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March 18th 2022

Sun and snow, but also Sahara dust

After my stay in the Engadin, in Scuol, I continued my trip to South Tyrol, to Sulden am Ortler on last Tuesday, March 15th. I had been there before: from August 1th to 15th included, 2019 and I had loved it! Therefore I was very curious how I would experience that imposing mountain landscape in the snow. I have in the past days relived my adventures from the previous trip – as far as that was possible in the snow-covered landscape… Nevertheless I had more that enough nice and interesting moments, to start with the trip from Scuol to Sulden. I travelled by Postal car via Martina at the Swiss-Austrian border, and from there with another bus over the Reschen Pass along the Reschensee Lake to Mals. In the village Graun im Vinschgau I passed by the “drowned church” of which the tower still emerges from the water of the in 1950 built reservoir, the Reschensee Lake. Until that moment I had always seen that the tower was standing in the water, but now the lake was frozen and people were walking on the ice around the tower!

In Mals I had a very tasty cup of Italian coffee and I continued my trip first by train and then by bus into the direction of Sulden. I’m not sure whether it always is the case, but up to now I had encountered on the bus line only drivers who didn’t speak German or who were unwilling to do so. This time it happened again… In the last, very winding part of the road from the village of Stilfs/Stelvio the bus was stopped by traffic wardens, because large tree logs had to be loaded onto a truck. Obviously that took quite a while, so the driver was complaining in his telephone to a colleague on the top of his voice that this delay took so much time and that it would affect his break and so on… I found it quite interesting to see how the log men worked: remaining branches were sawn off with a chain saw and the logs eventually shortened. With the crane arm of the truck the large logs were being lifted as if they were featherlight and carefully stowed. After the last log the saw dust on the road was swept on a pile and with a shovel thrown into the valley over the crash barrier. All of this happened at an utterly slow pace… When we were allowed to drive past the truck we encountered at the other side of the bend a large row of traffic that has been waiting as well. The first car in the row, just in the bend, with Dutch registration plates had been standing – according tot the bus driver – too far from the crash barrier, which resulted in another tirade with a lot of “Olandesi!”… Very amusing!

After a further uneventful bus trip I got out at Hotel Nives, which again was fabulous: I had got a corner room, from where I had a view on the Ortler towards the west and into the valley of the Suldenbach brook in the north, both now covered with snow. When I arrived the weather wasn’t very sunny, but the next morning things look far better! Again I enjoyed the views on the majestic King Ortler…It felt good to be back.

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Sulden am Ortler: winterly view from Hotel Nives on the majestic, snow-covered Ortler

Last time I had walked through and around the village, following the Kultur- und Geschichtenweg (Cultural and History Trail): Sulden am Ortler: a first acquaintance. In this time of the year parts of the trail weren’t accessible because of the snow: at several points I saw also trails of (smaller) avalanches on the slopes along the trail. Now the landscape looks very different indeed!

The St. Gertraudkirche church from 1902 is definitely also being photogenic in the snow landscape against the backdrop of the Orlter. Llarge piles of snow covered the valley of the Suldenbach brook, glittering in the sun shine. The fast running water of the brook reflected the sunlight as well. At that moment I was feeling very happy!

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Sulden am Ortler: view on the St. Gertraud Church from 1902 in the snow with the Ortler in the background
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Sulden am Orlter: view against the sun (with Halo) on the snow-covered valley with the impressive mountain range in the south

In the winter season there aren’t many possibilities for hikes or walks – the focus is mainly on skiing and snowboarding. On three sides of the valley ski lifts and a cable car have been built against the mountain slopes. To facilitate the skiers to go from the Kanzlerlift on the eastern slope to the Langenstein Sessellift chairlift in the west and visa versa without unlocking their skis an original means of transport had been created: by horse-drawn sleigh! I had already heard the sound of cheerfully ringing bells, before I could find out from where the noise was coming: until I saw two eagerly trotting small horses in front of a sleigh passing by! At the back side of the sleigh a thick rope had been attached which skiers could grab: they were drawn along in a kind of conga line over the snow-covered road between the two valley stations of the lifts!

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Sulden am Ortler: shuttle service with a rope behind the horse-drawn sleigh for skiers who would like to go from the chairlift at the Langenstein to the Kanzlerlift (or the other way round)!

