- VIA FERRATA - Grober Donnerogel, 2054 m, Grade D (Intersport Klettersteig, Tour 28, p 120 Klettersteig book).

Thu 28 Jul 2011
Djuke Veldhuis

It was raining at 4.45am, which meant that Trisselwand was going to be wet and Jess and I wouldn't be going up. Rubbish. Having already sat still on Wednesday, I decided I wanted to go and do something active. Weather was very overcast and looked like rain, but hey, what's a girl to do?!

I settled on a Klettersteig on a side of the Dachstein Expo doesn't often visit and I can thoroughly recommend it. Coming in at the same grade as the Loser Via Ferrata (not yet in guide book as it's too new – but I've checked the Loser grade in the new version in the bookshop), it is about a 40 minute drive (towards Bad Goisern and then Gosau) if you don't get stuck behind a string of caravans. It has the advantage that apart from the via ferrata, all the height gain is via a cable car (Gosaukammbahn) where a return costs €12 – the last car goes down at 17.20 in the summer. It also has a lot of bang for your buck. The initial walk up from the cable car (listed as ½ hr in the book), took more like 10 minutes. The via ferrata itself takes about 3 hours and the walk down one to two hours depending on how much you value your knees.

The Route finding is simple; follow the path numbered 611, up a little hillock. Just before a turny gate thingy the via ferrata (signed) goes off to the left. The route is superb and actually quite suitable for beginners as it is interspersed by sections which are effectively just walking (though the cable is present throughout for protection) which is at times less steep than the muddy / slippery path of doom on the way upto Top Camp. Note however, that this is a fairly prolonged via ferrata which would take longer in the wet. It was incredibly cloudy / overcast when I did it, but I was still in shorts and a T-shirt for most of the way. Bring plenty of water if it's sunny. As with all via ferrata's, avoid if risk of thunder (or be walking down by then).

Anyway, there was I, starting out just above the cable station at the designated Hutte from which the path to the klettersteig goes and a random Polish bloke comes up to me and says, "You must be an experienced mountaineer, you walk fast". Well, no actually, it looks like it'll be pissing it down any minute and the cloud is coming in and I'm sorta hoping there's not going to be a thunderstorm. His backpack and helmet shiny, with an axe to boot, I eyed the Polish man somewhat warily. People on the hills with shiny gear are either very good and well off that they can get new stuff, or they've just started doing it. On the other hand I was also by myself (not something I generally do) and he seemed to have done some routes in the Dolomites. Anyway, a climb up to the start of the Via Ferrata with my newfound friend put my harness on --- shit --- helmet left down by the Hutte. Run back down and up again and my Polish friend awaits me patiently.

Despite the clag, I immediately loved the route. Divided into 4 main stages (Etappes) "Enzianwandl", "Ziehkogelgrat", "Kleiner Donner Kogel" and "Grober Donner Kogel" varying in grades from B to D. There are plenty of wider, path-like sections en-route to sit and have lunch and admire the superb view (which I got only occasionally). As we moved up and my well-geared up friend fed me energy drinks and chocolate (I think my one piece of flapjack and slice of bread with Nutella didn't look like ‘proper' mountain food). There is a nice balance of exposure with sections which are more scrambly and places where you can have a choc bar and take in the view.

Route finding is easy BUT – about ¾ of the way along a big green arrow points left (it says "Links") FOLLOW it – don't be tempted by the shoddy wire that appears to go straight up on your right – the latter is an old section of Via Ferrata that has been dismantled after the locals apparently complained about it ruining their view from the valley. The main route contours round over some awkward tree roots—which have become exposed and now hang above the limestone where the soil has become completely eroded—and ultimately comes to a col. Moving left the final and steepest stage of the via ferrata, the “Grober Donnerkogel”, now awaits. It looks very imposing, but is in no way technically challenging.

To my sheer amazement, as I climbed the last steep section high on the Chai tea that my Polish friend insisted I drink. By this point I'd decided this chap was fully competent, if over-geared for the trip in question and while he chattered away happily in broken English about how his brother should have been on his expedition with him, but he'd not communicated this with his wife etc etc, I noted to my surprise that the sky was clearing. As I reached the top, two old codgers who had laughed at me on the way down when I'd gone back for my helmet, were sitting at the massive cross. They waved and my Polish friend took out the biggest camera lens I'd ever seen and started snapping as we were "blessed by God" as all three of them put it at different times, to have sun at the top. I don't believe in God, but the sun was fantastic and the atmosphere up there with the four of us great.

At some point I started talking about Gosser, which led the two old codgers (each just off the phone to their respective wives – mentioning something about a Dutch lady they'd met) to ask whether I drank schnapps. "Yes," I replied, "but I try not to drink too much before a long climb". Would I like some they asked I wasn't going to say ‘no' J And thus it was that I found myself on the top of the Grober Donnerkogel drinking schnapps and chai tea in the sunshine. By now it was about 15.15 hr or so. We'd taken it pretty easy and the guidebook time are about right, though you could do the route notable faster if you're rushing.

An hour's walk down or so found my Polish friend and I at the Hutte drinking a coffee (which he kindly bought for me for my services as a guide, lol) and at 16.15 we picked the cable car back down. A great day, despite the clag and a trip I would recommend to those interested in ferrata.

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    - VIA FERRATA - Grober Donnerogel, 2054 m, Grade D (Intersport Klettersteig, Tour 28, p 120 Klettersteig book).