Long ridgetop traverse

I wanted to go out for a father son day just with Rowan, and chose the Innsbrucker Klettersteig as something to do. Nancy and I did this beautiful traverse of the ridge above Innsbruck back in late October of 2008. We had significant snow and ice then, making for some excitement and unfortunately stress! But now should be a perfect time to visit.

We drove down, took the lifts up. I was happy to see Rowan exasperated with the lifts, and wondering why we weren’t hiking. “Don’t worry fella, there will be plenty of work to do up there!” That’s m’boy.

It was quite cold at the upper lift station, we walked over to put on jackets, harness and helmet. After some other folks we started up. Rowan did a great job on the initial wall which was definitely the crux of the climb. He clipped safely and figured out a way up the huge giant-sized steps (from his perspective) to ascent the vertical wall. I was impressed!

Once past the initial wall, I wanted to change to a more fluid climbing style. Rowan is competent with securing himself in via ferrata gear, and I know I can rely on him not to make a mistake with the clipping. But my feeling about via ferrata routes in general is that they shouldn’t be climbed dogmatically. With a rope, a team can move together and reduce clipping to a minimum. I want the boys to learn this style anyway because I feel like it’s a better approximation of alpine climbing. So we changed to a style where I led, securing the rope when needed, and Rowan following. From this point he only needed to use the via ferrata gear when we had a difficult traverse or when he ended up above me on a descent. I never saw anyone travelling this way, and I’m sure I’ll get an earful of advice about it, but what I really like is that it leaves the leader (and over time, the follower too, who will lead more in a natural manner) both looking for protection of any available type, and looking for opportunities to cover ground quickly. This makes the via ferrata function as training for bigger climbs.

Rowan waits to start

Ridgetop country

Rowan finishes the crux

The second wall

This kind of country went on forever

Rowan on a traverse

Rowan at the bridge

The final scramble to the summit

On top

We reached a first summit with a cross, and I was actually wishing to be finished! My idea for the day was a bit of fun alpine travel, and then a couple of hours hanging out in a meadow and talking. But it was not to be…we continued on the ridge, now in blowing clouds. Hmm, should we turn back? I was on the knife edge of that decision for a while. Rowan didn’t like the wind very much, it was kind of exhausting and made his eyes hurt. But then we’d get behind a rock shelter and he’d make a joke. It was only 1:30. I guess we are fine!

So many long traverses. You know, I underestimate climbs so often, and have done it again with this one. “It’s easy for you because you’re big,” said Rowan. It was true…he had to work quite a bit harder for any given “problem” we encountered. Finally we reached a milestone, a cute little wooden bridge across a chasm. I would have been more impressed with it if we hadn’t have crossed much steeper and more delicate gaps in the ridge with vertical climbing!

I read in the book that an emergency exit was possible at this bridge, and thought to take it. But I only saw a very faint notion of a trail going down. A guy came along and I chatted with him about it. “It’s just 20 minutes from here to the summit, just continue,” he said. I knew it would be at least double that for us, but still was reassured. Rowan and I climbed another summit and saw the last peak ahead of us, this time no longer so far away and obscured by blowing clouds. “You ready for the last climb to the summit Rowan?”

He was. “Film this in case of Fail Army,” he said about a little jump he made from one wall to another. He has a great sense of humor, and just when I thought he was completely exasperated by the wind, and yet another descent and climb he would say something that indicated he was laughing somewhere in that head of his!

Rowan with birds

Goodbye to the crest

Walking back to Seegrube

The Eye of Sauron

Made it just in time!

The only remaining problem was a painful bang to Rowans knee, and finally the continuing wind took a toll on his both. I remember how delicious it felt when we could hide behind a rock for a moment just to feel the silence. We would say “Ahh, that’s nice!” to each other. We nibbled on “Studentenfutter,” German for “student feed” (mixed nuts).

We reached the summit of the ridge, with a gentle-looking descent to brown grass and, we knew, an easy walk back to the lift station. We started down happily, but as time went by we saw there was still a fair bit of climbing. This was probably our greatest test as a team. Me already feeling bad about asking Rowan to do more than he should, and Rowan struggling with sore legs and the relentless wind. Argh! This was hard, especially the several descents along the way. I was trying to teach Rowan a technique to move quickly down cabled sections, done with a kind of rappelling down the cable facing uphill. But maybe the motion only comes naturally after rappelling practice, because Rowan just didn’t get the hang of it.

Finally we were down to the trail and done with the rope. Whew! We found a place out of the wind on green grass, and suddenly it was as if all the tiring difficulties hadn’t happened. Kids are kind of like that. Rowan fed peanuts to the crows who ate out of his hand. All smiles, hard to believe we were feeling a little overwhelmed!

After a good 10 minute break, we started hiking down. This was easy but steep. The summit seemed to grow in bulk and scale as we descended, protected by muscular outcrops of limestone. We sat down a minute on a cute little bench embedded in the steep grass slope. Take pleasure where you find it!

The trail was steep!


The last lift went down at 5:30, and we were running close. We thought it was on a hill nearby. But on top of the hill we saw that the station was below us. “Let’s run, Rowan!” But then he got a stitch in his side. We walked, and then jogged, and luckily just made it. There was time for a quick picture first, then we descended under power 1400 meters to Innsbruck for a pasta dinner followed by Kaiserscharrn.

We got home at 9:30, Rowan collapsed into bed and me soon after. Hmm, I seem to have unwittingly introduced Rowan to a real mountain climbing day, where everything takes longer than you expect, and you pass through the goals by the skin of your teeth!