I am always on the lookout for new venues - preferably towards the lower end of the grade spectrum - and a thread on UKClimbing caught my attention. Someone had asked about summer venues where they could climb and also get involved with other activities in the local area.
The Ötztal valley in Austria came up as offering a mixture of activities in a high mountain setting, and there was the mention of good rock climbing in the low and middle grades (plus harder stuff too of course) on granite and limestone. The added attraction was the fact that the area is surrounded by high glaciated mountains with hiking, peak bagging and mountain biking - my interest was piqued. The altitude of the valley bases (from 800m down at Oetz up to 1900m at Obergurgl) is high enough to take the edge off the high temperatures that can be a problem on the continent in the summer season.
The Ötztal is the longest of the various glaciated valleys that run southwards into the Tyrol mountains, about 40 kilometres to the west of Innsbruck. Sölden is the central hub of the valley and is a pretty hip spot - especially in the winter when it becomes the main access point to a huge ski area. We opted to stop a little lower down the valley at the small village of Huben close to the bigger town of Längenfeld with its outdoor shops, supermarkets and tourist information office.
Avoiding the heat, crowds and expense of the high summer holidays is always a consideration, so we headed southwards in the last week of August just as everyone was coming the other way. The area was still quite busy; the valley is pretty much a year-round venue nowadays.
There are several campsites up and down the valley, they are generally of a high standard, and the prices tend to reflect this. For example in Sölden, two people and tent costs around €35 per night in the high season - though this does include use of the sauna, climbing wall etc. The plots can feel a bit cramped, space in the valley bottom is at a premium, but at least most people go to bed early so late night rowdyism isn't a problem. We found the cost of an apartment very reasonable (€50 a night) out of season - a viable option when the days shorten and nights get colder. We stayed at Top Tirol Apartments, classy, central, inexpensive and quiet. The owner Michael was a font of local knowledge, always cheerful and supplied delicious fresh bread every morning.
The more expensive residences include a free Ötztal Premier Card which includes a range of benefits, including all local buses, access to the various attractions, one bike hire and a single return trip on any of the lifts. It is also possible to buy the card - €54 for three days, €96.50 for 10 days - and they can make good economic sense if you are planning a busy trip.
There is a recent (2017) guidebook to Sport Climbing in Imst, Pitztal and Ötztal which lists 20 varied cliffs up and down the main valley plus another 19 crags around Imst. Usefully the guidebook also includes details of the various Via Ferratas in the local area as well as a guide to the spectacular looking ice climbing available in the depths of winter. There is also a companion guidebook to the nearby Innsbruck area which has a load more stuff in it including a lot of fully bolted and long multi-pitch routes across the grades.
Many of the best developed crags have picnic tables, toilets, children's play areas and an in-situ noticeboard with topos and even 'how to climb' instructions.
The most popular crags in the area are the granite cliffs of Engelswand at Tumpen (75 routes) and Oberreid near Längenfeld (147). Both feature easy flat access and a dedicated parking area. There is a parking fee of €3 a day but this actually covers both crags is you are feeling keen.
There are eight via ferratas in the Ötztal and another six in the nearby Imst and Pitztal area, more than enough to fill a couple of weeks. The equipping of these is always of a very high standard and some of them are considerable undertaking because of their length, though often with easier options available. The grades used locally are A to E for difficulty rather than the more normal number/letter system used in France and Italy.
Otztal on the Rockfax App
This App-only guide covers two popular crags in the beautiful Otztal Valley in Austria. The Ötztal valley is situated to the southeast of Imst and the main east to west Inn valley, 40km east of Innsbruck. The package covers single pitch granite routes mostly on Oberried and Engelswand.
It is available on the Rockfax App.
The Austrian Alps have long been seen as a good place to get a feel for Alpine climbing, the peaks are lower and the glaciers smaller than the more usual honeypots of Chamonix and Zermatt The highest (and most popular) peak in the area is the heavily glaciated Wildspitz 3,770 m (12,370 ft), which is also the second highest peak in Austria. The usual ascent is from Vent at the head of the Ötztal via a night at the Breslauer Hut, leaving about a 4-6 hour ascent the next day. There are plenty of well signed high level footpaths accessed by the cable-car network if you want to be 'up amongst it' without getting too involved and the high level Ötztal Glacier Road (highest in Europe by some accounts) gets you right up to the edge of several glaciers - Note: there is an €18 toll on the road.
As a popular skiing area the mountain biking boom has brought an extra income stream to the Ötztal in the quieter summer months. Many of the cable-cars stay open through the summer season and there is an excellent and well-maintained series of graded mountain bike trails that run back from the high stations all the way back to the resort with as much as 1600m of descent.
The most popular ascent in the local area is up to the Timmelsjoch (2,509m) on the Italian/Austrian border and offering a 1000m+ of ascent from Sölden, all on excellent roads. Also worth mentioning is the Ötztal Cycling Marathon. Now in its 37th season, the race is run in August each year and is something of a feat of endurance featuring 238km and 5,500m of elevation gain. The route heads from Sölden down to Innsbruck, over the Brenner Pass into Italy, over the Jaufen Pass and finally back over the Timmelsjoch. The 4000 entrants take between 7 to 14 hours for the circuit.
The guidebook lists 39 icefalls in the area that form in good winters, varying from short roadside affairs to major undertakings in excess of 500m high. If you can be bothered to lug all the gear out you could spend time oscillating between slipping down the sunlight slopes high above the valley and hacking a way up an icefall deep in the shaded clefts.
There is canyoning, rafting on the River Inn, Bungee Jumping (if you really must) and paragliding. There is a water park (The Aquadome) which includes thermal springs, pools and slides. There is also an 'Adventure' Park - Area 47, billed as the biggest in Austria, with high ropes, zip-wires, canyoning, rafting, rock climbing etc. Whatever your talents or interests, you will almost certainly find it catered for in the Ötztal - see you there next year.