This year due to my studies our Maltatal ice climbing trip was posponed till the 10th of February with a planned return on the 19th. We started out in a snow storm late in the evening. A week prior to our departure the weather was just perfect, freezing like hell and sunny. Now we were trying to stay on the road even on the Austrian highway, which was slowly but surely becoming lost under the tons of snow coming down from the heavens. As the 600km journey was nearing its end and the snow kept on falling Ales and I began getting worried if we will find ice or just major avalanche danger. We paid the toll before the last highway tunnel still hoping it would stop snowing on the other side of the mountain, but it kept on dumping. A few km to the Gmünd highway exit a miracle happened and the snow stopped, the skies cleared and the stars twinkled at us, letting us know that it was freezing out. We turned off the highway into Gmünd and started up the road into the heart of the Maltatal valley. To our disbelief there was absolutely no snow in the valley only the surrounding mountains had a dusting. We made it to the Falleralm parking lot with only two cars present
6 o’clock in the morning tired as hell, but yet full of climbing energy we had to make a decision, whether to crash for a few hours or hit the ice. Of course the second option unanimously won the vote, so we drove up the road to the base of the Strannerbach icefall, ate some cake we had with us, geared up, took a sip of Slivovice (plum brandy, really gooood stuff for those of you who haven’t tried it) and started climbing. The
Strannerbach is a fairly easy climb, actually a good introduction to the valley, after about 3 pitches it breaks into 2 branches, we decided to climb the right branch, since we climbed the left one last year, and it turned out to be a good decision since the last two pitches of the climb become steeper and are very nice. The only draw back of this climb is the walking that is involved between pitches and it tends to be quite crowded during weekends since it is perfect for newbies and tired scum like us.
That evening we crashed early in our bivi spot by the parking lot and didn’t even go to the near by pub. We slept in the next morning in order to recharge and around 1pm we got to the base of what we thought was the right gulley leading up to Supermax.
The climbing was fairly easy at first, and then we made it to a 15m vertical column of ice that led us beneath a wicked ice wall 55m high and 70m wide. A wonderful sight with the Supermax ice wall about 200m to the left.
Amazing climbing possibilities to choose from. I climbed the first pitch on the left side of the ice wall only to find out I was a bit freaked out after some 25-30m of what seemed easier climbing from below. I made a belay and Ales took the lead from there, both of us thought the rest would be OK. Ales soon enough found out that topping out wasn’t as easy as it looked. I was happy to make it to the top with the last light and belayed from the top. We quickly rappelled down the wall and took a small break, put on our head lamps and since we didn’t see any rappel anchors on our way up the gulley, we thought we could walk down some how. This was a mistake because we ended up rappelling anyway. Not even half way down, we saw a number of cars on the road and flashlights pointed in our direction, somebody was yelling at us, not that we could really understand, so we ignored him till we got lower and yelled back “Alles OK”. Slowly but surely we made our way back to the road and were welcomed by a member of the mountain rescue, who asked us if everything was OK. He told us that some dude saw are headlamps and called them to make sure we were fine. I like the fact that he actually waited till we got down to reassure him self everything was fine. He even gave us a ride back to our bivi spot.
We woke up to another sunny morning, ate breakfast, got into the car and drove up the road to the Langewande tunnel, which is as far as you can go by car. From there we walked through the tunnel and about 100m further up the road on the right side is Vorderer Maralmfall, one of the nicest ice falls. The sun was shining on to it and the climbing was splendid. The down fall of this day was the fact that Aleš forgot to take an extra memory card with him and the one in the camera was full. I told him off more than once, but there was nothing we could do about it other than hope we would find a shop in Gmünd where they would burn the contents of the card out for us. Basically said we kept on climbing and in stead of climbing another ice fall in the afternoon we drove to Gmünd, found an electro shop on the old town square selling TV’s where they were willing to help us out only for 1Euro including a CD. Perfect we were all set for the days to come.
