Ken Roberts - - Climbing

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VF - via ferrata / klettersteig in Austria + Germany

11 jun

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Königsjodler klettersteig on Hochkönig

Great and long and hard.

For free climbing moves with hands and feet directly on rock, the best cable-protected route overall that I've done so far - (including some of the great routes in the Dolomites, though Via Ferrata Tomaselli has a particular section -- and VF Sci Club 18 has lots more in the range 5a to 5c, but generally lower qualiity rock than Koenigsjodler). Follows a long ridge, up (and sometimes down) over several towers, some with a narrow top edge. Variety of situations and types of climbing moves. And most of the way there are big views to all the high snowy peaks of Austria.

Long approach hike. Two long Via Ferrata sections overall. Long difficult VF sections. Long overall descent, with much of that a long steep-ish descent.

Downside: the long steep-ish knee-and-ankle-pounding descent of the Birgkar.

Snow warning: The Birgkar valley holds much snow for much longer than I would have guessed (since it's generally South-facing) -- even though the previous winter season tended to be low for snow. I was lucky that the snow I encountered on descent was soft enough for me to kick steps using my approach shoes - (still some parts were kind of scary). My GPS with track for descent on it was very useful for navigation - with many of the brightly painted route markers buried under the snow. Mid-June (when I did it) is normally considered too early to do the Koenigsjodler. But later in the summer, the remaining snow-covered sections might be more icy -- so consider bringing crampons.

This route is in Austria on the south side of the Berchtesgaden mountains near Germany, roughly 60-80 km South of Salzburg, or 80-100 km East from Kufstein.

I used the German-language guidebook Klettersteigführer Österreich (AlpinVerlag.at) by Jentszch-Rabi, a modern book with detailed topos and GPS coordinates, comes with a DVD.

I started at the parking ...

GPS approx latitude/longitude : (N47.392 E13.049) - [ map ]

for the Erich hut. Hiked the dirt road up to the Erich hut, then on the marked trail 432 (not always very distinct this early in the season) to the Hochscharte on the main ridge, and a little higher to the bottom (N47.412 E13.054) of the lower main Via Ferrata section. Approach about 950 vertical meters over 4.5 km.

Via Ferrata sections were well-designed for lots of moves with hands and feet directly on the rock, not grabbing the cable or using iron rungs. Iron rungs and holds were fairly minimal (so if an obvious foothold in the rock was available, then there was no iron rung and I had to look for the foothold). Often I was able to avoid using the iron rungs by finding yet smaller footholds and handholds to use (or friction on the rock), which were sufficient (and interesting) for me with technical rock-climbing experience. I'd say there was much free climbing in the range of difficulty French 3 - 4c. I did use iron or grab the cable for a few very short sections of upward climbing, more often on the steepest descent sections.

Protection: Anchor points for the cable often were not especially close together. On the one hand, the steel cable was normally available to grab for assistance if you had the strength and skill to use it to keep from falling -- so many VF guidebooks and websites would call it "well protected". On the other hand, if you actually did fall, even with a normal Via Ferrata kit you could easily go down far enough to get hurt (though very unlikely to be killed), so by technical rock-climbing standards I would say the protection was at best PG (not unusual for mountain rock-climbing routes, but lots of shorter valley climbs have much better protection). Less experienced VF climbers might want the protection of a rope belay -- but using rope belays would be too slow, because there are so many difficult sections -- so anyone wanting a rope belay should simply not try to do this route.

After the very interesting lower main section over the Teufelstauern (Devil's Towers), I felt I had done plenty enough interesting climbing for a great day. Next I encountered a substantial section of steep-ish hiking or moderate scrambing, and I reached a sign that said it was roughly at the half-way point of the VF route and pointed to an emergency escape trail for those who lacked the time or energy to make it to the top safely.

I continued to the upper main section with lots more climbing of similar quality and difficulty, and climbed up two more even larger peaks to the top of the route (N47.420 E13.053) which is on the Hoher Kopf. Based on my GPS readings I'd say at least 550 vertical meters (or perhaps 600 or more) of Via Ferrata climbing in the two main VF sections, not counting the moderate section between them - (but it's tricky to be more exact because of the down-climbs on some of the towers).

