Giant might be the wrong expression for mountains like Hohe Warte / Coglians (2780m) and Kellerwand (2774m), but standing directly below their intimidating 1000m+ high vertical north faces sure makes you feel dwarfed. Put in another 800m (south) wall to your other side and I'm sure you'll get the correct feeling.
We had planned to climb Rauchkofel almost as soon as we had seen the Hohe Warte and Kellerwand north faces from afar. Rauchkofel was supposed to be right to the north of them but seemed to be invisible whenever we caught a glimpse of the massive mountains viewing them from the north. Kind of intriguing - how can you hide a 2460m high mountain? Preparing for the ascent we consulted our guidebooks. They told us that we could choose among two routes - one from Plöckenpass in the east, one from the north through Wolayer Tal. Since the latter route - or rather its trailhead - was located rather close to our apartment we went for it and Sept 14th saw us heading out for Nostra.
1st Attempt: The Wolayer See Route Sept 14th 2004
The lower Gailtal Valley as seen from Nostra
When starting out, the weather seemed to be promising enough. Though low mists were covering the lower Gailtal Valley we felt pretty confident that the remaining clouds would lift. So we took the road into Wolayer Tal and easily reached Hubertuskapelle, a little chapel placed on a 4m rock. On we went but it became quite clear that instead of lifting the clouds had decided to remain were they were. Later we found them actually lowering and squeezing through Wolayer Pass. Nevertheless we made it to Wolayer See Lake but when absolutely nothing could be seen we called it quits and returned via the Säbelspitz / Stallonkofel / Runseck Ridge.
A wasted day!
2nd Attempt: The Valentin Törl Route, Sept 19th 2004
We spent the days in between trying to reach other destinations:
- a dismal day on the pilgrimage trail between Maria Luggau and Lienz
- another dismal day, culminating on Teplitzer Spitze, also covered in fog
- a day when we managed to leave the cloud cover behind and reached Gumriaul with perfect sights.
Encouraged by this last day we decided on our second attempt on Rauchkofel. This time we were to start from Untere Valentin Alm near the Plöckenpass road.
Reaching the trailhead, what did we find? You got it: fog! Still we could be hoping to climb out of it since the cloud layer seemed to be thin enough. Up we went and exactly as we were reaching the timber line the clouds broke away to give us the dazzling and unexpected view of Kollinkofel's 800m vertical wall directly above us. A few steps further up we turned around to take in the panorama for the first time - high vertical walls to the left (south) and steep, massive slopes to the right, all reaching up to the sky. Only in our back (east) could we see a larger piece of the sky with Polinik up close and Reißkofel far behind.
Polinik rising above the fog
We met an Austrian group, also heading up the trail but though they were locals they had no idea were they were heading. "Which mountain is this?" I, the foreigner had to explain… A nice effect that you can see in this section is the shadow of the Hohe Warte - Kellerwand Group as it is over imposed on the southern slopes of Rauchkofel. We left the Austrians behind and finally reached Valentin Törl were several parties prepared for the Hohe Warte ascent along the "Koban-Prunner Weg", the ferrata to the western shoulder of the highest Carnic Alps Summit. We instead turned north and found ourselves in a short climbing section - two chimneys, secured by (loose) cables and pretty slippery due to the (almost) eternal shadow.
Rauchkofel with the "Shadow of the Giants" over imposed
The remainder of the ascent turned out to be fairly uncomplicated. The eastern summit, which is the higher of the two Rauchkofel ones, however, was already very crowded. We were lucky that there was no one directly in front of us so we could hope that the traffic jam up there would already have disappeared by the time we reached it. It exactly turned out that way. While we reached the saddle between the summits a group started descending so we found only three people on top.
Eastward view from the Rauchkofel summit: Gamskofel and Polinik with Reißkofel in the far distance
What we also found were breathtaking views and we were very happy to be able to enjoy them for 30min in quasi solitude. The climbers whom we had seen prepare for the ferrata were already high up in the north face negotiating a couple of snow fields. We watched them for a while but then turned for the other sides.
The "Giants" themselves: Kellerspitzen to the left and Kellerwarte, Hohe Warte, Seewarte to the right
After that a large (25 people) Italian team announced itself with much talking so that we finally fled the summit. We descended to Wolayer See - only to see what our first attempt would have been like in better weather and finally returned by the "Karnischer Höhenweg" trekking trail to our car at Valentin Alm.
A day excellently spent!