Karl OE3KAB lives close to Vienna, a 4 hour drive from where we were staying in Austria so I was delighted when he said that he wanted to meet up. He set off at 0515, arriving at our hotel exactly at 10am. I had suggested to the family that a day of gentle shopping in a nearby town might be fun and had dropped them off there earlier in the morning. That left Karl and I the day free for SOTA. My earlier reconnaissance of the route up Hochpalfennock was thinly disguised as a family walk and so I had the basic route worked out. Not that there was much doubt as it was part of a well-marked Austrian footpath. A short drive from our hotel took Karl and I to a barrier across a mountain road (1040m). The road is only open in the summer and the barrier had been down and locked on my earlier visit. Today it was open and it was tempting to drive higher. However, not having a key, the prospect of being locked in did not appeal so we parked the car and prepared for our ascent.
Hochpalfennock is an unusual summit in that it forms part of a ridge, the main name of which is Tscheirnock. However Tschiernock is not the highest point - and neither is Hochpalfennock. The highest point is at 2108m (6915ft) and lies between the two named summits. It was this point that we decided to head for.
Karl took his 11m pole while I intended relying on a lightweight system that I had tested some weeks earlier here in my garden. We ascended steadily through forest along footpath number 11, breaking out into high pasture at 1400m. The area is popular in the summer and we passed little summer huts at various points. At 1400m there were occasional patches of snow in areas of deep shade. We continued on upwards, breaking out of the trees at about 1750m. At this point there is a ski lift all the way to the summit ridge. It was not running and there area was deserted. We picked our way up a winding path following roughly the course of the ski lift. At this height, the patches of snow were becoming more sustained and I donned my snow shoes while Karl sank up to his thighs at times in the deep soft snow drifts. Higher still we came to a short steep section of hard-packed old snow. Karl kicked steps across and I followed on snow shoes. This proved to be a bad mistake.
My snow shoes are an unusual design having built in crampons for moderately angled ice. The hard-packed snow had a very different characteristic and two steps onto the snow and I was starting to slip. I dropped to the ground, picking up speed as I plummeted down the slope. I turned and tried to get a ski pole into the standard ice-axe arrest position. The pole tip dug into the snow snagging on rocks below but did little to slow my fall. I was pretty worried at this point and knew that I needed to keep my body position such that I was slipping feet first to avoid serious injury lower down. The run out was onto rocks, not steep but likely to cause injury at this speed. Lower down the slope I saw a rock sticking out. It was not big but I tried to get a foot on it. I was successful! I came to an abrupt halt. I was pretty shaken and took a few minutes to recover before picking my way back up to Karl. Karl said afterwards that the rock I hit had only just held – a lucky escape. I was somewhat shaky and rather pumped up with adrenaline and it was a while before I noticed that my right arm felt rather wet. When I looked at it I realised that the fall had taken a large area of skin off the arm. Fortunately it was starting to scab over so I was able to continue (it is still very painful!). Higher up we encountered a steeper snow slope with a small cornice above. Karl and I discussed the avalanche risk and decided that it was acceptable so we set off up. I would not normally have had any problem but my earlier fall had knocked my confidence and thus made this a rather unnerving experience. Karl led and we were soon out on the summit ridge. At the top the snow was patchy and we headed up t the cross at the top of Tschiernock before heading along to the highest point of the ridge. This looked tricky from a distance but proved easy when we got there (a matter for which I was extremely relieved).
I set up my aerial, borrowing Karl’s KX1 as mine was feeling poorly. I made a few contacts on 40m while Karl set up his much larger aerial. We then swapped over with Karl operating while I enjoyed the magnificent view. The ascent had taken 3.5 hours and was 1,100m - rather higher than Snowdon is from sea-level. We enjoyed our sunny activation before descending. I was keen to use a different route down to avoid the difficulties of the ascent and we found a much easier descent route. We arrived back at the hotel at around 1715, tired, a little dehydrated but safe and pleased to have achieved our goal.
Karl stayed over at the hotel that night and got to know my family. We had a most enjoyable time together - a memory to cherish.
Photos are at: