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August 10th 2022

View on the Ortler, but now from a distance

Last Monday, August 8th, I had hiked to the Hintergrathütte hut, at 2.661 metres at the foot op the Ortler. Today I chose a hike to another mountain hut, to the Düsseldorferhütte hut high up the mountain slopes at the right side of the Suldenbach valley – on 2.721 meters. This hike had not been spectacular from the sportive point of view, (the last part ‘though was very steep!), but it was certainly the case as to the views and the space: the energy of this mountain world, the “triumvirate” of Königspitze, Monte Zebrù and ”King Ortler”, was strongly tangible, also from afar. This energy was somehow even more powerful, because the complete panorama unfolded itself in front of me! Therefore many pictures will follow…

Today it was very hot and sunny again. I chose to make the first part of the ascent from the valley with the new Kanzel-gondola lift. The gondola lift with gondolas for 10 persons had been operative since December 2021. Before there had been a two-sitter chairlift, that had not only been much less comfortable (especially in winter!), but moreover much slower. So I bridged easily about 500 vertical metres, while I was able to enjoy the mountain scenery at the other side of the valley… During my hike to the Hintergrathütte hut I had already had a marvellous view on the mountain slopes of the Düsseldorferhütte hut and of the Kanzellift – the hut itself had not been quite visible, but the wide strips of grass running down from the mountain station of the Kanzellift through the forest definitely were: in winter there are the ski slopes!

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Sulden am Ortler: view on the eastern mountain slope with the renewed Kanzel-gondola lift
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To the west of the Hintergrathütte hut above Sulden am Ortler: view on the eastern mountain slope with in the middle the mountain station of the Kanzel-gondola lift

Above the mountain station of the Kanzel-gondola lift is the starting point of several hikes. For the Düsseldorferhütte hut I chose Trail Nr.12. There was already a stunning view on Sulden down in the valley: now it is quite visible to what extent the mountain slopes above the village are covered with forests, but also how eroded the slopes are in the higher parts!

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At the mountain station of the Kanzel gondall lift: view on the village of Sulden am Ortler and the wooded mountain slopes

The wide road that lead from the mountain station almost without elevation into the valley of the Zaybach brook also offered a nice view on a field full of meanwhile faded Pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris). Further down the road a large patch of grassland was covered with a variety of plants that meanwhile is considered an invasive pest: the Monk’s rhubarb (Rumex alpinus). This variety of rhubarb is quite similar to the varieties in lower regions. It is a strong plant with large, somewhat leathery leaves that don’t fade quickly, and with creeping rhizomes which can reproduce very easily and don’t freeze in winter. Cattle doesn’t eat the plant: it doesn’t like it because of the high content of oxalic acid. Underneath the large leaves nothing will grow anymore. The plant is especially thriving in areas where the soil have been disturbed and where a lot of nutrients are, so near feeding and drenching spots of cattle, of stables etc. That was also the case here – nearby cows were lying down to ruminate.

From here the panorama over the mountain world around the Ortler was breath-taking: unlike the day before yesterday small white clouds were floating in front of and above the summits of the Ortler and its neighbouring mountains. I could clearly see the trail I had followed from the Hintergrathütte hut along the slopes of the Hintergratkopf and across the moraines of the Sulden glacier. From here it looked rather neat and well-arranged, something I hadn’t noticed when I was close-by!

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To the east of the mountain station of the Kanzel-gondola lift above Sulden am Ortler: view on the Ortler, the mountain slopes and the glacier moraines
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To the east of the mountain station of the Kanzel-gondola lift above Sulden am Ortler: view on the Königspitze (to the left) and the Monte Zebrù (to the right) and the mountain slopes of the Hintergratkopf

This time I entered into the valley of the Zaybach brook, which will flow into the Suldenbach brook, far down in the valley. The view on the beginning of that valley with the rock wall rising up high and the Düsseldorferhütte hut on top of it, was less dramatic than the view on the Ortler, but therefore very calming.