The signs near the route and some guidebooks and web pages say that much of that difficulty is at grade D (on a scale of easy A up to very difficult E). And that's a lot of D for one route. (Did I remember to mention this route is long?)

"Flying fox" = "Tyrolean traverse" : There's a short one on the lower main section. I did not do it, instead followed the other steel cable and climbed down farther, then up from below -- interesting climbing, and likely quicker than rigging and unrigging the Tyrolean thing. The "flying fox" is featured prominently in the several videos of the route, but it's a very very small portion of the climb. I've seen videos of some people just doing it by hanging from a locking carabiner from a sling and sliding it along the cable, while others use a special "flying fox" device to do it. My feeling is that I can't see how it's worth it to carry the extra weight of a special device up (and then down) for such a long ways for such a short "flying fox" section - (Elsewhere there must be longer more spectacular flying fox traverses accessible with much less work).

Total climbing over 1600 vertical meters (5280 feet or 1 vertical mile) - (difficult to be exact because of down-climbs on some of the towers on the VF sections). 

From the top of the VF route there is a hike to a more famous higher summit (the Hochkönig) with a hut, but I skipped that and instead just headed down.

The top of the descent route (N47.421 E13.054) was a short ways down NE from the top of the VF. The descent starts with about 220 vertical meters at steepness around 22-25 degrees, then about 155 meters around 20-22 degrees, another 150 meters around 17-20 degrees (with short steeper sections). A gentler section, then 90 meters around 25-30 degrees, 115 meters mostly around 20 degrees (with some steeper sections), and 240 meters around 16-18 degrees.
- - > Note that the overall slope is steeper than these angles, since these angles were estimated from my GPS track from my actual course which often zig-zagged across the slope.

Those angles might not sound steep mathematically, but it's mostly on rock, not softer dirt hiking trail, and it's plenty steep to pound your knee and ankle joints with impacts. Lower down I was glad to do a long section of not-so-steep softened snow, because it was less impact on my joints. I felt plenty tired long before I reached the bottom, and short flat and uphill sections provided a happy break from the pounding.

Finally I got off the rock (and snow) onto a dirt/gravel trail (which I did not find at first because the painted markers were hidden under snow), but still almost 225 vertical meters more down to the main road at (N47.392 E13.057), then a short walk along the road to my car.

Total descent from top of VF route about 1450 vertical meters (4700 feet) - (in addition to the short sections coming down off some of the towers in the midst of the Via Ferrata route) - including about 950 vertical meters of knee-impact steepness on rock. I highly recommend doing some advance training for the descent - (or else have sore knees for many days afterward).

Fortunately I did serious advance work, so next day my legs felt OK and I did some other good climbing. Now the bad memories of  the descent are fading way, leaving the memories of the wonderful free climbing.

VF Jubiläumsgrat klettersteig on Zugspitze

11july

posted to Andrew's VF website:

Today I traversed the Jubiläumsgrat - the long ridge that connects east-west between the Zugspitze (highest mountain in Germany) and the Alpspitze. Both peaks have other Via Ferrata routes on them, and both have lifts on them. There are several peaks between them on the ridge to climb over or around.

I did it from west to east (the most popular direction, and the way described in the AlpinVerlag.at guidebook), so I started by using mechanical means (cog railway and/or lift) to get to the top of the Zugspitze. Seemed like five other VF parties on the first ride up, and later I overtook others who had started earlier from some hut. A finished by down-climbing the Alpspitze via ferrata, then riding the Alpspitze lift down to the parking.

My impressions:

* a big mountain adventure in a great setting. The longest ridge traverse route I know (so far).

* lots of ups and downs, lots of horizontal distance. Long distances between escape points.

* requires endurance + speed in scrambing directly on rock, mountain experience beyond that needed for most other Via Ferrata routes.

* more hiking and scrambling than climbing (but there was some climbing)

* much of the scrambling seemed steeper and more exposed to a long fall than I've usually seen without cable-protection.

* at least one steep difficult cable-protected section had a long distance between cable anchors.

* no shortage of loose rock to get kicked around or slided on, and two or three times a hand-hold rock I was testing pulled out. Last year a couple of German climbers told me that a friend died on the Jubiläumsgrat from a rock hold breaking off in one of the (many) sections not cable-protected.

