Vienna, City of Food, Museums, Horses and Catacombs

Warning, food may yet again be featured in this post, along with symbols of civilisation of various descriptions. Why else would you come to Vienna?

We’ll start the day with Kaiserschmarren, a sort of scrambled pancake. And coffee of course. Then the first of the museums, the Hofjagd und Rüstkammer museum, basically the Hapsburg armoury. Exquisitely made armour at that for the elite, and strangely enough, their kids also, little kids at that. At the rates kids grow, the armours would not have fitted them long. Ironically the armoury also included early muskets and rifles, which spelled the end of knights in armour in the 1600s.

Now to a tour of the Spanish Riding School. This was founded back in 1572 by Archduke Karl II, another Hapsburg ruler. He had travelled widely in his youth in Italy and Spain, and brought back a whole bunch of horses from Spain. As traveling horses overland continuously was not practical, a stud was established in Lipica in 1580, hence Lipizzaners. This stud was moved to Piber in 1920 after the first world war. There was also a frantic rescue operation of these horses during World War II, watch the film.

But being summer most of the horses were on holidays, apart from a handful. I guess the tourists do want to see something alive resembling a handsome stallion like horse. I know I did.

Time for a revitalizing sausage from a stand. I had a decidedly non-Viennese, but still tasty, Curry wurst. But the beer was still Austrian.

Next back to the Hapsburgs and some of the shiny things they accumulated in centuries of ruling this area of Europe. No doubt the armoury may have assisted in this. The crown jewels, crosses, a carved 2,860 carat emerald ointment container, and numerous bits of coronation wear. Just what any emperor would need, while alive anyway.

Just up the road and a couple of blocks over is the Capuchin Crypt, home to the mortal remains of the Hapsburgs since 1633. As of 2023 149 Habsburgs have been laid to rest there, most in metal sarcophagi, with the latest in 2011. The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin is a religious order of Franciscan friars, and act as guardians.

Time to eat again. Apparently, a proper Wiener schnitzel is only made from veal. Anything else is just a Schnitzel made from whatever it is made from. Who am I to argue.

From Mountains to Munich

Taking the long way to Munich. Such are the vagaries of modern post pandemic travel. An improvement? I think not. Transfer to Geneva, then London, Munich. European summer time was the saviour. And my luggage arrived with me, always a bonus.

This was followed by a succession of lunches and dinners with long not seen relatives. I was not able to fit in a credit card sideways without the risk of causing a major international incident.

I did manage to walk some of this off by a stroll through the Emmeringer Hölzl, a patch of Forest alongside the Amper river near Fürstenfeldbruck. A green, luscious place full of birdsong. a vivid contrast to the starkness of the mountains I’ve just come from.

But change was evident here also. The river was low and the unrelenting tendrils of English ivy were endeavouring to smother everything. To the distant, less caring, observer normality carried on.

A Cosmique delight

An early awakening at 5.30 for a 6am breakfast and a 7am start to the Aiguille du Midi gondola in order to head for the top, along with several dozen other likeminded souls. Yes, I was there only a few days ago, but this was to be different.

We were wearing our climbing boots, and had our climbing gear with us. We managed to head up on the second gondola of the day. They were still clearing the ice from some of the walkways when we arrived a good sign. We donned our crampons as quick as we could, the harnesses were put on Chamonix while we were waiting for the gondola.

As the weather was good, and crowds of climbers were expected, we were trying to get in front of the queue to avoid being impacted by a Hillary Step moment. Look it up. Not recommended. The route we were heading for was the Cosmique Ridge, not something to be taken lightly as it features sensational exposure, read cliffs, potential falls and death. A climber’s delight, rated at 4a with a 4c crux, and would normally take between 3 to 6 hours by the tie you are back in the Aiguille du Midi complex.

We scrambled across the barrier that keeps the tourists from plummeting to an untimely death, roped up and carried on to rewards of great views, new firm and semi crusty snows. We got to the base of the climb in good time due to the good conditions. We kept the pace up with Christian in front, Stefanie in the middle, then myself. Unless we reversed the order.

Clambering up between and on the shards of granite, a couple of abseils and a few photos later we emerged at the top of the spire and at the base of the buildings at Aiguille du Midi. A final clamber up the ladder had us complete the climb on the observation platform, except it was us being observed by curious tourists. Noting like watching a bunch of smelly climbers high fiving and hugging.

The Mont Blanc retreat

Groups had started rising early to make the best of the frozen ground. But there was no frozen ground.

After a leisurely French style breakfast, including bowls of coffee, we left at 7.15 to head up to the Grand Couloir crossing point, but in reality, we knew there was no hope. No safe hope at least. We watched a rapidly moving duo cross the couloir, and then started heading back to the Nid D’Aigle station we had arrived at a thousand meters lower.

The impending front along with its rain got to us about 10.30, and we got to the station just after 11. Station is a rather grand name for a gravel platform at the end of a short tunnel. The railway was originally planned to head all the way up to the top, but the project ran out of steam in the fifties. Probably just as well.

Instead of waiting cold and wet another hour, we walked down another 500 meters in height. First along the rail tracks, then through fog shrouded forest to the Bellevue station we had embarked from the day before. Real coffee and good, local food awaited us there. This gave us an opportunity to discuss the following day’s plans. This was to be plan C, and did not include the Mont Blanc summit unfortunately.

