Ken Roberts - - Climbing

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free climbing in Austria + Germany

2011 aug-sep

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Watzmannfrau / Kleiner Watzmann (2307m)


I hiked up the Watzmannkar valley, climbed the South face (also a lower section of the SW ridge) to the summit, descended the NNE ridge. Varied + spectacular mountain outing with an interesting route. Some nice climbing and lots of scrambling on a dramatic peak with no shortage of loose rock. Wish I knew an easier descent than the NNE ridge - (though it would be spectacular in the uphill direction) -- perhaps something I'll try more on the ENE ridge and Mooslahnerkopf (1815m).

GPS . . . approximate latitude/longitude:

  • parking at Hammerstiel : (N47.6034 E12.9488)

  • alternate (lower) parking at Wimbachsbrucke : (N47.603 E12.924)

  • Kuhroint Alm : (N47.5714 E12.9614)  - snack along the way

  • pass by base of SouthWest ridge : (N47.5555 E12.9408)

  • summit of Kleiner Watzmann : (N47.567 E12.950)

hiking approach: After parking at Hammerstiel, I started up the well-maintained wide dirt road, then used wide hiking trails up to Kuhroint alm, then started following the trail toward Watzmannhaus. But after going thru the gate, I turned off left onto first definite trail (unsigned and unmarked), and followed that up into the Watzmannkar valley, straightforward trail.

Last time a few weeks before I tried the shortcut of skipping Kuhroint and instead going directly up into Watzmannkar from the main curve left in the dirt road. But though I saw a sign for "Watzmannkar", I didn't see any trail turning off that way, and the trail I did found led toward Watzmannhaus instead, So I guess this shortcut works better as a ski tour than a summer hike. I suspect one reason the summer shortcut trail has gone out of use is because . . .

Bike -- Next time I would take a bike (or E-bike) up the road to Kuhroint, to make the descent more fun + quicker. In the afternoon I saw several people rolling down on their bike, with hiking poles attached to their pack on their back.

Higher up the Watzmannkar is scree + talus, and I followed cairns ("steinmann"). The final way up to the pass by the base of the SouthWest ridge of the Watzmannfrau is very very steep.

climbing: I chose to try to climb the obvious gully more toward the S side of the pass. This was exposed technical climbing, I'd guess difficulty was up to French sport grade 4c or 5a, with the crux depending on a hidden hold. Interesting climbing, would do it again.

After I reached the grassy top, I explored down the N side of the pass, where there was a diagonal ledge. I found some old pitons along it (so I guess other people must have used it). One section required me to crawl. Below that I didn't check further (seemed to get kind narrow. (One of the older guidebooks seemed to suggest starting roughly under the gap, finding a ledge that goes upward toward right, then work back left. Or, I heard afterward from someone else that they had climbed more easily to a point farther south of the pass.)

SouthWest ridge: starts grassy, then more rock sections, which get steeper, maybe some moves into French sport grade 4a or 4b, including some interesting hand-traverses on short "knife-edge" ridge sections. Then reached a very steep thing: a little to the left had better rock, but initial moves felt too hard for me to try without a rope. A little to the right had more positive holds -- or a little too positive . . . After a third one broke off, I decided to give up, and down-climbed the ridge (which I enjoyed, since I practice down-climbing lots).

(Since I like climbing, if I tried this traverse again, I would include going up + down the easier lower section of the SW ridge again.)

South face: Higher up on the ridge I had spotted the key "crawling" ledge on the S face, so I was encouraged to try this as a fall-back plan. Still on the SW ridge, on the grassy section a little above the base, I saw a narrow grassy ledge (perhaps with a cairn on it) leading NE onto the S face. So I followed this and made a rising traverse across this grassy-rocky section. The problem was how to handle the substantial steep rock buttress down the middle of the face, so as I climbed close alongside it, I looked for breaks. I saw one ledge I could get onto, perhaps a cairn on it, but it did not require crawling, so I continued higher. Found the "crawling" ledge, got into and crawled horizontally for up to 10 meters, then the ledge continued for another 15-20 meters.

This ledge is not visible from below, and its existence seems improbable in the context, so you have to climb up the grassy side of the S face "in faith" - (or climb partway up the SW ridge to actually see it).

The slope above now had grass + rocks that went up for a long ways, so I left the ledge and scrambled up that, sometimes looked for some interesting harder climbing moves more toward the right. (Some views of the beautifuil Königssee lake).  Later I could see that I was climbing around the east side of a "false summit" in the SW ridge, so I went into the gap between the false and true summits.

The upper SW ridge with the most direct way had several slab sections which didn't have many obvious holds, so I chose a line to its right which looked easier. Seemed like scrambing and maybe some moves around French sport 3b, I doubt any single moves harder than 4a.

