IntroductionThis summer (2011) I spent a couple of weeks touring the Alps. After discovering the great adventure sport of via ferrata climbing some years ago I have been quite addicted and I had therefore browsed the different climbing pages and especially the Austrian page bergsteigen.at looking for good routes. I prefer long and hard routes and when I discovered the Super - Ferrata - Dachstein I was complete sold. They describe the route as "Die Super-Ferrata Dachstein kann also getrost als eine der längsten und schwersten Klettersteigtouren der Alpen bezeichnet werden. Die Tourenkombination übertrifft alle bis dato als Powertouren bekannte Klettersteige bei weitem." which more or less translates to "The Super-Ferrata Dachstein can therefore safely be called one of the longest and most difficult via ferrata routes in the Alps. The route combination by far exceeds all hitherto known power climbing tours.". This sounded like candy in my ears. And if this wasn't enough if a selling point, they even posted this great great video of the route.
So, the Super-Ferrata Dachstein was pointed out to be one of the main goals of the vacation. However, living in a country with no mountains at all (Denmark), I had off course had a rather ambitious programme the days before Dachstein. Saturday I climbed Zugspitze (2.200 m up, trip report here), Sunday the Mittenwald Klettersteig (1.000 m up, 2.000 down) and Monday the Achensee 5 Gipfel Klettersteig (800 m up). As a result my legs were wasted, utterly wasted Monday afternoon. Weather forecast however looked good - so I was going no matter what - the legs could recover afterwards!
PrologueUntil this Tuesday (July 12th, 2011) I had not been that lucky weather-wise, so I was a bit sceptical looking out the tent at 5:50 in the morning. The sky however was completely clear and there was no wind. Perfect timing (actually this turned out to be the day with the best weather during the whole 2 weeks in the Alps. How lucky can one be?). I quickly ate some breakfast and drove up to the parking lot at the cable car station. Everything had been packed the night before, so at 6:40 I hit the trails. The legs were painful, especially the thighs, but again, no way I not going in this weather.
The Super-Ferrata Dachstein consists of three independent via ferrata routes: Anna Klettersteig, Der Johann Klettersteig and Schulter Klettersteig that combined climbs more than 1.300 vertical meters to the top of Hoher Dachstein at 2.995 m. To access the Anna Klettersteig I walked up and past the Südwandhütte and continued across some moraine and rock debris from the Südwand (south face).
Anna KlettersteigFirst task of the day was the Anna Klettersteig.
Anna had only 300 height meters leading to the top of Mitterstein (2.097 m) and had a maximum difficulty rating of D on the Austrian via ferrata scale (the scale currently goes from A to F/G). This should be easily done in no time. ... Ha, how wrong one can be. Normally when I climb via ferrata routes, I prefer to use the cables only for protection and then do proper climbing with my hands. On Anna however, I quickly realised that I did not have the strength nor the skills to climb without grapping and hauling my a** up with the cable. Therefore it turned out to be 300 height meters with lots of cable hauling. Still things were going all right, until suddenly I heard a loud yell: "STEINE!!!!" (rocks in German) from a group of four Czech climbers further up the face. I yelled the message to the climbers below me, and then looked up - and got fu**ing scared. 50 m above me I saw a TV-sized rock and plenty smaller rocks come crashing down and being splintered shooting shrapnel in all directions. I hugged the cable and tried to get as close to the wall as possible hoping (probably quite naive) that the iron pegs above me could somehow protect me from the rocks. Luckily most of the rocks passed me 10-15 m to the left, but I heard my backpack being hit. This was truly a scary experience and I felt my faith being completely left to natures good will. In a less good mood, and quite shocked to be honest, I continued the climb - with the main goal of getting off this wall asap.
Below me I could now see another climber quickly catching up on me. It turned out to be a woman - and aged around 50 or so. What the ??? I consider myself to be a quite fast climber, but Spiderwoman here was going so much faster than me, and she was old enough to be my mother! I politely stepped aside and let her pass, and she raced on. Respect to that, she was tough! Later I found out that there was a climbing competition on one of the other via ferrata routes on the Dachstein massive a couple of days later. I seriously hope she was training for that, because she would surely be a champion.
At 8:30 I reached Mitterstein. I was wasted - and the day had just begun.... I chatted a bit with the Czechs, ate some energy and then started the approach towards Johann. More glacial moraine and more height meters. I had a feeling of making an infinitely slowly progress.
Johann KlettersteigThe Johann Klettersteig covers 550 height meters. It is rated at a maximum difficulty of E and is the most difficult part of the Super-Ferrata Dachstein. Standing at the foot of face I could see several climbers above me which I wasn't too happy about giving the previous rock fall experience. Still, I was stubborn (and stupid?) as a donkey, so I decided to continue climbing.
