Gamseck summit and two via ferratas

In addition to the Schneeberg and the Hohe Wand, the Rax is also one of Vienna's Hausberge. The striking mountain range with its high plateau is a paradise for mountain lovers from the surrounding area as far as Vienna and Austria's eastern neighbors. The climb up the Rax from the Reißtal not only offers beautiful nature and a stunning view on the nearby Schneealpe in the west, but is also an insider tip if you want to explore the Rax away from the hustle and bustle.

The Rax is extremely well developed for tourism. As early as the 19th century, many climbs were secured and made accessible to nature lovers. In addition to numerous climbs and paths, you can also take the Rax cable car to the east side of the high plateau and stop off at one of the numerous managed huts that are open in summer. 

The western side of the mountain range is somewhat more tranquil, not least due to the longer journey for many visitors (~100 km or 62 mi and 1.5 hours by car from Vienna city center), but by no means less attractive in terms of scenery. The starting point of the hike is a parking lot in Hinternaßwald, a small town at the northern foot of the Rax massif. From here, first follow the signs towards "Habsburgerhaus" or "Wildfährte" into Reißtal. On a road that is first asphalted and then gravel, the climb is barely noticeable. After about only 15 minutes, the path meanders close to the torrent through a narrow passage between steep rock faces, the Reißtalklamm. The valley then widens again and for the first time opens up a view of the "Kahlmäuer", as the striking rock faces on this side of the Rax massif are called.

After about 30 minutes, the end of the gravel road is reached and the path turns slightly to the left into the forest along a trail. It becomes a little steeper and after a few minutes' walk it ends in a forest road, which you follow uphill for almost 1,4 km (0.87 mi). At this point a signpost shows the way forward. Instead of straight ahead over the Kaisersteig to the high plateau and on to the Habsburgerhaus, a managed hut that is also called the “Acropolis of the Rax” due to its exposed location on the summit of the Grieskogel (1786 m / 5860 ft), the path branches off, somewhat inconspicuously but marked, to the right into the forest. The path becomes noticeably more uncomfortable. It goes steeper over scree through the forest and finally up to the foot of the rock faces until you finally reach a huge cone of debris.

At the upper end of the cone of debris is the entrance to the “Wildfährte” (difficultiy level B). This via ferrata is actually an alpine route, the critical passages of which were first secured with fixed ropes in the 19th century. In the lower first difficulty level (UIAA I-), the path leads up the first steep step over a gully. A helmet should now be put on at the latest to protect yourself from falling rocks from other hikers or chamois.

Soon afterwards, the first passages secured with fixed steel ropes are reached, which alternate with walking terrain. Impressive rock formations dominate the view in a wildly romantic landscape.

Especially in this section of the via ferrata, the landscape is simply enchanting. Wide views of the Alpine foothills paired with the rough beauty of the Rax rock faces invite you to linger and enjoy the uniqueness of the landscape.

After a somewhat exposed crossing, a gap and another earthy gully, the “Bärenlochsteig” branches off to the left. The “Wildfährte” continues up to a long and comparatively wide ramp. The path leads continuously and steeply upwards over loose rock and lots of rubble. The first level of difficulty (UIAA I) is never exceeded.

At the end of the ramp you have already noticeably gained altitude and the high plateau already seems within reach. Only a few exposed and steeper passages secured with fixed steel cables now separate you from the exit to the scenic high plateau of the Rax.

When you arrive at the high plateau, you have a magnificent view of the alpine pastures and peaks of the Rax. If you look to the right, you can also clearly see the Heukuppe (2007 m / 6586 ft), the highest peak of the Rax, at the top of which there is a memorial to the victims of the world wars in the 20th century. 
On a well-trodden path that is repeatedly marked, we continue more or less along the cliffs towards Gamseck, the destination of the tour. After about 1.6 km (1 mi), a well-worn path branches off to the right. This leads straight to a small summit cross which marks the highest point of the Gamseck (1857 m / 6093 ft).

After a short rest at the summit, we follow the same path back to the fork in the road and then continue along the path we had previously taken. After a few minutes, a sign shows the way to the Gamsecksteig and the Nasskamm. Now the descent begins via hiking trail 801. The view of the neighboring Schneealpe in the west is truly magnificent (see "On steep paths and easy ways to the Schneealpe").

The "Gamsecksteig" (difficultiy level A) is actually an alpine path whose more difficult and exposed sections have been secured with fixed steel ropes. The descent leads through a wonderful rocky landscape and is not particularly difficult. Of course, as with the ascent, sure-footedness and a head for heights are an absolute must.

This is one of the reasons why the Gamssteig is also known as the “zahmes Gamseck” (tame Gamseck). On the descent towards the Gupfsattel, views of its more difficult counterpart, the "wildes Gamseck" (wild Gamseck), one of the easiest climbing routes on the Rax (UIAA II) open up.

However, the Gamsecksteig has exposed passages. The steep descent over several ladders looks impressive, especially when looking back.

Finally, the trail leads to a narrow path through the forest, which leads directly to the Gupfsattel (the saddle between the Grabnergupf and the Gamseck). From here you have a great view of the Gamseck walls and the routes leading through them.

Now perhaps the most boring part of the tour begins: the relatively steep and anything but knee-friendly descent over the Nasskamm back into the Reißtal. The romantic Gamseckhütte, an unmanaged mountain hut, marks the end of the first steep section. Along the ridge the path follows a forest road which is a little flatter and truly relaxing.

Once again, hiking trail 49 back to Hinternaßwald branches off rather inconspicuously from the forest road to the right into the forest. Now it gets really uncomfortable. The path leads steeply along a ridge through the forest in sometimes narrow serpentines back to the Reißtal, where the path finally joins the ascent path at the point where the forest road ended. The remaining path along the gravel road is more like a pleasant walk and is a welcome respite after the steep descent from the Gupfsattel. The landscape is enchanting. This day we go through the shady Reißtalklamm once again. Then it's just a few minutes' walk back to the parking lot.

In the immediate vicinity of the parking lot is one of many designated and fenced spring protection areas. The sign on the fence reveals what it is all about - in this case the "Reissthal Quelle". Countless springs like these feed one of Vienna's high mountain spring pipelines, which supply the residents of the nearby Austrian capital with valuable drinking water.

In conclusion, the tour was not technically difficult but certainly strenuous. The landscape was magnificent and varied. Only the descent was definitely not one of the highlights of a great hike on one of Vienna's Hausberge.