Hoher Dachstein (2995 m) from Gosausee

Dachstein from Vorderer Gosausee in the evening
Dachstein from Vorderer Gosausee in the evening

At the end of June 2011, we went to check out the climbing possibilities in the Gosaukamm, a small Austrian mountain range about 60 km south-east of Salzburg, and possibly set foot on the summit of the adjacent Dachstein. Archeology enthusiasts might know the area thanks to the nearby town of Hallstatt, with old salt mines and both bronze-age and early-iron-age burials, the latter giving the name to the prehistorical “Hallstatt culture.” There is also an amazing ossuary in St. Michael’s chapel in Hallstatt, with nicely decorated skulls on display, each of them bearing the name of its former owner. All around the area, mostly to the north, there are numerous large lakes with beautiful aquamarine water, certainly worth a dip.

Fossils at Gosaugletscher
Fossils at Gosaugletscher

We left our car at the uppermost parking lot at Vorderer Gosausee (lake). There are four large parking lots there, the upper one furnished with toilets, you can spend the night there. We left at 13:30 toward Hinterer Gosausee (lake) along the gravel road connecting the two lakes. Among other things, the road serves as a track for the local Bummelzug – a tractor with an open trailer adjusted for transportation of those who can’t (or don’t want to) use their own legs. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the upper (or rather “rear”) lake. From there, we turned up toward Adamekhütte (hut). The sun was going at it, and the path was winding through low vegetation that was keeping the air nice and sultry while not providing any shade at all, and soon enough, we were sweating profusely. The vegetation gradually disappeared with the gained height, and the air was much more pleasant. To refill your water bottle, there are two streams crossing the path, one at c. 1400 m, the other at c. 1650 m near the small stone ruins of Grobg’stoanhütt’n. As we continued further up, nice views of all the three lakes opened – both Hinterer and Vorderer Gosausee and the middle d’Lack’n. At around 1900, the path slowly straightened, and we could see the hut. It took c. 4.5 hours from the parking lot (c. 900 m) to the hut (2196 m), and we continued a little bit further above, where we found a small lake, or rather, a bigger puddle with clear water. We prepared a small wind barrier from stones so we could sleep more comfortably – we didn’t bring our tent since the weather was stable. One thing that is worth mentioning is the fossils of various prehistoric sea creatures that you will find all around this area – in the rock, polished by the glacier, that has been receding for years and has revealed this open-air museum of natural prehistory. The small fossils displayed back down at Vorderer Gosausee are truly runts, compared to these.

An evening view of Höher Dachstein (in the middle) and Mitterspitz (on the right) with the Obere Windluck'n col in between; photo taken from our bivouac above the Adamekhütte
An evening view of Hoher Dachstein (in the middle) and Mitterspitz (on the right) with the Obere Windluck’n col in between; photo taken from our bivouac above Adamekhütte

Thanks to the fresh breeze blowing into our faces all night, we didn’t sleep much, but the sky full of stars was truly amazing – as it always is high in the mountains. We got up at dawn, and shortly after 5 AM, we set out. The way was marked by red dots, which, as we learned, was not the best way to go up in the conditions that were there then – not enough snow for that. The trodden path led on the right side (looking up, orographically left side) of the glacier (Grosser Gosaugletscher), but the red dots continued further to the right under Schneebergwand, where 50-meter sections of smooth rock alternated with 50-meter sections of frozen firn. Not really the best terrain to go through in crampons nor without them. Putting them on and taking them off every 50 meters was not really an option either. A little fun right at the start 🙂 But maybe when there is even less snow there later in the season, the firn fields may not be there, so it may be a suitable path. Just 2 hours after we left our bivouac, we got to the Obere Windluck’n, the col between Hoher Dachstein and Mitterspitz. The summit rock of Hoher Dachstein seemed quite small from the glacier even though it is c. 250 m high.

