OverviewFirst climbed in June 1931 by Hans Ertl and Franz Schmid, this striking feature is the longest ice wall of the Eastern Alps, offering 1200 meters of climbing (4000 feet). It is marked by two constrictions, through which one must pass as quickly as possible because all debries from the face gets funneled through them.
The route is very dangerous after heavy snowfall, or if avalanche conditions are generally bad. Additionally, the sun strikes upper rocks fairly early and I doubt it's possible to make the climb without hearing and seeing a few missiles flying by.
The Austrian Bergsteigergruppe (Mountain Climbers Group) has a nice report (in German) of the climb, and I'm linking their picture of an avalanche that swept the whole face here, just as a caution:
|Linked from the Austrian Bergsteigergruppe web site, the picture was taken by Klaus Bonazza as he and a friend were watching the route for a planned climb the next day. The whole route was buried in a snow cloud for several minutes, completely swept clean.|
The usual approach is to stay overnight at the Tabaretta Hut (home page: http://www.tabaretta.com/, telephone: +39 347 26 14 872). There is a winter room for days when the hut is closed, and you'll need to bring a stove. Follow the instructions on the primary Ortler mountain page to reach the hut.
From the hut, go south on a trail that traverses the Tabaretta Ridge. (visible as a red line going left from the Tabaretta Hut in this informational picture. After 15 minutes or so, the trail reaches it's destination (a via ferrata climb up to the ridge with the Payer Hut). Continue on less pleasant scree slopes due south to meet the Martlferner (glacier) at the base of a large avalanche cone spilling from the first constriction on the route.
Climb the gradually steepening cone, noting that there may be a "schrund" at different points (we stepped over two). Enter the First Constriction on the route directly above. In 2009 taking snow on the right side of the Constriction was best. From here, continue straight up, making sure not to climb in one of the (up to) 2 meter deep avalanche tracks that line the large gully for the next 400 meters. This section of the climb is long, but moderate in angle, starting at 50 degrees and steepening to 55 degrees by the time you reach the Second Constriction. Watch for rock and ice fall. If you don't climb early on a cold day in here, you'll soon have reason to regret it!
At the Second Constriction, either climb through quickly unroped or build a belay on the right side of the constriction below a rock buttress for some protection. For our climb, it required a 60 meter pitch with 70 degree ice climbing to fully pass the feature. Again, avoid the central depressed runnel in the middle of the constriction as that's where most of the debries will come down.
Above the second constriction the route has several options and is apparently quite changeable year to year. In 2009, there are three serac bulges. It's possible to wend your way through them, taking the straightest line possible, while avoiding the steepest parts of the seracs. This option gave many 60 degree slopes, and 2-3 pitches of 70 degree ice, roughly grade Alpine Ice 3 (AI3).
You can also climb the upper face on the left side of seracs or (harder, steeper) on the right side.
If you climb the left side or the middle, you'll eventually come to the Martlgrat (Martl Ridge), which sports a pleasing knife-edge snow ridge. Follow on or just right of this ridge for about 200 meters more to reach lower angle slopes and the summit.
In terms of style, it's probably wisest to climb everything below the Second Constriction unroped. At that point two-thirds of the elevation gain have been completed, and the danger of rock and ice fall is lessened. On our climb, we continued from here in roped pitches, some simul-climbing, and near the end, again unroped. Decide between these strategies based on experience, conditions, time, etc.
Descend the normal route from the summit to the Payer Hut. If you arrive on the summit in whiteout conditions and aren't familiar with the descent (and can't find any tracks), you'll definitely need a map and compass to descend the right way. The key is to get off a large flat area (called the Ortlerplatte) by going due north. You can't go north right away. First walk south for 5 minutes, then west another 5 minutes (or so), then trend north. In this situation, you'll want to keep just left of (but not too close!) the tops of great serac cliffs as you walk gently down to the north.
If you travel too far west of north, you'll get into terrain of steep, gaping crevasses. Please give thought to this situation, especially those of you going in fall and winter when there are less likely to be descent tracks!
You need two ice tools, crampons, 4-5 ice screws. We found pickets useful on the upper portion of the route, when sufficient snow covered the ice. In winter or spring, skis or snowshoes may be helpful for descent.
Additional Important Information
After the climb, don't forget to stop and sign the "Nordwand Book" in the Tabaretta Hut. If you are lucky, a nice young lady of the Reinstadler family will bring it to you with your beer. :-)
Links and Books
- The Ortler on Wikipedia
- The Tabaretta Hut offers a photo with line of the route shown.
- GUIDEBOOK: Hochtouren Ostalpen is a recent guidebook that describes the route well.
- Bergsteigen.at has a route description and photos online.
- Ulrich Prinz's casual May 2003 trip.
- The author's June 2009 TR, also on Summitpost.
- Tragic accident kills 2 on a March, 2012 climb of the wall. A massive icefall came down the great couloir at 7:30 am.