Three weeks ago I came back from the trip to Grossglockner which eventually meandered to Italy as well and now I have manage to process things through and put them in writing. As chronological order is usually the easiest to follow I will do this it that way and here it comes. And it is going to be a long one, so be prepared 😀
Day started early as I had to meet others at the airport as early as 5:30 in the morning. I was in time (thanks to my father-in-law and his lift) and after few puzzling moments I found the others at the parking lot. We picked the last few items we needed to loan from Vaiska – for myself it was half-a-tent of North Face VE 25 (top part if you need to know) and the other half for my tent mate. Our Stüdlgrat team also picked up few ice screws – which were useless, but we wouldn’t know that just yet – and a pair of ice axes.
All in all we got onto the flight on time as the scheduled air controller strike was cancelled. Also we managed to get all the baggage squeezed within the weight limits even though it was quite a close call for few of us, myself including. One almost incident happened to me, though, at the hand baggage screening as the security personnel where very interested in the flapjacks I had with me. Eventually after unpacking everything from my bag – the flapjacks where down right at the bottom of course – I was thanked and told to shove along and with flapjacks still with me.
As noted on the earlier posts, we had two minivans rented for our use. We pushed all the gear and all the 16 of us inside and drove to Munich Globetrotter to get our portion of freeze dried food for times to come and also some last minute shopping for all the missing gear one might have had. After a quick dine at the near by pizzeria we where finally off to Ausria.
On the border – or earlier – you have to buy a “road permit” for Austria. Don’t know what would happen if you would get caught not having one, but must not be anything good. The border also acts as a true borderline for a change in scenery. Immediately after entering Austria near Salzburg, you are surrounded by 2500m peak on right, left and middle. You could spend your whole vacation just a mile inside Austria and you wouldn’t ran out of climbing. Just plainly amazing.
Finally, as the evening was already vaning, we arrived at the Lucknerhaus from where we would start our ascend. After that it was a bit of a scurry to pull all the necessary gear out of the van and trying to figure out which items to take along and which ones to leave behind. We weren’t in no way going to take all our gear with us – like rock climbing shoes – as there would be enough to carry only what is needed up the mountain. We had very little time to do all this, as the others driving in our van had to still reach Heiligenblut campsite before it closes.
Around quarter to nine we had all our gear packed and we started hiking up. When we reached the next hut, Lucknerhütte, it already pitch dark and we diceded to stay the night there. It would have taken us another three hours to reach the Stüdlhut so it was a wise decicion. At 13€ a night it is not too bad. Had we only arrived just few hours earlier we could have gotten today all the way to Stüdlhut and could have had a chance for a summit bid tomorrow. But this is how things go and now we get better acclimatization done before we go for the top.
The morning arose with all clear skies. We started going up just before 7am and we had a quick breakfast before “running” up all the way to Stüdlhut. There we had a lunch and checked out the place. If someone wants to, you can get g-strings bought there with Stüdlhut and the altitude 2802m printed on them 😉 After fueling up we started a bit further up towards the Stüdlgrat and glaciers.
We diceded to pitch our tents just above the steep climb from the hut, but before the glacier at altitude just short of 3000m. There were many signs of previous tent places there and we had a “running” water just few meters away. Now we faced one issue which did haunt us even more towards the end of the trip, and that was that we did not have any regular tent pegs with us. Our original idea was to tent on the glacier, but it was actually easy enough pitch the tents here by using the tons of loose rock we had lying all around us. This was not the case later on 😀
So, as not much else to do today apart from just hanging around, talking bullshit and taking snaps of the scenery around us, we decided to do a little walk on the glacier. The weather had been detoriating from the early afternoon and soon as we hitted the glacier it started to rain very wet slosh. We did a quick spin with an ever vaning visibility (we couldn’t almost see from one end of the rope to another) and creeped into our tents to dry out our clothes. The wet slosh proved to be just a prelude to a raging thunderstorm and very violent rain. It didn’t take long to notice that there are rivers running not just around our tents, but underneath them too. My tent was bit more lucky on this side as the other tent team had to literally showel or hack trenches round the tent just to direct the streams of rain water somewhere else. What we gained from the slightly better pitching place, we lost on the factor of how well the tent will keep the water away from the interior. Water started to leak from the roof just and also seep through the bottom fabric. And humidity was somewhere around 100% or over and everything was wet, if not from the water creeping in then from the ridiculous humidity. Well, at least the thunder sounded pretty awesome inside the tent with ligthing flashing here and there.