The via ferrata to the summit
The via ferrata to the summit

There is a via ferrata from the glacier all the way up to the summit. Since no one was there, we left our things at its start. The climb is easy, but it is a good idea to have your harness sling clipped onto the steel cable since the rock can be icy. There is basically no vertical climb, so an ordinary sling will do. It takes 30-60 minutes from the glacier to the summit. We got to the summit at 8 AM – 3 hours from our bivouac at a rather slow pace with breaks. We achieved quite an unusual thing – we were alone on the normally very frequented summit. Probably because it was the end of June and it was Wednesday. We met four mountaineers on our way back in the lower section of the via ferrata, three of them Italians in aviator sunglasses, wearing jeans and sneakers. It reminded me of the normal route to Grossglockner. At least these weren’t on a leash. They were faster on the descent, sliding on their shoes. I have no idea how they had managed to walk up the glacier without crampons in the morning, maybe it had softened a little bit by then. We felt a little bit over-equipped in our crampons, harnesses, with helmets and ice axes, roped together. These Italians may have even had hair gel in their hair. Nevertheless, a fair warning to those who should be tempted to try an “Italian” ascent – it is not uncommon here for people to end up in a crevasse – one such case happened just a few weeks after our visit.

The summit cross
The summit cross

After getting cooked in the sun on the glacier, we filled our bottles at our puddle and continued down the mountain. The views on the descent from Adamekhütte are amazing, but the descent to the parking lot at Vorderer Gosausee is quite long, about 4 hours.

Our bivouac above the Adamekhütte
Our bivouac above Adamekhütte

Difficulty: (F) The ascent is very easy in good conditions, yet it is not a good idea to underestimate the glacier. According to an email from out Austrian friend, it was quite crevassed by the end of August that year, and their party was the only one (!) with glacier equipment – the others just waited for them to cross and followed their path.

Time: Vorderer Gosausee – Adamekhütte 4 hours, Adamekhütte – Summit 2-3 hours.

Elevation:  Vorderer Gosausee (933 m) – Adamekhütte (2196 m) 1263 m; Adamekhütte – Summit (2995 m) 799 m; Vorderer Gosausee – Summit 2002 m



Alphubel (4206 m) from Täsch via South-East Ridge

The summit plateau from upper Alphubelgletscher, just below the Alphubeljoch

In 2011 we took our Red Devil for another spin around Europe. As was the custom, the exhaust pipe did not enjoy German motorways, and we entered Switzerland producing sounds right out of 1920s’ slapstick movies, similar to gunfire, whenever I changed gear. That proved to be a useful thing in the Alpine switchbacks – whenever an impatient driver drove too close behind us, a simple gear change and the sound it produced made them back off by 50 to 100 meters. After warming up on the Kandersteg via ferrata and spending the night in the Grimselpass, we continued toward Täsch with the intention of climbing/walking up the western standard route up Alphubel (PD, no rock) – according to the available information a less frequented one than the standard route from the east from Saas Fe. We arrived in Ottafe (c. 2150 m), a small village above Täsch, where I found out the middle muffler was hanging on a single rusty suspension – the pipe connecting it to the pipe leading from the engine was completely rotten off, hence the shooting sounds. I later secured it with a piece of wire so it wouldn’t fall off completely.

On the SE Ridge – in the background left to right: Allalinhorn, Strahlhorn, and the north ridge of Rimpfischhorn

We left the car in the small “parking lot” (free parking) and set out toward Täschhütte (hut, c. 2700 m) and further above to Alphubelsee, a small lake, or a large puddle, c. 100 m below the foot of Alphubelgletscher (glacier). It is a perfect spot to spend the night if you are slightly acclimatized (c. 3150 m in elevation) – if not, there are suitable spots (with water) on a grassy terrain at 2800-2900 m, halfway between the hut and the lake, which might reduce the night-time headache a little bit. There is also another good spot right at the foot of the glacier at 3250 m with a smaller “lake”. It took us about 3 hours to get to Alphubelsee from Ottafe. There was one other guy at the lake, on his own.

