If you recall The Lord of the Rings - movie or book - you will remember a place called Helm's Deep, a cavernous gorge, around which one of the fiercest battles was fought. In its German translation it is called Helms Klamm and ever since I read the book for the first time some 30 years ago, it has been associated in my mind with one of the narrow gorges (or slot canyons) we have in the Alps. At first I connected Helm's Deep with Breitachklamm in the Allgäu Alps but ever since the summer of 2006 another beautiful gorge took its place: Gilfenklamm in the east of the Botzer Group of the southern Stubai Alps.
The area is made up from all kinds of different types of rock thanks to its proximity to the Peradriatic Fault, the faultline which separates the European tectonic plate from the North African one. During the creation of the Alps mountains were piled up, then overthrown by earthquakes only to be piled up again. Consequently rocks of all ages lie close to each other and the Botzer Group is known for its abundance in ore-rich rocks. Close to the place described on this page there is a huge mining area, where the mines traverse the whole mountain range at an elevation of nearly 3000m, the highest mines of the Alps. In other places, mainly to the east of the group, different kinds of limestone prevail: proper limestone, dolomite and marble.And through this latter material the Ratschingsbach Creek cut a deep narrow gorge: Gilfenklamm
Gilfenklamm or Kaiser Franz Josef Klamm, in Italian Gola dell'Imperatore Francesco Giuseppe is the only such canyon worldwide, carved out of white marble. Its length is approximately 5km and more than 100 years ago in 1898 a path has been established through the whole length. A multitude of bridges lead back and forth across the canyon and railings secure the path, which sometimes clings to the sheer rock. The first visitor was the Austrian Emperor Franz-Josef, who for quite a while served as naming patron to the canyon. However, after the fall of the Austrian Empire and after the area had to be turned over to the Italians its original name came back in use.
If you expect to be blinded by white marble, you will be disappointed, however. Erosion and omnipresent moss and other plants darken the rock to a brownish green. The only white places are where you can see the creek foaming underneath. Seeing the creek, however, can be a difficult undertaking. The canyon is so narrow and deep that a deep roar often is the only sign that water is flowing underneath. There are numerous waterfalls and in some places the creek has carved out caves. Above, the walls can be as high as 200m and more often than not the sky is hidden from view.
The force of the water is omnipresent inside the canyon. The aforementioned deep roar is accompanied by a thin cloud of spray wherever you go. The water shoots through at an incredible speed and violence. During the snow-melt the gorge becomes unpassable and many an uprooted tree can be found at the lower entrance, shredded to pieces by the aquatic force. Maintaining the trail under these conditions is tough and expensive and requires the locals to request an entrance fee of a few Euro (2€ in 2006). It is money well spent though you should make sure to be early as in the afternoon hours whole busloads of tourists are shipped to the canyon.
The canyon can be easily reached from the Brenner Motorway A22. Take the exit Sterzing / Vipiteno and follow the signs for SS44 in direction Jaufenpass / Passo Giovo. After about 2km you'll reach a roundabout at Gasteig / Casateia where you have to turn right onto SP36 into Ridnaun / Ridnana Valley.
At Stange / Stanga there is a parking lot, from where you can easily get to the entrance of the gorge.
Red TapeGilfenklamm can be closed because of weather conditions. After heavy rains the slots fill up in no time at all and often uprooted trees or their branches shoot through the canyon. Also, iin winter the canyon can be closed. There is an entrance fee of a few Euro to be paid at the lower end.
Rooms and Apartments
The closest accomodation to be found are in Sterzing, Gossensass, Pfitsch and Ridnaun. You can find accommodation info for all four locations on the following link:
There is a campground at Gasteig / Casateia in Ratschingstal / Valle di Racines to the south of the canyon. The campground is called "Gilfenklamm" and is located on SS44 to Jaufenpass / Passo del Giovo.