* lots of marking of the way with red paint (sometimes old + faded) or cairns -- but still I managed to get off route two or three times.

* many of the non-cable-protected sections have metal rings or bolts which a mountain giude or expert climber could use together with a rope and some carabiners, etc., to provide some additional protection (at the cost of time).

* that ridge is not a place you want to be caught when the rock is wet or if a storm hit.

If you've got the experience and speed and endurance -- and desire for a big ridge traverse -- and the patience and time to wait for the right day -- there it is: the Jubiläumsgrat.

I'm ready to do again sometime -- but maybe in the opposite direction (east-to-west), starting from the Alpspitze lift, so I'd do more of it in the uphill direction. I met a woman from Berchtesgaden on the route, and she and her partner were the only ones going east-to-west, and she said she had done it twice that way before and like it.

GPS latitude / longitude (approximate):

  • Zugspitze summit : (N47.421 E10.985) - [ map ]

  • Eibsee lift base + train station : (N47.457 E10.991)

  • Alpspitze summit : (N47.429 E11.047)

  • Alpspitze lift top station : (N47.439 E11.051)

  • Alpspitze lift bottom station : (N47.471 E11.061)

Kaiser Max steig by Innsbruck

11july

posted to Andrew's VF website:

The Kaiser Max klettersteig is one of the famous "test piece" Via Ferrata routes -- very strenuous and difficult -- in the same tough + lonely league as VF Rino Pisetta near Arco in Italy. I stopped climbing at the second exit because serious clouds were coming in, so I missed one final steep section, but I did get to experience the main long "tough" sequence. On the 1 to 5 scale of difficulty in the Fletcher+Smith English-language guidebooks, I'd put both of them at least 6 level.

Not many opportunites for "free" climbing with hands + feet directly on the rock. Kaiser Max is for people who like grabbing + pulling on the cable -- and on the cable anchor spikes -- or any other metal or rock they can find to help. I think lots of the moves hauling on the cable are fairly interesting -- have to be experienced and skillful at where to place to your feet on the rock, lean your upper body, and clever to use the cable anchor spikes to help. (Previous experience using a shorter leash or "cows tail" for resting highly recommended.)

I used the description and topo diagram in the AlpinVerlag.at guidebook for Oesterreich Klettersteig, which I found helpful and pretty accurate.

Kaiser Max is in the Tirol region of western Austria -- on the west side of Innsbruck. Parking

GPS approx latitude/longitude : (N47.268 E11.269) - [ map ]

but not many parking spaces there. Start of the access trail was well-marked, and the trail was obvious and not long up to the start of the via ferrata cable.

Nice thing about Kaiser Max as a "test" is that the first part -- up to the Grotto exit -- offers a shorter reduced-strength version of what's above - (actually the first 25 meters off the ground already offer a small sample). Whatever seems hard in that first section, try to imagine it with no extra metal rungs or spikes (except the ones to hold the cable) -- and steeper -- and longer: That's what getting thru the second section (after the Grotto) is about. Two other differences I seem to remember were that many (but not all) of the cable anchor points in the upper difficult section were closer together (so I would not fall as far) than most on the first (lower) section -- and the cable diameter seemed thinner on the upper section (at least the start of it) - (I was glad I'd brought serious gloves for grabbing + pulling on it lots).

Descent included a long cable section, where I gladly grabbed the cable and went down "batman" style -- some sections steep-ish -- cables continued down to roughly the level of the Grotto (optional side trip toward the east). From there the descent route went way to the west -- and had been re-routed (because of rock-fall danger) to include a substantial uphill section before a moderate downhill (much of this protected by triple hand-rails) to a road. Then further west down that road before a sharp turn Left (marked) onto a trail going down moderately, now at last back toward the east, finally a walk alongside the flat road east to the parking. (Perhaps some of that descent could be made easier + quicker by clever advance placement of a bicycle).

For those who need it: Kaiser Max.

