Ken Roberts - - Climbing

what's here

later in year

see also:  more Europe stories | public discussion | more on Europe

Sharon + Ken in southern Germany


climb the Alpspitze

One day we decided to try climbing a mountain by a via ferrata route  [ photos ] -- an exciting adventure (for which it was good we'd had some previous European mountain climbing experience). A via ferrata is a climbing route on rock with steel cables on some of the very sections, which we could attach ourselves to for protection against taking a long fall -- we each had a special via ferrata kit to use to do the attaching. English and French speakers usually use the Italian word via ferrata for this, but the normal German word is klettersteig). We got the idea for trying this from a guidebook (in English translation) for klettersteig routes in southern Germany and nearby Austria (of course there's also at least one German-language website for this area).

The Alpspitze mountain peak (elevation 2628 meters) is next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski resort area south of Munich. It's on the same ridge as the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. We went up on the Alpspitzbahn lift (and also took it back down again at the end of the day). It was a long climb for us (not practiced for that sort of thing) -- around 600 vertical meters or 2000 vertical feet of climbing. I though it was interesting climbing -- Sharon and I used to do technical rock climbing -- I'd say mostly "class 3" by American standards if use the metal cables and rungs, but perhaps some sections harder. Much of it is on a big face -- I felt like I wouldn't have known where to climb on it if the route weren't there.

Sharon and I felt the hardest part was after reaching the summit -- descending the east ridge on steep scree (loose rock). Then we left the hiking trail and found the old Nordwandsteig route (another via ferrata) and descended that (which worked fine -- sorta interesting, but nowhere good as the newer via ferrata route we had earlier climbed up) to go back to the top of the Alpspitzbahn lift.

see also:  map: overview for trip | photos for overall trip

Tony + Ken in northeast Italy


via ferrata climb on Piz Boe

see photos | see where on map

After two long hilly days of bicycle riding, we decided to try something different. The Dolomites are famous for a different kind of steep rock climbing -- where the are steel cables and bars ("ferrata" = iron) attached to the rock to protect against taking long falls (but not necessarily protect against a shorter fall). Also sometimes help get up thru difficult sections of climbing. We'd never done it before. We had a via ferrata "kit" of special protection equipment and helmet and shoes good for climbing on rock for each of us, and a guidebook and some hiking maps.

We started in Corvara, took the Boe and Vallon lifts as high as they went -- into the heart of the Sella mountain group -- which we had just ridden around on our bikes the day before. We walked following the 646B trail, which later got indistinct and then snow-covered, so we walked up the snow to the left of the waterfall at the head of the valley or ampitheater, at its west end. We put on our via ferrata kits and helmets, clipped into the cable, made rock climbing moves. When our protective attachment reached the next anchor, we clipped into the next higher section of steel cable. But then we reached a section where the cable was buried under the snow, so we unclipped and found a way to stay on easier rock to get to the next section where the cable was on rock, and did some more climbing with protection.

Then a footbridge below a waterfall (got a little wet), then on the other side a steep face -- the most difficult section. Careful moves with a long reach required to clip the next section of cable. Then some steep rock-climbing moves, then less steep and I find myself at the top standing on flat ground in the sunshine. Soon Tony was up to join me.

What next? We decided with all the snow that we did not want to try the shortcut of descending the "Lichtenfelser Steig" (which the guidebook says is path 672 roughly in the northeast direction), because we thought it might have steep sections but with the protective cable buried under the snow. Instead we kept walking up toward the Piz Boe, at 3152 meters the highest summit in the Sella mountain group.

Yesterday we had ridden our bicycles around the Sella group, today we were climbing high inside it.

Navigation was a bit tricky at first because the hiking trail markings were buried under snow, and we could not yet tell which summit was the highest. After we recognized that we had guessed the wrong peak, we corrected course and walked up on alternating sections of snow and rock, until we finally found a marker for path 672 going in the southwest direction. Soon we were up on an interesting rock ridge, then the trail markers down to a snow col at the head of the Val di Mesdi (its south end) -- a long valley that goes down to near Colfosco (just west up the road from Corvara) -- I had looked up the Val di Mesdi while climbing to Passo Gardena yesterday.

Then up on the rock ridge and (roughly) follow along this to the summit -- with a big solar panel -- and hut serving food + drink, called "Capanna Piz Fassa". We each had two strudels and ice tea, and asked the hut warden if path 638 was OK to go back to the Vallon lift, and based on his response decided to take it. Some parts of path 638 had very deep mushy snow which slowed us down (and got our socks soaked). Later a steep southeast-facing couloir filled with snow. Fortunately the snow was still reasonably soft, so we made it down OK facing out down the hill (or sideways) -- but it was strenuous for our leg muscles and joints to have to go down it carefully. 

After that the path was mostly straightforward, but then a thunderstorm hit, so we walked faster (and ran) and then hail started. Tony still had his helmet on from the via ferrata, but I didn't. The hailstones seemed kinda big, so I put both hands on the top of my skull to protect my brain. Then the storm stopped and we arrived at the top of the Vallon lift, and the lift attendant started the chairlift and we rode down on it, then down the Boe ski lift -- and after a long ride we were back in Corvara to finish a fun adventure.

via ferrata climb of Cirspitze V

see photos | see where on map

For our second "via ferrata" climb, we chose something with shorter access (since Tony's legs were still sore from the long walk down from the top of the Piz Boe). Overlooking Passo Gardena (or "Grödnerjoch") - (where we had ridden over on our bikes three days earlier) - is a row of peaks, and the fifth one is called the Cirspitze V (older spelling "Tschierspitze"; Italian "Piz da Cir V"). Nice sunny day, pleasant hike north from the pass, then some rock scrambing already before reaching the "iron" section. One ladder at the start and the rest of the climbing was on rock, with the steel cable for protection. A couple of times I grabbed the cable to help with a harder move, but the rest of it I enjoyed using only the natural rock features -- interesting climbing moves -- exciting in places, even though I knew I wouldn't take a long fall.

A couple of times beginner climbers far above me dislodged pebbles that fell very close to me, so I was very glad I was wearing my helmet.

The summit was pretty small, so after declaring victory at the top we found another nice spot to its north for a little picnic. Spectacular setting, enough different from bicycling.

Upper part of the descent gully had a cable for protection -- which both of us also grabbed and hung out against to help soften our down-moves. Then a long downward section with some loose rocks with no cable -- so we used hiking poles to help soften the impact on our ankles and knees. Then to a rough trail, then to a packed dirt road and back down moderately on it to our car parked along the main Sella Ronda road.

see also:  map: overview for trip | photos for trip

more . . .

see also


concept words: roberts Europe European visit trip vacation holiday American visitor report reports

climbing: technical rock mountain free climb climber climbers

routes: climbs route routes tour tours map maps

places: cliff cliffs rocks mountains peak peaks group place state country region regions area areas

escalade escalades steig steigen

via ferrata: klettersteig cable-protected

Italia Italie Deutschland Allemagne Alemania Germania hautes cols alta alto höhe