04 Oct 2011

Wilde Leck (IV-)

I left Munich at 5:30 am, with my bike, boots, crampons and ice axe. I planned to climb the Wilde Leck by the Ostgrat (East Ridge). It’s a glorious scramble on solid granite, rated somewhere between III and IV. With such great weather lasting for weeks, I figured the rock would be as dry and snowfree as it gets all summer. Time for a solo trip!

I like to go alone sometimes. It’s kind of a head-clearing exercise. In this case some things happened that marred the spiritual experience of the day, but I’ll get to that.

I rode the bike up from Gries, forgetting how painful steep hills are. I’d ride for a while then get off and walk, my inner thigh muscles practically singing. My pack felt pretty heavy. All the “good times” of the last two months were catching up with me. Aside from a couple isolated climbs, I hadn’t done much since July, when I felt in top shape. But as usual, life has trade offs. I wouldn’t trade taking the kids to Disneyland for anything, or the Dolomite hike with them, or their first days of school. Good times.

At the hut I ate some Apfelstruedel and drank some coffee, then rode the bike a little further on the flat valley floor to where the trail started uphill. This picture looks back on that flat valley:

And here is my goal, the Wilde Leck on the right!

After a steep hill climb, I walked on an interesting moraine, stopping to fill my water bottle at a stream. I hadn’t seen anybody yet. Judging from the activity at the hut, everyone staying overnight left long before. Seems like 9 am is the emptiest time for such huts. They were mopping, playing music, eating breakfast…and were startled to see me!

Eventually I gained the glacier, which wasn’t very exciting. It made me miss glaciers of the cascades, with their deep and huge crevasses. The continental climate of the eastern alps just doesn’t allow for that kind of build up. Turning onto the smaller, but still active Wilde-Leck Glacier, I kicked steps up an icy slope and got my first view of the ridge. I knew people were up there, but they were too small to see.

Planning to cache my axe, poles and crampons at the place where the ascent and descent routes meet, I emptied my pack to discover I had rock shoes in there. That’s why it’s so heavy! With only a moments reflection I decided to climb and descend in the rock shoes. It’ll be faster and with a greater safety margin too, as long as I don’t get too crazy following variations that I wouldn’t touch in boots.

Gaining the ridge was exciting. First off, the rock here was pretty loose. First I followed a natural line, traversing right and gently up. But I got tired of that in my snazzy shoes, so I took a steeper line. Pretty soon I was climbing what was probably the crux pitch for me, a polished lieback crack which looked very low angle from below, but seemed to steepen once on it! The handholds were good, but I was glad to finish that, and sought to be a bit more conservative on the rest of the trip to the crest. The worrisome thing was that at the top of the lieback crack I had to rely on stacked blocks overhanging the exit. With the amount of loose material around this involved delicate testing. But anyway, finally I was on the crest:

It continued like this, really nice from the get-go, and always providing solid and airy climbing. Here I caught up to a party above:

And here was a really neat “fin” that is climbed to about 8 meters below the summit, then traversed on the left:

Here I’m looking down from a slabby section on the fin below:

The crux of the climb is supposed to be a “Piazriss” (lieback crack) at grade IV-. I actually climbed the face left of the crack because I was climbing through a party and they had the rope draped over the crack. I wouldn’t have done this without rock shoes!

There was some great knife-edge climbing that reminded me of the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart in Washington State:

The ridge in partial profile:

The summit block had a very interesting pitch, I drew a red line for the way I went through:

Life on top:

I met Markus and Sabine from Salzburg there, they were really nice. I hung around a while, then followed them down. The party I passed was approaching the summit. I don’t think I’ll see this panorama again until everything is covered in snow…

The descent was pretty easy, but one area gave some trouble. There had been a recent and massive rockfall, which overlaid about 30 meters of the descent in fine dust, and many blocks seemed to be loose. I struggled to find the safest way through, exploring 4 possibilities left and right. The correct way is to follow the red paint, though it goes through a zone of uncomfortable looseness, and requires a committing step onto a cantilevered block that doesn’t appear well attached (especially considering the violence that overtook the region!). I finally figured out a way to test it by jumping on it with my hands well-attached to a solid block. Once you feel safe standing on the block, the descent continues easily, though a bit dusty for a while.

I used my crampons on the glacier, more to justify carrying them so far than for anything else. I followed the glacier then trail down, nearly making a “wrong” turn and going down to the valley floor. Backtracking a bit, I descended via the moraine. I thought I was in front of Mark’s party, but they went to the valley floor and got so far in front of me, that I had no idea they’d been in the hut drinking beer and expecting me to show up. Darn. Anyway, my feet hurt, and I had kind of an exertion headache. I resolved to just go down, especially as I anticipated some bike trouble.

Indeed I had some! I ignore my bike for long periods, and now it got me back. The brakes were already worn down to nothing, and now I wanted to descent 1500 feet on a steep road! I squeezed so hard, grinding metal into the metal rim of my back tire. Ouch! Anyway, this meant I had to go slow. Mark’s party zoomed past. By the time I got down my hands were cramping from braking so hard.

Car to car time was 10 hours, and 1800 meters up and down. I was beat. I drove down and decided to get home by Imst and the Fernpass. Big mistake! I ended up waiting in a meadow beside the road for an hour to see if traffic would let up. It only got worse. I gave up and went home via Innsbruck and the A12, enduring a minor adventure with nearly running out of gas and having the gas station I was aiming for closed for construction! What with one thing and another it took 6 hours to get home, where it should take a little more than 3. Oh well, sometimes you have to pay for the good weather somehow!

More pictures here, and Markus wrote about his tour with Sabine here.