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On the way to the Düsseldorfhütte hut above Sulden am Ortler: view into the valley of the Zaybach brook with on the height the hut, just small

There was no difficulty in finding the trail, because there was only one possibility to reach the hut: after a short while an artistical construction of dead trees and two horizontal bars indicated that our trail wouldn’t follow the track that continued straight on, but that we had to turn to the left, downhill – and after that also uphill again! What a pity, because later on it became clear that the road straight on was a Höhenweg, leading to the mountain hut in quite a level way…

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On the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut above Sulden am Orlter: a road block on the ongoing path to the hut with dead trees

The path slowly leading downhill went for a long time over the northern slope of the Vertainspitze mountain, that was covered with boulders in many shapes and sizes. A very long time ago a rockslide had taken place: as far as the eye can see the slope is covered with pieces of rock, without much vegetation. Again a construction of dead trees indicated the beginning of a wooden plank bridge over large boulders, closed with a small gate. These bridges are aptly named “Brücken zwischen den Steinen” (Bridges between the boulders)!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: a wooden fence on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut at the west side of the slope with the boulders
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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on the mountain slope of the Vertainspitze, covered with boulders on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut

The masses of rock cover the complete northern slope, down to the bottom of the valley where the Zaybach brook runs like a bright ribbon. The southern slope across the brook looks greener, with here and there some erosion, but not as bad as on the mountain slopes at the other side of the valley of the Suldenbach brook: there the scree-covered slopes were sharply lit by the sun.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on the south-facing slope at the opposite side of the valley of the Zaybach brook

There still were several plants growing and in bloom, that formed in groups a kind of still-life. For instance between the crisscross of branches of the Dwarf juniper (Juniperus communis var. saxitilis) carrying already blueish-green berries Bladder sampions (Silene vulgaris) were standing, of which the marbled “bladders” almost were transparent in the sunshine. The contrast between the sharp, brittle needles of the Juniper and the frail-looking flowers of the Bladder campions was striking! Further on a small, faded shrub of the Snow-rose, protected by a few boulders, was standing in a bed of a variety of lichens, like the silver-coloured Reindeer cup lichen (Cladonia rangiferina). On the boulders bright yellow lichens were growing.

On the level grassland near the Zaybach brook young cattle were gathering. A farmer was standing there as well, handing out some snacks to one of the havers from a knapsack. The other cows were jostling around him. All of a sudden I heard the sound of more cow bells: two young cows came trotting downhill in a straight line! The group started slowly to move on. A black and white dog was going alongside the man, looking up to him, hoping that maybe also some snacks would come out of the knapsack for him, but that wasn’t the case… A few moments later these cows joined the rest of the herd that were peacefully drinking from one of the small brooks which flow into the Zaybach brook. The farmer and his dog weren’t visible anymore. Many hikers had been watching this tranquil scene and had enjoyed it. It had been a pause in a world that isn’t quite peaceful at the moment. It plays also a role in the small world of this Alp ‘though: the long lasting extremely high temperatures of the past months in this mountain area cause the rapid melting of the glaciers, some food for thought…

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Above Sulden am Ortler: on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte a farmer is standing amidst his young cattle halfway across the mountain slope
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Above Sulden am Ortler: on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut with a view on one of the brooks forming the Zaybach brook with drinking cattle in the sunshine

The path at the highest bridge over the Zaybach brook was quite level at first. At this point the brook is already quite wide and it was murmuring quietly. This small plateau gave extra depth to the impressive view on the mountains at the other side of the valley of the Suldenbach brook: the white clouds that were floating around the summits of the Königspitze, the Monte Zebrú and the Ortler threw light shadows on the glaciers and the barren mountain slopes. What a space! I loved it.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte view to the west on the Ortler and on the Zaybach brook

Looking towards the east the Düsseldorferhütte hut was already slightly visible, with to the left a clear passage, the Zayjoch pass: from the hut it is possible to reach the village of Laas in the main valley of the Alto Adige, by crossing the mountain massif the Laaser Berge, forming the eastern part of the Ortler Alps. On the side of Laas the track passes by the marble veins above Laas, where that stunningly white marble is mined. As easy as my visit to the factory where the marble is processed (on August 7th 2019) had been, so challenging the hike from here to Laas will be: something for well-trained daredevils…

