”Hoher Dachstein” (2995m) is the main peak of the Dachstein massif, which contains several 100 limestone peaks and marks the border between the Austrian provinces Styria, Salzburg and Upper Austria. The main summit is also the second highest mountain of the Northern Limestone Alps (after Parseier Spitze (3036m)). The massive peaks of the main ridge contrast sharply with the rocky needles and rugged landscape of Gosaukamm (Gosau crest), which is heading northwest from the main crest.
Though the altitude of the main summit (Hoher Dachstein) has been measured to be exactly 2995.78m, you will find altitudes of 3004, 3000, 2996, 2995 and 2993 not only on picture postcards, but also on official maps and in guidebooks. Once a local person told me seriously, though the peak is only 2995m high, the cross on the top has a height of more than 5m, therefore it is a real 3000m summit (so don't forget to climb the cross if you really want to touch the 3000m mark - just kidding :-) ).
The Dachstein massif holds the 8 eastmost glaciers of the alps, seven on the north side and one on the south side. They are, sorted from biggest to smallest:
1) Hallstaetter glacier from base of the northeast wall of Hoher Dachstein, ~2850m, down to ~2100m, where the end is very close to the “Oberer Eissee” (Upper Ice Lake). Until 1850 the glacier filled also the depression, where now the lake is. The lake has no outlet on the surface, instead the water flows underground to the source of rivulet “Waldbach”, approximately 6 km (3.8 miles) away. Especially in the middle part of the glacier, but also in the northern part there are big crevasse areas. 2) Big Gosau glacier
goes down to 2300m from the west ridge of the main summit. The steep middle area has big crevasses and goes often through major changes. 3) Schladminger glacier
is the eastmost glacier in the Alps. The glacier is located below the north walls of peak Koppenkarstein (2865m). 4) Schneeloch glacier
(snowhole glacier) is north of peak “Hohes Kreuz” (2835m) and has some small crevasses in the upper part. 5) Small Gosau glacier
is in the dark corner between “Hohe Schneebergwand” (2804m) and Torstein northwest buttress (2947m). The glacier is in it’s lower part steep and very rugged. 6) Edelgriess glacier
is in a steep area below the southwest wall of Koppenkarstein, the only glacier on the south side of Dachstein. 7) Northern Torstein glacier
is between northwest- and west buttress of Torstein, and can be better described as permanent snowfield. 8) Southern Torstein glacier
lies at the base of Torstein west wall, is only a small permanent snowfield and could disappear soon.
The eastern part of the massif is a big rocky desert (karstland) which is called “Auf dem Stein”. It is a confusing hilly landscape with a size of approximately 200 square kilometers (80 squaremiles) between altitudes of 1600m and 2200m. Many parts are never visited, and it is easy to get lost there without GPS, especially when fog or other bad weather conditions come up. If you lose the trail, even with GPS it can become dangerous, because deep hidden holes and caves and impenetrable woods of “Latschen” (dwarf pines) await the careless hiker. Even local guides avoid this area, and there are only a few trails through it.
The Dachstein massif holds some of Austrias largest caves (also a big icecave and an active watercave, which can be easily visited >>> see section caves).
The main interest of the climbers is the more than 5 miles long southface, which is more than 3300 feet high at the point of peak Torstein, and still 2800 feet high at the main peak “Hoher Dachstein”. However, there are many rock climbing routes of all difficulties and heights up to 3300 feet not only at the main crest, but also especially at the Gosaukamm, Koppenkarstein and Hochkesselkopf (of course the longest routes are through the southface of the main crest, especially at Torstein).
The 3 "normal" routes to “Hoher Dachstein” first cross the glacier and then are cable routes, and of course avoid the southface: the east and the west ridge, and the northeast wall. They may be icy even in the summer after bad weather. Under icy conditions especially the Mecklenburg ledge of the east ridge can be impossible to climb without crampons. Recently the first cables at the entry to the east ridge have been removed, to keep out unexperienced people. The northeast wall has another speciality: the big crevasse at the entry, which may be closed in some years, and several meters wide open in others. The easiest route is the west ridge, but to reach it's entry a much longer glacier hike is necessary than to the other 2 routes.
Unfortunately all 3 normal routes can be reached easily from the station of a cablecar going up from Ramsau village (cablecar goes from 1600m up to 2600m at Hunerkogel in front of the glacier), therefore often badly equipped and unexperienced people can be seen walking across the glacier towards the normal routes. Though these are not difficult for climbers and mountaineers, they are far to difficult for the average cablecar user, and the mountain rescue teams are often amazed about things which happen here.