Two parties of two hikers each on the summit, who had come up one of the northeast scrambing routes. One was glad to speak English with me, and we shared ideas for the various scrambles and klettersteigs on the peaks we could see in all directions around us.

descent: My plan was to go down (roughly) near the ENE ridge to the Mooslahnerkopf for big views of the Koenigssee. The hikers advised me to follow the yellow dots and some cairns, at first down the NNE ridge. I did that, but then I never saw how to cross over to the ENE ridge, so I ended up following the NNE ridge all the way down to the Kuhroint alm.

NNE ridge has some rather spectacular and special views of some features of the Watzmannfrau peak (including the largest continuous limestone slab I've ever seen, with a dramatic wall above it). But it was very steep (impact on my knees and ankles), and it had some tricky and exposed scrambling sections, and abundant loose rock - (and no lake views). I think I'd prefer to enjoy its special mountain views in the uphill direction. (For descent, I wonder if the ENE ridge is easier?)

more . . .


11sep - [ see where on map ]

I climbed the Berchtesgadener-Weg on the East face of the Watzmann on a mid-week day with great weather. Satisfying achievement that I was well-prepared for. The east face is said to be the biggest wall in the eastern Alps, so long prized by climbers in that region - (at least 100 have died on it).

The Berchtesgadener Weg is the technically easiest route on it, usually quoted nowadays as UIAA III+. There there are some grassy sections down low, overall it has a lot of climbing/scrambling on rock -- might be 1400 vertical meters (and much more not-purely-vertical length). The route wanders around:  to be expected for a less-difficult route of this length. So its distinguishing difficulties are endurance and navigation (and altitude acclimatization). There were some modern bolts and rings in very few sections, maybe some old pitons in others -- and an aid sling loop for one of the harder moves near the top.

Nice thing is that most of the climbing is not friction slabs (unlike easier climbs in some other regions), though a few short sections have foot-friction moves.

I climbed it without harness or rope. I started alone, but later sort of "tagged along" with some Austrian climbers of similar speed (none of whom had done the route before). I enjoyed their company, but more critical, I was very glad for a "second opinion" on navigation, which I often enough found tricky (sometimes they did too).

I slept the night before at the Ostwand-Lager by St Bartholomä, which I reached by ferry boat on the Königssee lake. I'de guess around fifteen climbers total. Most started from the hut a little after 5 a.m. (though some where sufficiently fast and competent that they easily could have started later). Afterward I traversed north across the three Watzmann summits to the Watzmann-haus, then hiked down by way of Kühroint-alm back to Königsee.

Endurance: I had done lots of intense steep up and down at home, then much long steep up + down, and altitude acclimatization in the previous couple of weeks or so . . . mostly on via ferrata routes, also another climb, in the eastern Alps. Obviously not carrying the weight of harness and rope and rack helped my endurance on the climb. Also staying together with other climbers helped me keep my speed slower, which surely helped my endurance later. I felt plenty strong at the top, like I could have kept going for another hour easily. And in fact I then chose to descend the "harder" way with more climbing over the other two Watzmann summits, instead of the "easier" way to the Wimbachgries hut.

Navigation: I had a detailed route description loosely translated from an old German climbing guidebook, and the well-made topo sketch from the My altimeter was very helpful, since many of the key route instructions are base on altitude. The detailed description and topo gave me key help at several points. Still I found the navigation tricky at other points -- once kind of bewildered about what to do next, which was when I decided that staying in visual range of other parties would be a smart idea - (they might be wrong, but at least it would be a useful opinion in future cases where I might feel pretty confused).

Loose rock: Lots of it. Helmet is essential, even on a mid-week day. My helmet was hit by a small stone dislodged by another climber. I tried to climb very carefully, and often chose more strenuous moves, to avoid dislodging rocks. I also tried to stay immediately below the next climber above me. My advice: Do not do this route on a weekend or popular day.

ideas to consider for avoiding rockfall from other parties:

  • many many people are on the Watzmann Ueberschreitung between the Mittlerspitze and the Suedspitze, but that route mostly goes on the west side of the main ridge.

  • most parties on the Ostwand follow the (easiest) Berchtesgadener-Weg: so one strategy is to avoid that popular route.

  • the Muenchener Weg can be thought of as a steeper variation (with more climbing on rock, difficulty sometimes rated as UIAA 4) of the lower part of the Berchtesgadener-weg. But perhaps the main rockfall problems of the B-weg are on the upper part, ? and perhaps the Muenchener has rockfall problems of its own ?

  • the Kederbacher route (difficulty often rated as UIAA 4-, a little harder than the B-weg route, and perhaps more likely to have snow or ice) starts much farther to the north, then traverses south to join with the Berchtesgadener. So it avoids more of the B-weg, but still gets into plenty of the same rockfall danger in the shared upper section.

  • the main lower Salzburger route is significantly harder than the Kederbacher, and joins the Kederbacher, so it does no better at avoiding the B-weg. But . . .