_______________________________________

It occurs to me that another way of thinking about my memory (if correct) of cable anchor points less closely spaced in the first (lower) section is . . . that section is not so well-protected if you actually fell, so maybe it's not such a good "test" -- since the consequences of falling from high above the last cable anchor even while wearing a via ferrata kit (except for a design like Skylotec Skyrider) would likely have very serious injuries -- not what most of us would want just from failing the "pre-test".

Anyway if there's any possibility of falling, having an expert rock climber as a partner to provide belay protection from above with a rope would be much safer. Another idea is to first try VF Cesare Piazzetta in the Dolomites and see if the strenuous sections on that feel easy, before attempting anything on Kaiser Max.

Comparing KMax with Rino Pisetta . . . Difficulty I can't say which one is a slightly harder or a similar kind of climbing. For scenic environment I would give the edge to Rino Pisetta for the lake below (versus noisy highway below KMax) and the sense of getting to a narrow "peak" summit with exposure + views on both sides - (provided can arrange in advance to have a bike or second car "spotted" in the village of Ronza around west side of RPis to avoid the long walk down).

Waidring (or S'Schuastagangl) klettersteig on Steinplatte

Interesting climbing directly on rock, big views all the way, short access to and from. But not when wet. Some short difficult sections, but those are protectable with rope belay for those who might want it. I did it after arriving at the Munich airport in the morning, picking up my rental car, and buying some snack food.

It's in Austria (northern Tirol close to Germany) on the south side of Chiemgau mountains (on a peak called the Steinplatte), about 35-40 km E from Kufstein or 60 km SW from Salzburg.

I parked at the base of the Waidring gondola lift ...

GPS approx latitude/longitude : N47.588 E12.564) - [ map ]

I bought a round-trip ticket, rode the lift up. (Alternative it is to drive car up a toll-road). I followed the instructions in the AlpinVerlag.at guidebook (Klettersteigführer Österreich).

I started on south trail toward the viewpoint platform, soon turned off west and got into a short but steep + intimidating Via Ferrata (N47.608 E12.572) to go down about 15-25 vertical meters to the unmarked trail - (less experienced or less strong might want a rope belay for this). Then traversed south on a trail along the base of overhanging cliffs (exposed to rockfall from above) a long ways (a bit more than 2 km with about 100 vertical meters of ascent) -- with a big view south to all the mountains of Austria, past the base of several rock climbs marked with name-plaques. After a junction with a trail up from the valley, trail ascended east up to an obvious rock pillar, where

the start of the main via ferrata (N47.603 E12.577) was unmissable. Via Ferrata sections were mostly well-designed for climbing with hands and feet directly on the rock.  Iron rungs and holds were fairly minimal (so if an obvious foothold in the rock was available, then there was no iron rung and I had to look for the foothold). Where there were some rungs, there tended to be somewhat widely spaced. Often I was able to avoid using the iron rungs by finding yet smaller footholds and handholds to use (or friction on the rock), which were sufficient (and interesting) for me with technical rock-climbing experience.

Protection: Anchor points for the cable often were not especially close together. On the one hand, the steel cable was normally available to grab for assistance if you had the strength and skill to use it to keep from falling -- so many VF guidebooks and websites would call it "well protected". On the other hand, if you actually did fall, even with a normal Via Ferrata kit you could easily go down far enough to get hurt (though very unlikely to be killed), so by technical rock-climbing standards I would say the protection was at best PG (not unusual for mountain rock-climbing routes, but lots of shorter valley climbs have much better protection). Less experienced VF climbers might want the protection of a rope belay.

About 180 vertical meters of climbing in the VF section. Some of this is in a gully, and some of the climbing depends on friction of the rock surface, so not a good idea to do this VF when wet or when rain is possible.

After I reached the top of the VF route (N47.604 E12.578), a short walk to a viewpoint with an orientation table, then an easy walk back down to the top of the lift (N47.611 E12.571) - (about 1.5 km with 200 vertical meters descending), then rode that back down to the parking.

Drachenwand klettersteig

11jly 

By the Mondsee in the Salzkammergut region of Austria

some quick notes:

  • great views over the lakes and hills of Salzkammergut

  • interesting climbing / variety

  • perhaps crux sections harder than Via Ferrata / klettersteig difficulty C

  • via ferrata section around 350 vertical meters

  • total  vertical uphill around 600-630 vertical meters (including uphill section on descent trail)

  • some big loose stones (perhaps because it was early season with lots of rain recently)

  • some very steep sections on descent trail.

