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How To Climb The Sky Ladder In Austria

Europe


Ladder To Heaven in Austria

In partnership with Backcountry

Photos in collaboration with Quin Schrock

Looking for an adrenaline-inducing, white knuckle adventure? Look no further than Austria’s 40-meter long “Sky Ladder,” or “Ladder to Heaven.” The Sky Ladder is a unique and relatively new feature that bridges a giant gorge on the Donnerkogel via ferrata. The via ferrata takes thrill-seekers up a classic climbing route for over 400m to the peak of Donnerkogel. While the Sky Ladder is sure to get your heart pumping, it’s only one of many highlights on the Donnerkogel climb. Along the entire via ferrata route, you will enjoy expansive views over the alpine world of the Inner Salzkammergut, including Dachstein, and stunning Lake Gosausee down below.


Austrias Ladder To Heaven is the ultimate adrenaline rush!

Austrias Ladder To Heaven is the ultimate adrenaline rush!

What is a Via Ferrata

“A via ferrata is the connection point between hiking and climbing”  – Michele Dalla Palma

Simply put, a via ferrata (Italian for “iron way”) is a mountain route equipped with steel cables, ladders, and other fixed anchors. But I like to think of it as providing a bridge between scrambling and climbing. Unlike climbing or bouldering problems, the artificial equipment embedded in the mountain for a via ferrata makes even very exposed routes feasible for inexperienced climbers. Via ferratas are generally easy to follow, and provide an excellent opportunity to tackle otherwise impassable cliffs and ledges while guaranteeing a good margin of security. The best part, it allows people like me—with little to no technical climbing skills—to access some of the world’s most beautiful alpine views!


Climbing the Laserer via ferrata above Lake Gosausee. Wearing:  shirt ,  leggings ,  trail running shoes ,  helmet .

Climbing the Laserer via ferrata above Lake Gosausee. Wearing: shirt, leggings, trail running shoes, helmet.

Gear You’ll Need To Climb A Via Ferrata

The good news is, you won’t need a lot of equipment to tackle your first via ferrata! In addition to basic hiking gear, you will also need a helmet, harness, and a specialized Ferrata Set. I would also highly recommend gloves! I didn’t wear gloves on my firsts via ferrata, and it didn’t take long for my hands to start screaming at me.

A Ferrata Set is a purpose-made lanyard that consists of two short lengths of rope, two carabiners, and a braking device. Without a proper braking device the carabiners, or in the worst-case scenario, even the rope segments to break in the case of a fall. Obviously, that could have some pretty bleak consequences. So please don’t attempt to jerry-rig a Ferrata Set with standard rock climbing slings and carabiners. It’s not worth it!

If you are like Quin and I, and you show up to the area without any technical equipment you can rent a via ferrata kit (helmet, harness, and via ferrata set) from Laserer Alpin for around $20US a day – which is what we did.

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Practice Makes Perfect

“[The Sky Ladder] is a challenge for the mind, but from a climbing point of view, it is actually one of the easier parts of the climb.” – Heli Putz (The dude that designed the Donnerkogel via ferrata, and installed the Sky Ladder)

While you won’t need a lot of gear to safely complete a via ferrata, you will require a good stomach for heights and exposure. Like traditional climbing routes, via ferratas come in all different sizes and difficulties (more about that in a second). For now, just keep in mind that while via ferratas are designed to make the alpine world more accessible  – that doesn’t mean they are easy. They can still be both physically and mentally demanding.


© UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation

© UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation

The Donnerkogel via ferrata is on the more demanding side. The climb has several sections that are rated “D” on the Austrian via ferrata rating scale. This means that the itinerary presents several exposed and technical sequences, with only a few artificial pegs/stairs in place. Also, once you start, there’s really no good way of turning around. You can’t backtrack once you start. And there’s no alternative route up or down until you reach the top. Therefore, you want to be in good physical condition and have some technical climbing competence before attempting this one.

Luckily, the area around Gosau is a via ferrata mecca, with multiple training routes ranging from beginner to more advanced. Even if you have done a via ferrata before, I would highly suggest taking a day to complete some of these training routes. Quin and I have both done the via ferrata in Telluride, Colorado. It was an awesome experience, but I’m so glad that we took a day to climb some of the other via ferrets around Gosau. Successfully completing these other via ferrata routes, helped me get a feel for how physically demanding the similarly rated Donnerkogel via ferrata would be. But more importantly, it gave me the mental confidence I needed to get up some of the more difficult and exposed sections of Donnerkogel.


Climbing the Laserer via ferrata to practice for the Ladder to Heaven. Wearing:  leggings ,  trail running shoes ,  helmet .

Climbing the Laserer via ferrata to practice for the Ladder to Heaven. Wearing: leggings, trail running shoes, helmet.