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Above Sulden am Ortler: on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut view to the east across the Zaybach brook on the mountains above the hut

Meanwhile the road had been fiercely rising: the grassland where the farmer and the cows had been standing, the path that we as hikers had taken and the Zaybach brook were already lying far below us. Here a next field with boulders loomed up, forming a steep slope right to the hut.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: View on the Zaybach brook, the trail and the mountains around the Orlter on the way to the Düsseldorferhütte hut

The hiking trail got increasingly steeper, but here was also more water. It flowed in tiny streams to the Zaybach brook: running with white foam of just silently flowing along a boulder, but at many places it was wet on or next to the path! That had a slightly cooling effect, because the hikers were climbing the steep slope, painstakingly zig-zagging under the relentlessly burning sun…

When I nearly got at the Düsseldorferhütte hut I saw at the northern mountain slope of the valley of the Zaybach brook the nice Höhenweg path, going evenly along the slope: I could also see the spot far below me, where the official track had made the turn to the left. As I had noticed that path first went downhill and afterwards steeply uphill again! No complaining about that ‘though: again the view was imposing.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view from the Düsseldorferhütte hut on the rock-covered mountain slope with the (blocked) Höhenweg trail

The white building of the Düsseldorferhütte hut came more and more in sight. After I had conquered the last vertical metres I arrived at an altitude of 2.721 metres and could enjoy the panorama! This is a hut with a long history: the Düsseldorferhütte hut, that is called in Italian Refugio Serrestori, has been built in 1892 by the Düsseldorf Branch of the then German-Austrian Alpine Society. After the First World War it was expropriated and given to the Italian Alpine Society: the hut was named after Alfredo Serrestori, a member of the Florence Branche who had died. Since 2015 the hut is cared for by the Autonomous Province Südtirol. In 1991 the hut has been enlarged.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: view on the Düsseldorferhütte hut (Rifugio Serristori) at 2.721m

This mountain hut has not always been white. On a postcard from 1894 a large building under construction is shown with a souterrain, a first and a second floor and an attic. The roof needed work – still or again, while a company was sitting at a table outside. This is a scene of all times! Another point is attracting the attention: back then the Zayferner glacier was clearly reaching till far onto the plain near the hut.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: a post card of the Düsseldorferhütte Hut in 1894

Ordering of food and drinks should be done inside the hut. A stuffed mountain marmot was standing in the hallway and welcomed the visitors in two languages: Grüssgott and Buongiorno… Here the particularly large incisors of this rodent were quite visible! At the counter postcards and a stamp of the hut were on display – I had certainly earned that stamp.

The terrace was so crowded that I just was looking for a seat without a table: a bank in the sun at the eastern side of the terrace near the exit of the kitchen, but luckily also protected from the wind. Sitting there with the dish-of-the day, a plate with creamy polenta and cheese, in front of me and a litre of mineral water within reach my lunch was totally complete!

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At the Düsseldorferhütte hut above Sulden am Ortler: plate of the day “polenta with cheese” and a large bottle of mineral water for lunch in the sun

The Düsseldorferhütte hut lies on the most western side of a small plateau, the Wandboden, where several small lakes are, the Zayseen. From these lakes water flows to the tiny streams which later on form the Zaybach brook on top of the mountain slope. They are all different in colour: greyish blue with a view on the Tschenglser Hochwand (3.375m), dull sky-blue with the Grosser Angelus (3.521m) in the background, and normal clear with a brownish bed with the twin-peaked Vertainspitze (3.545m). Here the mountain world is overwhelming as well.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: to the east of the Düsseldorferhütte hut is one of the Zayseen lakes with the Tschenglser Hochwand mountain (3.375m) in the background
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Above Sulden am Ortler: to the east of the Düsseldorferhütte hut is one of the Zayseen lakes with the Grosser Angelus mountain (3.521m) in the background
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Above Sulden am Ortler: to the east of the Düsseldorferhütte hut is one of the Zayseen lakes with the Vertainspitze mountain (3.545m) in the background