  • limited parking (? perhaps more available if pay the Gasthaus?)

  • we've heard that it gets very crowded on weekends

free climbing

I climbed it free directly on rock except low ladders and about 8 meters high up.

at first the free climbing seemed mostly in level 3, then some interesting 4, then starting at the Pfeilerwand (if avoid the suspension bridge) interesting moves, seemed around French sport grade 5a, 5b, maybe one 5c (perhaps less in real rock shoes). Then a “blank” section (completely beyond my free-climbing ability) where I grabbed the cable in order to make it up thru -- then resumed interesting free moves.

descent trail

much of the descent trail was rather steep, might be dangerous when wet. Goes down to creek, crosses and climbs up substantially, then more steep down. In lower sections some fixed ropes and then steel cables.

vertical measures:

  • hiking approach =~ +160m over 1.5km

  • climb Via Ferrata =~ +400m

  • descent trail =~
    1) descent 225m over .75km
    . . cross creek
    2) climb up +78m over .25km
    3) descend 408m over 2.4km

  • Total down-walking = 635 m vertical (mostly steep)

GPS latitude / longitude (approx):

  • parking St Lorenz : (N47.819 E13.356) - [ map ]

  • chapel Theklakapel : (N47.814 E13.360)

  • bottom of via ferrata climbing : (N47.812 E13.358)

  • top of via ferrata climbing : (N47.813 E13.355)

Grünstein klettersteig at Berchtesgaden - Königsee

11jly 

The two concepts are nice: (1) an interesting way up from the famous Königsee lake to the big view at the top of the Gruenstein peak, with a hut serving snacks + drinks nearby and a mostly pleasant trail back down; (2)

Two problems for me this time: (a) some the (less steep) climbing sections had dirt on them, and some of the walking  + scrambling between them was dirty; and (b) the climbing was more difficult or strenuous than the difficulty ratings given in my guidebook, or on one sign I saw by start of climb.

Perhaps the dirt was from the abundant recent rainfall, but I think it would help if the sponsors put some more work into stabilizing the surface around the climbing: perhaps add some more embedded stones, more wooden steps - (like they've already put in some sections of the Grünstein hiking trail to stabilize the dirt).

Overall this was mostly a "cable-hauling" style of via ferrata -- not much good climbing "free" with hands + feet directly on the rock. Many of the steeper sections had metal rungs. The climb had several overhanging sections: some single moves of overhang on the non-harder-difficulty upper shared section, and sustained overhanging ladders and single awkward (or some might say "interesting") very strenuous overhanging moves on the lower harder-difficulty variation. In some places where the rock was less steep, it was also dirty, so I didn't feel much like trying to use my feet and hands to get a firm grip on it without grabbing the cable to help.

Who this climb might appeal to:

  • People visiting Berchtesgaden who want to get up to pretty viewpoint -- by a more interesting way than up + back on the hiking trail -- and can also handle some overhanging moves.

  • Strong climbers who want to test themselves on different kinds of moves than are found on other "tough challenge" via ferrata routes (such as the Kaiser Max klettersteig or VF Rino Pisetta) -- key thing is to understand in advance that the harder variation is at least as difficult and strenuous as those notorious "test piece" via ferrata routes.

I started by climbing the more difficult + longer lower section: the "Räuberleiter" start to the harder variation. It had at least one overhanging ladder, then a long traverse (with at least one downward section), much hanging out on the cable -- to rejoin the shorter hard-variation start.

The Räuberleiter start section had a rather thick cable -- seemed too thick for me to attach my Skylotec Skyrider "disk" to that cable, so I used a carabiner instead, which worked out for me -- but I was unable to have the Skyrider's much more secure protection against the consequences of a possible fall on this very steep section.

Climbing together with a mountain guide or someone expert with protecting / belaying with a rope could be important for those not fully sure of their capabilities.

Then some steep diagonal climbing without metal rungs where my feet were often on slanting rock -- sometimes felt awkward (or is it rather "interesting challenge") balancing while moving up and also tricky to find a secure stance to  re-clip the carabiners at some of the cable anchor points. Then an awkward (or some might say "interesting challenge") + strenuous overhanging exit from the diagonal section.. Some more overhanging ladder sections. Then one more very overhanging + awkward move.