We opted to do the Laserer via ferrata, before heading up the mountain to attempt Donnerkogel. Directly above the “Gosausee,” the Laserer via ferrata has two distinct halves – the lower (easier) half, traverses across a rock face only a few feet above the water. This is a great place to get your feet wet (metaphorically speaking). Once you’re comfortable moving across the bottom half of the Laserer, climb up the wire ladder to the upper (more difficult and exposed) half. On the top half, you get a good feel for the type of challenge you will face on the Donnerkogel while enjoying expansive views of the lake below.

If you don’t have any experience with climbing or via ferratas you can take a course in Gosau or hire a guide to assist you. Laserer Alpin is an excellent local company that offers via ferrata courses for beginners, guided via ferrata tours, and tons of useful information about climbing in the area. You can also rent via ferrata equipment (helmet, harness, and via ferrata set) from Laserer Alpin for around $20US a day – which is what Quin and I did.

Climbing the Sky Ladder In Austria


Sky Ladder Austria

From Gosausee lake, take the Gosaukamm cable car up into the Zwieselalm. From there, follow the wide path for about 5 minutes to Gablonzer Hütte (you can literally see it as soon as you get off the cable car). At the hut,  turn left onto trail 611 and then hike for about 20 minutes until you reach the upper Törlegg saddle. Keep left and descend a short distance until you see the cable that marks the beginning of the via ferrata route.

The Gosaukamm cable car doesn’t start running until 8am. To get an earlier start, Quin and I opted to stay in the Gablonzer Hütte the night before our climb. Sleeping at the hut allowed us to get a jump start on other climbers, and avoid the inevitable queues that form later in the day.

The Sky Ladder portion of the route is located approximately 2/3 of the way up the via ferrata. Although the ladder is only rated a “B,” and is not considered difficult relative to other sections of the climb, the exposure is intense and should not be underestimated. In heavy winds, or when others are on the ladder, the movement can be quite unnerving.


The scramble after the Ladder to Heaven, was actually the most technical part of the Donnerkogel via ferrata.

The scramble after the Ladder to Heaven, was actually the most technical part of the Donnerkogel via ferrata.


Earlier morning views from Austria’s Ladder To Heaven.

Earlier morning views from Austria’s Ladder To Heaven.

All told, the route climbs around 400m to the summit cross on the Grosser Donnerkogel. The climb takes around 3 hours and moves across varying terrain ranging from medium to difficult rating.

Once you reach the end of the cable, exit the via ferrata and hike to the summit – marked by a large cross. At the cross, do a little celebration dance, take in the expansive views, sign the summit log, and then follow the red markings down to trail 628. Follow the trail back to Gablonzer Hütte, where you began your day!


Cooling off in Lake Gosau after completing the via ferrata.

Cooling off in Lake Gosau after completing the via ferrata.

Overview of Donnerkogel Via Ferrata:


via ferrata route
  • Access: 20 minutes from the Gosaukammbahn cable car mountain station

  • Via Ferrata Difficulty: C – D

  • Ascent: 3 hours

  • Descent: 1 hour

Some of the links above are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. Thanks for your support! – XO Jess

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  1. Kirtan P. says:

    What a thriller, thanks for sharing! I would totally do this and not freeze up. Easy to say sitting in front of a laptop reading your post 🙂 Thanks for sharing! Anything similar in the U.S.?

    • Thanks Kirtan! There is a really cool via ferrata in Telluride, Colorado. And although it’s not in the U.S. I hear that they just put a cool one up in Banff. I’m dying to try that one out!

  2. Kim says:

    What an adventure! You are very brave! For someone with minimal climbing background you seemed very comfortable with what appeared to be a very technical climb. I’m very happy you completed your route unharmed, but honestly it looked pretty scary!!!

    • Thanks Kim! They do a great job setting up the via ferrata routes over there, so as long as you are in good shape and can stomach the exposure I’m sure you would be good to go! 🙂

  3. Amy Kasden says:

    Thank you for writing this as i had so many questions How far in advance did you make your reservation to stay at the hut. And did you guys rent a car while you were over there? Oh and what was staying at the hut like. Was it dorm setting or private rooms?

    As always, thank you so much for all the information. Your bogs are by far my favorite travel blogs. Would also love any information on the ridge line climb you guys did before this, are you going to write a blog on that by chance?

    • Hi Amy! Thank you so much for the comment. I’m so thrilled that you like my blog. 🙂

      We actually made reservations at the mountain hut the morning of, but I would suggest doing it a couple days in advance if you can – more if you are looking to stay there on a weekend. We stayed in a private room, but dorm rooms were available. The private room was very small and had one bunk in it, but because we woke up around 4:45am I didn’t want to stay in a dorm with other people.

      We rented a car for our entire trip through Switzerland and Austria. I honestly wouldn’t want to do it any other way. Having your own car gives you so much more flexibility.

