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Ascent of Großglockner on 1993-08-05

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:(Jakob from Germany)
Date:Thursday, August 5, 1993
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Großglockner
    Location:Austria
    Elevation:3798 m / 12461 ft

Ascent Trip Report

My alarm chirped me awake at the dark, ungodly hour of 5 AM, and I quickly got my stuff together and tiptoed out of the nice house in Dollach, Austria, where I had spent the night. However, at the landing, I noticed the old woman owner was awake in the kitchen, and she motioned me to fill out a registration form that she had forgotten to get me to fill out yesterday afternoon. I quickly filled it out, feeling bad she had to get up so early and thanking her again in my terrible German.

I got in my car and drove back through Dollach to Route 107, which I followed past fields and forest in the pre-dawn darkness with no traffic until it started to climb uphill. Just past the village of Heiligenblut there was the tollbooth I had been dreading, since I had read about the exorbitant tolls on the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse. Sure enough, I was relieved of 330 ATS (US $27.50) for my trip through the Alps, unhappy but powerless about it. I later found out that the registration from I had from my lodging last night would have saved me some money on this toll--I wish the old woman had told me this.

I continued on the road as it climbed steeply uphill, and then took the turnoff to the Franz Josef area, where I parked in a huge parking garage--I would have been really mad if it hadn't been free, given the toll I had just paid. Here I quickly got my pack together, tied my ice-axe onto the back of it, and went down to look over the mountain I wanted to climb and my route.

The parking garage/visitor center complex was on a rocky slope a few hundred feet over the huge Pasterzenkees Glacier, and on the opposite side rose the huge pinnacle of the Grossglockner, at 3797 meters (12,457 feet) the highest mountain in Austria. The sun was just rising, and it looked very imposing, with clouds drifting by just above its summit. I had to drop down to the glacier, cross it, and then climb the mountain, none of which looked easy. I decided to follow a flat trail leading out from the parking garage to the Hoffmannshutte mountain hut and drop down to the glacier opposite the point where the route up the mountain began.

So I walked out on the wide path that began at a rock tunnel and led away from the quiet early morning visitor center complex, after twenty minutes taking the fork to the Hoffmannshutte and there following a steep, rough trail down slabs and scree that led to the wide sea of ice below. There were a number of climbers on this trail, and, as I neared the bottom, sending rocks downhill in front of me, I noticed an older man, solo, also making his way down.

Near the glacier I passed him, he greeted me in German, and, seeing I was alone, suggested we team up. I said "Ja", and just like that I found myself climbing with Jakob, 55 years old, from near Frankfurt. He didn't speak a word of English, though, and my German was pretty minimal, but we were able to communicate the basics. We put our crampons on at the glacier, but Jakob had a truly terrible pair he had problems getting to stay on--I lost time waiting for him, but I didn't mind that much.

We crossed the glacier, leaping a few small crevasses, then found a rough path leading up the steep, rocky slope on its other side. Jakob was in good shape, and we chugged up some steep switchbacks with no problems. There were other parties on the mountain, and we seemed to be keeping up. Eventually the rocks gave way to huge snowfields, some with a big crevasse or two visible cutting across them. There was a well worn path, though, and Jakob and I trudged uphill, the skies still pretty overcast. Here Jakob started to run out of gas a bit, and I would pull ahead and wait for him. He lost a crampon at one point while in a crevasse-continuation zone of white-colored snow, and I told him it wasn't too safe to be futzing around there, but he still put it back on without moving. We weren't roped together, of course.

Finally the Erzhzg-Johann Hutte, a mountain hut, came into view, and I, ahead of Jakob, climbed on up to it, and he arrived me five minutes later. Here we took a long rest, and Jakob indicated to me that he wasn't going any further today. It was about 11 AM, definitely getting late, and the shark's tooth of black rock that was the summit pyramid was in clouds, but I decided to go for the summit of the Grossglockner anyway. I left the hut and followed the snow path across easy snowfields to the base of the summit, then up increasingly steep snow partways up it--the snow was soft, providing good footing.

Soon my route was on steep, icy, snowy rock, and I found myself using my mittened hands to pull myself up the hardest pitches. All the holds were excellent, and there were even some fixed pitons to grab on to, but the exposure, partially masked by the clouds, was terrific. After some hairy ridge traverse I had to descend to a snowbridge in a deep notch, tiptoe across, and then climb more steep ridge to the summit. I took off my crampons at some point here, and there was no room to sit and put them back on for the very dangerous snowbridge crossing.