The Mont Blanc approach

A fairly leisurely start as we only had to get up to the Tete Rousse hut at 3187 meters, and the rack railway took us up to 2380 meters already. That made it about an 800 meter climb if my sums are right. This to be over mushy snow and glacial rubble fields. Ankles be damned.

We managed this in just under 3 hours, and it didn’t even feel hard surprisingly. All the acclimatisation must be working. What was better that the weather held until we got to the hut. Our hope a that it was not going to be as wet or snowy as the forecast was predicting, and it would not stay as warm in order to stabilise the snow, ice and rocks we had to climb over to get to the top of Mont Blanc.

We planned to leave early for an alpine start about 4 am, climb about 150 meters to and across the Grand Couloir. This is a steep and narrow gully from near the Gouter hut and past the back of the Tete Rousse hut.

It started to rain, along with some lightning, just after we got to the hut. During dinner, about 7pm, there was a sudden commotion. An avalanche was heading down the Grand Couloir. Car sized rocks and masses of snow and rubble thundered down all 600 meters of the gully. The warm wet weather was not doing us any favours. The talk in the hut was then generally about plans B, C and D.

Lights out was about 9pm. But the alpine start had changed to wait and see what the morning would bring us. We were in the hands of the fickle mountain and weather gods.

Return to France and Chamonix

A good night’s sleep. No really, I slept all the way till 4.30 in the morning when the first group of climbers left clompingly. I slept through the next few mobs until it was time for us to grab breakfast of the usual European type. Bread, cheese, salami, jam etc. But I so needed coffee.

After once again packing all my gear, putting on the helmet, harness and crampons, we headed off back to the Punta Indren cable car station. That was over an hours walk away over the glaciers and about 400 meters lower. In that time the snow had turned from firm and icy to patches of slush. We did stop to strip off wind proofs and crampons, as well as unroping once we got past the steeper sections.

Apart from seeing some juvenile ibex at one of the cable car changes, it was an uneventful trip back to the valley, and the soon to be fulfilled promise of good coffee. 10am and a great Italian/French combination of cappuccino and croissant was indulged in.

A change into lighter and less smelly clothes made for a more pleasant drive back to Chamonix. Mont Blanc was coyly hiding itself behind a lenticular cloud. This can be a sign of incoming moister air preceding a front. We’ll see.

Our first summits in the European Alps

A restless night. Whilst our group was lucky and had a room right at the end, quiet and peaceful are not the words I would use for the night. Every call of nature from one of our group caused a squeaking of wooden bunks beds and clicking of doors to disrupt an already uneasy sleep, probably due to the altitude.

Then groups started having breakfast and leaving from 4.30am. The clunking of mountain boots was just a level above the other noises. And those groups made short work of the breakfast supplies as we found out at 6.30am. That, and a lack of coffee made for a poor start for the day.

But start we did at 7.30 in order to climb the Vincent Pyramid and the Balmenhorn at 4215 and 4167 meters respectively. I had to borrow some sunglasses for the day as mine went on a leave of absence for the day between packing my pack and putting on my crampons. Most annoying. The snow had frozen to provide a nice, firm surface to walk on. There were a few other groups, but by the time we reached our first objective after about 3 hours, the Vincent Pyramid, we were on our own. Obligatory high fives were followed by summit photos. Then the Balmenhorn summit was ticked off less than an hour later. It provided us with a fairly steep rocky scramble to the top and its Jesus statue.

Then back down and to the Gnifetti hut for something, anything, resembling lunch. That was followed by a 5 hour, just mooching around, wait for lunch. Literally, that was it for the rest of the day, just mooching.

Up into the Italian Alps

A sensational night’s sleep. The soothing sounds of the torrent of the nearby glacial creek helped.

A fairly early breakfast of good Italian coffee, fresh crusty bread, prosciutto, cheese and scrambled eggs was consumed as I needed to keep my strength up. Then off to meet the rest of the group I was going up into the mountains with at the café next to the cable car station.

So that made four of us plus Christian the guide. Introductions were made along with some basic background, like what was an Australian doing climbing mountains. Good question. Because it’s there, and because I can, were plausible options. So is insanity.

Three cable cars later we were up at over 3100 metres. Time to shoulder our packs and let our legs get us up the remainder of the 500 odd vertical meters. The sunny and warm conditions meant the snow was quite soft just like Australian snow, so I felt at home. Except for the mountains we were heading towards. Decidedly un-Australian, not a bad thing in this case.

We reached the rustic Gnifetti Hut after donning our crampons for some more grip on the steeper slopes. The rustic hut was built 1876 on a rocky outcrop at an altitude of 3647 metres under the Vincent Pyramid. It’s been renovated and enlarged a few times and now sleeps 176 people. No roads come here and all supplies are helicoptered in. Some hut!

Following a sensational lunch of real Italian al dente Taglioni and cerve ragu (that’s venison for non-Italian speakers), we again headed outside for some crevasse rescue training in the blazing sun. A great way to build up an appetite. That was certainly needed to give justice to the 4 courses we were served for dinner. Not much risk of losing any weight on this trip.

It is lights out at 10pm as the hut is not on mains power. Good thing with another long day coming up.