Climbing the Stüdlgrat
Daniel and I climbed the Grossglockner via the Stüdlgrat. This is a pleasant, mostly 3rd and 4th class south facing ridge. I could only go for a day climb, so we had to forgo the overnight stay that most people make at the Stüdlhütte. We did drive down late Saturday night and sleep by the car to make the day a little bit easier.
We were a little worried about crowding on the ridge, but we hoped that our late start relative to everyone else getting up very early from the Stüdlhütte would put us far enough behind everyone to alleviate any problems. I guess the Grossglockner is kind of like Mt. Hood in Oregon, being a very popular climb for Germans, Austrians and Czechs. It occupies a large area in the imagination, and will loom large on the list of various "high-pointers" as the highest peak in Austria.
We began hiking from the Lücknerhaus and made our way to the Lücknerhütte in about 45 minutes. The Grossglockner looked beautiful at the valley head on the way up. We climbed through meadows and streams up the valley, divided into steps which were conquered by steep switchbacks. Beneath the east face of the Fanatkogl we finished the hike to the Stüdlhütte, and went in for some breakfast. It took under two hours to here, and that finished half of our 2000 meter (6600 feet) elevation gain for the day.
Inside we were well taken care of. A nice woman took my Camelback water bladder away and brought it back full. We had Apfelstruedl with delicious cream. Outside a rock-ribbed guide outfitted his middle-aged Chinese client for a climb.
Steep switchbacks from the Fanatscharte rewarded us with rapidly increasing views of the upper Schnitztal valley. After 20 minutes or so, we were surveying the Teischnitzkees, or Teischnitz Glacier (Kees is another word for glacier in this region, just like the word ferner only a short distance to the west in the Stubai mountains). We made a beeline up the right edge of the glacier, with our beautiful ridge directly in front of us. The Stüdlgrat was climbed very early in the history of the mountain, during a rush to determine which town would receive the bulk of the tourist trade. Heiligenblut to the northeast with it's northern approach to the summit became the "Normalweg," but the village of Kals was competing with the southern Stüdlgrat. Long ago, they placed ladders and iron cables on the ridge in key places. I was glad to read that these had disappeared, but my information was a little bit wrong. In three places there is a new-looking "via ferrata" iron cable, which was a little disappointing because I came to climb, darn it! I was able to avoid touching two of them anyway.
Daniel and I engaged the ridge on the left side a little way beyond a 3264 meter pass, following tracks which marked the easiest way. We thought we could avoid roping up until reaching a place called the Frühstuckplatz ("breakfast place"). This worked fine, but on the somewhat rotten rock of the face leading to the ridge we had to make a brief climbing move that Daniel later rated as the hardest climbing of the day. It's so often like that! I had followed tracks in steep snow to a rock wall where they disappeared. I edged out to the right, then aided by good handholds pulled up over a slab to exposed but easier terrain. "At least the rock is good here," I said, happy for the axiom that rock often improves on rotten faces where it's steepest. Daniel joined me and soon we stood in the sun again on the ridge crest.
Now we really started enjoying ourselves, doing our best to stay on the crest and avoid the occasional trail in the snow well down on the left side of the ridge. We had the Ködnitz Glacier on our right, which we would descend later in the day. The scrambling was really nice, and seemed to go on and on. Finally we did reach the "Breakfast place," marked by a little plaque warning that it gets harder ahead and if it took you more than 3 hours to get here from the Stüdlhütte, you should turn back IMMEDIATELY! I didn't know how long it took us, but we had done well to here and had no reason to hurry. The weather forecast assured us of a thunderstorm-free day, though a few clouds had come in, and they shaded us for a time.
We ate something and roped up with 20 meters of rope between us. I took off for the first simul-climbing pitch, placing slings on the occasional bolt or stemple installed on the ridge for that purpose. We stopped to take pictures often, as the scenery was fabulous. The rock climbing reminded me of the North Ridge of Forbidden Peak in Washington State, though the "adventure quotient" was much lower thanks to the fixed anchors. Daniel took off for the next lead, and found himself really enjoying this mode of travel. Simul-climbing on terrain like this is one of my favorite things to do as well.
