A night in the snow, Scheibwaldhöhe/Rax
Every once in a while I get a phone call from Alex. Last time he planned a 12 hours non-stop hiking trip around some woods in Vienna. This time it was about time to go for a skiing trip with the intention to sleep in a snow cave on the Rax-Plateau near Scheibwaldhöhe. Since I wanted to try that anyway he had not to wait long till I confirmed to go with him and Norbert.
We chose to follow the route through Kesselgraben which had not enough snow to use the Skies for the first kilometer or so. Later with some altitude gain we had enough to use our skies for the way up through the woods. Already excited about the snow cave I collected some dead-wood for a small campfire later. After the first 1000 meter in ascent we came above treeline where the snowfall got heavier, the fog thicker, combined with strong wind chills. Norbert who had a cold the days before was a little bit slower on the climb up so Alex and I had to keep our speed down which was hard because I already felt my hands and feet freezing and I knew I have to keep moving. But we had to stop every once in a while because in the dense fog Norbert would be lost. I clenched my fists in the gloves to keep the warmth, which was not the best way to walk with the poles. At one point I finally dropped my pack to go for my heavier skiing gloves.From Scheibwaldhöhe we had to walk against the wind which felt like my brain is going to freeze. At this point I already had my down jacket (ok, a very thin one) with the hood on my head. I just hoped that we will find the snowdrift which Alex planned to build the snow cave at fast. But this did not happen. Alex searched the area for a bit and finally found another spot. He used the snowprobe to make sure the snow is deep and soft enough to bury the shelter. After about an hour of working we had to give up because some buried ice made it impossible to dig further. We Used the snowprobe again, this time more carefully. Norbert said it never gets finished before dark, which means we need about 6 hours to build the cave.We worked in shifts, one digging in the entrance tunnel and the other two moving away the snow from the inside. After the first shift Alex came out completely wet from the dampness inside and we could watch his pants freeze solid in the wind. As Norbert promised it got dark already, we continued the work with headlamps. From this point I knew there will be no campfire going on tonight. The snowfall outside got really heavy and everyone was happy to be inside the cave where there was no wind and decent temperatures. I did not bring a stove so I used hot water from the Thermos bottle to rehydrated my meal. Alex brought a modified gas stove which was not working very well at the beginning. Somehow he managed to melt enough snow for Norberts and his meal. The night was ok, I actually had to remove some layers because the duo-quilt-system worked more than well.
In the next morning our entrance was completely snowed in so I had to use a shovel to move outside. Over night it snowed about 50 cm, still strong winds, still no view because of the fog. Alex found the route quickly and for my part I was happy to lose elevation and go back to the treeline where the wind stopped. On the way down my hands became alive again which was a weird feeling. Snowcaves are nice but for myself I would not built one again in such an exposed place.