Ski Mountaineering

Innsbruck, Tirol: Klettersteig, Brandjochspitze

October 2007

Reiner Stenzel

This is a private trip report about climbing in the Tyrolean Alps, which could be of interest to any SMSr traveling to that area. I spent a month teaching at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and was free on weekends to explore the mountains. It is a wonderful place where nature, culture and people's hospitality make you wish to stay longer.

Fall is a great season in the mountains. The colors of the forests are gorgeous and there can be days of perfectly clear weather. One of the best areas around Innsbruck is the "Nordkette", a chain of mountains north of the Inn valley belonging to the "Karwendelstein" mountains. Not as high and steep as the Western or Southern Alps but as challenging as many of our Sierra peaks. It offers opportunities for many activities; skiing, climbing, hiking, mountain biking, hang gliding, or simply riding a cable car up and down the Hafelekar to enjoy the views.

For a solo day climb the best choice is the "Innsbrucker Klettersteig". This "via ferrata" is a traverse along the ridge of the Nordkette over about 7 peaks from the "Hafelekar" to "Frau Hitt". It takes 3-4 hrs, involves class 3-5 climbing where the technical parts are protected by fixed steel cables and iron posts on vertical walls. Most people use harness, helmets, slings with biners to clip into the rope, but since I had none of it I used some adrenaline instead. There are several peaks on the ridge marked by large crosses. The highest one is the "Kemacher" peak which had a sign-in register.

On my first free weekend, Sat, Oct 6, the mountains were all covered by clouds and it looked like a no-go. But by midday it began to brake up and I took the cable car from the "Hungerburg" up to the "Hafelekar". Clouds were swirling around the peaks but once in a while one could seen the mountains. So I gave it a try. Besides, you are never alone on this popular route. It was a good workout, but not much of a scenic view since I was mostly in a whiteout. At least it did not rain. The rock consists of limestone which can be very slippery.

After the climb I returned to the "Seegrube" station to catch the last tram down into town for some sightseeing.

The next weekend the weather looked like a repeat. Sat morning the mountain tops were in the clouds. So I decided to explore the nearby "Kranebitter Klamm". It is a long chute/gorge coming down from the mountain crest to the Inn valley.

The upper gorge was a XC talus climb. In winter time it must be a perfect avalanche chute. The lower part is in the tree zone. The fall colors were very pretty. But hiking on steep slopes covered with slippery beech leaves was more hazardous than the "Klettersteig".

On Sunday, Oct 14, the weather forecast called for sunshine. This opportunity had to be used for a real peak climb. The "Brandjochspitze" is a prominent peak in the "Nordkette", west of the "Klettersteig", about 7000' above the Inn Valley. It involves a long ascent from the valley to the ridge and then a cl 4 ascent with fixed aid like on the Klettersteig.

I started at 8am from my residence between Kranebitten and Hoettingen West. A trail ascends to the "Rauschbrunnen", a popular mountain restaurant. From there another trail continues to the Aspachhuette (closed), then to the Achselbodenhuette (closed), across the Hoettinger Graben, up to the Frau Hitt Saddle and finally the ascent via the east ridge to the summit. At 1:30pm I was on the Brandjochspitze where I mingled with several other climbers. I looked in vain for a peak register, then ate lunch, sharing some of it with hungry black ravens, and enjoyed the great views on this exceptionally clear day trying to preserve some of it in pictures. One could see from the plains of Germany to Dolomites in Italy, over glaciated high peaks and deep valleys with towns, roads and rivers. The effort of climbing high was well rewarded.

By 2pm it was time to descend. It requires the same care as ascending since even dry limestone can be very slippery. Passing by Frau Hitt I watched the young locals free-climb this class 5 spire without protection. My way down passed by the Hoettinger Alm, a scenic mountain restaurant, where I had a well earned Radler (beer with lemon juice), cheese knoedl soup (a typical Tyrolean soup). Newly energized I finished the long descent home in a few hours.

The next morning I felt pretty sore after the 10 hr, +-7000' hike to the Brandjochspitze. But I was glad to have done it because the next weekend it was all over: A cold front moved in, it snowed down to the valley, the peaks were not seen for many days and when they eventually poked through the clouds they were all white. It seemed to be the end of the climbing season and perhaps soon the beginning of the ski season. But my time was up and I was sad to say "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen".

Trip pictures (click for large version):

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