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Hohe Wasserfalle, Central Tirol, Austria, December 30, 2005

Report by Greg Louie, photos by Kam Leang and Greg Louie

Europe. Chinese backcountry skiers. What could be more perfect?

Kam and I had pulled into the tiny town of Niederthai, Austria the night before to join our friends Michael and Corinne in the place where Michael's father Peter had grown up. Michael had been right, it was like the pseudo-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Washington in many ways, except that this was the real thing.

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The Trommsdorffs had an agenda for us, from our lodgings in the wood-trimmed attic with the five-foot ceiling (too low for any of the Trommsdorff clan, to be sure) to a daily regimen of ski touring. Day one had us going out the valley toward a peak called Hohe Wasserfalle, which means "high waterfall" even though there is no sign of a waterfall anywhere nearby.

We walked down to the town center from the house and Michael got on his cell phone. A few minutes later one of the locals pulled up on a snowmobile with a large basket sled hitched to it, and we piled in, putting on goggles and balaclavas to shield us from the -24 Celsius air.

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The sled pulled us up the flat road for around 6 km, and dropped us at a hut where the skinning started. With the cold temps, most of our group was able to climb with every item of clothing we owned on and still not break a sweat, even though the "oldsters" in our group - Michael's dad Peter and Aunt Gitta, both in their late 60''s - were pushing the pace hard. You have to love these people.  Around this time both Michael's sister Marion and I started having skin adhesion problems due to the cold - once they came loose, the glue wouldn't work at all and even the Colltex spray-on "wonder glue" didn't work all that well. We kept slapping them on, trying the spray and warming the bases with our hands, and continued up the hill.

We noticed a lone figure toiling up the skin track well down in the valley, which quickly became a larger red dot. Not many minutes later, Flori (Florian), a neighbor and one of the local mountain rescue "mountain goats" caught us and exchanged pleasantries. He slowed his pace to keep from completely dropping us, and we went to very near the top of Hohe Wasserfalle, where there was a choice of two couloirs to ascend. After digging a pit in the one with good snow coverage, Florian reluctantly concluded that the sugary layer a meter down could cause the entire snowpack to break loose, we booted up the rocky one on climber's left to the summit.

With wind and temperatures around -27 C, we didn't linger long on the summit, but the views of the Austrian and Swiss Alps were sublime. We tried to sign the summit book, but all the pens were frozen and so only got an illegible couple of henscratches on paper. As with many Austrian mountains, this one had a large aluminum cross erected on the top with the name of the peak inscribed on a plaque, "Hohe Wasserfalle, 3003 Meters."

Our first ski descent in Austria was worth the wait. The snow from 2 days before remained in perfect shape in the cold weather, and we linked cold smoke powder turns down to the valley. In the shade, the ski down the road to the village was EXTREMELY cold; we had to protect our noses and cheeks with our gloves to keep frostbite at bay, but once we hit the center of town the sun felt great.

Ski touring in Austria. It rocks!

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