With nothing else to do, we just slept.
The morning weren’t any better from the evening. The visibility was even worse, but at least it didn’t rain that much. We spent the whole day mostly just sleeping or lying inside the tent. We did a tiny scramble on top of the Luisengrat just next to our tents, but was really the action we had.
We had talked to few people who walked past us about the weather and such. We explained that we had to pitch the tents to wait out the weather and the tents didn’t seem to bother any of them more than a grunt. This was bit odd in a sense as in my knowledge camping is really forbidden inside the National Park – and there is actually a big sign at Lucknerhaus saying “Tents and camping forbidden”, but for our excuse we saw that only on our way back 😉 The even more odd thing was that many of them asked if we were using cookers or stoves. After our puzzled lookes they usually said that it is forbidden to use them here. Very, very odd I would say. I haven’t heard or read anywhere anything mentioning that you weren’t allowed to cook your own food inside the Höhe Tauern, but that was what the people were asking from us. Can’t really comment on that how it really is.
We also heard from few people that it should clear up till Friday and that would be a summit day. Thumbs up for that. Among these people weer by the way red jacked group of men who introduced themselfs as Austrian Mountain Police. There seemed to be a sense though that they were pulling our legs, but we did actually saw Austrian police cars at the parking lot when we left and there were more than 20 of them with matching jackets and all. Don’t know, but these guys had a pretty similar outwear as the Austrian Mountain Rescuers so figure that out then.
The weather did then start to clear up towards the evening and we started preparing for the summit push tomorrow. We packed most stuff ready to be ditched into a cache we had built under a large rock as we would leave the tents and sleeping bags and such in there and climb up only with bare minimun gear.
We woke up at 4am and started to pack things up. We saw first team pass our camp around 4:30am and another few minutes later. We had everything packed and tossed into our secret cache at 5:20am and started the walk up the the starting point of the actual Stüdlgrat. Around 6:30am we where at the bottom of the ridge and ready to start up. At the same time there came behind us a a guide man – presumably – and a lady client who darted up at tremendous speed and had soon vanished behind the ridge features. We had absolutely no chance of following that pace.
Here I also suffered a minor loss. As we were preparing for the climb I changed to use my prescription glacier glasses and while pulling them off from the storage case, I accidentally dropped the nose guard which was loose. “Bye bye nose guard” was all I managed to say before it was out of sight while rolling down the snow slope. Luckily it weren’t anything more crucial than that. Though I did burn my nose a bit on the way, so it would have been nice to have.
The first part of the ridge graded to be 1-2 in alpine grades, but there were actually few places where you had to do some climbing like moves. Could be that we just didn’t find the optimal route, though. Around 8:30 we had arrived at the Früstückplatz, which is indicated by an yellow sign bolted to the wall. We had quick bite as we were waiting for our other rope to come up and I had had only two smallish oatbars for breakfast, so energy was in need. While we had a rest, three German Military rope teams swung past us. These were the same ones we had seen earlier passing our tents and another team of Austrians (I think) who (I believe) we met again at the top. The sign at Früstückplatz says that “If it took you more than three hours to get here, turn back!” and mentioned that you should “expect major difficulties” after this point. Well.. it had taken us bit more than three hours to get here and we started on topof the first steep climb, almost 150m higher than Stüdlhut for which the sign is referring. Not letting this warning defer us to bail at this point, we plunged forward. Before continuing we shortened our rope a bit as it got tangled in everywhere, which brought some other difficulties later on, though.
It truly did get harder from here on, and much more exposed. Right from the Früstückplatz started the first fixed section with few iron poles and a rope and later a steel cable for you to pull yourself up. There had been these iron poles earlier too, as well as bolts for you to clip on, so you won’t in most cases fall all the way to the valley floor if would happen have slip, but I think falling (or rolling) that five-six-seven meters we had slack down wouldn’t be that fun either. The route then continued quite airy in places and a bit scary even in some others, but doable in all.
