Markus Anders, and 2 of their buddies Philip and Heli.

1 - Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

2 - Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

From the viewpoint of Markus:

The plan is forged quickly: climb the Königsspitze (Gran Zebrù) via the eastern ravine. A weak south-westerly wind is forecast – ideal for launching from the summit with our mini-wings TONIC2 and TONKA2 and then flying west around the Königsspitze to the Hochjoch bivouac. Spend the night there, then continue the crossing over the Hochjoch ridge to the Ortler the next day.

We quickly pack everything and are on our way to Sulden in the camper. At 7 o’clock in the morning after a few hours of sleep we’re ready to go. The first step is a climb of 2000m, 1000m of which are in the 40-45° steep eastern ravine. Despite a rather mild winter, the South Tyrolean mountains offer a gigantic backdrop for the ascent.

The conditions in the ravine are rather poor – in parts very icy, then hip-deep snow. After 5 hours of hard work we are standing at 3800m with a fantastic view. After a small summit snack we descend 100m for a more relaxed launch with our TONIC’s and TONKA’s

The summit launch site is a bit risky and demanding for launching on skis. But we also consider the fact that we might not make it over the ridge right in front of the summit. If we don’t, the price will be a long second climb.

The westerly wind allows to fly a line along the western wall of Gran Zebrù and Monte Zebrù. We land about 400m below the Hochjoch bivouac at 3100m on a glacier plateau. The atmosphere is great – it’s late afternoon, the sun is low and the snow is soft. Just in time for sunset we reach the bivouac at over 3500m – breathtaking!

After a substantial meal, we quickly crawl under the sheets because our sports watch shows a temperature of -5° in the bivouac. Plus, the technical part of our tour is scheduled for tomorrow. The southern route to the Ortler is rarely used, even in summer.

10 - Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

12 - Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

14 - Gran Zebru Ost – Hochjochgrat | Ski&Fly Tour

Just in time for sunrise we are on our feet. Our socks are damp and our ski boots have become “fridge” boots, so we don’t waste any time before setting off to warm up again. I wonder how many other people in the world have such a privilege to experience such moments. The route quickly becomes “technical”, so absolute surefootedness and concentration are required – falling from this ridge would be fatal.

We manage to climb only 200 vertical meters in 3 hours before arriving at a long sloping plate about 50m below the Ortler summit. However, the safety hooks are all too snowy and digging them out is like searching for a needle in a haystack. We try another way to secure ourselves, but we don’t find anything good.

After long back and forth comes the disillusionment. The final meters to the summit are too risky – so we turn around…

Well, until now it was a great tour and the mountains aren’t going anywhere soon. After another 2 hours we are back at the bivouac, getting our paragliders ready to launch and fly back to Sulden. I am really happy to have my glider with me. Within minutes we leave the rough and cold environment at over 3000m and find ourselves standing down at the parking lot in the sun, chatting about our brilliant tour.

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