Imagine getting paid to hang off a 200m cliff and hack at large rocks until they crash down into the valley below. This is exactly what Klaus Jöchler does for a day job. Klaus is an industrial climber and one of his tasks is rock clearing: removing large overhanging rocks that could potentially fall onto hiking paths and injure someone. It’s an exceedingly responsible job, but it’s a pretty awesome one too.
I spent a morning with Klaus and his team to find out more and see some rock clearing in action.
We met on a deserted car park above the Ehnbachklamm gorge. “Here’s your harness and helmet,” Klaus said, handing me the equipment. This was clearly going to be an exciting day.
The Ehnbachklamm gorge is one of the Innsbruck region’s hidden secrets. Located above the town of Zirl, the gorge is known for its crystal-clear water and dramatic rock faces. It’s a popular place for hiking, climbing and just chilling out by the water on a warm summer’s evening.
But while the Ehnbachklamm may seem like a paradise, it can potentially be quite dangerous too. “The cliffs here consist of large pillars of rock with deep cracks in between them,” Klaus explained. “Over time, water, ice and tree roots get into the cracks and make them bigger, which could then cause rockfalls.”
A rockfall would, of course, be extremely dangerous for anyone who happened to be down in the gorge. But thankfully there’s a way to prevent rockfalls: rock clearing. Every year the gorge is closed to the public for a few days while Klaus and his team safely clear any dangerous-looking rock on the cliffs above the path. These “controlled” rockfalls prevent real rockfalls happening and keep the gorge safe for hikers and other visitors.
But how do you go about removing such large pieces of rock? The first challenge is accessing the cliff. “It’s really important to have a secure access route to the cliff so that no one can slip and fall,” he told us. Suddenly the harness and helmet made sense. Klaus’ team had rigged up an impressive network of climbing ropes to create a temporary via ferrata route down to the top of the cliff. We hooked our carabiners onto the rope and slowly made our way down.
The next problem is how to detach the rock from the cliff. I noticed the team were all carrying metal crowbars. “In Tirolean it’s called a “Goaßfiaßl”. You wedge the Goaßfiaßl into the crack and gradually lever the rock away from the cliff until it crashes down into the gorge,” Klaus explained. “Industrial air bags are even more effective. As the bag inflates, it creates forces of up to 40 tons so we use them for removing the larger rocks.” 40 tons? That’s a pretty powerful air bag.
I watched as two of the team abseiled off the edge of the cliff and then I waited. And waited. And just as my fingers were about to freeze off there was an almighty crash and a boom that echoed through the gorge for seconds afterwards. The rock clearing had begun and you could feel the excitement in the air. See for yourself in this amazing video made by Ashley!
Several booms later and Klaus reappeared at our viewing point. “What did you think?” he asked. “It was amazing,” I replied, and it truly is. I’ve been to the Ehnbachklamm many times and have always just taken my safety for granted. I had no idea that a group of daredevil climbers are responsible for making it safe for people like me. “I like the challenge of having so much responsibility. You always have to have your eye on the ball and think ahead,” Klaus said proudly. “But also, I just like being out in nature.”
Is this the best job in Innsbruck? It might just be.