In the morning, we slept in due to our sleep deficit, and set out in full light at 6 AM. There wasn’t much snow on the glacier in its lower part, but there were probably a few crevasses there, judging by the hollow sound of the firn – but it was hard to tell whether those were crevasses or just pockets of air above the terrain, as there was no way to tell how thick the glacier was. My guess is probably not too thick. In the upper part, the glacier was already covered with a nice layer of snow, and after a short steeper part we reached the Alphubeljoch (pass), a good spot for refreshment, about 2 hours from Alphubelsee.

On the SE Ridge – in the background left to right: Strahlhorn, Rimpfischhorn, and the Monte Rosa massif with Signalkuppe, Nordend, Dufourspitze, Liskamm, and Castor

The views from the saddle and especially from the upcoming ridge were truly magnificent – just masses of ice and snow all around as far as you could see – with views of Monte Rosa, Allalinhorn, Rimpfischhorn, Matterhorn, Weisshorn, and other four-thousanders. The sun was up and did such a good job on the ridge that I took of my jacket and went just in my T-shirt. And pants, obviously. There was a lot of snow that year, so the steepest part of the ridge, which might require belay when icy, presented no trouble at all. For tougher conditions, there are two metal rods for belay on the 50-m steep part, which is about 45° in inclination. At this point we heard a loud rumbling noise somewhere from the ridge below. We reached the summit plateau and arrived at the summit cross, drowned in snow up to the cross-beam, making the brass Jesus swim. It was 10:05, so it took us four hours from the lake, going at quite a slow pace.

The summit cross – photo by Marketa

We took a few pictures and went back down. The steep part was easy on the way down as well – I descended it face down, still using the ice axe just in a walking-cane manner. But two German-speaking guys coming from below made a full use of their climbing equipment, and the one on the lead was hammering away with his two climbing ice axes, standing on the front points of his crampons, shouting instructions at his partner, who was giving him belay. Well, why not.

A small avalanche on the SE Ridge

When we got to the sharp part of the ridge below, we found out that the rumbling noise we heard on our way up was caused by a small avalanche that had fallen down from the ridge – separating just along the trampled-down path. The combination of the large amount of snow and the searing sun had dislodged the avalanche before 10 AM – luckily it was a smaller one, and it apparently didn’t hit any parties, as it didn’t cross any paths.

It took us 2.5 hours back down to Alphubelsee, so altogether less than 7 hours up and down from the lake. Due to some gastric bug we both experienced prior to our trip, we arrived at the lake quite exhausted and with quite a headache – the sun definitely helped that as well. Anyway, the route is a really easy one and quite a short one as well. If you are acclimatized, it is suitable as a single-day trip from Ottafe, taking around 12 hours at an average pace. This route from the west via south ridge is, in my opinion, safer than the standard route from the east – there aren’t that many crevasses (probably), and the fact that the lower half is in the shade during the morning can be a big advantage in snow conditions such as we experienced – avalanches might fall down the east face of the mountain, I would think. However, the route from the east goes up a different slope than the one where the avalanche fell down when we were there. Otherwise both routes should be of approximately the same difficulty, meaning easy snow plods. The route from Ottafe was also the route of the first ascent. The views from the south ridge are one of the best you will see in the area.

Starting point: Ottafe (2150 m), free parking; alternatively Täsch (c. 1450 m), paid parking

Elevation: Ottafe-Alphubelsee 1000 m, Alphubelsee-Alphubel summit 1050 m

Time: Ottafe-Alphubelsee c. 3 hours (2 hours back down), Alphubelsee-Alphubel summit c. 4 hours (2,5 hours back down), Ottafe-Alphubel summit-Ottafe c. 11-12 hours

Difficulty: PD, just snow; the summit ridge might be tricky in icy conditions, especially when there is little snow; in very warm conditions, there is a possibility of avalanches tearing from the ridge down the east face, especially when there is a lot of snow.

Dangers: objectively very few – see the point above; still, I would avoid a solo trip due to possible crevasses and no partner to jump down the other side of the ridge in case of an avalanche taking down the ridge path