On sunny weekends the northeast wall should be either avoided (except if you want to enjoy the stonefall caused by hundreds of summit aspirants), or you manage to ascend before the first cablecar arrives (8am).
Beside the 3 short normal routes from the glacier to the summit there are some other quite long and very difficult cable routes in the massif. The newest one exists since 1999 and is named "Johann-Klettersteig" (cable difficulty D/E). It leads through the lower part of the southface, has a height of 550m and ends at Dachsteinwarte hut at an altidude of 2600m.
THE normal route
from glacier. Problems: often wide crevasse at the entry. Stonefall
from climbers above. Crowded on weekends. Tip: Don't use the cablecar,
but sleep in Dachsteinsuedwand hut and take the cable route via
Hunerscharte or the "Johann" cable route (D/E !!) to the glacier (1150m
height difference). Great ascent! Combination Hunerscharte and normal
route takes 4 hours.
Route leads to Torstein summit.
Torstein south book (nearly complete dihedral climb, a
IV & V+,
sometimes VI, one pitch VII
Route leads to Torstein summit.
Famous route, described by Walter Pause in some of
his climbing books.
Towns and villages
Because 99 percent of "Hoher Dachstein" visitors approach either from south or from north, I’ll only mention the villages there (east is the big karstland, from west it’s to far to the main summit):
Schladming (altitude 745m):
famous ski resort (world championships) in the valley of river Enns. Most important base town from the south (before the smaller village Ramsau is reached).
Reachable via railway from Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. Bus to Ramsau and to station of cablecar "Dachsteinsüdwandbahn".
Reachable by car: enter your starting point and your target "Schladming" in the European routeplanner.
small village on the sunny meadows below Dachstein southface (the Dachstein massif stops many clouds, so that rain and snow often stays on the northern part). Best starting point for the southface climbs, also good for the normal routes. Magnificent hikes beneath the Dachstein southface (great outlooks: Brandriedl (a few minutes from Austria hut), Roetelstein (one day roundtrip hike)). Base station of „Dachstein Suedwandbahn" cablecar to Hunerkogel (2685m).
Reachable via Bus, Taxi or car from Schladming via a steep mountain road (in winter often snowchains necessary). Enter your starting point and your target "Ramsau" in the European routeplanner.
small village in the great Gosau valley north of Dachstein. Skiresort. Starting point for an ascent from north (long hike and long glacier hike. Though it’s possible to make it on one day to the main summit for people in very good shape, it’s better to do it in 2 days spending the night at Adamek hut. The views during this ascent are so fantastic, especially from "Vorderer Gosau" lake and while approaching Adamek hut, that time can be easily forgotten). Reachable via Bus from Steeg-Gosau or Hallstatt (poor connection). If you come by car, enter your starting point and your target "Gosau" in the European routeplanner.
Hallstatt has a several 1000 year old history because of the salt mines
Very famous village on the extremely steep shores of Hallstaetter lake. No car access to the upper parts of the village. Prehistoric excavations, prehistoric museum, 3000 year old graves. The prehistoric epoch between 800 and 400 before Christ is named Hallstatt Age after it. Miners digged after rocksalt here already 3000 years ago. The current saltmine can be visited sitting on a small railway, guidance in several languages. Bonechapel with painted skulls.
Starting point for an ascent from north (very long hike and long glacier hike, 2 days, spending a night at Simony hut).
Reachable via Bus from Gosau or Goisern. If you come by car, enter your starting point and your target "Hallstatt" in the European routeplanner.
small village at the southeast bay of Hallstaetter lake. Base station of "Dachstein" cablecar to Krippenstein (2105m, ski resort) and Gjaid Alm (1738m). Best starting point for a visit of the largest Dachstein caves (see cave section). Starting point for the main summit only for hikers in very good shape (very long hike, long glacier hike, 2 days).
Reachable by bus from Hallstatt (poor connection). If you come by car, enter your starting point and your target "Obertraun" in the European routeplanner.
There are many huts in the massif, but I describe only the most important ones for the main summit ascent:
Dachsteinsüdwand hut (1910m):
"The basecamp" for all southface aspirants. Fantastic view into the southface. Also a great base for roundtrip hikes and for cableroute climbers. Two famous cableroutes lead from here to the glacier:
the Hunerscharte Klettersteig and the Johann Klettersteig. The former has difficulty A/B (easy), the latter has D/E (extremely difficult) and leads through the rightmost part of the southface.
The hut can be reached from the base station of cablecar "Dachsteinsüdwandbahn" in 30 to 40 minutes. From Ramsau village to the base station leads a toll road, it's a 15 to 30 minute drive from Ramsau to the parking lot of the base station.
