PEAK 21: Austria – Grossglockner

Grossglockner was one of the toughest challenges of the whole European Peaks expedition. You have to cross a glacier on the way up and the last part is very exposed so securing on rope is essential. It was also the first mountain after I was in the car accident in Scotland so I was pretty nervous. Luckily, I found the best climbing partners so the experience was amazing. Follow my climb to the highest point of Austria.

Date of summit: 12th August 2018 8:00 
Traveling mode: Hiking 
Height of the peak: 3,798m 
Hiking distance: 8,12 km (Day 1) 
Hiking distance: 1 km (Day 2) 
Time to ascend to Erzhog Johann Hütte: 6 hours 
Time to ascend from Erzhog Johann Hütte to Grossglockner: 3 hours 
Map of my hiking journey to Erzhog Johann Hütte: Movescount (I had wrong settings, inaccurate) 
Map of my hiking journey from Erzhog Johann Hütte to Grossglockner: Movescount (I had wrong settings, inaccurate) 
Personal rating of the mountain: **** (6 stars maximum) 
Beer on the peak: Edelweiss Dunkel ***** (6 stars maximum)  

After the accident in Scotland I was sure my expedition was over. I lost all my equipment and I was very depressed. It is difficult to describe the feeling but I was just lying on my bed with negative thoughts about what happened and what could happen. I didn’t have any motivation to do anything, felt hopeless and didn’t know what to do next. Should I just cancel my remaining holiday and go back to work? Should I stay a bit at home to recover?

People around me couldn’t help me either. I had to make some decision myself. The problem was that I was not able to do that. I was so desperate that I visited a psychologist for the first time in my life. We had a long discussion and the psychologist found out that I actually deep inside wanted to continue and finish the remaining mountains. She found out the most important thing: I hate giving up.

As I said I didn’t even think about continuing after the accident because I was scared about failing and I didn’t want to let others down again. But it was true. I just didn’t want to give up. The meeting brought the right spark for my decision. I would do all my best to continue and to finish the expedition!

The highest mountain of Austria - Grossglockner
Next mountain to reach – Grossglockner

On the one hand, it was a wise decision. I still had all the tickets booked and many friends were waiting for our appointed climbs. On the other hand: was it even possible? I didn’t have any equipment and almost no money. But I decided to give it a try. I posted on social media that I need help and what equipment I am looking for. The response was amazing. I managed to borrow and rent all the equipment I lost within just 24 hours. Only thanks to my amazing family and friends around me I regained the lost trust and I believed again I can make it. That assured me. I should get back to the mountains.

My gear fixed in 24 hours
Expedition equipment fixed in 24 hours

I quickly packed all the new equipment and set out on the trip. Let’s climb Grossglockner! I met my friends Martin and Stefan in Austria and we continued together to the car park at Lucknerhaus. That’s where our two day climb started.

Looking stupid in my mum's sunglasses
My mum even lent me her glasses (she has more or less the same dioptres). I looked like an idiot but it worked. Let the journey begin.

At the beginning it was a very easy hike with stunning views. We expected potential difficulties after the hut Städlhütte because there is the beginning of the glacier. However, finding the way was very easy thanks to great visibility. The glacier was quite dirty but at least there were no dangerous cracks. The traverse over the glacier took only about an hour. Then we only had a short via ferrata in front of us and we soon reached the hut Erzhog Johann Hütte.

Quickly melting glacier under Grossglockner
Quickly melting glacier under Grossglockner

Erzhog Johann Hütte is a very cosy place to stay. We had a great dinner there and even better beer. Unfortunately, we had no view because clouds arrived. Instead of views over the fog, we rather went to bed on time. Next morning we had to wake up early.

The alarm clock rang at 4 am. Our plan was to catch the sunrise on the top of Austria. We started the climb in the darkness and dense fog. Unfortunately, this was again a time when the forecast was completely wrong. Luckily, we were not the first ones climbing up so we could follow a path in the glacier. It took us about an hour to pass the glacier and then the true climbing began.

Climbing on Grossglockner started
Climbing on Grossglockner started

Unfortunately, it was still very foggy so the navigation was very difficult. This time there was even no path so it was even more difficult to find the correct way up. We got lost several times which meant an hour delay. Luckily, more and more people were showing up coming from the hut so it was subsequently easier to follow the correct route.

The view opened up only for a very short but beautiful moment on the way to Grossglockner
The view opened up only for a very short but beautiful moment

Due to the delay, we lost the opportunity to catch sunrise on the top but it didn’t really matter. The clouds were still occupying Grossglockner. At least, we were back on the correct route so the climb got easier.

Suddenly, the visibility improved a bit and we realized we are already on the final ridge. That time, the first climbers started to return from the summit as well. However, that was the beginning of our worst Grossglockner experience.

It was very exposed on the ridge and there were almost no places where you can pass a climber from the opposite direction. The queues started to form and they became very long in a while. Administrators of the Grossglockner route should consider building there traffic lights. There were simply too many people. We had to wait sometimes even twenty minutes at a time. The rocks were covered with frost and the wind was getting stronger with every elevation meter. During such a long waiting time you will get cold. We started to freeze.

Crazy queue on the way to Grossglockner
Crazy queue on the way to Grossglockner

Finally, the first 30 climbers overcame the narrow passage leading from the top and we could finally continue ascending. Our hands were frozen but the climb let us warm up. Luckily, the top was already not far. We soon spotted the cross on the top emerging from the clouds. In the end it took us three and half hours to reach the summit. Unfortunately, it was still cloudy so we had no view.

On the way down, the situation from the way up repeated several times. Queues really ruined the overall experience of our climb. The worst were some irresponsible groups which refused to wait. Instead they were hurrying up and putting others in risky situations. Next time I would never climb Grossglockner during the weekend again.

Very busy on top of Grossglockner
Very busy on top of Grossglockner

After descending about 200 meters, finally the weather improved. The clouds disappeared and we finally had a wonderful view over the largest glacier in the eastern Alps – Pasterze. This view was certainly worth the effort.

View over the beautiful glacier Pasterze
View over the glacier Pasterze

Descending with recovered weather was much easier. We soon passed the cabin Erzhog Johann Hütte and had a celebration lunch under the glacier on Städlhütte. We made it. One of the toughest climbs managed despite bad weather!

Lastly, I would like to thank a lot my climbing partners Stefan and Martin for the best company and especially their climbing experience. Without you I would never get up to the peak!

View over Grossglockner - northern side
View over Grossglockner – northern side
View over Grossglockner - southern side
View over Grossglockner – southern side

My tips for the mountain Grossglockner:

  • Avoid climbing Grossglockner during weekends. The mountain is extremely busy. I suggest climbing it during autumn when the summer tourists disappear as well.
  • The climb is technically demanding. You need glacier experience as well as climbing experience. If you lack any of these two, don’t even try to climb the mountain on your own. Find an experienced climbing partner or a mountain guide.
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