Gross Clockner (Austria)

In High Places

By: Burton A. Falk


Austria's Hohe Tauren National Park lies astride a rugged portion of the eastern Alps, sixty air miles east of Innsbruck. The commanding feature of this mountain preserve is the icy cone of 12,455' Gross G1ockner, the highest peak in the country. Most mountaineers start their climbs of the Glockner from the summer resort village of Franz Josefhohe, which can be reached via the toll road, Grossglockner Hochalpen (High Alpine) Strasse, traversing the range from Bruck in the north to Leinz in the south.

Frau Sauper, the attractive proprietress of the Emperor Franz Josef Hotel, came up to the dinner table where Charlie Winger and I were just ready to dip into our liver dumpling soup. "There are two Poles in the bar who plan to climb Gross Glockner tomorrow," she said. "I told them about your plans, and they wondered if you would like to join them."

After we finished off a mouth-watering meal of escalloped turkey and spatzle, topped off by generous portion of apple strudel from another world, Charlie and I waddled into to the bar where we met the Poles Mark and Miroslav. Both men were in their mid-thirties, both seemed fit and, fortuitously, Mark could speak English. Over a round of tasty Austrian lager, Mark told us that they had been car camping in a nearby concrete parking structure for four days, waiting for the weather to clear. He said that they had studied the route and that it was easy. Particularly appealing was his assurance that the 5 a.m. departure that Charlie and I had planned was much too early. They were planning a 7 a.m. start, as the hike to the 11,300' Erzherzog Johann Hut would take, at most, five hours. He reiterated that they would like to have us join them. Draining our steins, we said it would be our pleasure.

Next morning, when we met Mark and Hiroslav, we found there would be an addition to our climbing party. Their friend, Janusz, had also decided to attempt the ascent. Unlike Itiark and Miroslav, however, Janusz seemed heavy and ponderous. Oh well, we thought. One more can't hurt.

We began by down-climbing a steep 1000' slope to the Pasterze Glacier at 7200', where we started our crossing of the broad ice field. We were heading WNW toward a rock nose, the beginning of the standard route to the hut. Ominously, early on, Janusz began to lag behind, When we reached the far side of the glacier, Mark said, "My knee hurts..,an old skiing accident. Sorry, but I'm going to have to turn back." And that was the last conversation between the two language groups for the next eight hours.

After Mark left, Miroslav began leading straight up the Ausseres Glocknerkar, an ancillary glacier that falls directly from the summit block of the Gross Glockner. To our left was the rock nose upon which Charlie and I understood the standard route to lay. We stopped Miroslav and gestured toward the nose. He shook his head and pointed up the glacier, then to his watch. He seemed to be indicating that his route would be faster. Well, he's been here for four days, we thought, He probably knows something that we don't.

In retrospect, we shouldn't have been so agreeable. During the next few hours, we climbed through a narrow avalanche chute; scrambled over a long, exposed section of ice-glazed rock; crossed a steep, avalanche-prone field of new fallen snow; hauled Jansunz, an out-of-shape office worker with almost zero climbing experience up 200' of near-vertical ice, front-pointing all the way, and, finally, about 4:30 p.m., found ourselves surrounded by clouds, unable to see more than twenty feet in any direction.

After stumbling on for another half hour--the disparaging specter of a frozen bivouac beginning to loom large in my mind--I was relieved from the top of my frosted hood to the tips of my icy toes, when, through a break in the wind-whipped clouds, the hut came into view. Upon entering the shelter's warm, friendly confines and discovering that hot goulash and cold beer were available for purchase, my feeling of well-being positively overflowed. When Miroslav found that a woman working at the hut hailed from his small hometown in Poland, he, too, became all smiles. Through her--she spoke English--he apologized for subjecting us to our day of agony; in spite of our protests, he insisted on treating us to a beer. it was a pleasure to quaff the ale and watch the two Poles laugh and compare notes on old friends and acquaintances. out in the hut's foyer, meanwhile, Janusz was cooking himself an enormous dinner, making himself even more ponderous for our summit attempt the following morning.

The standard route to the Erzherzog Johann Hut is straight forward for those wise enough to purchase a topo map at the hotel, then stay on the well-marked trail, After crossing the Pasterze Glacier, ascend the rock nose, G1ocknerkarkamp, following the red and white bullseyes painted on prominent rocks.

Reaching the NE edge of the Hofmanns Glacier, rope up and climb diagonally southwest across the ice field toward the shattered rocks of the Salmhohe. Complete the route to the hut by hiking Nw along the Salmkamp ridge. Most climbers should be able to complete the trip in about five hours.

We had breakfast in the hut at 7:00 a.m, the following morning and were out on the well-defined snow trail to the summit before 8:00 a.m. The upper portions of the route were steep and exposed, but we found sturdy steel belay rings and sections of cable in place where needed for protection. After our experiences of the previous day, the climb seemed like a cakewalk. We reached the large crucifix on the summit at 11:30 a.m,, and were properly awed by the panoramic view of mountains stretching away in every direction. What a beautiful country Austria is! We took a slew of photos and began our descent, reaching the hut by l:0O p.m.

Not stopping for lunch, we continued down the standard route toward the broad Pasterze Glacier stretched out below. It was a sunny day, perfect for climbing, and we encountered several upward-bound mountaineers, most of whom would surely arrive at the hut by the mid-afternoon, The only real hurdle we encountered on our return--besides Janusz' incredibly slow pace, that is-was the final 1,000' ascent between the glacier and Franz Josefhohe village. Although a funicular is available (from 8 a.m, to 6 p.m.) to whisk you up this steep slope, it is pricy.

we decided to climb the slope on foot in order to save our money for another mouth- watering dinner at the Emperor Franz Josef Hotel. And Frau Sauper and her kitchen staff didn't disappoint us, either.

Slipping under my fluffy down comforter that night, I drifted off to sleep savoring a glow that comes after the completion of a hard climb and the contentment that follows a wonderful meal.

ODDS AND ENDS

In 1989, the cost of a double room at the eighty year-old Emperor Franz Josef Hotel was approximately U.S. $100. At the Erzherzog Johann Hut, a bed cost U.S.$5.5O; a dinner of bratwurst and sauerkraut, $3.50; a stein of beer, $4.00.

Weather conditions can and do change rapidly in the Alps; besides a topo map, a compass and foul weather gear are absolutely essential.


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