Austria hut (1638m):
classical climber hut, but also very important for hikers. Ascent to the glacier via the cirque "Edelgriess", several great long hikes and ski tours possible.
The hut can be reached from Ramsau village in a 90 minutes walk, or from the base station of the cablecar in 30 minutes.
Seethaler hut (former Dachsteinwarte hut) (2740m):
At a fantastic location on the edge of the southface on a rocky terrace, magnificent view into Dachstein southface. Only 8 mattresses available, overnight stay only allowed in emergency cases. The hut is on the way from the upper cablecar station of Dachsteinsüdwandbahn to the Dachstein normal routes, and can be reached from there in 40 to 50 minutes.
Simony hut (2203m):
Below the tongue of the Hallstaetter glacier, important base for ascents from north. Several short rock climbs in all difficulties possible near the hut.
The hut can be reached from the upper Dachsteinsüdwandbahn cablecar station in 1.5 to 2.5 hours (depending on the conditions on the glacier) or from Hallstatt in 6 hours. From Gjaidalm (upper Dachsteinbahn cablecar station, not to confuse with Dachsteinsüdwandbahn cablecar) reachable in 3.5 hours.
Adamek hut (2196m): below the "Big Gosau" glacier in the center of a surrealistic landscape. Outlook to "Vorderer Gosau lake", Hohe Tauern and Bischofsmuetze. Great climbs near the hut in all difficulties, very good rock quality. Base for Torstein, Mitterspitz, Hohe Schneebergwand, Kreuzkamm, Eiskarl and also for Hoher Dachstein via the west ridge.
Reachable from "Vorderer Gosau lake" in 5 hours. From upper cablecar station of Dachsteinsüdwandbahn in 3 hours (glacier hike and cableroute). From Simony hut via "Steinerscharte" in 3.5 hours (sometimes conditions on the glacier can be difficult, ask the tenant or guides in the hut).
One famous climbing peak should be approached with special care, the “Grosse Bischofsmuetze” (Big Miter), because several devastating rockfalls destroyed many routes, and after a geological exploration further rockfalls are expected, which could even change the face of the whole mountain (e.g. in ONE rockfall in september 2001 approximately 25000 tons of rock went down to the valley) . Check in the huts for latest informations.
The whole Dachstein massif is a specially protected area, because the sensible karstland is very important for the drinking water supplies of the villages nearby. So it's essential for everybody to take her/his waste back to the valleys and to leave absolutely nothing except footsteps on the glacier or in the woods and meadows.
When To Climb
The normal routes are climbed during the whole year. Dachstein is also a great area for ski mountaineering (see the respective section). For non skier's the best time is end of may until mid of october. The best time for the southface climbs is june to september, though of course many routes already have their winter ascents.
Though there are camping possibilities in Schladming, it's better to be in Ramsau for a Dachstein trip, if you come from south. The english info about the official camping site is here: http://www.camping-steiermark.at/gb/ramsau/info.htm
Other camping sites (north, info in german) are: Hallstatt Obertraun
There are also many possibilities for bed and breakfast (Ramsau is usually cheaper than Schladming), and enough hotels, in all mentioned villages.
The massif is famous for it's ski possibilities, from short routes for the beginner, to long and strenuous routes for people in very good shape, and extreme steep downhills through walls and coloirs. I describe only a few in short:
Hoher Dachstein (2995m), Tiergarten downhill:
easy route with help of cablecar Dachsteinbahn Obertraun, but height difference for the downhill is 2400m. From village Obertraun with the cablecar to station Gjaidalm. From there walk via Simony hut and the glacier to the entry of the northeast normal route (5 hours). Leave the ski's there, if you climb the summit. From the ski depot via Simony hut and Wiesberg hut back to Hallstatt, great but easy downhill (danger: crevasses). With taxi or a second car back to the cablecar station.
In the first part steep downhill from the glacier through the cirque "Edelgriess" (height difference 1100m). Either ascent with cablecar Dachsteinsüdwandbahn, or through the Edelgriess itself (then 3 hours). From the upper station go east via Schladminger glacier to a small tunnel, which can be reached by using a ladder and walk through the tunnel to the other side (from station 15 minutes). If the tunnel is closed, or hidden under the snow, go to the entry of Koppenkarstein west ridge (cableroute, 50m right of the tunnel) and climb over it to Austriascharte (Austria notch). From there go down south until you feel comfortable with the steepness and ski down either to Austria hut or back to the base station of the cablecar. Danger of avalanches.
