Rocky ridge with some snow fields, beautiful view and a neverending glacier descent on the other side. Ortler traverse can be done in one day from Hintergrathütte.
Ortler (Ortlers in italian) 3905 m is the main peak of the Ortler Range. It is the highest point of Tyrol overall, and used to be the highest point of the Austrian-Hungarian empire until 1919.
Normalroute is from the north, via Tabaretta ridge and even this is not an easy climb. Hintergrat is very frequented and the northface is a famous difficult climb, longest in the eastern Alps.
First ascent in 1804 was motivated by the ascent of the Grossclockner. The Archduke Johann of Austria wanted the highest mountain of his land to be climbed after this happened in the land of his brother. Josef Pichler, a chamois hunter from St. Leonhard in Passeier, took a difficult route over the northwest face from Trafoi.
We plan to do the famous Hintegrat and keep checking the weather forecast all week. Finally we postponed the climb one day. Saturday is a lazy day just to hike up to the hut and Sunday is the summit day.
Hintergrathütte (Rifuggio del Coston) stands at an altitude of 2661 m by the Oberer Gratsee lake. It is a private hut for up to 70 climbers and its a base for climbing Gran Zebrù (Königsspitze) - 3851 m, Monte Zebrù - 3735 m and, of course, Ortles - 3902 m. The position just below the famous Hintergrat ridge makes it the most climbed one.
There is no hurry on Saturday, so we leave the parking at eleven. We hike up the trail along the Langenstein cable car. It is mainly forrest trail in the beginning. Later it crosses open scree slopes. After two hours we reach the Hintergrathütte
We still have plenty of time in the afternoon to check the start of the route. Tomorrow we will hike with headlamps. There is a visible path from the hut, marked Gletcherrunde. It turns left later, to the moraine. The approach to the ridge continues straight up, under the first steep scree slope. The trail is still visible.
Climbers wake up very early, so it is worthy to go to bed as early as possible. We start before 3 am and we still are not the first. Leaving the hut we already see some headlamps on the trail. The sky is clear, full of stars. It’s cold, but nice and we warm up soon.
After the slope becomes steeper, there are some stonemen to mark the trail. We gain the altitude pretty fast. The cloud comes to cover all the panorama, so the sunrise is just an idea. First climbing parts are up to II UIAA, so we still keep a nice pace. Daylight is nice, but the sun is somewhere above the huge cloud.
By the time we reach the first snowfield. It is not that steep and snow is in a good condition, so we don’t even take crampons. What we really need to take is another layer of warm underwear. It’s getting to be windy and we expect traffic jams up on the ridge.
After crossing the snowfield, there are some more easy rocks to climb until we get to Signalkopf (3723 m). There we climb down a bit (III), using the rope to belay. But we are not the only ones here, so the first traffic jam is here and some ways to overtake other climbers are…let’s say…weird.
A short exposed, but easy, part comes before we get to the crux. A corner (IV) equipped with a bolt and a chain at the upper part. The rock is polished from thousands of hands and pretty cold. Martin sends it like it was nothing. Then I have to hurry, because there are others waiting behind me.
An easier climb (up to III) follows before we get to the second snow field (up to 40°).
It’s much steeper than the first one and should not be underestimated. Another steep rock follows with another traffic jam in a strong wind. Then an easier final part before we reach the summit cross.
We are lucky enough to get some sun above the clouds. It looks like a bath foam all around.
It’s time to go down. Normal route is neither simple nor short. We are already roped up for the glacier, which starts just below the short rocky ridge. It's foggy again, but the trail is visibly. Many people hiked here before us.
The sky opens much lower, where we can already see the Lombardi bivac. There is a ladder over a big crevasse. When we reach the Bivacco Lombardi (3300 m), it’s getting sunny. There is a small metal covered hut on a rock for an emergency overnight. Deep down in the valley, there is the famous Passo Stelvio route. We can hear the noise of motorbikes doing the iconic 48-turns route.
It looks like “locals” know the way, so we follow a group descending the scree slope northwards from the bivac. It was not a goog idea. After loosing some altitude, we have to hike it up again and abseil to the glacier. There is another ladder to cross. When we reach the lower part of the glacier, we finally leave it.
There are some chains and metal steps to get to the Tabaretta ridge. This is the normal route. Soon we get to the III+ wall, which we prefer to abseil down to the trail. It’s getting easier, but stil a lot to do to Payerhütte. When we get there, it's sunny afternoon. From here, we don’t need any more gear.
We follow the ridge trail to Forcella dell'Orso pass (2871 m), where the trail turns sharp right and descends, to Tabarettahutte. Shepherds dogs are watching the herd of black and white sheeps. We continue hiking down to the forest and to Solda.
After 16 hours we reach our car to go home.