To prevent inexperienced climbers from venturing out on Johann, the route started with an "Einstiegsüberhang" (Entrance overhang). I was able to pass it, but my pulse was on max and I had abrasions on my arm after doing a rather irregular monkey hang / cable hauling maneuver. Still everything would be easier from now - at least according to the route description. Easier however did not mean that I was able to climb just using the rock. Often I found no holds at all that I was able to use, and again I had to resort to cable hauling. Luckily the designers of the route had hammered no less than 250 iron pegs into the wall to assist the climbing. (Actually this might be a proper place to thank the TVB-Ramsau and Dachstein-Seilbahn for building this route. I know the via ferrata idea of cabling the mountains goes against the belief of many true climbers, but it allows climbing novices like me to access places, I would never be able to climb otherwise, so you hardcore climbers out there please accept that a few routes in the mountains are being "ironed".)
Halfway up "Johann" the shock from the first rock fall had finally settled and I was beginning to sort of enjoy the climbing again. And then I heard the sound of falling rocks once more - and this time much worse than the first time. Luckily this time the rock fall occurred in a safe distance some 30-40 m to the left of me, but I could se several huge boulders bouncing off the foot the wall. I knew there were several climbers below me, but I didn't see any rescue teams afterwards, so hopefully nobody got hit.
I was now a bit shocked again, but actually I was more angry with myself for starting out on this adventure. Hadn't I learned anything from that first rock fall episode? Apparently not. Anyways I was more than halfway up the face and I hate climbing down, so there was no option but to continue.
At this point I basically just wanted to get done with the climbing, but I forced myself to try to enjoy the climbing and the scenery (which is quite awesome, when you are hanging on a 1.000 m face) and take some shots of the whole thing, since the weather this day was indeed amazing.
After two hours the 550 height meters were finally done and I stumbled into the Seethalerhütte. Here I had quite a deja-vu feeling from the climbing on Zugspitze three days earlier, since it was now suddenly swarming with tourists in jeans and tennis shoes. They had reached the hut after taking the cable car and walking 30-40 minutes across the glacier. A bit easier than the via ferrate route ...
It was now 11 o'clock. I gave it a quick thought about calling off the adventure here, but no way the stubborn donkey was stopping this close to the top! The only question was whether to eat now or later? I decided for later but ate a whole plate of chocolate to get some energy. Then started out walking towards the last obstacle, Shulter Klettersteig.
Shulter Klettersteig and descentThe last part of the Super-Ferrata was the Schulter (shoulder) Klettersteig. Luckily it was only graded A/B and luckily it was only 250 height meters.
Since the route was so much easier than the previous two, it was actually possible to properly climb the whole thing and only use the cable for protection. So climbing wise I found this to be the most enjoyable part of the whole route.
At 12 o'clock I finally reached the top of Hoher Dachstein (2.995 m) after 5,5 hours. I was totally wasted, but even with rock falls and completely tired legs, I had done it! Very satisfied I ate lunch and took the mandatory summit shots. The weather had deteriorated a bit, but when the clouds lifted, the views were truly amazing.
I stayed on the top for half an hour and then started the descent. I alternated between climbing the Schulter route down again or taking the shorter route across the glacier. Since I was climbing solo the glacier option was maybe not so wise, but I was more than tired of cable climbing and a guide I met on the way up had told me that there was only one crevasse that could easily be bypassed. Therefore, glacier it was.
The glacier choice turned out to be wise. There was soft snow on top, so it was possible to get a good grip with the boots, and as the guide had said, there was only one crevasse that could easily be jumped. Anyways, if anything had gone wrong a bunch of Austrian Alpenjägers were practising crevasse rescue 30 m to the right of the jumping point. After the crevasse the remaining descent back to the highway could quickly be done ski-booting. Now all that remained was a long slow slog through heavy wet snow back to the lift station. I dragged my tired legs, but did actually manage to admire the scenery once in a while along the way.
I reached the cable car station at 13.30. There were so many more via ferrata routes and peaks to climb up on the Dachstein plateau, but I was finally wise enough to realize that I had had my share of adventure for today. Marvelled a bit over the Dachstein Südwand and took the cable car down. A cable car that came in more than just a little handy this day.
Back at the parking lot I threw all my stuff into the car and drove directly to the nearest supermarket to buy anything with sugar and salt in it. Then back to camp and a long afternoon nap. This day had surely not been just another day at the office!
EpilogueIn retrospect the Super-Ferrata Dachstein is an amazing route that climbs a great mountain, and the designers have done a great job creating a challenging route the allows the climber to ascend the huge Dachstein Südwand. It is surely one of the most challenging via ferrata routes I have climbed, but it does not make it into my favourite list - and this is not just because of the two rock fall episodes - though they have a part in it. The main reason is more that I basically didn't enjoy the climbing that much. On the majority of the climb I simply couldn't find any natural holds on the rock, and I was therefore forced to climb using the pegs and cables only. Without these artificial aids, I would never have made it through neither Anna nor Johann. In my opinion this is a shame, since for me this feels a bit like I didn't really climb the mountain myself. I would have preferred an easier route, where I could use the cables for protection only. Guess that was why I actually enjoyed that last and easiest part of the climb the most. But for anybody up for an adventure, Super-Ferrata Dachstein can easily entertain you for most of a day :)
Oh, and if not the Super-Ferrata Dachstein then what are my favourites, you might ask. Well candidates are surely Bolver Lugli on Cima delle Vezzana in San Martino, Ferrata Giovanni Lipella on Tofana di Rozes in Cortina and the Marmolada west grat. Great routes on great mountains!