Canyoning through the Zemm Gorge in the Ziller Valley

Should I or shouldn’t I?! Bettina leans over the rock ledge, her knees are trembling and her nerves are on edge.

Canyoning through the Zemm Gorge in the Ziller Valley

©Dominic Ebenbichler

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Below her, swirls a huge whirlpool, where the wild and cold mountain river cascades over the waterfall. Bettina is canyoning through the Zemm Gorge. At this point, she is faced with the decision whether or not to jump over the ten metre high waterfall into one of the churning pools ("Gumpe" in Zillertal dialect) of the River Zemm. 

©Dominic Ebenbichler

The "homo amphibia": a person who feels very at home in water.

"Canyonauts", as these adventurers are known, head into canyons armed with just a wetsuit, climbing equipment and fearlessness determination. Deep in the Ziller Valley, just before Ginzling, the Zemm Gorge is a natural spectacle, which is best experienced up close and personal. 

This canyoning location is as popular with locals as it is with tourists. Today, I am joining a group from near Kufstein in Tyrol. They love to visit the Ziller Valley and have chosen the Zemm for their canyoning tour today. Most groups take canyoning guides with them. The guides know "their" canyon like the back of their hand and will show their clients the best hidden spots along the tour. If you are planning to do a canyoning tour in Mayrhofen, you need to feel very at home in water. Canyonauts love water and move through the gorge using the rock formations and water currents. For this reason, Canyonauts are also sometimes referred to as "homo amphibia".

Canyoning through the Zemm Gorge in the Ziller Valley
©Dominic Ebenbichler
Canyoning through the Zemm Gorge in the Ziller Valley
©Dominic Ebenbichler
Canyoning through the Zemm Gorge in the Ziller Valley
©Dominic Ebenbichler
©Dominic Ebenbichler

Abseiling, jumping, sliding and having fun canyoning through the Zemm Gorge.

The tour starts just before Ginzling, at the point where both roads to Ginzling meet. I have to smile when I see the road sign; "Schluchtstrecke" (Canyon Route) written in big letters with an arrow. Although, rather disappointingly, the sign actually refers to the ‘old’ road which follows the Zemm gorge to Mayrhofen, and not, as I imagine, to the adventure trail through the gorge itself.

After a quick run through of the rules of canyoning from our canyoning guide from Actionclub Zillertal, we set off. Right at the beginning of the tour, a slide over a weir awaits us novice canyoners. We find ourselves literally jumping feet first into this action-packed tour. We continue through knee-deep water between the first rock formations and come across the first deep crevices of the gorge. For anyone who doesn’t like water, it’s too late to turn back now: we have arrived at the first jump! A short run up and I plunge into the green, iridescent water of the ‘Gumpe’ of the Zemm. The group riding high on bravado and even Bettina dares to jump the five metres. Everyone is laughing and clapping each other – whilst slightly nervous about what is coming next. 

The “Blue Lagoon“, as the tour through the Zemm river is also known, covers a distance of several kilometres and some 200 altitude metres. The nickname “Blue Lagoon” comes from the colour of the whirlpools. In summer, when the water levels and sunlight are right, the “Gumpen” are a brilliant blue colour. The contrast with the beautiful landscape around them is simply stunning, it is definitely a must-see. The gorge is sometimes very deep, with high water levels demanding a mixture of sliding, abseiling and jumping. Other sections require some walking or swimming. However, the Zemm Gorge is not a particularly difficult tour. With a little courage, you can easily conquer all of the obstacles. The group from Actionclub Zillertal have started to cotton on to this and begin to relax and enjoy themselves. Calmly, with the deftness of experience, the guide prepares the next abseil section for the group.

Below, a large "bathtub", as the small, deep pool is known, awaits us. The pool has yet to swallow any canyoner whole, however, this doesn’t make the view from above any less intimidating. Meter for meter, the group members are lowered down from a height of ten metres and quickly exit the pool for dry land. Another hurdle conquered! Two highlights of the tour are still to come. Focussed and disciplined, the group clamber and slide down the gorge, following their canyoning guide and nervously anticipating the next surprise. The more observant canyoners soon see what the next challenge is. Climbing between the rock faces, a big drop becomes visible. "That’s quite far down," someone says. The others nod in agreement and start to prepare themselves mentally for the jump ahead. 

©Dominic Ebenbichler

Coolness, self-discovery and a thirst for adventure

From this rock, the group have the choice to jump from six or ten metres. One after the other the “boys” and “girls”  make the jump. Bettina is the last to jump and wants to brave the jump from the highest point. But, her nerves almost fail her as she wavers at the edge before taking the decisive step out and jumping into the deep. “Wow!” she exclaims as she climbs out of the water, bursting with pride at her achievement. The last abseiling section of 20 metres is now a piece of cake for these hardened canyonauts. 

Slowly but surely, the canyoning tour is coming to an end. The group are delighted with their adventure. The younger ones evaluate the experience as "cool", to which another replies "I would like some more of that coolness". One lady is visibly introspective and says with a shy smile: "After pushing my limits and testing my courage, I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself today."

The Zemm Canyon was a true adventure for the whole group. And, on the journey back to Mayrhofen, it is clear that it has only fuelled the group’s thirst for adventure – they are already planning their next action sport adventure in the Ziller Valley.