The Wilder Kaiser is a relatively small, but fairly spectacular mountain range between Kufstein and Kitzbühel in Austria. It is an isolated, steep, ragged mass of limestone rock that spikes up just south of the river Inn.
I decided to make the most of the amazing weather in the Northern Limestone Alps last Sunday and to finally attempt a difficult hiking route to the Elmauer Tor (1, 995 m). It is a narrow saddle high up in the rocky range. We hiked to it from the northern side of the mountain via a long via ferrata.
The route starts at the Griesner Alm (988 m) in the Kaiserbach nature reserve. We only started off from there at 10:30 which we later came to regret. After about an hour we reached the start of the via ferrata at the foot of the rocky Wilder Kaiser. We had a little break and a snack before we put on our harnesses and got going on the Klettersteig.
It was very good that we had a break, because it ended up being a very long and tiring ascent to the Elmauer Tor. The via ferrata slowly makes its way up the steep gully in zig-zags, climbing into a gap between two towering rock faces.
The secure section is fairly long, but the climb itself is easy – though exposed. Hikers with very confident footing and no vertigo could do it without via ferrata kit. We were glad to have the gear with us though, particularly on the way down when our legs were tired and we were staring down into the precipice!
After the via ferrata the route leads through boulders, scree and stones of all sorts of sizes strewn in the narrow gully leading up to Elmauer Tor. No wonder; the German name “Steinerne Rinne” translates as stone gully and it is a proper stone desert.
At relatively low altitude (about 1, 700 m) you can hike in a challenging terrain more common at higher altitudes. Just an hour and a half from Munich and an hour from our car, it felt like being in Switzerland surrounded by towering peaks.
The ascent here was probably the most difficult part of the hike not least because we were under the impression we were nearly there, when in fact the hike through the gully takes an hour. Shortly before half past three we finally arrived at Elmauer Tor though. It is exciting to peek through the narrow gap down to the other valley and all across to the summits of the High Tauern.
It was also great to finally get into direct sunlight. This was admittedly a bit of a fail in the planning of the hike. It was an exceptionally sunny and warm autumn day, but we hardly got any opportunity to enjoy the sun. To add insult to injury five minutes after we sat down to finally have our lunch the sun moved behind one of the spiky summits and we were in the shade again! At least after we hiked up a little bit higher we were basking in the sun again.
Having considered how long it took us to hike up and how little time we had left until dusk, we decided not to hike up to the nearby summit of the Hintere Goinger Halt. We were also very certain that we couldn’t descend to the end of the Klettersteig much faster than we ascended (contrary to what the sign read: “1 hour”. Certainly not for us!). With just two hours left until dusk, we had to hurry up to at least come off the via ferrata before nightfall!
At 3 pm we were rushing back down the same way through the stone desert towards the via ferrata. At the end we clicked off the last metal wire as the sun set. We still had an hour to hike back to our car though! Thankfully, we had headlamps with us (or at least one that actually worked).
In growing darkness we dashed from Stripsenjoch back towards our car parked at the Griesneralm enjoying all the hot, nearly summery air trapped beneath the last leaves of the forest. At 6pm in pitch black we arrived at our car.
I was very excited to have been able to make the trip this year. It was great to see that my right knee is strong enough for such trips again. We were lucky that we had this amazing summer weather in November, which made it possible to do this trip so late in the season.
Even if the northern aspect mean we didn’t enjoy much direct sunshine, this was the best day this season to have a go at this route that I’ve been eyeing for some time. I could have done a bit better on trip planning, particularly with regards to timings, but at the end it was good fun to hike in the dark.
Start/ end: Griesner Alm
Ascent/ descent: 1, 000 m
Walking time: 6 hrs 30 mins
Travel from Munich: By car in 1.5 hrs without traffic
- Via ferrata Averau in fog and rain
- Ettaler Manndl – A lesson learnt
- First day of winter on the Kampenwand