Also for other winter sports, like cross-country skiing, a track has been laid out. The prepared loipe runs through the valley to the south of the village: it is a round tour of 7 kilometres – to the valley station of the cable car and back. A nicely stylised sign with an elegantly moving cross-country skier marks the start. Also here again the Ortler forms a wonderful stage, with some vague clouds around the top. Pedestrians are allowed to pass over the far end of the track, so I was walking there in the sunshine, being very contented! Besides down hill skiing and cross-country skiing there is the possibility to get acquainted with another, newer form of winter sports, the ice climbing. This is a special branch of alpinism, whereby fans climb vertical ice walls and frozen waterfalls. Therefore a high metal tower has been built with around it a thick, uneven layer of ice, the “Eisturm” (Ice tower), which is being erected at the start of each winter. This late in the season only half of the artificial ice construction was still in place…

In summer I had also been walking here and had spotted several wooden statues of alpine animals which have been placed here. Slightly out-of-place were the Murmeltiere, the mountain marmots which in reality are still hibernating in this period…! The chamois jumping from a rock seemed in his natural habitat. The ibex was standing moveless in the snow, like he had done against a green backdrop in the summer of 2019!

Besides the Cultural Trail that is abbreviated in winter, through and around the village, there is an uphill walk from the valley station of the cable car to the middle station and further up. That was what I thought at least: in hindsight it turned out that the official walk doesn’t start at the valley station, but at the middle station… Anuway: I went into the direction of the valley station of the cable car and spotted a wide road leading uphill – I had seen that road the last time in summer from the cable car, which I had then conveniently taken. I also spotted a large blue ice mass hanging on the end of a rock: a frozen waterfall! I would like to get a closer look, so I climbed up– obediently taking the far end of the ski slope. In summer I had taken the cable car, because I would come as close to the source of the Suldenbach brook as possible: Sulden am Ortler: to the source of the Suldenbach stream. Back then I hadn’t seen that waterfall – I was too busy looking around to the mountain world full of contrasts… The more I advanced (slightly panting ‘though!) on the mountain slope, a suspension bridge came into sight next to the waterfall. An idea for a next time, but then clearly in the summer…!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on some big frozen waterfalls on the way to the middle station of the cable car to the ski areas at the bottom of i.a. the Königspitze (3.850m)

After passing by the waterfall and the suspension bridge I continued on the steep path. My attention was drawn to a commemoration panel made from marble, fixed on a steeply uprising rock massive. During the construction of the cable car in 1975 an fatal accident has happened: Anton Zichsg (*1949) lost his life here, just not reaching the age of 26. Looking up against that steep wall of rocks I saw how the cables of the cable car set off against the blue sky and sought that the easy way of just floating uphill comes with a price… “Ruhe in Gott ” (Rest in God) was written at the bottom of the plaque.

The wide ski slope continued further and further uphill and in the end I had a wonderful view on the frozen waterfall, the cables of the cable car and in the distance the snow-covered Königspitze mountain top. There weren’t many skiers going downhill from the middle station of the cable car.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on several large frozen waterfalls from a greater distance near the middle station of the cable car and on the Königspitze mountain top (3.850m)

I noticed that the sky was slightly hazy because of the Sahara dust: once in a while lightweight particles from the deserts of the Sahara are being transported via the higher layers of air towards our areas and sink to the ground. That was what was also happening in this part of Northern Italy, but not so heavily as in Switzerland, just at the other side of the mountain range of the Sesvanna… I had already seen it in the course of the evening, but also later on: the rusty decolouration of the atmosphere.

Not much longer afterwards I reached the middle station of the cable car. There passengers have to change from one gondola into another in order to get to the mountain station. I was just allowed to go along – we were standing like fish in an barrel! Face masks were mandatory…

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on the middle station of the cable car with the Königspitze (3.850m) in the background

Upon arrival at the mountain station I got that phenomenal view on the mountains which are shielding the valley of the Suldenbach brook: the Suldenspitze (3.376m), Königspitze (3.850m) and King Ortler (3.905m). For this view the seasons don’t matter much: the surroundings are in winter more white than grey. The Staubachhütte Hut looked deserted – the terrace of the restaurant of the cable car however was very crowded. Everybody was sitting in the sun and enjoying a lunch with a marvellous view on the Königspitze and the Ortler. Despite the warm sun I chose to sit inside, because the walk uphill had made me transpire quite a lot… I quenched my thirst with a large bottle of mineral water (yes: that is the truth!).

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view to the south on the ski tracks (in the foreground) and a. o. the Suldenspitz peak (3.376m)in the background where the Suldenbach stream springs
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Above Sulden am Ortler: view to the southwest on the Königspitze (3.850m)
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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on the Staubachhütte hut and the terrace of the mountain station of the cable car with the Ortler (3.905m) in the background

Not everybody was sitting on the terrace: many people were enthusiastically skiing and snowboarding. From the mountain station on 1.900m a chairlift leads to the ski slopes near the Madritschhütte hut on 3.250 metres. Long queues were formed at the entrance. Cable car and lifts offer leisure for the skiers, who won’t be too often aware of the possibility that accidents can also happen here. Close by the mountain station of the cable car a robust snow scooter was standing with a sleigh in tow to transport wounded skiers… Hopefully nobody would have to be saved today…