      • Amy says:

        Thanks Jess! All of that is so helpful to know. And I appreciate your response too. I think another trip just got added to my bucket list!!

  4. Mimi says:

    Loved reading about the via Ferrata! I had no idea these existed and now I’m adding this to my list!

  5. Sean says:

    This looks incredible! I am heading to Austria in a couple days and want to add this to my list thanks to you! I’m having trouble figuring out how to get in touch with the Laserer Alpin people though. Any tips on how to set it up?

  6. Sarah says:

    If you haven’t got any climbing experience this probably isn’t a good Via Ferrata for a first try. Although, like the author says you can take a course first or go with a guide. I would really recommend not just trying alone if you have no experience, it is not a beginner climb and is rated difficult. And like it says in the post once you are on you must climb to the top, it’s not possible to turn back as that is dangerous for yourself and for other climbers

  7. Zee says:

    Hey Jess ! Wonderful blog about Via Ferrata Donnerkogel ! I was wondering if there are any rentals for equipments over there at the lake or even up at the hotel you stayed. Im heading there in a couple of days and it was a last minute trip for me 🙂

    • Hi Zee! Glad you like the post. You can rent a via ferrata kit (helmet, harness, and via ferrata set) from Laserer Alpin for around $20US a day – which is what Quin and I did. I don’t believe there is anywhere to rent the equipment up on the mountain. The people at Laserer Alpin were very helpful!

  8. charitybosua says:

    Hey Jess, Thanks for the information. You inspired me to do this Stairway to Heaven. Could you please tell me which company you booked to tour at? I can’t find any information on how and where to make a reservation. TIA

    • Hi there. As I mentioned in the blog, I did not use a guide company. We did this particular via ferrata independently. But you can contact Laserer Alpin for guided climbs (just google them and their website will pop up). I’m guessing it will not be accessible until next summer, but you never know. Best of luck!

  9. Ch says:

    Hey Jess. Thanks for sharing your story. Your blog inspired me to do this adventure. Could you please tell me where you booked this tour? I can’t find it anywhere online 🙁 Thanks a lot.

  10. TVo says:

    Hi Jess, thank you for the article. I want to climb the sky ladder next year. I and my girlfriend have climbed via ferrata to SkyLodge in Peru, and we really like the experience.
    is the cable to sky ladder open year round? What month did you climb it? When is the best time to climb it? And you said you climbed it without a guide, do you need a permit to climb it independently.

  11. TVo says:

    Hi Jess,
    I have only climbed via ferrata once in Peru to the Skylodge, and I really liked it. For this climb, do i need to have a permit if I’m going to climb independently? You mentioned you also only done it once in Colorado. Would you recommend me to climb without a guide here? How is the hiking trail down? Lastly, do I need Internation driving Permit to rent a car and drive in Austria like you?
    Thank you,
    love your articles

    • Hi! The Sky Ladder is only accessible in the summer when there is no snow. I climbed it in August, and I’m guessing that July and August are the safest months. You do not need a permit to climb without a guide, however unless you are extremely comfortable with exposure, and heights I would recommend hiring one. I believe that you do need to have an International Drivers License in Austria.

  12. Mike D. says:

    Hey Jess- Really enjoying your blog, here. I’m heading to Austria in Aug, and doing an Alps motorcycle tour, and after that, would love to do the Donnerkogel via ferrata/Sky Ladder. I’m looking for suggestions on where to stay that would be a close distance drive to the Donnerkogle area. It looks like the Laserer Alpin shop is in Gosau, and wondering if that’s a good city to stay before heading out? Staying at the Gablonzer Hutte, the night before the climb is a great idea, but just wanting some suggestions on villages/places to stay, before heading that way. Greatly appreciate any suggestion, recommendations and help that you can give.
    Thanks a bunch!
    Mike

    • Hi Mike! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Your trip sounds absolutely amazing! To be honest any of the little towns in the area would work. It’s easy to get around if you have your own mode of transportation. We were staying near Hallstatt, which is probably the most famous Alps town in the area. It’s very picturesque, but also quite touristy. If I was just interested in the Sky Ladder I would probably recommend staying in Gosau. As I remember it was a pretty small village but it had everything you would need – and would definitely be the most convenient. Have a wonderful time!

  13. Tj Lotay says:

    Hey Jess

    So I’m gonna be doing this with two friends (inspired by you ofc) and I’m just wondering on a few questions that don’t seem to be answered here;
    Firstly what’s the best time to do this, weather wise? We were looking into June?
    Also I know you said follow the trail back down to Gablonzer Hütte where you began so is that where the hike starts??
    Me and my friend have never done a Via Ferreta but have countless experience in hikes.
    Also I know you said it’s 3hrs up, 1hr down, so it’s able to complete for a day trip?
    And last question (sorry) is the rope wire through the whole of the climb from the start to end?

