Friday, January 25, 2013

Thursday Adventure: Pyramidenspitze, Austrian Alps

For this week's adventure, I thought I'd break away from New Zealand and head to a different, equally beautiful part of the world: the Austrian Alps.  My husband Robert is Australian by birth, but his parents are originally from Austria and Germany, and he still has many relatives living in the tiny Tirolean village of Epps where his mother grew up.  Robert and I went together to Epps in the summer of 2005, and spent several lovely days exploring the mountains near the village.  One of my favorite hikes was an ascent of Pyramidenspitze, the second largest peak in the Kaisergebirge.

On the road to Pyramidenspitze
Not only was the scenery spectacular, but the route up the peak is a "klettersteig" climb - basically, you ascend cliffs via the use of fixed protection (iron rungs, cables, etc), rather than needing technical climbing gear.  (The more well-known name for this type of route is the Italian "Via Ferrata" - literally, iron way.  The first via ferrata were put up during World War I in the Italian Dolomites; these days, they've become a popular form of sport climbing in the Alps.  The US has very few such routes, since most US climbers hold to a "leave no trace" wilderness ethic.  But in the Alps, where enormous metal crosses already adorn every summit and solitude is a vanishingly rare commodity, the climbing community understandably takes a far different outlook.)

Pyramidenspitze is quite an easy klettersteig climb, with just a few sections of rungs and cables.  More difficult routes require specialized protective gear, and ascending them can be an undertaking as challenging as any technical climb - but this one was just a nice, fun, easy introduction to the whole klettersteig idea.

Me on the trail.  The klettersteig part of the route goes up the cliffs on the righthand side of the picture.  You can't really see the wildflowers in this picture (they're too small), but they were  incredible.  The Alps are far wetter than US ranges like the Rockies and the Sierras, and so have a far greater profusion of flowers and other greenery in the valleys.  
A curious chamois checks us out.  
Impressive cliffs...and this is what they call the Zahmer ("tame") Kaiser.  
Ascending a klettersteig section. Sure makes for an easy ascent compared to scrambling up peaks in Colorado.
Robert on the klettersteig route
Robert taking a break (just look at those cliffs! Oh, how we wished we had our technical rock gear...)
On the summit of Pyramidenspitze.  Pretty much every single summit in the Alps has a massive cross like this one.  Must be deadly in a thunderstorm.
Looking down at the town of Durchholzen from the summit.  
The even more rugged terrain of the Wilder Kaiser is visible in the distance.


  1. That's some very pretty country!

    Would you say the ladders would make it easier for a beginner?

    (and what would *Dev* think? ;) )

    1. Oh yes, the ladders definitely make it easier. Klettersteig/via ferrata routes were originally put up to allow soldiers to climb pinnacles to call in artillery strikes, and now they're used as a means of allowing hikers/climbers to cross terrain that would ordinarily make for quite a difficult technical climb. The equivalent in the US are the cable/chain routes in places like Half Dome in Yosemite, or Angels Landing in Zion Natl Park.

      Haha, and Dev would totally scoff, thinking the fixed pro takes all the challenge (and therefore the fun!) out of the ascent...though he might enjoy a route as extreme as this one.

  2. "On the Road to Pyramidenspitze" should be a novel. Or a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby movie. :-)

    The mountain peaks in the distance are so sharp they reminded me of Slartibartfast's remark about Norway's crinkly little edges. Up here everything was rounded off by glaciers.

    And about thunderstorms, do those metal cables act like lightning rods as well?

    1. Hee! Crinkly little edges indeed. (Man, I need to reread those's been a long time!)

      Thunderstorms: yeah, you don't want to be anywhere near a via ferrata route in a storm. (Look up "via ferrata" and "lightning" and you'll turn up all kinds of accounts of people getting struck!) I'm told smart hikers in Austria simply don't set out if a thunderstorms are in the forecast. (Of course if we did that in Colorado, we'd basically never climb any peaks, since thunderstorms happen practically every afternoon in summer!)