While waiting for the cable car downhill I had again an impressive view to the north towards Sulden. The visibility was meanwhile slightly diminished by a thin haze, probably also mixed with the dust. Here the differences between summer and winter were huge! Now the landscape was almost plain white, but as I have been standing at the same spot in August 2019 it looked very rich in contrasts: the green of the vegetation had been brightly setting of against the greyish grit of the moraines, which had been left behind by long gone glaciers. Anyway: this is a fascinating panorama!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view from the mountain station of the cable car to the north into the Suldenbach Valley and the village below in winter
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Sulden am Ortler: view from the mountain station of the cable car towards the north into the valley of the Suldenbach stream and on the village below in Summer (August 13th 2019)

Yesterday morning it wasn’t very sunny and I decided to walk to the Gasthaus Waldruhe inn. This restaurant is situated in the forests somewhat to the north of Sulden. Because there was still quite a lot of snow lying on the foot path along the mountain slope I decided to have a look at the yaks of the extreme mountaineer Reinhold Messner (*1944), who has opened in 2004 in Sulden one of his museums about “The Mountains”. In the old farmhouse next to the museum is a restaurant, the “Yak & Yeti”. He owns a herd of yaks that will be grazing in the summer near the mountain station of the cable car. The Yak (or Bos mutus for the wild yak and Bos grunniens for the domesticated yak) belongs to one of the five types of bovines in the world that have been domesticated by humans. They originate from the Himalayan mountains and Tibet, and they are also used as beast of burden. Because of their long coat they can survive even in areas above 3.000 metres. Here in Sulden they stay in the village during the winter. I was just passing when they went from their night quarters along long used trails through the rolling snow-covered meadows. It was a beautiful sight – it was also clear that there was a hierarchy!

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Sulden am Ortler: view on the Messner Mountain Museum (to the right) and the Restaurant “Yak&Yeti” (to the left) with in the forefront some yaks (Bos grunniens) of the herd in the snow
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Sulden am Ortler: close-up of several Yaks (Bos grunniens) of Reinhold Messner’s herd near the Suldenbach stream – the bulls have impressive horns

Yesterday, but also today (especially in the morning), the view on the Ortler had been fogged up with the haziness of the air by the Sahara dust. However it created a mystic atmosphere. The large block glacier at the northern side of the mountain was really visible this time!

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Sulden am Ortler: view on the Ortler in somewhat hazy light from the road to Gasthaus Waldruhe

From the meadow with the yaks I followed the paved road into the direction of the valley, but arriving at the side road leading to the inn the idea of a cup of coffee wasn’t very appealing yet – I had eaten an elaborate breakfast with quite a variety of tasty and healthy food. During the bus trip to Sulden I had spotted a small chapel on the side of the road, which was indicated on the map as a “Lourdes chapel” in the hamlet of Ausser-Sulden, downstream along the Suldenbach brook. I decided to go there on foot. The Forststrasse (Forest road) was leading down with many hairpin bends, where it ended on the main road from Sulden to Stilfs/Stelvio – it was quite feasible, because there wasn’t much traffic. Now I noticed how quiet this part of the valley actually is: there are some solitary small farmhouses and weathered stables – in the depths the Suldenbach brook was whispering. About an hour after my departure from Sulden I arrived at the small white chapel, of which the roof and the tower were covered with wooden shingles. The door with wood carvings had been weathered in a charming way, but was unfortunately locked. I was only able to have a look inside through the two small windows on both sides of the door. The light inside was special.

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Near Aussersulden am Ortler: view on the Lourdes chapel

I was rather disappointed about the Lourdes chapel being closed and descended to the main road passing the few houses in this hamlet. At a farmhouse I saw someone who was already anticipating spring. He had taken his two-wheel tractor with cutter bar out of the shed and into the yard in order to check it over. I could hear that in the beginning the motor was stuttering a bit. After some adjustments it ran smoothly. And of course it could be expected…: he engaged the driving mechanism, the tractor took a small leap forwards and dragged him along for a moment! It was a funny sight. The man was nevertheless happy with the performance of the machinery and drove it carefully back into the shed! The picture gave an impression of quietness and also of confidence in the future.

From the main road I walked upstream of the Suldenbach brook, flowing far below, back to the bus stop near in Razoi, a hamlet formed by some houses with a traditional look or sometimes with a modern adaptation. Because I had to wait for the bus quite a long time I checked a small chapel at the roadside that looked rather closed, but I found out it was open! It turned out that it was a miniature version of a Lourdes chapel. On a shelf several candles and statuettes of angels were on display at the bottom of a grotto built from small pebbles, with a miniature Mary in her sky-blue cloak. Although there were candles, I didn’t find any matches. As I wanted to make an offering for world peace I put a nice-looking small rock I found somewhere outside in the grass in front of the Mary-statuette. I would light a real candle later on in the St. Gertraudkirche church in the village.

