Ascent of Ortles on 2008-08-30

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Petter Bjorstad
Andrew Tibbetts
Date:Saturday, August 30, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Ski Lift
    Elevation:12812 ft / 3905 m

Ascent Trip Report

Ortler (Ortles), 3905m, P1953m

Map: Tabacco 1:25k map 08 (25m contours)

Stats: 15km, 1700mH

Time: Sat 30 Aug 2008: 2h hut, 3h30 summit, 5h30 descent.

Hut: Payer hut (tel 0473 75410)

Start: Sulden; cablecar to Langenstein (last cablecar up & down 17:00hrs)

Route: From Langenstein (2330m), the top station of the cablecar, a wide track leads NW. It descends 50m and in 0.5km a well marked track forks L, contours round a wide cirque, crosses some bouldery spurs then zigzags up to the Tabaretta Hut (2556m). Beyond the hut, the path climbs across rocky slopes then zigzags up steep ground to cross the ridge at the Baren Pass (2871m). The path continues S, keeping below the crest on its W side, fairly exposed, with cables in places and a bridge across a deep gully. The Payer hut is seen ahead, perched improbably on the ridge, and is soon reached.

From the hut, the path continues, below the crest on its W side, crossing steep rocky slopes to cross a notch in the Tabarettagrat. Short easy scramble down, traverse, keeping below crest, then a steep scrambly ascent, the first of many ups and downs, the hardest of which are cable protected. The rock is initially poor and loose, becoming better quality higher up. Once reached, the glacier is initially easy, fairly steep but with minimal crevassing. A rock step is reached, bypassable on its R on steep icy snow (which had steps cut in it). Above the step, the route traverses R, fairly icy with steep drops below to the R, needing care on the way back down. Above, the gradient eases off then the route zig zags up another steep section, again fairly icy with a steep drop-off to the R, requiring considerable care in descent. Above this, all is easy. The main route skirts R of a steepish snow slope, then cuts back L (E) to the summit.

In descent, the steep glacier sections require care. The rock step is often abseiled from its N end, just below the Ortler Bivouac; alternatively the steep glacier edge beside the rock has to be downclimbed. The main issue below the glacier is the narrow arete which has to be downclimbed - hard to see footholds without assistance, and big drops on both sides. There is a small loop in which rope or sling can be inserted. The lower part of the descent with its loose rock, requires considerable care; also the best trail isn't always clear; there are some route choices.

For a more detailed description, see Petter Bjorstad's site:

Difficulties: YDS 1 & 2 to the Payer hut (some exposure). Above, Class 2 with frequent passages of 3 and a tricky arete with a Class 4 move. This crux is less protected than some other difficult sections - presumably to preserve its character. The glacier has 2 steep sections, requiring considerable care in descent, particularly later in season when more icy.

Triangulation point: mapped, none found (I didn't search for a bolt).

Summit: Compact rocky summit, a cross, short snowy ridge with long snow slopes W and steep drops to N and E, great views.

Notes: After our morning climb of Cima Dodici, Andrew and I travelled across into Sudtyrol to meet Petter Bjorstad, the prolific Norwegian peak-bagger - first time either of us had met him. The last cablecar from Sulden is at 5pm, but despite Petter having a few travel issues we meet in good time, have a quick meal at one of the hotels and check it's OK to leave cars there, sort out our gear and catch a ride up to Langenstein (2330m). The weather is warm and sunny - Petter had phoned ahead to book us in at the Payer hut and the English-speaking hut guardian confirmed the weather is set fair - just what we need for this relatively big and serious mountain. We make our way upwards, enjoying the unfolding views, past the Tabaretta Hut. There are a few other groups of climbers ascending and descending. On the zig-zags we notice an oldish man behind us, who takes a fairly challenging shortcut up one of the spurs, plodding nonchalantly upwards with his hands behind his back. He turns out to be hut staff, returning after getting a dose of civilisation down in the village. A bridge over a deep gully has a bell - something to invoke a blessing on the forthcoming venture. I gave it a ring, and we survived the climb - so I guess it works!

