The Hochkönig and its surrounding subsidiary summits form one of the most important climbing areas in Austria, arguably in third place after the Wetterstein and the Wilder Kaiser. However, unlike these mountain groups, the Hochkönig is little known outside the world of German and Austrian climbing.
Development started relatively late on the Hochkönig. Whereas the great names of German climbing from the first half of the 20th century left their mark on the faces of the Wetterstein, Karwendel and Wilder Kaiser, just a few isolated routes were climbed in the Hochkönig group and even then for the most part avoided the main challenges. This may be due to the nature of the rock here, which is very rough but offers few of the cracks, corners and chimneys necessary in the days before rubber-soled rock shoes. The 800m high Wetterwand (Großer Bratschenkopf) saw new routes in 1948 and 1952 (the End/Peterka and the Grutschnigg/Breitfuss). However, it was not until 1971 that Franzl and Partenkirchner climbed the South Face Direttissima on the Hochkönig itself, followed in 1972 by the Dientener Weg, also on the south face. Most of the routes here are from the 1980s, 1990s, or even more recently.
The majority of routes in the Hochkönig Group were first climbed by Albert Precht, who has now made more than one thousand first ascents, most of these in the Hochkönig Group and in the neighbouring Tennengebirge. This controversial climber spent many years as a critic of bolts in the mountains. His own style of first ascent allowed only natural protection and pitons, an attitude requiring strong nerves in this area of steep compact limestone slabs offering few opportunities for either nuts or pegs, and a great many of his routes saw few or no repeats ascents. As a self-proclaimed protest against the introduction of the bolt to his beloved home mountains Precht made the first ascent of his route Freier als Paul Preuss (800m, VII-) on the Wetterwand naked and carrying no climbing equipment other than his rock shoes.
The 1990s saw the power drill become a standard piece of the equipment of new routers in the Hochkönig as much as in Austria's other climbing areas. This led to new bolt lines crossing existing Precht routes which were marked, if at all, by the occasional peg or thread. Rather than see his routes disappear underneath newer bolted routes, Precht underwent a form of conversion and set about bolting his own climbs. Unfortunately he eschewed commercial certified bolts and used instead a type of home-made bolt which has come to be known as the Sigi-bolt. Furthermore, he placed typically just one bolt at belays, even those which it is not easy to reinforce with other means. Whether the problem lies in the inherent weakness of these bolts or in the fact that many appear to have been placed badly, either insufficiently deeply or with incorrectly mixed glue, many of these are now loose, and in 2006 a fatal accident occurred in which a Sigi-bolt from which a party was abseiling pulled out. Of the three currently available guidebooks to the Hochkönig, one is written by Albert Precht himself, another (Genussklettern Österreich Mitte) marks routes protected by Sigi-bolts in red, while a third (Best of Genuss 1) simply omits these routes.
The second-most prolific group of new routers in the Hochkönig Group
is that of Rudolf Kühberger, Gerald Forchthammer and friends, the authors of the guidebooks Best Of Extreme Salzburger Land and Best Of Genuss 1, who have also climbed new routes on the south face of the Hochkönig and on the Wetterwand. Kühberger routes are typically protected with two bolts at belays and bolt runners on the harder climbing.
The most convenient hut for routes in most parts of the Hochkönig Group is the Mittelfelder Alm. It is also possible to stay in the Matrashaus on the summit of the Hochkönig itself, descending in the morning to the foot of the climbs and finishing in the evening just a few minutes' walk from this hut.
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