No country caters to adventure quite like Austria. The mountainous terrain, central location, famed repute, and bodacious beauty make the Alpine peaks within its borders some of the most alluring anywhere in the world. And nestled in the heights between the southern states of Tyrol and Carinthia lies the Grossglockner, the legendary summit in the Central Eastern Alps that beckons to climbers of every stripe to its cliffs and crags.
The Grossglockner, Austria’s tallest peak and a classic Alpine ascent, is synonymous with mountaineering. It blends non-stop excitement with unrelenting beauty, an icon set in the main ridge of the Alpine Divide and the tallest mountain in the Alps east of Brenner Pass. At its apex, it reaches 3,798 meters, with many other notable summits towering above the surrounding valleys and mountainsides.
It is well-known even to non-alpinists as a must-see destination, with long glaciers and other high-elevation attractions. The mountain huts along the passes and ridges allow immersive trekkers to take advantage of the Grossglockner’s history and culture. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road, the highest surfaced mountain pass road in the country, is named after the monumental mountain and contributes to its access and fame.
The top of Grossglockner includes views of Piz Bernina and the Adriatic Sea. It has a national park setting – Hohe Tauern National Park, to be exact – adding levels to the captivating landscape as you climb. There are so many reasons to climb this hub of Alpine beauty and embarking on a guided program to the summit is one of the best ways to explore the majesty of this unforgettable peak.
There are plenty of phenomenal routes across the mountain. There are varying levels of difficulty, and some trails can be blazed in the moment as you are adjusting to the conditions of the mountain. For adventurers with their eye on a full-fledged summit assault, Grossglockner really has everything.
The most popular route is the Normal Route. It is popular, so it is common for guided programs and private tours to run into each other along the way, particularly in the summer. It has a climbing grade of Class II, which makes it accessible for most mountaineers. It begins from either Kals or Heiligenblut before joining at the Erzherzog Johann Hut and becoming a dedicated climb to the summit.
The Kals portion of the route is scenic and relatively easy until you reach the Kodnitzkees Glacier. You begin at the Lucknerhaus on a scenic road that slowly becomes a trail. You will pass the Lucknerhut and follow signs to Studlhutte, following the Murztaler Weg Trail.
The Heiligenblut portion of the route takes you along the classic Grodssglockner Hochalpenstrasse to the Margaritzen Reservoir. You will pass the Salm Hut on the Weiner Hohenweg, followed by some fixed rope climbing that will take you to the high mountain hut.
When both paths merge, the Normal Route heads past the Erzherzog Johann Hut and participants have a snow walk to the steeper Glocknerleitl. The top of this section leads you to the ridge, which also requires crampons if there is a lack of sufficient ice.
Carefully enjoy steep drops as you move through the saddles of lower summits (such as Kleinglockner). Once you pass through the last pass between Kleinglockner and Grossglockner, you are ready to take in the immensity of the Alps from the summit of our awe-inspiring objective.
There is a possible alternative ascent starting in Stuedlhuette and combines Class III and IV on the southwest ridge. Other routes on the north side of the mountain include Berglerrinne and Pallavicinirinne, two challenging Class III ice climbs, as well as the Class IV+ mixed climbing Welzenbach Route. There are even some 90-degree mixed climbing ascents directly up the north face. The south face is also a possible objective, with a lesser-known imposing Class IV ascent.
Starting Point / Distance
There are generally two starting points, from the west via Kals or the east via Heiligenblut. Both are reasonable, though Kals is generally a slightly faster route. They join at the Erzherzog Johann Hut (at 3,450 meters). They each feature Class I and II climbing, with some areas of Class III and possibly Class IV.
The ascent from Kals is just over 1,500 meters to the high mountain hut and takes about five hours. The Heiligenblut route is almost six hours and gains 1,320 meters in elevation. Once they meet, you will spend an additional two hours and about 344 meters to the top.
Duration of the Ascent
The ascent generally takes two days, depending on the program. The first day is reserved for reaching the high(est) mountain hut, Erzherzog Johann Hut, and then making the summit push early the following day. You can reach the valley by the end of the day as well, or you can extend your trip and stay an extra night.
Starting from either Kals or Heiligenblut, it takes an average of five or six hours to reach the Erzherzog Johann Hut. From there, it takes about two more hours to reach the top.
There are also multiple programs that feature hut-to-hut tours, and Grossglockner has many nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored. A multi-day journey is certainly reasonable and takes extra care to immerse you in the magical beauty of the landscape.
Camping is not allowed on the mountain, but that doesn’t mean you are unable to enjoy an immersive excursion up the Grossglockner. The numerous huts along the way are more than accommodating and get you precisely where you need to go on your climb to the top.
The Normal Route has the Stuedl Hut (2,802m) on the way. It plays an important part in many climbs, with over 100 beds during the busy season and over 20 during the rest of the year.