At the most southern lake boulders of a considerable size are left behind, completely polished: a very long time ago thick glaciers have been sliding over them!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: to the south of the Düsseldorferhütte hut impressive rock formations are visible that have been polished by ancient glaciers
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Above Sulden am Ortler: close-up of the rock formations polished by ancient glaciers to the south of the Düsseldorferhütte hut

To the east of the hut leis the “mountain station” of the cargo lift with which all the materials they need is being transported from the valley and dates back to 1957 – before that time everything had to be transported on horseback. The tiny shed serving as “mountain station” is fading into the background of the greyish scree slopes to the west of the Tschengleser Hochwand, because of its colour. Back in Sulden I passed the “valley station”: a nice small white house with a plaque on which a beautiful image of the hut and all hiking and mountaineering possibilities in two languages (Tourenmöglichkeiten/Ascensioni), are shown.

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Sulden am Ortler: an informative plaque is hanging on the small building of the valley station of the cargo lift to the Düsseldorferhütte hut

The trip back, downhill, was much easier that the way uphill! Also this time as well the view on the Ortler and the neighbouring mountains was wonderful. Now I was able to see the Vertainspitze as well, which with 3.545 metres forms the highest peak of the Laaser Berge mountain group. The summit cross flared up brightly in the sunlight.

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Above Sulden am Ortler: a nice view on the Vertainspitze mountain (3.545m) on the way back from the Düsseldorferhütte hut

Once arrived at the mountain station of the Kanzellift, I decided that I would not take the gondola, but being sportive to go on foot down the hill to Sulden. The three remarkable summits of the Königspitze, the Monte Zebrùand the Ortler looked just somewhat friendlier and warmer then in the morning light!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: panoramic view on the Königspitze, the Monte Zebrù and the Ortler in the afternoon light from the mountain station of the Kanzel-Gondola

At first the descent went over stoney grasslands, where the soil was still disturbed by the construction of the new gondola lift, but later on through the forest. The wide road forms a part of the ski slope in winter: therefore a construction on the valley side has been put up to catch skiers who are at risk of missing the corner. The orange safety nets had been tightly rolled up and attached to the upper line. The steel fixing points in the ground were quite visible. Winter seemed still far away!

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Above Sulden am Ortler: saftey nets for winter sporters below the mountain station of the Kanzel–Gondola

When I was close to the village I crossed the Zaybach brook again, that is at this point quite wide. Al the valley station of the cargo lift to the Düsseldorferhütte hut I reached the round walk near Sulden, the Kultur- en Geschichtenweg (Culture and History Trail). Downstream hardly anything was visible anymore of the construction of the protective measures against flooding, which had been undertaken the last time I visited Sulden (August 11th to 15th included). Since then the concrete contraptions had been covered and overgrown with vegetation. One of the conditions had been that the construction shouldn’t have too much impact on the landscape: the whole area forms part of the National Park Stilfserjoch/Stelvio. Also in this case the project had been financed by the European Fund for Regional Development and the Autonomous Province of Alto Adige.

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Sulden am Ortler: view upstream on the Zaybach brook with the valley station of the cargo lift to the Düsseldorferhütte hut
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Sulden am Ortler: view downstream on the Zaybach brook with (no longer visible) safety measures against flooding

When I reached the paved road to the cable car I looked back once more to the Vertainerspitze: the Gipfelkreuz cross was flashing even brighter in the sunshine. It was another view than further up the slopes: there it had been very rough with the boulders spread out, while here the silver-greyish mountain rose above the green pine forests. It gave the impression of an unspoiled landscape…

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Sulden am Ortler: view on the barren top of the Vertainspitze mountain with the summit cross seen from the footpath around the village

As I stated before today wasn’t so much a sportive challenge, but the views were certainly spectacular! I am therefore very grateful that I’m in a position to experience and enjoy it! I hope to return a next time for many more walks and hikes in this energising surroundings…!