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.
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.