The Erzherzog Johann Hut (3,454m) is the highest mountain hut in Austria and an invaluable refuge on Grossglockner. It is located right at the shoulder of the peak, offering 120 beds from June to September. While you get to take advantage of remarkable views, reaching the hut requires technical gear and climbing equipment. The views from this mountaintop refuge are second to none.
The Glockner-Haus (2,132m) is a storied location on the trail built in 1876. For anyone looking for a classic pre-Grossglockner overnight, this spot is perfect – and still provides certain privileges for members of Alpine clubs.
The south side of the mountain has the Salm Hut (2,634m) and claims the rights to the first ascent of Grossclockner. On your way to the top, the Salm Hut also contains fewer severe hazards and no crevasse danger as you head to Erzherzog Johann Hut.
There is a small hut at the pass between Heiligenblut and Kals. The Glorer Hut (2,642m) is away from the other huts but services hikes and ascents. It is located roughly two hours from Lucknerhaus.
The Luckner-Haus (1,918m) is a hut just off the Kalser Glocknerstrasse. While it is not an essential stop or location for climbing, longer ascents can benefit from a quick visit here. It is also a great spot for backcountry skiing and providing other options for multi-faceted adventures.
Physical Requirements / Technical Difficulties
The Grossglockner has many routes, ascents, and climbs, which means it varies in difficulties. Depending on your schedule, where you start, and what activities you plan on participating in, you can find climbs anywhere from Class II to Class IV+ with technical obstacles and ice climbing hazards. The beauty lies in the ability to select a route suitable for your needs and abilities.
Having said this, climbing Grossglockner is a serious undertaking. Alpine experience and glacier traverse experience are vital and necessary, so being able to climb at the PD+ level is crucial for a successful and enjoyable experience.
A guide enhances your climb tenfold and maximizes your safety and security. If you are looking for a great experience with local knowledge and superb instruction, you should check out the many programs from our guides here and choose from a wide selection of terrific trips.
The best time to climb the Grossglockner is during the months of July, August, and September. Like many other high profile ascents, the weather tends to be less volatile during the summer. There are many guided programs during this time and you can find plenty of company along the way to integrate into your ascent.
The ice climbs on the infamous north face are more suitable in May, June, and even October. The weather can be unfavorable but avoiding the melting ice and falling rocks of the summer months is a necessary safety measure. When participating in more perilous activities and ascents, be prepared for the weather of your climb. Care and caution should always be taken regardless of when you go.
It is a popular climb for many reasons, so throngs of mountaineers and adventurers will likely also be going in the same period. Avoiding the crowds can also be a more desirable affair, so climbing off-season allows you a more personal experience. It is especially packed over the weekend during the high-season ascents.
The skiing conditions are just as amazing on the Grossglockner. The months of March, April, and May feature prime powder runs and generally accommodating elements. There are even wonderful guided tours you can take during these times.
Climbing the Grossglockner can be an easy climb or a technical traverse. You need to come prepared with the appropriate mountaineering equipment, depending on the level of your ascent.
For rock and ice climbing trips, you may only need basic equipment. This includes:
Nuts and camming devices
Comfortable weather-appropriate clothing
For mountaineering trips, you will need to supplement the basic equipment with more durable gear, including boots and camping items.
While climbing Grossglockner will undoubtedly take your breath away, it doesn’t have to take your wallet, too. Depending on the size of your group and its duration, you can find a practical trip that will satisfy your adventure cravings without breaking the bank. Its accommodating facades make day and two-day trips more than feasible, starting around just under €200. And for anyone with a more ambitious climb in mind, you can spend six or seven days scaling the mountainside from as low as €745.
In general, most trips will fall somewhere in the €300 to €700 range for summit trips. Keep in mind that inclusions – such as equipment, food, accommodation, and transfers – can alter the price.
Often the trips include other peaks and objectives, so it may behove you to contact a guide and fashion a program that suits your schedule, abilities, and needs. There are great private trips that, while possibly being slightly more expensive, can give you the tailored Grossglockner experience of your dreams.
Other Activities in the Area
One of the best parts about Grossglockner is that it is a playground for everyone. While climbing programs on this mountain are satisfying, plentiful, and dog-gone fun, afterwards you can find another activity to keep the adventure going or morph you trip into an all-encompassing expedition!
Some of the best areas to ski are located on and around Grossglockner. Some of the best ski mountaineering programs – which combine the challenging ascents of alpine climbing to the tallest peaks with the delightful rush of skiing down their slopes – take place right on the mountain!
Skiing and snowboarding in Tyrol are often considered some the most remarkable experiences for off-piste thrill seekers. You won’t have any trouble finding a ski touring or splitboarding tour anywhere in the region, accompanied by world-class accommodations and the special Alpine culture.