Having had a close-up view of the Brenta in 2003 and having seen that it clearly was a world apart, the next stop would have to be in the Lienz Dolomites. So we decided to spend three weeks in the region in September, staying at Maria Luggau in Lesachtal Valley to the south of the mountain range. The proximity to the Carnic Alps and Sexten Dolomites convinced us that this vacation would certainly not lack diversion.
Preparing that trip, however, turned out to be quite challenging. In any case the Lienz Dolomites part of the trip was. It is actually quite hard to get overview information about the group. There is only one guidebook I know of, which deals in part with the mountain range. On the web you'll find information on some of the ferrate and about the two traverses through the group but no real overview. There used to be a guidebook by the German Alpine Club but the sand of time had eaten it away long before we started out.
The little we managed to get to know was: the Lienz Dolomites among locals were called "Unholde", fiends. There were legends about a "Wetterhexe" (a weather witch) and the "Wilde Sender" two wild and evil mountain cowherds which haunted the valleys arond the range. All of them were turned to stone by brave local hunters with the help of enchanted bullets, magic rifles and the like. The area sure started to tickle my imagination. On the "real" side there were three interesting mountains, Spitzkofel, Weittalspitze and Hochstadel which were worth climbing. All three could be reached by a Klettersteig (ferrata), a climbing trail secured by fixed cables, ladders or steps. And Hochstadel had the third highest rock face in the eastern Alps! It definitely was worth a try!
Our first foray into the Lienz Dolomites on the second day of our trip was far from successful. Though we climbed Soleck and Riebenkofel, all was covered by low hanging clouds which let us have a glimpse of the mountain range but certainly not more. We had to give up climbing Böses Weibele because the evil woman, the original weather witch, turned us away with a stew of clouds which it kept boiling on its western flank. Those fiends sure didn't want us around, did they?
Being known (sometimes feared ;-)) for my stubbornness I convinced my girlfriend that the next day we should attempt Hochstadel. It was higher than Riebenkofel by almost 300m and we thought we might have a good chance of leaving the clouds behind (or rather below) us. So we set out at 7am, having to drive to the other side of the Lienz Dolomites and then up to the trailhead at Unholdenalm. Again the fiends raised their heads. The road was closed temporarily due to construction and when we finally reached the forest road which had to take us to the trailhead it turned out to be of the washed out rocky type. And I was with my brand new car! Negotiating the 11km (7miles) took me one hour so that finally we could set out only at 9:30am.
"Are you going to the top?" the proprietor of Unholdenalm asked us unbelievingly when I strapped on camera and GPS to set out. "It is much higher than it looks!". Looking up we only saw clouds, so how much higher could the summit be? "What was the weather like yesterday?" I asked, "Did the summit peep out of the clouds?" "Yes, it did and today the weather is supposed to be a little better." Ok, so here we went, btw wondering why there are three refuges at the same spot, Unholdenalm, Hochstadelhaus and Kalser Hütte.
We decided on the long ascent route through Schneeklamml - the day before the weather had gotten better towards the end of the day. So we followed the "Drei Törl Weg", a trecking trail, which crosses three passes and does the east - west traverse through the Lienz Dolomites. It was easy to find. Though there was fog for most of the way there were more than enough red-and-white marks - one for every two meters. For a very short time the clouds drifted apart to let us see the summit but after a few seconds everything turned back grey.
We surprised two snow grouses in the mist and then we reached the first pass, Leitentörl - not counted among the three of the trekking trail. Shortly afterwards the ascent to Hochstadel would have started but the fog was still very thick. It was 11am by now so we decided to hike along another hour on Drei Törl Weg so that maybe afterwards the fog would have cleared.
The trail follows the eastern main ridge of the Lienz Dolomites, often staying on top but circumventing rocks and boulders on their southern side. From Leitentörl we had to hike up to that ridge and once we were there ...
... the clouds cleared away and here we had this breathtaking view of the heart of the Lienz Dolomites, the Laserz Group. Clouds were still chasing over the ridges and sure enough - like yesterday - Böses Weibele (the weather witch) was shrouded in clouds. But here the highest summits of the Lienz Dolomites and Gailtal Alps were visible across a deep and narrow valley.
We followed the trekking trail for another half hour and settled down to our lunch in Baumgartentörl, the first of the three passes. The pass is flanked by two 300m vertical walls which were just like a window frame for us to look into this still life made of limestone rock. But every lunch ends and so we returned to Leitentörl to start the ascent to Hochstadel.
On our way back I had my first ever view of Großglockner, Austria's highest mountain. Its glaciers were blinking in the sunlight, a gorgeous sight to see. The ascent route turned out to be much easier than our guidebook made us to believe. It followed a couple of moderately exposed ledges before turning into a steep couloir. There we found fixed ropes but we didn't even have to touch them. The couloir is called "Schneeklamml", snow couloir; you can certainly imagine why. In snowy conditions the ropes certainly help a lot.
At the top of the couloir we came upon a beautiful traverse some 150m below the summit. The Lienz Dolomites on full display with a number of gendarmes up front. It really made us stop to see. The final scramble along the south-western ridge was easy and we finally reached the summit cross at 1pm. To the south the highest summits of the Carnic Alps peeped out of the clouds, to the north the Tauern Range was fully visible. And the Unholde, the fiends of the Lienz Dolomites, had given up.
Or had they?
That weather witch gumbo around Böses Weibele was still boiling ……