Totally there are five fixed sections and the last one is graded the hardest, but for me the third one felt at least most demanding in strength wise. Then there is a section called “Platte”or plate of which the others said that it was the most demanding part. Truly it was a bit tricky section of slab rock with a sharp corner from which you had to layback through. For me it weren’t that problematic, could be because I have more rock climbing experience than the others, especially leading, as you had to clip into three bolts on the way while traversing the slab. Later on there were one or two sections where there was a small sloping snow field and it was already starting to melt away from the early morning frost. That was a bit nasty to cross especially as we had to unclip the rope from the bolts as I couldn’t reach the other end while clipped in (remember that we shortened the rope earlier on?). Slip there would have been disastrous at the best, but all of us managed to go through these without one which is a good thing. We had to actually go without being clipped in quite often and a 2-3m of more rope between us would have allowed us to being clipped most of the situations.
While we were quite near the top – about 50m vertical from it – we paused to wait on a legde after a tricky snow slope and a rock wall for our other team who were lagging behind. We had tried to push forward trailing the other teams who had passed us to see the best path without navigating much our selves. Usually we couldn’t keep up with them very long, but it was a help though in any sense. While we where on this legde waiting we (or our second team really) saw the other teams of our whole group standing on top of the Kleinglockner just 100m away at level to us. They didn’t see or hear us though and we continued to the top. At 11:30am we arrived at the top. There was the Austrian two-man team waitin for their friends who where behind our second rope team. Me and my rope-mate where the only ones of our group who got the the top with still some visibility. Just after few minutes we arrived there everything around us was swallowed by an fog and we couldn’t even see the Kleinglockner anymore.
We took few pictures and us our other team arrived we started descending via the normal route to make some room for others. We saw the first of the two teams coming up the normal route just before the Glockner Gap. At first we had thought that they had for somereason turned back at the Kleinglockner as we didn’t see them progress for some while while we watched them from the route, but this apparently was not the case. We let the other team also pass the Glockner Gap before we crossed it. The Glockner Gap is very was very nice to cross as it is only about 40-50cm wide snowy ridge and its left other side drops steeply to North as the Pallavicinirinne and on the other side via couloir as the unnamed South face route to the Ködnitzkees. After that there is a fixed cable and then a “4- boulder” as we called it – a one move climb up a big step to the top of the Kleinglockner. From there it was same kind of scrablish descend down as it was from the Grossglockner to the Glockner Gap. Here we also crossed with a Polish team of one man and two women – other of them bit older and precumably the mother of other of them. Their going was very, very slow and akward, especially the “mother” who was literally “on all fours” as she was next-to crawling up the relatively easy scrable up to the Kleinglockner. Didn’t look too good and still had to cross the Kleinglockner and the gap, but later on we heard from the latter of the two of our teams going up the same way, that they did actually manage to reach the top, but looked quite exhausted. They seemed to go quite on their limits it seemed.
