Ski mountaineering trip to Mangart with just enough snow to ski down and so much ice that it was bordering with light alpinism. You physically can’t ski down the ice, really. See how it went.
We have climbed Mangart, 2.67m high mountain in Italy just bordering with Slovenia. The climb started in Mangart lakes at 950m altitude. The cruxes on the route were a 50-degree couloir and a 60-degree slope with mixed rock, ice, and snow, just below the peak. Unlike most mountain peaks in the region, here the descend is more challenging than the climb. Mangarts ridges have 1000m drops. It makes for stunning scenery but requires a focus.
Mangart as seen from the two Mangart Lakes.
The approach is a 3km walk through the valley. Then there is a series of creeks and small gorges formed by avalanches. The uphill starts where the avalanche start – in ‘Forcella Della Lavina’ – to the right in the sketch above. It is also known as ‘Plazje’ (Slovenian name for the couloir that derives from the word ‘plaz’ which means avalanche). Up that couloir and then along a plateau (dotted in the sketch as it is not visible), following a couple of couloirs to the peak.
For a photo story about skiing, Forcella Della Lavina see my earlier post here.
On the plateau after Plazje couloir.
From here it is across the plateau and along the left side of the north face of Mangart.
Snowpack is hard and icy. Advancing with crampons felt easier and faster than with skiis.
It is here that views start to open up. Italian and Austrian Alps as far as you can see.
Just under the Mangart north face, it gets steeper. Notice the cornice to the right from the climber – the drop underneath it goes does for hundreds of meters. We have entered the fun part.
Aco choosing already aiming at one of the couloirs.
Patches of thick ice formed on sections of the climb. There will be plenty of that on the way down, too.
At the end of the first couloir – perfect snow for climbing. Just strong enough to hold climbers weight, but soft enough to make a dent deeper than the crampon spikes.
If you look below in the valley, you see two lakes where we started from.
What follows is a maze of couloirs. In the season with ample amounts of snow, its a perfect playground as couloirs on this side all meet together (except for Slovenska smer marked read). Today, it’s a different story. There is very little snow and lot of ice. With minimal climbing gear, we are careful to choose a route that we can solo. We go for 5b and 5e in this great route sketch by Peter Podgornik.
A belay point for the last couloir.
Here it becomes obvious that skiing down these couloirs will be rappelling more than skiing and that we are descending a different route.
A few more steps and we are at the peak.
At the peak the spirits are high.
Stunning views of the storm boiling up in the valley below. The rain we will see at home the next day.
The seven-hour climb was slightly longer than we planned. Quick gear shuffle. Crampons off, skiis on and we head down.
Aco walks down part of the route. He starts humming his descend song. Audible even with winds all around.
At the peak the element we love perfect snow that supports effortless turns. Tired legs revived with emptiness. The bliss that stretches beyond the mountains that surround you as far as you see. A flow that gets interrupted, though.
For the descend we are following the normal summer hiking route. It has a section with the traverse. Under the traverse is a big drop and on the traverse, today are patches of fist thick ice. Perks of having spring conditions in the mountains this winter. Crampons back on. Climbing down.
Down in the couloir, it’s the flow again.
Total climbing and descend time was 10h. Add to it a 330am start from back home and return at 2230h and you get an epic endeavor. It calls for a well-rested body. Clear head. Fit muscles and focused mind. That’s the mountains at their best.
As George Mallory said: There is something in man that responds to the challenge of (Everest) mountain and goes out to meet it… The struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward… What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.’
Complement this piece with a photo essay and video about ski touring in supposedly one of the longest couloirs in the Julian Alps, which nicely connects to a ski mountaineering trip on Mala Mojstrovka.
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‘Moving your limits’ isn’t necessarily about the highest mountains, biggest caves, deepest canyons or oldest ruins. But it is about great adventures. It’s about that constant pursuit of the world’s secrets – cultural as well as natural. It’s about how we move in nature and raise our expectations about each and every place in the world, moving our mental and physical limits on the way.