Height difference 1300m, very steep, danger of avalanches. From Ramsau drive west until you reach the village Hachau. Park the car where a street leads to "Bachlalm". Follow the street to Scharlalm (look into a map) and then head northwest through woods to a place called "Schnittlauchmoosboden". Now walk up the cirque "Windlegerkar", which narrows slowly and becomes always steeper. At the end exit into Windlegerscharte (possibly crampons are needed). The downhill follows the same route like the ascent.
Though in the limestone Karstland massif of Dachstein there are more than 500 caves known, I describe only four here in short. The entry areas of 3 of the described caves can be visited by the public (the guided tours need warm clothing and 45 to 120 minutes time). It's also possible to negotiate longer special tours. Though the fourth cave (Hirlatz cave) is only accessible by cave associations and approved explorers (it's locked), I describe it also because it's currently Austria's biggest cave, and the 14th largest cave of the world. Some other Dachstein caves can also only be visited by experienced cave explorers, because cave diving or descending and ascending through deep pits is necessary. Sudden water entrance is also possible in some sections of specific caves, especially after thunderstorms.
Information about the public caves can be found at http://www.dachsteinregion.at/
Dachstein Mammut cave:
Access from the village Obertraun. Use the cablecar "Dachsteinbahn Obertraun" to the midstation (Schoenbergalm). From there follow the signs in 15 minutes to the entry of "Mammut cave" and "Ice cave" (the 2 cave portals are close together). The "Mammut cave" has an explored length of 56.8 km / 35 miles (status 1999). The standard guided tour needs 90 minutes and leads through big halls and wide tubes.
Dachstein ice cave:
Same access like for Mammut cave. The first major exploration was 1910, when Georg Lahner was first able to descend over the big icewall. There are approximately 30,000 cubicmeters of ice on a surface of approximately 5000 squaremeters, the ice thickness over the ground in the hall "Tristan dome" is more than 20 meters (more than 65 feet). The guided tour leads through the halls with the biggest ice figures and takes approximately 90 minutes (Here are some fotos from the cave).
This is a still active water cave. Sometimes the giant portal is completely dry, sometimes (after thaw in spring or after thunderstorms) a torrential river flows out of it. It can be accessed from Obertraun: From restaurant "Koppenrast" near Obertraun (parking lot) follow the signs 30 to 40 minutes through the gorge of river Traun (Koppenschlucht). The trail leads directly to the cave. Though the guided tour leads only through the 770m long public part of the cave, it's fascinating to walk near the roaring waters, passing underground lakes and waterfalls. Sometimes, when waterlevel is to high, not all parts of the cave can be visited (ask one of the guides at the portal).
As mentioned above, there is no public access to this cave. The first exploration ended 1927 already after 30 meters at a tube filled with water. Some years later the water disappeared, but until 1983 only zones with a length of 8.5 km were known. In december 1983 a chimney in the "western black hall" could be climbed by German and Austrian explorers, and that paved the way to the discovery of Austria's biggest cave system. The length is more than 85 km / 53 miles (status 1999), and the height difference between the highest and lowest point (1041m or 3200 feet) makes it also one of Austria's deepest caves (lowest point is at the level of Hallstaetter lake).
1) Alpenvereinskarte Dachsteingruppe Nr:14. 1:25 000.
Österreichischer Alpenverein: very detailed map from Austrian alpine association
3) AV-guide Dachsteingebirge, Willi End, 3rd edition.
Bergverlag Rudolf Rother, Munich. Currently out of print.
4) Dachsteingebirge & Gosaukamm, Kurt Schall/Thomas Jekel, 1st edition 1996.
Describes the best routes (German)
Miscellaneous Info (Cablecar)
There are two cablecars leading into the massif:
also called "Dachsteinsüdwandbahn" ("Dachstein southface cablecar", though it hovers above southface of Hunerkogel, not Dachstein). It leads from Ramsau to the southern edge of the glacier (small summer ski resort). Info about current prices and more details can be found at http://www.dachsteinregion.at/ by selecting "Ramsau" on their website.
It leads from Obertraun into the northern part of the massif in two steps: midstation is near the famous ice cave and mammut cave, upper station is at peak "Krippenstein" (ski resort). Info about current prices and more details can be found at http://www.dachsteinregion.at/ by selecting "Obertraun" on their website.
Dachstein Tourismus AG Though I don't like the site layout, you find here good summer and winter infos about the area (german only)
Touristic infos German infos about rooms and possible activities in the area.
Hallstatt infos Good english site about Hallstatt, room info, sightseeing, and so on.