Not long afterwards the bus appeared and… a sulking driver who didn’t speak German, indicated with a short nod of his head that I could find a seat and that I didn’t need to pay. That was in this case all right with me: it meant that I had saved money to get a Bauerntoast toasty at the restaurant Ski-Alm near the valley station of the cable car. The atmosphere was pleasant with a large crowd and I had a toasty made of Paarl-bread (that bread from the Vinschgau Valley made with rye flour with aniseed that I like so much!), cheese and Speck. The combination of the aniseed in the bread, the cheese and the Speck was very special! After a long walk back to the hotel I didn’t have much energy left to go outside again and have dinner somewhere: I settled for a nice pizza in “The Bar” of Hotel Nives.

Today I went to the Gasthaus Waldruhe inn again, this time via the quiet forest road. I passed by the small chalet, the Mountain Museum Alpine CuriosaMessner Mountain Museum. Here Reinhold Messner has put on display an overview of items he personally found interesting in the field of alpinism. I have been here also last time. Again I was impressed by the bust of Julius Payer (1841–1915). Julius Payer was an Austrian-Hungarian polar explorer and cartographer who had been the first to draw a map of the mountain area around the Ortler. This map is on display as well – a real gem!

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Sulden am Ortler: in the „Alpine Curiosa” the first map of the Ortler area by Julius Payer is on display

In front of the Tourist information in the village another homage to the pioneers of tourism in Sulden and the area around the Ortler is standing: against the backdrop of sharp granite plates representing the mountains, are three wooden poles on which from the left to the right the effigies of Pastor Karl Eller, Theodor Christomannos and the architect Otto Schmid have been carved. On a plaque is explained why just these three gentlemen have been honoured. Pastor Karl Eller has founded in 1899 the predecessor of the actual “Bergrettung Sulden”, the mountain rescue group, together with Theodor Christomannos (1854–1911), an Austrian politician, lawyer and keen mountaineer whose family originated from Greece. He has meant a lot to Sulden: he built the paved road from the valley to the village and he had been closely involved with the realisation of the railway line from Mals to Merano, the Vinschgaubahn. He financed the construction of several grand hotels in Sulden, like Hotel Sulden that has been designed by the architect from Vienna Otto Schmidt (1857–1921). Another impressive designed by this architect is the Evangelic Chapel, that he made on the request of his wife who was a protestant. Last time I visited this small chapel, that also lies on the Kultur- und Geschichtenweg trail – I can still remember the peaceful atmosphere.

After leaving the chalet I continued my walk to the Gasthaus Waldruhe inn, that had just opened. At the entrance a cheerful text has been placed: “Es werden wieder Zeiten kommen, in denen das einzige Ansteckende das Lachen ist”. (Time will come again when the only thing contagious will be laughter). There was already a crowd inside and the atmosphere was cosy. So it will be fine with that contagious laughter.

On the way back the sun slowly appeared and shone on the Ortler. That made me think of a trip with the chairlift from the village to the mountain station on the Langenstein. From there I had hiked on August 14th 2019 to the Marlt Madonna – it had been a wonderful hike to the statue of white marble of Mary which is hanging on the rocks at a height of 2.568 metres: Sulden am Ortler: a hike to the Marlt Madonna . So I was silently transported to the top.

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Sulden am Ortler: view from the chair lift to the Langenstein on the Ortler in winter

Here the Ortler was dominating the picture! It was quite visible as well how thick the block glacier, the Marltgletscher, was.

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Sulden am Ortler: at the mountain station of the Langenstein chair lift is a winterly panorama with the Ortler and the Marlt Glacier

From this point the statue of the Marlt Madonna is not visible with the naked eye, especially because of the whiteness of the mountain slope. However I was able to guess its position: the statue is hanging right under the thickest part of the Marltgletscher. That becomes clear on a picture taken in the summer.

Again the contrast between winter and summer occurred to me as I went downhill again in the chairlift and I had a view on the mountains to the east of Sulden, which are quite less snow-covered in summer.

Like I had promised myself yesterday at the small Lourdes chapel alongside the road near Razoi I have been after returning in the village to the St. Gertraudkirche church to light a candle for the world peace. Outside the church a war memorial has been erected, made of a large chunk of granite with on a plaque of dark coloured metal the names of the soldiers from Sulden which have fallen in the First and the Second World War. On top of a cross made of small birch logs a helmet is resting. In the church it was silent and the sunlight was filtered when it fell through the windows. My candle for the world peace added also some more light to it…

Now the renewed acquaintance with Sulden am Ortler, this time in the snow, has come to an end: tomorrow I will go home. However I am sure that I will return to this special place!