ForewardThis particular trip up to the Grauspitz was one of those trips that took many tries to fully organize, seeing that we had to re-schedule three times due to personal conflictions, weather, and more personal conflictions, in that order. But, with patience comes reward, which was nice weather and a great hike to the highest point in Liechtenstein, my first country highpoint.
The DriveMy uncle picked my cousin and I up from our grandparents house in Buchs at 6:30 AM. We headed south on the freeway for the town of Malans, a half-hour away. We arrived on the edge of town at the base of the Älpli Bahn, a rickety, old little gondola that takes one from 500 to 1800 meters in 15 minutes. It was here that we meet up the rest of our party, Daniel, a 50 something guy with curly graying hair, and his godchild, Jonas, a 12 year old ball of energy. Our reservation for our ride up the gondola was at 7:30, which we made in perfect time.
The AscentThe gondola let us out at 1800 meters at 7:45 AM. We told an older guy working at the gondola station that we were going to the Grauspitz, and with a 12 year old in the group, he gave us a rather odd look, but wished us luck. We started walking after that. The route for the first couple kilometers is on an easy gravel road, passing through cow hoards. We come over a crest and the Hinter Grauspitz is visible for about 30 seconds before it disappears behind a ridge of a closer mountain. Soon after that, we head left on a small trail marked Ijes, which was the place that the trail ends. We follow the flat, traversing trail through more cow hoards on the side of the hill. We are making good time, and there are a few distant clouds, otherwise it is clear. We come to a point where we can briefly see our goal, the highest point in Liechtenstein. Eventually the trail dumps us out on another gravel road, which soon travels through a tunnel. Walking through the 200 meter tunnel was a nice change from walking in the hot sun. At this point, it was 9:30 and already getting hot. We emerge from the tunnel and enter a rather large grassy bowl. Ijes, a small farm, is directly ahead of us. Yet we do not go to Ijes. We turn west, and walk across the floor of the grassy bowl toward a craggy ridge that leads to the Hinter Grauspitz. We ascend steep grassy slopes up to the ridge. This only took about 1 hour. We take a break after we gain the ridge. I study the ridge now visible from the Hinter Grauspitz to the Grauspitz. It looks pretty gnarly, yet I see to small objects making their way over to the summit of the Grauspitz and they are moving at a fast pace. Soon we make our way up to the Hinter Grauspitz, about 20 minutes of negotiating a thin ridge line and ascending a scree field, we are at the summit cross. Two other guys who came from Liechtenstein are also on top. This is where my cousin, Daniel and Jonas (who was ahead of us the entire time) wait while my uncle and I make our way to the Grauspitz. We study the class 4 descent from the Hinter Grauspitz and conclude that it is too dangerous to down climb, so we make our way back down the Hinter Grauspitz and traverse the south west face. This only took about 10 minutes, yet it was very tricky footing, as many of the rocks were loose. However we gain the ridge with no problems. The ridge was awesome. Only a few feet wide in some spots, with a 1000 foot sheer drop into Liechtenstein, and a slippery, loose, also very steep scree field into Switzerland. Some spots are class 3 with decent exposure. We come to a false summit, even decorated with a cairn. We continue, and in 5 minutes we are at the highest point in Liechtenstein. There is a large cairn on the summit, with a summit register in a metal canister. The first entry was from 1992, and the book was only 1/3 full. There was a previous entry earlier that day, but the most recent one after that was from July 9, eight days earlier. Two climbers come to the summit from the west, yet they are roped up. Fog was moving in, so my uncle and I make our way back to our waiting hikermates. After moving along the ridge, we come to the class 4 section leading up to the summit of the Hinter Grauspitz. We decide to climb it, which we did, and which was awesome. The exposure was very harrowing, the rock isn't very stable, yet it is not technically difficult. We top out and with Daniel, Jonas, and my cousin, we begin our...interesting descent.
The "Direct Descent Shortut"Where have you heard this before: You are talking to some guy you don't know, and he tells you that there is a much easier, shorter descent that will save you lots of time. You decide to take it. Sound familiar? Well yes, this is what happens when you take route advice from a stranger...
Our "direct route" would take us due south from the summit, over a scree field, down to a small flat shelf with a few snow fields. After that "it looks like we can just go straight down to that lake down there" (we passed the lake on our way up). Sure, it always looks like a pinch, doesn't it? We began to hike down, and the first scree field was tedious, yet not very hard or dangerous. We soon got down to the snow fields, and since we were on a "shortcut", we had plenty of time to make our 4:30 gondola ride down to the cars. It was only 1:30, after all. We spent a few minutes sliding around on the snow and having fun. We then left the snow fields and headed down some more. The terrain is grass. Easy enough. Yet, the grass is getting steeper and steeper. Pretty soon the going is very slow and we are on an insanely steep grass slope, in a creek drainage. All of the sudden the land in front of us just drops off a cliff. SHIT! We spend an hour finding a route to get down this cliff, because we certainly we not going back up. After an hour, we conclude that a route down, yes a waterfall, would be the way down. I am the first one to make the 100 foot descent down slippery class 4 rock. Surprisingly, it isn't all that hard. I was worried about 12 year old Jonas, yet he did it as it was nothing! Jonas and I wait at the bottom of the waterfall and study everyone in our party descend the waterfall. Unfortunately my camera had run out of batteries earlier while we were having fun at the snow fields. By the time we all got to the bottom of the water fall, it was 4:00. We were still about 700-800 feet above the lake. There was no way we were going to make our reserved gondola ride back down. In my opinion, the slog down from the base of the waterfall to the lake was the worst part of the "shortcut". Though it wasn't that steep or hard, it was just plain long. We made it down to the lake around 4:30. We were still about 1 hour away from the gondola. We tried to call them from the cell phone, but there was no reception. So, we start to walk, and walk and walk. The walk out seemed much longer than it had when we hiked in. At this point, everyone in our party was utterly exhausted. The going was slow. When we reached the crest on the gravel road, we had cell service. We called the gondola and told them that we're late. Fortunately, there weren't any problems in getting a ride down, as it wasn't very busy that afternoon. 40 minutes later, we stumble into the gondola station, a sight to be seen. All of our asses had green marks on them from the grass that we slide down. We are covered in cuts and bruises, yet there are no major injuries. 45 minutes and a few beers later, I along with Jonas, Daniel, my uncle, and my cousin take the 6:45 gondola down to the cars. And that is was the end of the ascent of the highest mountain in Liechtenstein.