I have been planning for a couple of years a short return in the winter season in the Austrian Alps. As this is a favourite destination for my skier friends, I wanted to look for far more interesting ways to spend a few days in these mountains besides skiing. In my case, this time ICE seemed to be the main attraction and in Austria there is plenty of ICE….
I chose to meet the Ice Giants. And the best place to do that is near Bad Gastein, in Anlauftal valley. I joined forces with Alex Sava (climber and photographer) and Vasile Dumitrica.
On February 23rd we reached Bad Gastein in a slightly dropping temperature… so we had no worries. Then, the next day a snowfall air mass settled in. Happiness and smiling faces were to be seen everywhere in the valley as the skiers were heading towards the ski slopes. We grabbed the ice tools and hiked up the Anlauftal valley hoping we might be able to climb some ice among spindrifts and the new layer of snow. We had poor visibility and the big icefalls Mordor and Supervisor were not entirely visible. I could only sense that there was something big on the right hand side of the granite wall.
Then, for the next two days, snow continued to fall. It might have been a good idea to bring the skis, afterall… Each day we did some nice ice climbs on the smaller icefalls on the right hand side of the valley. We could hear avalanches so we did not feel too keen to try Mordor yet.
Friday, our last day in the valley had good weather forecasts so Alex and I decided to give it a try on Mordor (WI, 315 m). Supervisor seemed out of discussion for this season, as the lower part was not entirely formed and the ice around the crux was very thin.
We started early and after the first glimpse of sun we found ourselves at the base of the giant icefall. Somewhere along the middle section of the waterfall, a huge claw made of icicles was waiting for us. I had to admit it looked a bit spooky. Around 8 o’clock the “paradise” started to fall apart, as the sun rays were breaking the sensible ice bonds. Chunks of ice were dropping around us just as we were one pitch under the big icicle. Alex found a rather safe place for a belay at the edge of the ice. I followed quickly to escape the “bombardment zone” and found Alex just under a proper shower as the melting water was flowing slowly just above him. I started my lead for the next pitches and passed the icicle on its left side. The sun hid behind the mountain and a cold wind settled in. Now, all that water suddenly froze on us and we felt plated in armour. Alex was shivering and did not feel like taking photos.
On the final pitches we tried to move faster to warm up and at the end of the icefall I found myself in a snowpowdered couloir where I had to crawl and reach some bushes in order to make the final belay. We absailed the entire icefall from Abalakov threads and found the middle part of Mordor stable and solid again now that the sun was away from the face.
Although intimidating, Mordor is a really nice climb. I think it might be dangerous if it’s too crowded or too warm outside. I believe were lucky to escape the climb without any chunks of ice falling from the top straight on our heads.
Next year I hope to return for Supervisor.