We’d been hiking for more than an hour when it became obvious we were on the wrong trail. Our objective, a shining white cliff high above had disappeared behind a ridge, then veered even further away. “No problem, let’s just go back a little bit then climb up and over that ridge,” I said. Hannes thought that might work, so then we climbed steep slopes of grass and trees to a small cliff. Maybe we’d see a way above the cliff…let’s climb it! Pretty soon we were on crumbly gray rock, picking shards away to find a good handhold. After a kind of scary move Hannes did the sensible thing and waved us away from the madness. So down we went, sadly making for the car to start over. Our dreams of climbing beautiful limestone slabs were crumbling!

Background to this story is that I’ve developed kind of a reputation. Danno had to save my ass once on a wilderness Dolomites climb. Later an easy hike turned into an all day eggstravaganza. Later still Hannes came climbing with me, duly warned by Danno about my penchant for adventure. He got a full day that time. And now here we go again, finding adventure and uncertainty when we didn’t ask for it. Sometimes even I want a relatively quiet, easy approach!!

But hope arrived in the form of a nice couple from Spain. “This must be the path, there is no other!” they said. Their confidence was a sign that they knew as little as us. But the girl said she’d seen the sign reading “schnellaufstieg” (quick ascent trail) mentioned in the cryptic approach text, and that was enough for me (Hannes pointed out later that she simply assumed that a steep trail was a schneelaufstieg, not that she saw an actual sign, but by then I didn’t want to believe such negative talk!).

“Come, Hannes, we climb up!” Later, he used his cell phone to determine that there was a “traversing path” from the Schrecksattel to the Wartsteinkante. By transitivity, since I believed we could reach the Wartsteinkante from our destination, then if we simply reach the Schrecksattel we’ll be fine, if a little late! So we hiked up and up.

The cliffs receded, replaced by trees and meadow. No one on the trail had any climbing gear which was dispiriting. Lots of “Gruess Gott!” with hikers clad in heavy 1970s mountaineering boots. Hannes appeared to be visibly crying. Rage filled us both. We reached the Schrecksattel and began looking for the “traversing path,” but only found a road that would lead to a military telepherique that we knew was above our climb. So we walked over there, at one point scaring a private party at a hut. They saw us approaching and froze, mid-pour in their breakfast coffee. Hannes and I froze too, and warily we regarded each other. “I think they think we are here to kill them!” said Hannes, and I had to agree. Finally we sorted things out and continued.

At the military lift station we descended a hiking trail with iron railings, and a strange, damp, fuzzy pipe that thrummed with secrets. What is the army doing in this godforsaken land? What…is in the pipes?

Finally, in a sullen fury of tiny scree avalanches we arrived at the base of our climb. We’d been on the go more than 4 hours and were tired and thirsty. But no time for that…let’s climb! We quickly abandoned the “Lachende Steine” idea, and headed straight for “Sternschnuppe.” We ran up pitches 1 and 2, grade IV+ at the most, but very nice slab climbing. Hannes led up a nice face just left of a vegetated channel. Then an interesting chimney climb. Then the “crux,” which featured an awkward lieback move on an overhanging “schuppe,” (I don’t even know the english word for this feature…it’s like the eskimos and their snow around here). I hemmed and hawed, resting on the rope and trying a few times to crack it. Finally I got the moves, but it felt so dicey. Scared of my ability to hold on while clipping, and all too aware of the “cheese grater” nature of the sharp rock, I grabbed the hanging sling on the next bolt for added security while clipping. But from this point the rest of the pitch was VI+ delightful. Really nice flakes with sideclings allow you to maintain purchase on a vertical face. Anyway, that one move is rated VII-, but I think it’s VII. It’s really neat…maybe next time free for me.

Hannes on the 3rd pitch. Other climbers on “Astrofant.”

Michael on pitch 5, the crux with some slings hanging above.

Here we realized we were both pretty tired, and getting headaches too. We drank a lot of water and tried to marshall our strength. But we’d have to wait another pitch for some magic. I led a VI- crack and face. The crack had a very awkward move. “Watch me!” I told Hannes because it was dicey.

At the belay I met Christof and Ernst. Christof asked us to carry one of the ropes hanging at the belay. It belonged to an accident victim from the day before. If we carried it to the military lift station, the mountain rescue would retrieve it. We ended up giving these guys our rope, and we climbed the rest of the route with the victims double ropes (nice yellow and blue ropes). They had left a couple of apples too. We ate the apples which restored our spirits immensely! We were ready to continue. (BTW, the victim ended up with a broken leg, thank goodness nothing worse!) We climbed another pitch, which I had to reverse half of because I got casual about the route and followed a rock spur far up and right. Doh! The next was an excellent sustained grade V face and corner, with rough, textured rock. From a cave belay, where Hannes suffered from cold, I was sent out on the best pitch of the route.

A sustained VI- exposed face climbing up and right, then back left into a slabby notch. Through an overhang to a final steep face move in order to reach a stunning belay spot right in the face on a narrow ledge. Along in here the sun finally hit the face, and Hannes could feel warm again. Two more slabby pitches got us to the summit, in a tangle of latschen bushes. We hiked through hobbit holes and yoda houses to the lift station, found our rope and left the yellow and blue ones. We hiked down (for the second time!) chatting with a couple from Munich who climbed “Harry Potter,” a nice route to the right of the descent (looking up). They had the same problems as us in the morning. Oh, and the Spanish couple, they ended up hiking down to the car, and then ended up behind us on “Sternschnuppe,” which they climbed very fast, nearly catching us.

Aside from a broken tupperware container, we had emerged unscathed, and our hike down was uneventful.

Looking back up at the face.

Me and Hannes, happy to have achieved some climbing!

We loved this wall, and it’s beauty seemed to grow as we descended…looking back occasionally to see the white wall, shimmering in the early evening haze. Full of routes and adventures for next time. Big thanks to Hannes for a fun day, and to the weather for NOT raining which would have sucked!

A fun-time route topo.