    Sorry about the gazillion questions
    Third time revisiting this blog and it’s still fantastic as you are! Love the “do a dance” bit at the summit haha

    Tj

    • Hi TJ! The best time of year to do this via ferrata would be in the summer. It’s not posable to do it in the winter, and it’s quite dangerous during rain, ice, or inclement weather. I did it in August, but June would probably be fine.

      The trail does not really start at Gablonzer Hütte. But it does start very close to there, you’ll be able to see the signs from there. It’s definitely a day trip (really a half-day trip). The wire does go the entire length of the via ferrata for safety.

      I don’t want to scare you, but I would definitely recommend doing at least a couple practice via ferratas before this one (especially if you don’t have any climbing experience). It’s really not a hike. It’s quite exposed and difficult at points.

      • Oleg says:

        Hi Jess!
        I want to do my first via ferrata this summer.
        What do you think about doing via ferrata in late august ( or September 1st)? Is it much colder than in July for instance?
        Or maybe possibility of rain is higher at this time?
        Should I take warm clothes (coat or jacket)

        • Hi! It would completely depend on where you are planning on doing a via ferrata. But in general, I would say that August and early September are generally just as nice as September. Regardless of the time of year, it’s very important to check the weather forecast before you go.

  14. Kate says:

    Hi,
    Me and my partner are planing to climb this.
    I was wondering if you could answer some of my questions.

    Did you hire a guid to climb with you? As we are trying to find where it is possible to request one but we are struggling to find one website.
    Also, how did you take picture of you on the stairway, as we would also love have this picture taken for our memory.

    Looking forward to hearing back from you. 🙂

    • Hi Kate. My partner and I did the via ferrata independently. If you read the section above title "Practice Makes Perfect," I have included the name of a local guide company that I would highly suggest. Although we did not require a guide, we did rent our gear from them. They also gave us some great recommendations for practice routes to complete prior to attempting the Donnerkogel via ferrata (also included above).

      As far as photography goes, I just had my partner take photos of me while I was on the ladder. Best of luck!

  15. wayne says:

    Hi, fantastic review and guide.

    Just a quick question about your amazing photos… did you use a drone for the photos or was your partner able to take them from the side while you were on the ladder and climbing?

    Thanks

    Wayne

    • Hi Wayne. The photos in this blog were taken with a camera, not a drone. There is plenty of space for you to shoot a subject on the ladder from the side. Have fun!

      • Wayne says:

        Hi, thank you for taking the time to reply. Love the article and detail.

        Few more questions… was the photos taken of you on the ladder from the side before your partner climbed up? I suppose I’m asking if it is possible to take a photo of the other person and then swap over to take a photo of the other person on the ladder?

        How busy was it when you went? I’m thinking of taking your advice and staying at the local hotel and then leaving at 5/6am. If we are going to be trying to take plenty of photos, I’m hoping we catch a quiet time

        Thanks again.

        • The spot that these photos were taken from is before you ascend the ladder. When we did it, there were no other people, so I was able to go up and down a few times – and theoretically, we could have switched off as well. But I know it can get very busy and backed up (especially at the ladder). Obviously, if there were other people there, you would not be able to switch off or descend the ladder. I would suggest going very early on a weekday for the best chances of having it to yourself.

  16. Kelly Vidaurri says:

    where did you stay? i am looking for a place to stay next weekend when we are planning this

    • Hi Kelly. The night before the via Ferrata we stayed up at the mountain hut near the trailhead. You can find more details in the blog post itself. Before that, we were just staying in one of the nearby towns – I don’t remember the name anymore.

  17. Simone says:

    Hi! Useful info, I’m doing it next Monday, I will arrive on Thursday night and take part of the training session with outdoor leadership and on Monday I’ll tackle the big ladder. I have almost no experience and I’m quite scare of hights, that’s going to be fun…..

    • Hi Simone! I’m so happy to hear that you are doing a training season first. I think that you will find the Via Ferrata much more enjoyable that way. Stay safe, go slow, and have a great time! I wish you the best of luck.

  18. kyle says:

    wow really nice photos and the ladder looks definitely cool …..and little scary lol

  19. Jess says:

    Did you hire a guide to lead you? Or did you just go on your own with your gear?
    I usually hire guides for that kind of thing, wondering how you found not having one if you didn’t?

    • Hi Jess. We rented gear and went on our own. We had done a few via ferratas before, so we didn’t feel that we needed a guide. We were able to make it to the top, but it was definitely the most physically and mentally challenging via ferrata I’ve done, and I would highly recommend a guide.

  20. Charlotte Domittner says:

    Hi Jess!
    My friends and are planning on going this Saturday but it says that it will be raining-do you think this will be a problem?

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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