The summit was in and out of clouds--mostly in--and crowned by a large metal cross. I was really thrilled to have made it, since this was by far the hardest mountain I had ever climbed in my life, with its glaciers, rocks, snowfields, and the final ridge of mixed terrain all combining to give me a real introduction to serious mountaineering in the Alps. The highest mountain in Austria is not considered particularly hard by Alpine standards, but after soloing it to bag my first major summit in the range I was ecstatic.

There were about ten of us on the tiny, precarious summit rocks that dropped down in cliffs in all directions, and after a while the clouds partially cleared, allowing some awesome views of glaciers far below. I talked to a party of three Slovenians--I mentioned I had just been to Triglav--and a grizzled old mountain guide who was leading four novice climbers, including an Irish guy I chatted with. After taking lots of pictures and realizing that the clouds weren't going to clear too much more, I decided to leave.

The main hazard I encountered as I navigated the cliffy, narrow, rocky summit ridge on my way back down was the traffic jams caused by climbers. I was relatively nimble, due to my extensive scrambling experience, long reach, and lack of roped partners, but other parties, especially the rope team led by the old guide, were real slowpokes. I tried to be very patient but ran into problems--I thought I'd put on my crampons for the snowbridge traverse because I was waiting, but the old guide told me to go across without them, and, a little later, he let me pass his entire rope team. I had to scramble around other teams, too, including some coming the other way. Despite this, I had no real problems with this nasty ridge.

Once down on the snowfields I was able to effortlessley plunge-step on down to the Johann Hutte, where I took a long rest in the cozy, well appointed structure. I considered spending the night there, but it seemed very expensive, especially since I'd have to rent a sleeping bag. Instead I sat in a booth and bought a heated mug of lemonade to drink while chatting with the Irish guy, now descended, and Jakob, still there. With the Irish guy as as interpreter (he worked in Austria and spoke excellent German), I was able to really talk with Jakob for the first time--he congratulated me on gaining the summit, and thanked me for my company on the way up to the hut--he said he wouldn't have made it without me. I in turn praised his conditioning and wished him (and the Irish guy) luck before setting off.

The hike down from the Johann Hutte to my car was long and marred by two foolish blunders. First, at the point in the snow path where Jakob had lost his crampon, one of my feet punched through into a small crevasse--I wasn't harmed, and no more of me went in, but it was still frightening, and embarrassing, coming at the place I had earlier warned Jakob about. Second, after crossing the Pasterzenkees glacier once off the Grossglockner, I couldn't find the path that led up the short, steep slope to the Hoffmannshutte, so I wound up on steep, slippery slabs of rock that weren't easy to climb at all. Also, on the way down the weather really deteriorated, too, as it rained lightly a few times and loud thunder could be heard from the clouds up on the summit. I often passed and got passed by the group of Slovenians I had met on the summit during my descent.

Seriously tired, thirsty, and generally wasted, I arrived back at my car in the Franz Josef Hohe parking garage at 6:05 PM, exactly twelve hours after leaving this morning. I changed and went for a walk around the tourist complex in a zombie-like state in a search for food, but had to settle for a hyper-expensive coke and sandwich at a closing-down bar/restaurant. After admiring the view of the Grossglockner some more, getting a Spanish tourist to take my picture (asking him in Spanish), and saying good-bye to the Slovenians piling into their Yugo for their drive home, I left the Franz Josef complex and drove the short way out to the main Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (long words, yes, but at least they didn't combine them into one!).

I had thought that the junction with the spur to Franz Josef was the high point of this road, so I was surprised when it climbed higher and higher as I drove north. The road was spectacular as it switchbacked its way up to a tunnel at 2504 meters (8215 feet), the highest road in all the Alps. After traversing some very high-altitude meadows littered with snowbanks it descended in a long tiring series of hairpin curves, and it was dark by the time I reached Ferleiten at the base of this road. It was certainly a spectacular drive, but not what I needed after my grueling hike today.

It started raining in the evening, and I drove north through Zell am See before feeling tired and pulling over on the side of the road north of Saalfelden. It was pouring rain, and this is good for sleeping in the car, since it both blocks out road noise and makes harassment by police or landowners much less likely. I found a good, well hidden spot on a narrow lane off of a paved loop road off of the main Route 311, and the pleasing sound of rain on my car's room lulled me to sleep quickly.

The Grossglockner's summit is in and out of clouds (1993-08-05).
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1870 m / 6133 ft
    Extra Gain:220 m / 722 ft
    Trailhead:Franz Josef  2368 m / 7772 ft
    Grade/Class:3
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Exposed Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons



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