After descending for some time we saw few ice axes and crampons in the snow some tracks going down (or up) a snow slope on the left. What puzzled us here was that there were those iron poles and even bolts going further on the ridge proper, but we saw no tracks in the snow going that way. We figured that the route must go down the slope from here and changed into crampons. We waited for our other rope team to show where we were going and I used the time to consume a chocolate bar as I was starting drain out of energy at this point – I hadn’t really eaten that much for the whole day and I should have eaten it already at the summit, but I didn’t. The other team arrived and right behind them the four Austrians who we saw earlier. They continued down the slope which confirmed us the right route and we right behind now all juiced up again now both teams together first time since the Frühstückplatz. On the slope took a small plunge or roll actually as I tripped on the sloshy snow. I did actually stop on my feet few dancing steps later, but my rope mate was already in self arrest position to stop us if it would have taken few rolls more to get halted. That was excatly how it should have been (excluding the tripping part though) and this way you will gain the confidence in your rope mate(s) the be there if something like this happens, even as it was silly as tripping on shoe lace or something. There would have been some bolts on either side of the slope to secure yourself, but we where lazy enough to give no heed to that – and you heard the results 😉
Nevertheless, we continued down the ever more wet slope trailing the Austrians and rest of the slope went without more incidents. The route then continued through a snowfield and down a small slope to the field which takes you to the Erzherzog-Johann Hut. We didn’t go there just yet and stopped bit before it to have a lunch. After some time we could hear some voices – in Finnish we believed – and decided to wait for the other teams.It took quite a while for them to finally arrive and the voices must have travelled quite the distance (or they have just come really slow). It was still the first team only though, but as they continued to the Hut we went after them and without roping up as there was only like 200m to go and tens of people had already gone through there. Didn’t think there was really a chance to find a crevasse on that path 🙂
We stayed at the hut for a high altitude beer to celebrate our summitting and exchanged feelings about the route and how it did go. All seemed to be quite happy in general. The third rope team of our group while we where starting to move onwards. We heard that on one of the other teams member had had some altitude sicknes, nausea and such, but nothin major. Not sure if it was or not so that he might have vomited even. Apart from that everybody seemed to be ok with the altitude with only some minor head aches and few people had some slight nausea too, but not as nealy as bad as this one fellow.
Here we separated again from the two other teams as we started to descend to Ködnitzkees and towards Stüdlhut. There is a via ferrata type of fixed cable put on the ridge going down from the hut almost all the way to the glacier. As we went down there were tens of Austrian army soldiers coming up the same way. They gave corteously way for us as they were strugling to get up – some of them were literally pulled up the hardest parts. They told us that this was their first time on the mountain and it seemed they were enjoying it to their bones – sore bones I believe.
On the glacier egde we roped up to just one rope and darted down the ice. There were few crevasses on the way, but they were easily jumped over. Then as we arrived to the other side of the glacier odd things came into play. Our plan was not to go all the way down to Stüdlhut and then back up to our gear cache, but instead to go over the far end of the Luisengrat. When we neared the far side of the glacier, we saw a man walking along the egde of the ridge bottom and he was wearing a safety vest. Odd at least I would say. We were a bit scattered at the moment as we had unroped few moments earlier and firsts of our group who met the guy couldn’t figure out what he was doing. The three rest of us bumped into him a while later and he started asking about “Adlersruhe” ie the Erzherzog-Johann Hut. We just pointed towards the clouds across the glacier as you couldn’t see a trace of it currently. He started asking more questions like “how far is it”, “how long it would take there” and so on and so on. He spoke only German and any of us really didn’t speak German so there weren’t much we could reply or even understand. At any rate we started to figure out that this guy was planning to go up to the Erzherzog-Johann Hut and then we took a look of the guy who was about 50-55 years old and apparently didn’t have any crampons, ice axe, helmet or any other gear you might need when crossing the glacier or climbing the ridge up to the hut. He did though have and exceptionally thick fleece jacket and a handbag with a flower prints on it (we never found out what he had in there, but did some wild guesses). As best we could we tryind to say to him that it is out of question to go up there alone and especially in this kind of weather, but seemed that he gave no heed to it or just didn’t understand us (we are quite fluent with, right… hardly).
After debating for a while in very broken German, one of us spoke aloud that maybe we should see this fellow safely to somewhere. So we started convincing this guy to follow us to Stüdlhut and there would be people who would really understand what he has to say. We where sure there would be someone getting hurt if he would continue onwards. Then me and one other os us started leading this guy back towards the path he came from and he quite obediently followed us. When we arrived to the hut the guy marched right in and apparently met someone he knew at the dining hall, but we couldn’t be sure of that. We tried to talk to the personnel there about our “finding” and did get someone enough interested to hear us out. We told that we had found this guy walking there just on the egde of the glacier and asking about the way to the Adlersruhe without any proper gear or direction. Again discussing a while this fellow told that this adventurer was going to stay the night at the hut and everything should be ok now. Not much else we could do we started our way to our camp site. Hopefully this story had a happy ending, but it does makes you think how many others like him there are every year getting hurt or lost and making the Mountain Rescuers do some work.
