Neil Gresham Ice climbing in Austria

added Feb/2012, see all Sherpa Adventure Gear news & reviews
Product news by Neil Gresham
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Sherpa Adventure Gear athlete Neil Gresham reports on his recent ice climbing trip to Austria:

I've just returned to the UK after a fantastic trip to Austria with Ian Parnell. We based ourselves near to Salzburg and climbed mainly in the Gasteiner Tal region, which hosts a wealth of ice and mixed routes of all lengths and grades. The first thing that stood out is that this area seems less popular with British climbers, although we both came away feeling that it is every bit as good as premiere European venues such as Kandersteg or Cogne. We started off on some of the shorter icefalls, just to get our skills up, and then finished the trip with a memorable longer route.

Horse & Sled
© Ian Parnell

Sharpening up!, 80 kb
Sharpening up!
© Ian Parnell
The first crag we visited was Thum Klamm, a gloomy, steep-sided, narrow gorge which is navigated courtesy of an 'El-Chorro-style' suspended walkway, which is plastered in snow and ice. This terminates ominously in a few places, leaving you contemplating whether to retrace your steps or to abseil into the semi-frozen river! We kicked things off with Relax WI5, a pleasantly bolted and over-graded WI5 above the walkway, and finished with the icefall of Kerze,WI5. It was a handy venue to start the trip, but nothing to get over excited about.

The next day, temperatures dipped at -20C and we couldn't bring ourselves to climb anything too demanding, so we opted for Ruineorgel a 2-pitch WI5+, which lies close to the road in the Gasteiner Tal valley. The ice was insanely brittle and, as is so often the case with ice climbing, we found ourselves with more of a challenge than we'd bargained for. The following day it was just as cold and we nipped into another easy-access venue near the town of Bad Gastein, where Ian led a spicy little mixed number, Undercover M4+/WI6. After this, we went into town to eye-up the local test piece of Gasteiner falls, a compelling 2-pitch WI6, which lies in a river gorge right in the centre of town. There was plenty of potential for public humiliation here, seeing as the falls receives constant attention from all the tourists who gather at the bridge. But at least it would only take a matter of minutes to retreat to the nearest bar and drown our sorrows!

Sure enough we climbed Gasteiner Falls the next day without incident. Ian led the first pitch, which was short, but packed a punch. The crux involved mantleshelving onto an overhanging ice mushroom that was covered in fragile, chandeleiry ice. The second pitch was more my cup-of-tea, and featured a blue, elegant narrow column of perfect ice. For full novelty-factor, this route tops out in the grounds of a hotel, which is next to a multi-story carpark. To descend you simply take the elevator down to the ground floor and walk a hundred yards to collect your rucsack from the base!

The following day it warmed up to -10C, which meant that at last we might be able enjoy ourselves a bit more! We returned to Gasteriner Tal to climb the 2-pitch falls of Wet Dreams WI 6, which stands proudly next to Ruineorgel. Ian led the first pitch and I was delighted to get the second, which is one of the most enjoyable WI 6 pitches I've ever led, alongside things like Nuit Blanche in Chamonix or Repentance Super in Cogne. This route is definitely worth seeking out.

Supervisor route, 127 kb
Supervisor route
© Ian Parnell
Pitch 3, 87 kb
Pitch 3
© Ian Parnell
On the last day of the trip, Ian and I set out to attempt the 6-pitch local test piece, Supervisor WI6. We made an early start and spent an hour-and-a-half breaking trail up the hill through dense woodland and waste-deep snow. As we emerged from the trees, the view of the route provided a fitting reward for our efforts. A majestic ampitheatre towered above with the ice line of Mordor WI5 running down the centre and a wildly steep, narrower falls to the right, which featured some bizarre overhanging mushrooms – that was our line! It looked every bit as grand in stature as some of the biggest and best routes in the Canadian Rockies, such as Nemesis. We charged up the snow slope and soon I was cramponing my way up the long slabby ice-ramp of the first pitch. Ian led through up some thinly iced corners and then it was my turn to tackle a long 5+ pitch, which presented a steep wall followed by a never-ending sea of scales and mushrooms. This was one of the coldest days I have ever attempted to go ice climbing (with temperatures consistently at -20C), but I battled with the hot-aches and made steady progress. Some incredibly steep, gargoyle-like formations towered above and we were both uncertain where the route would go from here. But Ian found a devious line around the left side of the falls and he let out a whoop of joy as he swung back round, in an incredibly exposed position. I took it to the top from there and we just made it to the abseil line as the last light disappeared. Supervisor provided a fitting end to a great trip, and we only wished we'd had more time to explore this fantastic region.

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