At one point I took excessive pains to avoid touching a fixed cable, and found it to be a tough little pitch, probably IV+ though it felt harder in mountain boots. Daniel was rolling his eyes! We continued and eventually caught up with a nice pair of guys, one of whom was from Dresden. Daniel often runs into someone from his home town! Again I avoided a cable and a piece of metal placed as a handhold, and this time our new friend from Dresden rolled his eyes. Unfortunately we didn't get their email, though we have a couple of nice pictures of them.
We entered a real "knife-edge" portion of the ridge, where bolts protect a hand-traverse on a sharp fin of granitic rock. It was a beautiful position. One last hard climbing move (this time I finally used the metal apparati festooned to the rock), and then Daniel forged the way to the summit for us in steep, rotten snow and solid rock. The snow was truly a bit dangerous, exploding into water droplets unexpectantly, or sluffing off the edge of the ridge with a hissing sound. Happily we could keep our hands on rock at least, and there were a few bolts to anchor our rope.
On the summit we looked back down the arcing ridge, feeling satisfied with our climb. I think it was somewhere around 2 pm, which meant about 7.5 hours from the car. The view down the Pallavicini Couloir was mind-boggling. We saw the tiny bivouac-shelter used for that route. I saw the steep, broken glacier Mat and I had mistakenly climbed in the night while trying to access the Pallavicini. Many dozens of peaks marched away in every direction. I had hoped to see the Ortler from here, and I believe we did earlier in the day, but now clouds blocked it.
Unfortunately I had developed a bad headache. We hung around a while, alone on the summit, then started down. Right away we were stuck behind a strange old man and his partner, somewhere below on the rope. We put on crampons then waited for a while, getting a bit cold. The man yelled at his partner, calling him a "Scheissemensch" (faeces person?) at one point. Daniel and I had enough, and after a steep rock downclimb in crampons, which Daniel protected well with slings, we scooted past these guys and began threading our way through some other slowly descending parties to reach the glacier. I was happy for the metal stemples on the ridge to protect our descent. Steep, slabby terrain with bits of snow and ice made for an unforgiving place to be with a few other parties bumbling around. At one point Daniel had to help a woman cross a steep slab with a thin layer of snow over it, and then to untangle the rope connecting her and her partner. Oh brother!
I felt distinctly nauseous, so I was really happy to reach the snow, where we could bomb down easily to the Adlersruhe hut. We went in and I lay down on a bench wondering if I should try eating something. I was really hungry, but doubted I could keep anything down. I settled for a soft drink, sipping it like an old man. At 3400 meters, maybe this was too high of a place to stop. It's odd that I had a headache and nausea here, because I really didn't have any problem the weekend before on the Ortler, despite also climbing it in a day from the car. Oh well!
We started down a steep ridge protected by a fixed cable to reach the Ködnitzkees. At the bottom a waterfall covered the trail and we got a little bit wet. There were some obvious crevasses, and the late hour of the day meant roping up was mandatory. Daniel flaked out the rope and we took off on an enjoyable journey down the glacier. We had it all to ourselves, and found it especially interesting when we reached flooded flats where water stood on the ice up to a foot deep. Yikes! We barely missed standing in water up to our shins sometimes, only by constantly testing and trying to find the highest ground. Later, we were in a zone of rushing creeks on the glacier, trying to avoid getting swept away down smooth ice corridors in the ice with the sparkling water. It was all quite fun and unexpected. After getting Daniel's rope shamefully dirty and soaked, we put it away. Poor Daniel, the extra weight from the water made his pack very heavy!
Soon we were back at the Stüdlhütte, where the patrons were enjoying dinner. I was feeling completely better and needed food. They gave me a soup that was so delicious, I count it as one of the best soups I ever had. It contained curry, cream, pumpkin seeds, spices and a few other things. A coffee rounded things out. Then we found we could pay 4 euros to have our packs carried down by lift to the Lücknerhütte. Wow!
Instantly reborn, we enjoyed a carefree romp down more than 2000 feet of the valley without backpacks. We saw marmots, and admired the now rushing streams coming off the glacier above. What a fun trip! We picked up our packs which told us we were tired again, but soon we were at the car, celebrating the end of a glorious 14 hour day.
Thanks Daniel for a great trip!