The last 150m ascend back to the camp site was quite enough for the day. The others had started to put up the camp site back into order while we where doing our detour. Now all that was left from our summit day was eating back all those lost calories and having that gulp of Stroh we had carried up here. The rest of the evening was mostly just eating and resting and putting gear in shape to back them up for tomorrows move back down to the valley.
Our plan was to wake up relatively early and pack all gear up and start descending back to the Lucknerhaus in nice and relaxed pace. We did manage to wake up early and pack things up nicely, but then the beasts in us woke again and we nearly ran down the slopes. In just over two hours (including the one or two rests) we where back at the Lucknerhaus and on the terrace having a beer. Sun shone and beer was cold. We were supposed to be picked up around 13:00, but the others had been apparently runnig a bit late and we had an extra two hours to wait there. Not the worst place to spend an hour or two.
Eventually the ride came and we drove to Heiligenblut to the camping place where the others already where. After a quick shower, sorting out the gear it was a nice restaurant meal and few drinks at the local bar. Btw. If anyone wants to try something different to drink you could try our now trademark drink: “Absinth Russian”. Just take a shot of 80%-vol Absinth and put it a drink glass and fill it up with milk. It will probably be the worst drink you’ve ever had.
I mentioned in the beginning that we also ended up into Italy too. This came mostly from the fact that a) in Austria it was going to be really bad weather for next few days and b) our van was going there already as some of the people wanted to visit Venice. So we headed to Italy then and in there to Cortina (thanks for my friends at home for tips) which was supposed to have plenty of via ferrata and rock climbing to do. Cortina is in middle of the Dolomites and the change in landscape was truly incredible when we drove into the mids of the mountains. You’ll have to go there yourself to see it. Steeply rising hills on both sides of the road.
The Cortina itself is tiny town, but big enough to figure it out when your dropped there with big packs and no idea where to go. Luckily people on the other van had had the same plans as us to go to Cortina and where already there. They had already scouted out where to get more info, but it was siesta at the moment (it is Italy you know) and we had time for a proper pizza.
Later we did find a topo of the crags in the area and few maps and some info about the via ferratas. Also found out the cheapest campsite in the are – Dolomiti – and next we checked in there and then back to the town. After walking through some of the gear shops (there are many) we retired to the campsite. Towards the evening it got a bit out of hands with the remaining Stroh and with some gin and few bottles of cheap red wine. Eventually the extempore botellón ended with everlasting words from a near by camping: “This is not normal drinking”. To these words it was good to end the party.
As you could assume that this morning started a bit slow and after we got our wigging from the campsite personnel on our way out, we had a late breakfast at the village. Our idea was to go to a crag group at a walking distance from our campsite called “Campo e Volpera“. It had been raining quite heavily yesterday and as we heard for days befora that too, but now the sun was shining. We got our gear and started hiking the crags.
The maps we had really didn’t reflect the true nature of the path as what seemed a short distance on the map was actually a very steep uphill. It took even a while to locate the start of the path and on the way we couldn’t locate the first crags and we pressed onwards. After some detours and rain showers (the weather changes quite quickly in the mountains) we did manage to find the second crag group. And what a place it was. There were some via ferrata kind of cableways stringed up the huge rock blocks (there was a sign saying “Access denied! Not under maintenance” though) and ladders up some chimneys and all. As one of us put it “it is only missing trolls and gnomes”.
There were very many routes on multiple walls ranging from slab 3+ to the hanking 8b+ so a lot to choose from. Unfortunately it had been raining quite a lot lately and most of the routes were wet and those that were dry were on the hanking walls with grades like 7b+ or harder. Those were quite out of our league, so we tracked yet another group of crags further up the hill. These didn’t give us any more to climb as – although they were dry – these graded again into the top end of sevens and up. Nonetheless even without getting any climbs under our belt we were quite pleased to see these kind of awesome places – only it would have been more dry. We went down then through the previous crags and there we found a real adventure path with fixed cables and ladders even.
The evening weren’t much else than eating in the village except that we were caught in a violent thunderstorm which soaked everything and everybody. So we didn’t even here escape the chore of drying of almost every item we had.
