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Austria: Pretty steep – climbing in the Wilder Kaiser

Dthree brothers in their forties, physically fit, but by no means outstanding. Experienced mountains, but not in climbing, apart from one or the other via ferrata. It sounds as if we were exactly the right target group for the “Kaiser hoch 6” offer that was launched a few years ago, which involves legendary climbing routes through the equally legendary Kaiser Mountains.

This is also confirmed in advance by Gebi, who will accompany us as a mountain guide up to the Totenkirchl – what an ominous name. We skip the day of preparation and make an appointment directly with the 37-year-old at the Griesneralm at the end of the Kaiserbachtal. Shaking hands and short chats, also with Gebi’s guide colleague, 67-year-old Wastl Fürstaller. Then the climbing harness is tested – and the basic condition. By climbing to the “Strips”, the Stripsenjochhaus, which is around 550 meters higher, at an altitude of 1580 meters.

There is a nice hiking trail up to it. After a good hour we reach the Alpenvereinshütte, which is fantastically situated on a saddle, fortify ourselves with drinks and apply sunscreen. The sun is already kind to us, but despite the cloudless sky Wastl warns: “You always have to expect thunderstorms – and then it gets uncomfortable on the rock.”

The rock. By that he means the imposing wall that rises hundreds of meters into the Tyrolean sky not far from the hut and forms a stark contrast to the gentle hiking trails around the hut. Where is it supposed to go up there? Gebi confirms: “There are no hiking trails leading to the Predigtstuhl, Totenkirchl and Co., only climbers are out and about hanging in the seemingly endless rock faces.”

Climbing pioneers in the Kaiser Mountains

Endless? Wastl puts it more concretely: “We calculate it will take six hours to get to the summit and back.” Meanwhile, the first part to the foot of the wall is still fixed. On the trail, which leads partly through pines and over rocks, there is time to learn more about Gebi. Like Wastl, he is active with the Kitzbühel mountain guides, but is also a state-certified ski guide and former European Cup participant in sport climbing. In addition, the studied German and Romance studies wrote a history book about the “Wilder Kaiser”.

So Gebi can tell us a lot about the climbing pioneers, which he does over and over again throughout the day. Climbing pioneers – above all Hias Rebitsch and Hans Dülfer. Dülfer’s account alone includes 50 first ascents in four years, for example up to the Fleischbank, another bizarre name. Dülfer also conquered the 2190 meter high Totenkirchl next door, but the first climbers were Karl Babenstuber, Gottfried Merzbacher and Michael Soyer – in 1881.

142 years later, the mountain is still one of the most famous climbing mountains in the northern Limestone Alps. No wonder, given the 400 meter high wall at the foot of which we are now standing. Doubt? A deep look into the eyes – and off you go! We slip into the climbing harnesses, put on the helmets and are amazed at the dozens of carabiners and many long ropes that we latch onto. My brothers form a rope team with Wastl. I follow, tied to Gebi.

Occasionally red arrows point the way through scree gullies, but even more so the “line” of Gebi. Wherever he steps, I also set foot. Wherever he goes, I go too. Again and again the guides latch onto bolts before asking us to climb after them. Sometimes I don’t see Gebi for a moment. Uncomfortable, especially at a point where I don’t dare reach out and take a bold step. Is this already the end? No, after a few minutes of wobbling and wobbling, I finally dare.

This route is not for people afraid of heights

Also not without: the place where we have to abseil and can only “land” on a narrow rock before we go up again through a chimney. It’s several hundred meters down here. This route is definitely not for those afraid of heights. The most important thing is to keep a cool head, step by step. Never think of the whole wall. And best of all: never look down! Let alone thinking about the fate of the mountains. Because, yes, there are also deaths at the Totenkirchl, only in 2011 there was a crash here.

Away with these thoughts and rather enjoy the unforgettable views. And as we gain more and more confidence in the solid rock, we get into a real flow. Runs! Also the sweat, because the climbing is just as varied as it is exhausting. In some chimneys you have to pull yourself up properly.

Once I help myself with the “Mariazeller”, i.e. I get on my increasingly battered knees, just like the pilgrims in Mariazell, and pull myself up. Frowned upon among “true” alpinists, but we don’t care. Another word of the hour is “spreading”. Means: brace your legs against the rocks on both sides and push yourself up through the pressure. Gebi himself doesn’t seem to feel any effort. Light as a feather, he dances up the walls, gutters and chimneys. We brothers straddling, bracing, Marian-celling afterwards.

Suddenly we reach the first terrace. And can’t believe we’re only a third down despite the grind! More climbing passages follow in grades 3 and 3-, but mostly in the second. Gebi motivates us: “The Watzmann east face is technically easier, but it lasts much longer.” Even longer?

Marvel at the summit of the Totenkirchl

Cereal bar break on the second terrace, which breaks off vertically to overhanging with a 150 meter high wall made of the best rock on the ramp above the so-called guide path that we walked. We imagine how Dülfer and Co. once mastered the steep walls, especially only with nailed mountain boots and, if at all, with hair-raising hemp ropes.

The upper third feels a little softer, at least the monster abyss is no longer breathing down your neck. Sometimes the “easy alpine climbing in the 2nd and 3rd level of difficulty” (that’s the marketing slogan, which we find too flowery) turns into an alpine hike, then actually over grass cushions overgrown with flowers.

It’s still exhausting: pull yourself to a safe place, unravel jammed ropes, find a firm footing. When we finally reach the summit after almost six hours (!), we can hardly believe it: we’re at the top!

Climbing with dwindling strength

We still can’t really relax – despite the magnificent view of the peaks all around, which are free of hiking trails and people. Because we are concerned with questions like: Are those storm clouds over there? No. And: Do we really have to go down the same way again? Yes! But it goes faster because we are abseiled about eight times. That means securing each time accordingly, standing backwards on the steep edge and then slowly lowering yourself.

Wastl’s tip: “It’s best to straighten your legs and not dangle.” But that’s exactly what happens! At an overhang, my finger almost gets under the rope, which could mean finger off. But fortunately that doesn’t happen, the pulse goes down again.

And up again when I absolutely can’t find the intended belay point on the smooth rock. The conclusion: in addition to stamina, sure-footedness and a head for heights, a certain mental strength does not hurt for such an undertaking.

This also applies to the finale, where we now have to climb up the previous abseil passage. And that with dwindling forces and difficult holding points. But we can handle that too.

And run, albeit completely exhausted, like the emperors on the terrace of the “Strips”, where we form a strongly scented counterpart to the showered guests sipping sundowners. We earned it after nine and a half hours of “easy climbing” over 600 meters of rope and a total of 1240 meters in altitude. One of my brothers says, “I’ve reached my limit – and beyond! And I am extremely proud and happy. Now!”

Tips and information:

Accommodation: Stripsenjochhaus, ÖAV, 2- to 8-bed rooms and dormitories, from 15 euros, half-board 35 euros, open until mid-October,

mountain guide: The Kitzbühel mountain guides, Tel. 0043/664/3710740,

Emperor to the power of 6: Tours to Totenkirchl, Fleischbank, Predigtstuhl, Ellmauer Halt, Lärchegg, Hintere Goinger Halt. A maximum of two participants per guide, price on request (also depending on the possible day of preparation, equipment, “side program”),

Further information: Information office in St. Johann in Tirol,

Participation in the trip was supported by Kitzbüheler Alpen Marketing GmbH. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

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