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We decided to take advantage of the last warm sunny days of the year and head to the Alps to climb the 3,768m Wildspitze (German: Wild Summit), Austria’s second highest mountain after Großglockner.

The Ötztal gorge, adorned in the rich hues of autumn, unfolded its canvas of verdant meadows interspersed with golden groves. Our journey commenced in the quaint village of Rofen, where, to our surprise, the parking was still a gracious affair (free, no less!). From this picturesque starting point, a direct ascent to the Wroclaw Hut (Breslauer Hütte) started.

Our race against the waning sun, the intensifying winds, and the chilling cold urged us to hike up as fast as possible. Especially the last meters right in front of the hut seemed like an icy hell. Despite the biting cold, we, in our unwarranted laziness, spared ourselves the warmth of gloves and jackets – after all, the hut just in front of us promised a cozy stove and a welcoming pot of tea.

As we expected, there were several people in the winter hut (here in the Alps, many huts have a winter room with bunk beds and a stove). They had already lit the stove, warmed up the hut and cooked water. The stove crackled with life, casting a gentle heat that contrasted the frigid alpine air. Such moments, where all is prepared upon arrival, are a true blessing, especially in the brisk embrace of winter.

Everyone in the hut was planning to get up tomorrow morning. One couple came from Salzburg, the rest were from the Czech Republic. Later another couple from Slovakia arrived. One of them even climbed Lenin Peak last year and Korzhenevskaya and Communism Peaks.

Amidst shared tales and a hearty dinner, we retired early, wearied by the day’s long journey.

We got up comfortably around 7 am – a luxury afforded by our choice to ascend from Rofen rather than the valley village of Venta, sparing us several hours.

The sunrise unfolded in breathtaking hues of pink, illuminating each cloud and peak in a slow, magical conquest. I tend to be a night owl and rarely see sunrise. The only exception is hiking in the mountains. I love this magical atmosphere when a glow appears on the horizon, and the dark silhouettes of the ridges around begin to reflect the soft rays of the sun.

Having overtaken those who embarked before us, and having traversed a rather challenging via ferrata due to ice and snow, we reached a narrow pass where the powerful wind roared between valleys and a mesmerizing vista of glacial fields unveiled.

We put on our harnesses and navigated along the glacier. Unfortunately, quite a lot of snow had accumulated over the previous days and almost no crevasses were visible. Chris plunged waist-deep into one such concealed crevasse, but everything turned out okay and we pressed on.

Right before the top, it got steep and rocky. The higher we went, the more dangerous it became. At the very top, right in front of the cross at the top, we felt uneasy – one wrong step and we would have fallen into the abyss. Ice and snow made everything much more difficult. In the summer we would quickly climb over these giant rocks, but in the winter we had to take certain risks.

With the help of an ice axe, we finally succeeded: I was already standing right next to the cross at the top. However, I didn’t really want to admire the views: there was such a strong icy wind that there was no any thought other than to quickly descend.

Encountering early-season skiers on our descent, I contemplated future aspirations of conquering peaks to savor the thrill of downhill skiing – a winter goal taking shape in my mind. In past I had a chance to do some backcountry skiing in Scandinvia. Now it’s time to do it in the Alps.

We returned back to the hut and stayed here one more night. After resting a little, I went to get water from the spring, and Chris lit the stove and prepared dinner. We originally planned  to go to another hut, Vernagthütte (Würzburger Haus), the next day, but the weather turned bad and Chris wasn’t feeling well. Without thinking for a long time, we booked a hotel with a sauna in the valley. We definitely deserved this!

After a restful night and a hearty breakfast, we retraced our steps back to the Ötztal valley. There we took another short walk along the mountain to the so-called Devil’s Pulpit (Teufelskanzel), the observation deck. And in the evening after a Tyrolean dinner we jumped into a long-awaited sauna – a balm for weary bodies after a demanding climb and a frosty day.

On the last day we had some time to walk and enjoy the views at the local lake, Piburger See. Thus ended our climbing season this year. As the winter ski season loomed on the horizon, the promise of spring whispered of new adventures yet to unfold.

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