History of the Austrian Alpine Club

The Austrian Alpine Club was founded on the 6th of December 1878 as a continental equivalent to the British Alpine Club. From the very beginning, the headquarters have been located in Vienna, the members however come from all Austrian provinces, one fifth even from foreign countries. Contrary to similar alpine associations, the AAC has never been a purely male society, current percentage of women: approx. 20%.

The members’ register of the foundation period is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the great alpinists of that time, as, for example, the “collector of 4,000m peaks”, Karl Blodig, the Alps painter Edward Th. Compton and the chronicler of the Western Alps, W.A.B. Coolidge, the brilliant climber Hans Dülfer, the Dolomites expert Viktor Wolf v. Glanvell from Graz, the explorer of the Ennstal Alps Heinrich Heß and Julius Kugy, the explorer of the Julian Alps. The powerfully eloquent and bold solo climber Eugen Guido Lammer, the sporty Margrave Alfred v. Pallavicini, the pioneer of the Gesäuse Mountains Heinrich Pfannl, the restless allround alpinist Ludwig Purtscheller, the “king” of the Dachstein Friedrich Simony, the British G.W. Young, the climbing icon Emil Zsigmondy who died very young, as well as numerous other personalities of Alpine history, whose names live on in the Alpine nomenclature, in the names of summits, routes and huts.

During the years between the two World Wars, the favourite “Western Alps” destination could only be reached by enduring great personal hardships. Therefore, the mountaineers concentrated on exploring and opening up the local mountain chains, such as the Hochschwab, Gesäuse, Dachstein, Wilder Kaiser and Dolomite Mountains.

In numerous new routes, the free climbing difficulty level already increased to today’s 7th grade, an achievement that was however not really recognized for a long time due to the mental barrier “six plus = extremely difficult, the highest grade a climber can ever achieve” that was firmly fixed the minds of many mountaineers.

The members of the AAC, of course, also participated successfully in the competition for the last big unclimbed walls in the Alps. To the mountaineers of that time such first ascents were, as it were, merely a preliminary stage, a preparation for their personal long-term alpine objectives which carried tremendous prestige: To participate in one of the expeditions to the Big Mountains of the world. The few expeditions, which really took place in those difficult times led to Pamir, the Andes, Kanchenjunga and Nanga Parbat and became milestones in Alpine History.  Some of the most outstanding persons of that time were: …

The 8,000m peaks – The first ascents on six of the fourteen 8,000m peaks were achieved with the participation of AAC members: …

Today, the number of successful ascents of 8,000m peaks by AAC members has already increased to more than 100. – Numerous first ascents of 6,000 and 7,000m peaks in the Hindukush, Himalayas and Karakorum, (where Hans Schell holds the incredible record of five first ascents of 7,000m peaks) and alpine successes on many mountains throughout the world, as well as the establishment of many new and big alpine routes, underline the important role of the Austrian Alpine Club in the exploration of the mountains all over the world.

At the moment, the Austrian Alpine Club counts approximately 360 members, all good to excellent climbers, such as the alpine legends Kurt Diemberger, Norman Günter Dyhrenfurth, Peter Habeler, Wolfgang Nairz, Wolfgang Axt, Wolfgang Stefan, Dietrich Hasse, Thomas Bubendorfer and the “Safety Pope” Pit Schubert.

Among our lady members too, there are many excellent climbers, such as the alpine doyenne Helma Schimke, Fritzi Lukan, the Patagonia expert Silvia Metzeltin, Lilo Schell, the participants of the first Austrian Women’s expedition to an 8,000m peak (video) and Clara Kulich. Not to forget the numerous women who, together with their climbing partners or husbands, mastered difficult routes as lead climber.

Other famed names are the South Tyrolean Simon Gietl, who delivers one top achievement after another, the weather expert Karl Gabl, Alois Indrich, the extremely sporty Maruna Family, the “Polar Bear” Bruno Klausbruckner and “Snow Leopard” Helmut Graupner, Kurt Schall, author of many guide books, the collector of 8,000m peaks Hans Goger and Sepp Gwiggner, who must time and again complement his already “done” 100 Pause Tours listed in the “Extreme Rock” guidebook due to the malevolence of mountain nature. And last, but not least, the eternal mountain adventurer Hannes Neuwirth, whose by now almost eighty tour books could provide enough source material for several TV series…
But, the list must stop somewhere, otherwise it would encompass the entire members‘ register.