  • a variation of upper Salzburger route stays more north toward the Mittlerspitze, and goes up to the main Watzmann N-S ridge without going near the B-weg. One guidebook rates its difficulty as UIAA 4.

  • so another idea to avoid the B-weg would be to combine the lower Kederbacher with the northerly upper Salzburger variation.

(Those are just unchecked ideas . . . If interested in one of them, get more detail from one of the German-language guidebooks -- or hire a local mountain guide who knows the Ostwand well.)

Difficulty: UIAA 3+ is often said to be equivalent in technical difficulty to French sport 3b or USA Yosemite 5.2. I guess that seemed about right to me. I didn't notice any moves surprisingly difficult. Note that some of the more crux-like moves were on slab sections where foot-sole friction was important. On the other hand I did not notice any moves where standing on a tiny edge was important. 

Other thoughts:

  • Fast competent climbers can avoid sleeping at St Bartholomä, and instead take the first ferry boat on the morning of the climb. (But then show up at the ferry dock early, in case a bus-load of morning tourists shows up to fill the boat).

  • Overnight parking at the main Königssee lot was permitted, though there signs saying the hours ended at 19:00 and signs that camping is prohibited. The tourist info place told me to keep putting coins into the parkschein machine until you get time-period I needed -- if more than a single day, just put in more coins to get a second day.

  • Ostwand Lager: I was told no reservations. Just show up at St Bartholomä, sit at a table outside the restaurant, and tell them you want to sleep there, and pay to get a little ticket. Sometime after 5 p.m. they'll give the key to some of the climbers at one of the table. Food service ended at 6 p.m. -- I had brought my own evening food, some other climbers had not and communicated some regret. The hut is small, so there are stories of getting little sleep from the noise of some parties staying up until midnight and others rising at 3 a.m. to start their climb. (My view is that anyone who can't make if from a 5 a.m. start probably can't make it all).

  • The approach trail from St Bartholomä starts wide and smooth and easy, but later gets rough and trickier, where it can be difficult to follow in the dark -- something to consider when choosing a starting time, especially if morning fog or clouds might be blocking the dawn sunlight.

  •  Easier recommended descent: Toward Wimbachsgries hut, then later reach the parking by the main road at Wimbachsbrücke. One idea I've heard recommended is to have a bicycle locked there, and ride via Schönau back to the Königsee parking. Another might be to bring a list of taxi phone numbers.

  • Grand tour option not tested: Park at Wimbachsbrücke (or higher at Hammerstiel), start by riding a bike (or E-bike) up to Kühroint-alm and lock it. Scramble/hike the renowned Rinnkindl route down to St Bartholomä. Do the climb. Then the renowned traverse of all three summits ("Watzmann-Überschreitung") to the Watzmann-haus, then the trail down to Kühroint-alm, and roll on bike back down to parking.

more . . .

Martinswand klettergarten


On a weekday afternoon (after some Via Ferrata climbing elsewhere), Sharon + I tried a couple of half-pitch bolted sport climbing routes at the AV klettergarten just west of Innsbruck, one UIAA 4 and one UIAA 6.

Interesting moves, but some of the holds were remarkably polished, like black porcelain. (I've heard that some of the multi-pitch routes on the Martinswand are less polished.)

Not much parking available. Crowded with local Innsbruck climbers in late afternoon / evening after work. Very close to an exit on the A12 highway (notably noisy while climbing), straightforward walking access to cliff, and I've heard it's been famous for decades.

Plombergstein klettergarten


On a weekday afternoon (after some Via Ferrata climbing elsewhere), Sharon + I tried several half-pitch bolted sport climbing routes from UIAA 4 to UIAA 6+/7- at the AV klettergarten near St Gilgen in the Salzkammergut. It's a slab with abundant holds. So the easy climbs at grades 4 or less are fun. The climbs we tried at 5 and higher were :"one move wonders" -- a one or two interesting crux moves, but all the rest of the climb was easy, just like the other easier climbs. I've heard there's also some worthwhile multi-pitch climbs nearby.

Not much parking available, straightforward walking to the cliff.

Kampenwand Westgipfel W ridge


Shortest way to one of the summits of the Kampenwand ridge. West ridge difficutly is rated up to UIAA 3. Mostly enjoyable scrambling. Crux is a couple of meters of slab depending on foot friction - (not especially polished).

I took the lift up to the top, then walked trail roughly east past Sonnenalm. Reached a junction with a cross and viewpoint to the north, instead turned off south, walked to Kampenwand hut. Then walked east on grass, then a muddy trail, to a notch by SW side of west ridge of Westgipfel. Scrambled up to a narrow notch in the ridge, then up the ridge to the top. Descended back the same way.

GPS . . . approx latitude/longitude:

  • parking for lift : (N47.7647 E12.3250)

  • top station of lift : (N47.7529 E12.3521)

  • notch by base of West ridge : (N47.7552 E12.3603)

  • Westgipfel summit : (N47.7554 E12.3620)

more . . .

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