My feeling was that some of these moves and sections were more difficult than the notorious Kaiser Max klettersteig "test piece" via ferrata climb near Innsbruck (which I had done the day before) - (often given difficulty rating E). I think the confusion in rating them easier than Kaiser Max is because many of the hard moves on Grünstein have metal rungs, while KMax often does not. But this overlooks that the overhanging moves on KMax are short, and the footholds on the other sections are obvious and easily utilized by an experienced climber, so the lack of metal rungs is not critical. But the overhanging sections on Grünstein are sustained, and at least two of the single moves are rather awkward and strenuous, and some of the stances for re-clipping around cable anchor points are rather strenuous.

So the harder-difficulty variation of Grünstein should have at least as high a difficulty rating as Kaiser Max. And I talked to another climber on the harder variation, and he said it was definitely more strenuous than he expected.

Resting: Experience in using an additional short leash ("cows tail") to hang and rest on steep sections is highly recommended -- I was glad to be using my leash to take rests in the midst of the overhanging sections. (Even if you are strong enough on your own to climb without aid to hang for rests, you might get stuck waiting behind other climbers.)

Suspension bridge: The harder-difficulty variation finishes with a suspension bridge. My problem with this bridge was that the two high cables were set very high. I could barely reach the right-hand one. I did not see how an adult climber much shorter than me could use this bridge safely in the obvious normal way -- but maybe there is some trick which an expert bridge-crosser would know. I've done several via ferratas in France with suspension bridges of several different designs which seemed easier and safer for a wide range of adult heights than this one.

Above the bridge I was on the common section used by the non-harder-difficulty via ferrata route.

I was wondering how it might work to try the non-harder-variation with Sharon on some other day. I had been able to observe much of the lower section of the non-harder route by looking over to it while climbing the harder variation, and it looked kind of dirty.

Unfortunately the shared section above the bridge not only had some dirty ledges and dirty walking, but dirt on some the climbing rocks (perhaps from recent rains) -- just as I had feared from looking at the lower non-harder sections.

Views? Seemed like not much of a view during most of the cable-protected climbing, because the views to the side are blocked by ridges -- despite starting next to the famous Koenigsee lake, I didn't get to see it for most of the climb. Finally near the top after the route turns into a (dirty) uphill hike (with the cables mostly as a hand-rail), there's a big panorama rather pretty - (which could also have been obtained just by walking up the hiking trail to the summit).

Difficulty of shared upper section -- harder than I expected.

My guidebook said the hardest moves on this section above the bridge were rated C. I found one website today that actually rates the non-harder-variation VF route as only B/C.

But I encounted at least two moves harder than the single hardest move on VF Marino Bianchi in the Dolomites (rated C/D by the same guidebook authors), and harder than the moves on Pisciadu klettersteig (VF Brigata Tridentina) - (rated C by the same guidebook authors).

But maybe the same authors are using a different rating scale for Austria than for Italy. But on my descent I encountered a pair of climbers walking up with via ferrata kits, so I said I was concerned they had missed the start of the VF route, and they said they had indeed found it, but it was harder than they expected based on the rating given, so they abandoned climbing and decided to hike up instead.

Descent trail was mostly well-maintained and mostly not very steep - (better than the descents from many famous VF routes) - with careful use of embedded stones and wooden steps and ladders to handle steep dirt sections. I hope the sponsors decide to put a similar level of construction work into stabilizing the surface of the main (non-harder-variation) via ferrata / klettersteig route.

Commitment: There is no "escape" from anywhere in the middle of any of the routes.

GPS latitude / longitude (approx):

  • parking by Koenigsee : (N47.592 E12.988) - [ map ]

  • kiosk on trail near bottom of the three different via ferrata starts : (N47.591 E12.971)

Note that the hiking approach up to the start of VF is now well-signed (and now different from what is described in one guidebook and several websites -- does not follow the bobsled run). The approach traversed north about 0.5 km before getting into its main uphill roughly west).

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via ferrata: klettersteig cable-protected