This should have been our rest day, but for some odd reason we felt like climbing. Our destination was Gamseck or Wintasun depending on, which of the too would be free. We undertook the strenuous hike up to the base of both climbs to find Gamseck occupied, so we just turned our heads to Wintasun and started pounding in our ice tools. This is a wonderful 170m long ice climb facing the East so the Sun was nicely shining on it throughout the morning. A 60m rope is necessary for this climb because the second pitch is some 55m long and ends just above a nice funnel. It is also good to belay the third pitch from the trees to the left of the second belay anchor otherwise you would be in the middle of a shooting gallery. While belaying the third pitch you can see the second pitch of Gamseck, which is also spectacular.
After four days of climbing we granted ourselves a rest day. Not an ordinary rest day but a luxurious one. We drove to Badkleinkirchheim to rest in their thermal spas. You can watch the ski slopes surrounding the town from the pool and the saunas are also great and Badkleinkirchheim is only 60km away
Regenerated after resting in a hot pool and sauna, we let our energy loose on Mittelerer Maralmfall the approach trail is just 100m past the trail to Vorderer Maralmfall. The first pitches of the climb are easy and quite a bit of walking is also involved. The last two pitches are worth it though, with a possibility to bail before the last pitch if not up to it.
Up to the dam
Friday morning we woke up in a snow covered scenery, the first snow since December as we learned from the locals. Our goal was Hochalfall and something else for the afternoon. We drove up to the tunnel once again and took a look at Hochalmfall only to see a group of approx. 10 heading that way. Our climbing goal was taken so we decided to hike up the road up to the dam at the end of the valley.
The hike up to the dam took us 3 hours in the fresh snow. Once there we met a gentleman, who has been working there for the past 33 years and he told us everything we wanted to know about the dam and the 600MW power plant. I must say the Austrians surely built a wonder. Made a 10km tunnel through the mountains, the water from the dam flows through the tunnel and drops down 1100m into Mallnitz to make 600MW of pure green energy subsequently the water flows into the Drau river, on which are 10 more power plants. We also learned that during the summer months 2-3 thousand people visit the area daily. We had wonderful views of the surrounding area, and the surroundings are great for ski touring and mountaineering.
Upon our return to the car we had a snack, packed our climbing gear and headed down toward Hochalmfall, which was still surrounded by climbers who seemed to be packing their equipment. We quickly climbed the ice fall, which consists of one long pitch and headed back to the car in the last light.
Supermax once again
Another shot at Supermax this time climbing up to the base of the real climbing via the left gulley. Unfortunately the real climbing part of Supermax was taken, so we climbed something shorter to the right of it. Supermax was our last ice wall this trip, once again we did not make it up, so we will be back once again. Maybe next time we will find the courage (balls)to try Shleierfall, which is probably the most wonderful fall in the valley, but unfortunately not always in good shape. Never saw anybody climbing it. Hey if there is a bad ass ice climber out there without a partner willing to attemp this beauty, I'm up to being your belay slave!!
In the case Malatatal doesn’t give you enough climbing opportunities, then you can go climb a number of iced up gullies in the North West face of Hochalmspitze. We wanted to do so, not because there is not enough for us to climb in the Maltatal valley, but because we wanted to test our skills in the mountains and summit a nice peak. Luckily for us we did not make the attempt and therefore we did not lose a good climbing day or two, since it started snowing Thursday and kept on dumping till Saturday. Other climbing possibilities are in the Mölltall and Mallnitz valleys.
Important info: You can purchase the climbing guidebook Eisklettern in Oberkärnten (50 ice and mixed routes from the valleys of Mölltal to Mällnitz and Spittal to Maltatal) and other guides in the Gmünd book shop situated on the old town square for 24Euros. There is an Information office in the town hall also on the square, where they will give you tips for rest day, accommodation etc. A good option is Gasthaus Hubertus in the town of Malta, he has good accommodation prices and possibilities to rent and buy gear plus buy the guidebook.
Thermal spas are situated in Badkleinkirchheim and in Villach, the distance is the same. Badkleinkirchheim has warmer water supposedly. There are a number of pubs in the area 2,5Euro per beer
Otherwise: www.maltatal-alpin.at online climbing guide and link to Gasthaus Hubertus¨
Photos by: Aleš Soukup and Jan Čapek