Climbing the via ferrata in the Ziel Valley
On a dream day in July, there are two firsts for us: we are on the Ziel via ferrata for the first time, and we meet the mountain guide Josef Hilpold in person for the first time. At the end of the day, we have not only got to know the idyllic Ziel Valley, but also an interesting person who is very connected to nature and the mountains.
The Ziel via ferrata was built in 2020 and when Josef Hilpold suggested it for our joint tour, we were immediately hooked. Although we know the impressive Partschins waterfall, we hadn't yet followed the Ziel stream higher up into the Ziel Valley. We also had the confidence to tackle this via ferrata: for the most part, the level of difficulty does not exceed B/C, but there are 3 key sections at difficulty level C. After the first easier part, you can decide whether to tackle the more difficult second part of the via ferrata and an emergency exit is still possible after the first C section. But we secretly hope that we will manage the whole via ferrata together with Josef and reach the panoramic Gingglegg (1,891 m). After all, Josef is a man who, after 16 years as a mountain guide, not only knows his way around mountains, but also around people in the mountains.
The path to becoming a mountain guide
Josef was born in Brixen in 1982 and grew up in the village of Lajen. At the age of 6, he had a key experience: while his parents were playing several rounds of a card game called Watten with friends, Josef watched climbers on the Sella Pass with a binocular. After that, he started scrambling around between the boulders of the so-called Stone City below the Langkofel. From then on, he really wanted to climb. However, as his mother didn't think much of climbing, he didn't take his first climbing course until he was 17. After this course in Landro, his passion for climbing finally took hold of him.
At first, he mainly went on tours in the Dolomites and later to the four-thousand-metre peaks in Switzerland and France. But alongside his work as an electrician, he didn't have enough time for the mountains. Although he failed the entrance exam for admission as a mountain guide in South Tyrol on his first attempt, he was not discouraged. He travelled around Africa, Asia and America for a year, got to know other cultures and new mountain worlds and then passed the entrance exam. At the age of 25, he was already a state-certified mountain and ski guide and had found the job that suited him perfectly. Josef is convinced: “You (only) have to really want something, then you can do it.”
Holistic mountain experiences
Because of his calm, pleasant manner, Helmut Gargitter is Josef's role model as a mountain guide and Josef himself also radiates a likeable calmness. What Josef loves about climbing, trekking and ski tours is that they combine the tranquil beauty of the mountains with a sporting adventure. If Josef's customers sometimes start out thinking doggedly about reaching their planned destination or taking the perfect photo, Josef tries to convey to them that mountain tours are about more than that: those who allow themselves to be fully immersed in the moment, trust the mountain guide and leave their comfort zone will be rewarded with unique, exhilarating mountain experiences. Josef not only enjoys being on the mountain with adults, but also with children, as they are not as top-heavy as adults and tackle challenges with more ease. We learn something else interesting from Josef: in his experience, men tend to overestimate their abilities on the mountain more than women.
Up to the Ginglegg
Fortunately, we didn't overestimate ourselves and managed the full length of the via ferrata Ziel. Early in the morning we travelled by car from Pustertal, where Josef currently lives, to Partschins. From the Texel cable car mountain station, we hike along the Meran high alpine route trail no. 24 to the Nasereit refuge, cross the bridge behind it and follow the signs. Red dots mark the start. Equipped with via ferrata equipment and helmets and guided by Josef, we tackle the first easier part of the via ferrata, crossing the rope bridge at the end with ease. Alternatively, there is a zip line to negotiate the passage. In the second part, an overhanging section is particularly challenging, but with Josef at our side, we finally reach the top of the Ginglegg happy and satisfied. On this day, we experience a natural idyll between fragrant alpine meadows, steep rock faces and the rushing Ziel stream with several waterfalls, as the 530-metre via ferrata is harmoniously embedded in the beautiful mountain landscape of the Ziel valley.
Via ferratas & favourite destinations
When we ask Josef which via ferrata he can particularly recommend, he reveals his favourites for different levels of difficulty. For beginners, he names the Knott practice and family via ferrata, a climbing park above the Unterstell cable car mountain station. For beginners with more experience and more endurance, today's destination the via ferrata Ziel, the Heini Holzer via ferrata on the Ifinger and the Ferrata Furcela de Saslonch below the Langkofel ridge are among his top 3. The Pößnecker via ferrata on the Sella Pass is very challenging due to its length and for the extremely difficult and exposed Hans Kammerlander via ferrata in Ahornach, you not only need a lot of strength, but also strong nerves. In his private life, there is nothing Josef enjoys more than alpine climbing in the Dolomites, where he climbs up to the 8th degree of difficulty. One challenge that particularly appeals to him is the “Hexenbeißer”: this route on the Zwölfer has only ever been climbed once by Valentin Pardeller and Christoph Hainz. In addition to the Dolomites, Josef also enjoys travelling in the mountain landscapes of countries such as Morocco or Argentina, as many things are viewed a little more loosely there. Also there are not yet so many complicated regulations and bureaucracy.