For today the forecasts had predicted some fine weather at least for the morning and early afternoon and then a possible climbing day. Our plan was to leave Cortina today so, we packed up things before we got a ride with our own van (which had too arrived back from Venice to Cortina yesterday evenining) to a crag called Sass de Stria near the Falzarego Pass. The crag is a good place for beginners as there are almost 30 routes ranging from 4a to 6a and there are two routes with two pitches to train multipitching.
Up there in the pass the weather was quite windy and temperatures around +5-8 degrees celcius, but good enough for some cragging. The others of us hadn’t done any lead climbing so I lead the routes and bilt anchors for top roping. We didn’t take any rush in it and in the end I managed to climb only 4 routes (3 5b’s and one 6a) and toproped the three of them again to fetch the anchors. Even with having bagged only four routes I was quite happy we afterall managed to get some rock climbing done and first routes climbed abroad. The others too seemed quite pleased with the climbing especially as some of them didn’t really have practically any experience on rock what so ever.
Our next plans was to go visit Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle’s Nest as it is widely known, near Salzburg. We then left the Dolimites behind us and drove to Hallein to stay for the night. Somehow the bad weather seemed to haunt us as right as we were going to put up our tents at the campingsite the sky broke and we where showered with heavy rains. Our wet tents and all where just getting more wet.
Early in the morning packed our gear once more and were sent off towards the Kehlsteinhaus. We where informed that you cannot drive all the way there and you will need to go up with a dedicated vehicle. At the parking are below the hill where the Kehlsteinhaus is located you will change into busses that will leave every 15-20 minutes up a steep path. The actual place is at around 1800m high, about 600m higher from there. You could also walk up there, but it could take more than 2 hours one way and we decided to opt out from that.
In the actual Kehlsteinhaus there is not much to see really. The most exciting is probabaly to walk up the the top of the hill at 1890m, but besides that it is mostly just an restaurant up there. There are supposed to be splendid views from there, but as it seems to be with our on any summit that we are doomed to have a visibility of next to nothing. This time did actually have the best weather so far, but not much to celebrate on that either.
A bit disappointed on the “rip off the tourists money” kind of attraction, whe headed to Salzburg for the night. We checked into a campingsite Nord-Sam which was not yet open, but we were still allowed to pitch our tents already. Now, here we got into a slight trouble not having any tent pegs withous as I mentioned earlier on. Previous nights we managed to push all kinds of stuff we had into the grass like ice axes and the odd tent peg we happened to find. Here it was no grass, but instead pretty solid sand and gravel ground and no chance to push ice axes into that. I managed to find an old rusty nail and the others had a single old tent peg found somewhere, but that was nowhere near enough to pitch four tents. We did use all kinds of tricks like tying tent strings to other tents or into the bushes and got the tents in semi-erect position. I’m personally pretty proud of my “deadman-in-the-sand” device made from sticks buried into gravel. But what was most important we finally got the tents to dry up a bit.
The evening we spent at the Salzburg old town and surroundings, eating and drinking properly.
The last day of our trip started with rigorous efforst to fully dry up every peace of gear including the tens which were still damp at least. Gear all packed up we started late our last leg towards Munich airport. Our only stop on the way was at a small road side village for a lunch, so we made it early to the airport. After returning the car and walking through the whole airport to our terminal, we still had plenty of time to wait to even the checkin to open.
Again we managed to squeeze packs under the weight limits and eveything got easily through the screening this time. Apparently the Germans are not so picky with flapjacks. Next we were in a plane flying back home and the trip was nearing its end. After landing we returned all the loaned gear and said goodbyes. The trip was over.
So how does the trip feel now after a few weeks of chewing? I honestly can say that the trip was succesful as we managed to reach the top via the route we had planned to go. So I shouldn’t really be complaining, but still there was something left there. The bad weather we experience in both Austria and in Italy rendered much of our plans into nothingness and that is part of the game, but still. I really would have hoped we could have done more than we did, but what we did was something at anyrate. It was the first of this kind alpine trip to myself and most of the others and it was good that someone was organizing much of the practical things for us. Now I believe, though, that I (and probably many others of us too) could pull this kind of trip on my own with little difficulty. The game has been opened and now it is just we have to start playing the game.