Why is there a via ferrata? What does it mean for athletes? Everything you wanted to know about this mandatory mountain adventure.
Why has a via ferrata been introduced?
“Introducing a Klettersteig (via ferrata) emphasises the character of the Red Bull X-Alps as an adventure race,” says safety director and mountain guide Jürgen Wietrzyk, who is responsible for the mountaineering aspects of the race. “It’s not simply a paragliding event – it’s hiking, climbing, mountaineering and adventure.”
Is this the first time there is a via ferrata in the race?
There is a tradition of via ferratas in the race. It’s a long time ago now but some of the older athletes who’ve been competing for over 10 years will remember there was a via ferrata on the Dachstein in both 2011 and 2013 – which some athletes climbed at night. That year was pretty brutal for athletes – they also got hit by snow storms on the Grossglockner.
Drei Zinnen has also been a Turnpoint before?
Drei Zinnen was also a Turnpoint in 2011. There are four athletes in the lineup who also took part that year – Coconea, de Dorlodot, Maurer and Guschlbauer. That year it was the fourth Turnpoint after the Gaisberg, Dachstein and Grossglockner. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in the Dolomites, better known among English speakers by its Italian name Tre Cime de Lavaredo. (Both translate as the Three Towers). It was where climbing history was made in 1933 when Emilio Comici made the first ascent of the north face, part of 1930s rush to climb the great north faces of the Alps.
How hard is the via ferrata?
The route is the Luca Innerkofler way, which is rated B/C at its most difficult – which for athletes won’t cause any difficulties. The route is 300m up and the guidebook time is an hour to walk in and another hour and a half to climb to the top; but athletes will be much quicker than this. The route begins by following a series of pitch dark tunnels and open trenches then winds its way up steep ground before emerging onto easier terrain for the final section to the summit. “It’s a fantastic via ferrata with epic views across to Drei Zinnen,” says race reporter Tarquin Cooper, who climbed it a few years ago. “But athletes probably won’t appreciate that – they’ll only be worrying about getting back in the air.”
What’s the story of the route?
During the first world war Paternkofel was on the front line between the armies of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Italian Alpini and was considered a strategically important high point. The route is named after Luca Innerkofler, a famous Austrian mountain guide and hunter who died trying to take the summit in 1915. When the Italians realised his identity they retrieved his body and gave him a hero’s burial – a reminder of the spirit of comradeship in the mountains, even in times of war.
What are the strategic implications for athletes?
Make no mistake – this will slow the race right down just when the leading athletes are starting to think that reaching Zell am See is within their grasp. Speaking at a route analysis lecture for Cross Country magazine, Tom Payne, said: “It’s a cruel section. One of the things I tell athletes is that the race will have something that you will curse, and this may be one of them.” The issue is that the Turnpoint forces athletes to land, do the climb and even if they are able to take off from the summit – which is by no means easy or guaranteed – they can’t fly any distance but just glide to the next Turnpoint of Sexten, 6km away. As Chrigel Maurer explained: “If we have a good wind we can take off from the peak. If not, we have to climb down. We will spend a lot of time to do this Turnpoint and Sexten.”
What is the summit launch like?
“Where will athletes find a spot for launching? Near the top or will they traverse to the other side to launch – this is an exciting point,” says Wietrzyk. The only viable summit launch is east-facing and extremely committing – it’s a steep slope and then cliffs. But as we’ve seen before in the Red Bull X-Alps, don’t be surprised to see someone pull off the impossible.
Top image © zooom / Vitek Ludvik