The hut is comfortable - busy but not unduly crowded. Views of our goal are intriguing - it's not really possible to work out where the route goes. There are a lot of hidden complexities as it turns out. Ortler (one tends to use the German spelling here: it used to be the Austrian country highpoint until a postwar deal handed it to Italy; most of the climbers here seem to be German speaking) is a popular mountain. We enjoy an excellent, filling meal, sharing a table with a father and daughter pairing. She is the lead partner - a striking blonde with a stunning smile and thighs that could crack walnuts!

Next morning we let the early birds leave, enjoy a bread, jam and coffee breakfast and head off at 6 a.m., just about first light. We'd been noting the initial course the head-torches took, and follow carefully, as the ground tends to be loose with big drops to the R, although there's nothing technical for a little while. Crossing a notch in the Tabrettagrat there is a simple short downclimb then things get a little more exposed, then there are a number of steep rocky ascents and descents, the harder sections protected by cables and chains making them generally straightoward, Class 3 territory. Views are increasingly impressive, first the Alpenglow highlighting the ridges in pink, then full daylight and warm sunshine. In time the rock becomes cleaner, and we climb a nice slabby section culminating in a fairly technical climb (Class 4: crux) up onto a narrow arete. The real fun here is in the descent - it would be worth climbing up and down this move a few times if there is time and no queue.

Once on the glacier we gear and rope up. Soon the trail steepens and we tackle the first steep section, passing the rock step on icy snow at its R edge, then negotiating the next short traverse with care. On the middle section the gradient eases. It may be here that we meet Brunnhilde and her father, heading back down already. Another steep section (zig-zags) leads to the final easy angled part of the glacier. We follow the "normal" route which skirts a slope; we note a few parties have taken more direct, sporting lines on the steep snow slope.

The summit (09:30) is a fine place to be, with good distant views, although the eye is drawn to the Hintergrat, a steep narrow ridge terminating directly at the summit: this route is also quite busy this morning. After food and photos, at 10:30 we head down. The first steep section is quite "interesting" in descent, especially when an Italian party attempt an overtaking manouvre on the very steepest part. Unwelcome - as it is steep, a little icy and with a very big drop. There is no great excitement on either side - this is fairly normal for Italians or so we are told :-) The rock step is the next obstacle. Many teams are abseiling down but a few are reversing the steep snow route. Our half-rope isn't quite long enough for the abseil so we too downclimb: initially a little intimidating but it goes OK. I'm last down: Petter has me on belay from the foot of the climb so I can only fall 10m, I guess! For me, the traverse down to the start of this step is the worst part, crossing on fairly thin steps cut into a steep icy snow slope (although it was easy enough in ascent).

Below the glacier, the first notable section is that clean rocky arete. There is quite a queue for the tricky downclimb: we sit in the sunshine, enjoy the view and contemplate our future. To save getting the rope out we tie a few long slings together and loop the end into a small steel ring fixed into the rock above the drop. Petter climbs down first, Andrew second; I don't fancy doing it unprotected so agree with the next climber by sign language that he will unloop the sling once I'm down. The move is short and a little out of balance: I'm glad to have Petter below to guide the feet. The final little drama is just before the Tabarettagrat, when we manage to go a little off route (too far L), finding ourselves on looseish ground above a thought-provoking drop. Back on route, we are soon back at the Payer hut, enjoying a beer and sorting our gear in the hot sunshine.

The descent to the cablecar turns into a race against time - we get there just before the 5pm cutoff, ride back down to Sulden and plann our next move. We had fancied Pizzo di Coca, but that would be another long day after a fairly long drive. Piz Kesch is much closer, and an equally worthy objective. Indeed, Andrew and I had planned to climb it last Sunday with Lee Newton, but had given it a miss due to snowfall the previous day. So we drive west, pausing for some provisions and again for a final view of the mighty Ortler, cross the Swiss border then find our way to La Punt, at the start of the Albulapass. Here Petter very kindly treats us to a meal, then heads off to find a hotel, while Andrew and I drive up to the layby below the pass, which marks the start of the Piz Kesch ascent. Great day out!

For trip details and logistics, see the Säntis report
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6152 ft / 1874 m
    Extra Gain:492 ft / 149 m
    Round-Trip Distance:9 mi / 14.5 km
    Route:Ortler Glacier Route
    Trailhead:Sulden (Langenstein)  7644 ft / 2329 m
    Grade/Class:PD+, YDS4
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Exposed Scramble, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Hut Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Warm and sunny
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 30 Minutes

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