currently living in Kleinwalsertal, Austria.
Grosser Widderstein Ostgrat (complete east ridge traverse)
Even if there may be easier ways (often several options are possible) we would not recommend going unroped. Often, literally everything is loose, there is no way around that. You should be prepared for runouts before the next solid placement. That said, there are also some sections of pure fun climbing. It's all there...
We have published one or two photos of each pitch where possible, please refer to the image captions. The journal continues at the bottom of the page, below the photos...
An honest recollection of eastern Grosser Widderstein Ostgrat (IV)
The imposing 1.5 km East Ridge ("Ostgrat") of Grosser Widderstein can be seen from most of Kleinwalsertal valley. We had been observing the ridge from a distance the last couple of days. It was mid-October, but Grosser Widderstein is the highest mountain in the valley, and the East Ridge is the first to be sunlit in the morning and the last to loose the evening sun. It would be bright enough outside to start hiking around 7.15, and darkness would fall just after 18. We figured it would be enough for this trip into the unknown.
We started from the parking in Mittelberg around 7.45, biking up to Hintere Gemstelhütte, a moderate altitude gain of 200 m. From here we followed the path to Obergemstelalpe (another 370 altitude meters) and continued on the path toward Widdersteinhütte up another 500 m. Around the point nearest to the ridge, we left the path to hike up the grass slope toward the beginning of the ridge. Here we tied ourselves in. Even though the first climbing is easy, it is still treacherous on loose rock.
We had planned to do as much running belay as possible, to save the time of setting up belay stands. But it soon turned out rather difficult on the unpredictable terrain, and switching to belayed rope lengths, we were making slow progress.
For a long time, there were absolutely no signs that others had climbed here before. Here and there several route options are possible, and we chose our route by the rock quality and the possibility of belay, rather than by difficulty. If we are dragging a rope anyway - why not enjoy the climbing?
The first part of our tour was generally easier. There wasn't much down climbing on this part; mostly uphill on loose ground with only shorter sections of steep climbing. Markus did all the leading today since he is slightly faster on lead, and we needed all the speed we could manage. But there was a catch to that: one person having to bear a bigger part of the psychological load. After a third of the way, realizing how slow we were and with the more challenging terrain yet to come, he was getting restless. Every pitch of ridiculously loose rock added to the stress - the feeling of helplessness when everything you touch or stand on disintegrates - and there is still a very, very long way to go. Like being stuck in a bad dream, or with the semi-realism of a terrible video game, Markus described it afterwards.
A couple of times, the rope commands that we have worked out over the years failed completely, and we found ourselves wasting precious minutes yelling on each other due to dangerous misunderstandings. That is a very rare thing for us to do, and it didn't help at all in our current situation.
As the terrain was steepening we eventually got ourselves somewhat together, cheering each other up. Probably the short break for a chocolate bar really helped, too.
In the second half, one faces higher sections of steep climbing, mostly extremely loose, generally more exposed, with sections of down-climbing and abseiling. On the 18th pitch we noticed the first signs that others were actually here before: a completely rusted can squeezed in to a crack. Soon, more signs would come. On a section around III an old piton offered some delusion of belay. Further on, after our 22nd pitch, three pitons and an old sling made up the first of two abseil pists on the route. The abseil in itself is easy, but retrieving the rope turned out to be a tremendous hassle. It took us at least 15 minutes of efficient, patient work including a further descent, but we were happy to have managed it eventually.
After the abseil one climbs a tower with horribly loose rock, then the terrain levels a little before leading to the second abseil. This one is longer, about 40 meters, but there was an additional sling on the way. The abseil is from a very narrow pinnacle, with several slings bundled together with a biner. It felt more secure than the first abseil, and thankfully, retrieving the ropes was a much smoother story.
Before us now we had a longer section of steep, a bit more solid climbing, the most difficult part being right at the start with a little traverse (IV). There was another piton with a sling showing the way.
And now, the most difficult few moves on our route we found near the start of the following pitch. We rated it a V- then, but the difficulty was mainly that of exposition and the fact that everything you touched seemed to come loose.
While Markus did the 26th and last uphill pitch, the ropes tangled completely, more than we'd ever experienced, and had to be untangled with great patience starting from each end. It took a long time getting it sorted out with Markus being still on the lead. It was a stressful experience for both of us. Needless to say, we were really happy to finally reach our summit, P2360 of Grosser Widderstein. Before us, we had only the flatter "Widdersteingrat" and the last summit climb to the main summit. But the sun was already setting and we had to go down.
We descended the scree and grass slope with the sky quickly darkening, turning our headlamps on. Thankfully, we did not find the descent to be as steep as we had expected from the few available internet sources on the short, normal route "Ostgrat". Thus at least here we were rather quick, and safe down on the path toward Widdersteinhütte by the time full darkness lay upon us. We enjoyed a short, hard earned break under the twinkling stars of the Milky Way before hurrying back down to Mittelberg.
On our way down we could finally grasp and share our experiences around the day. It had been a close call, taking so much time on the route. We had to put in question whether we had been ready for such an outing. But in the end, considering that we had to go completely without route information, we have taken many good decisions and kept focus. After all, the unknown, decision making, risk management and keeping the mood up are key aspects of alpine climbing. We're proud of having pulled it off.
This is not a route we would recommend to others, but we are happy to have done it!