Karwendel Alps Day 3

Waking up in a 10 foot by 10 foot room in a mountain hut with 10 people in it, all laid out like sardines in a tin, is never the best recipe for a good night’s sleep. And so at 5.48am I woke up for the sixth and final time this morning in the Hallerangerhaus hut in the Austrian Karwendel Alps. The area is nothing short of outstandingly beautiful, with some soaring and scary cliffs around us (graded 9+ in the German scale, which I think is 5.13c or so on the US rankings ).

Breakfast was at a very civilised 7am, and we were able to enjoy some muesli,
and bread with honey and jam to get us back up the mountain from where we had descended the day before.

We should head up there somewhere…….

A beautiful day awaited us as we set out.

Our path back up to where we had descended from the previous evening

The path up to the top at about 2,200m was steep, but thankfully was north facing, and so the sun had not yet reached this part (we left at 8am) and so it kept it cool enough to be bearable. We also stopped en route to make a small ‘birthday’ cairn and for Verena as it was her birthday:

Happy Birthday Verena!

Once over the top, that path was a beautiful traverse, called the Wilde Bande Steig. It was a scramble in parts, and sometimes was secured by small sections of via ferrata, but no clipping in was required.

About to set off along the Wilde Bande Steig – our path would take us up the snowy col in the distance eventually.

A closer view of the Wilde Bande Steig path on the right of the picture

A couple of snowfields had to be crossed, but the snow was firm but yielding and so did not require crampons, which was a relief as I had left mine at the bottom of the mountain!

Making our way along a tricky section of the Wilde Bande Steig

Crossing a snowfield

Close up of the path on the other side of the valley, it looked a bit precarious to me…

After crossing a final precariously perched snowfield, we began the climb up to the col, the Stempeljoch. The path was very steep and it was by now extremely hot, and virtually windless, but otherwise wasn’t too bad.

The final path up to the Stempeljoch from the Wilde Bande Steig

Once over the top of the Stempeljoch we climbed up to get a view back over the ridge back down the valley. It was a beautiful view. When I took the photo below however I then stupidly stepped backwards into thin air and fell, landing onto my shin. Although it was only a short fall, my shin bled profusely (high pulse/blood pressure at the top of the climb no doubt contributing to this) and it looked a lot worse than it ultimately was.

I bled a lot for this photograph 🙂 The view behind shows part of the path that we used to ascend.

From here we thankfully had only a shortish walk to the next hut, the Pfeishutte. We went down straight away so that I could get my lep patched and cleaned up. The people at the hut (and I should most certainly say the same for both Susanne and Verena too) were fantastic, and I’m very grateful to them. Although my cuts weren’t ultimately too bad, they were very all very diligent, and it made me realise that if things had been worse (I could, and probably should, have fallen further than I did) then I was in safe hands.

The path down to the Pfeishutte, shown in the middle of the picture.

Duly bandaged up, the staff at the hut told me that I should put my feet up for the afternoon, and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I did :). I did then feel rather sorry for Verena and Susanne, as had it not been for my fall (or stupidity, or both) then we would and should have gone on to do a summit that afternoon, but instead they looked after me and took me down.

The rest of the day I therefore recuperated. I did so with some of the very best Kaiserschmarm I have ever eaten. If you haven’t had Kaiserchmarm before then it is basically a sort of mishmash of caremalised pancakes, with some raisins and sultanas added, and covered in powdered sugar, served with a fruit compote. I love this stuff so much, that it deserves a picture of it’s own, so here we go:

Kaiserschmarm – food of the gods!

The Pfeishutte was packed to the rafters, but thankfully we had places to sleep having rang ahead the day before. In the morning we would start our descent from the mountains  in the direction of Innsbruck, on what sounded a potentially steep section of scree – it sounded great.

Karwendel Alps – Day Two

Waking up in strange surroundings I should get used to, but somehow I never do. Today was certainly no exception. We (Verena, Susanne and I) were in the Klingler Hotel in Maurach, Austria, and I woke to find rain and wind and also feeling quite disorientated.

We had expected the weather to be outstanding this morning. In fact the forecast for Innsbruck, the nearest place to where we were headed, was for cloudless skies and 33 C. The rain (and it was tanking it down) therefore was rather unwelcome to say the least. It was also distinctly chilly.

Breakfast was however wonderful, and afterwards we set out with rather mixed feelings about what the day would bring. We needn’t have worried however, and within about 10 minutes of setting off for our destination (only 30 minutes away), we were in bright and beautiful sunshine.

Then however after arriving in Absam, just east of Innsbruck, we hit our first snag. We were looking to park, nicely mapped out by Verena, at a place called St Magdalena, at about 1,300m. This would let us get to our planned destination (and accommodation for the night) the Bettelwurfhutte. The Bettelwurfhutte was at about 2,100m, and would allow us hopefully to a scale a peak or two after lunch.

However, upon coming to a dead end half way to St Magdalena and enquiring of a very helpful local lady (in fact everyone in Austria throughout was just so friendly and helpful) she told us that this was the furthest we could go. This was not good, as we were barely at 700m, leaving us with the thought of 1,400m of ascent before lunch, which was a tall order at best.

The Karwandel Alps – the trail would start here

We then thought we should ring the Bettelwurfhutte to tell them of our arrival and to book our accommodation in case things were busy. Susanne looked somewhat shocked to be told that there was nothing at all to be had. The place was literally crammed full.

Ringing ahead to hopefully get us some beds for the night.

We then spent a further 30 minutes or so (rightfully) trying to contact other huts to see if we could get other accommodation. The long and short of it was that everywhere seemed to be either full or on an answer machine.

In the end we just decided to go for it. There was another hut apparently a further two hours or so from where we planned to head, although we couldn’t reach that one by phone either, but to delay the trip further (it was already 10.30am with perhaps six or more hours walking ahead of us) would have wasted too much time.

Within probably 20 minutes or so of walking up a steep road, just to reach the start of the trail, the heat was really taking its toll. The forecast temperatures for the day would prove to be correct and the sun beat down relentlessly from here on.

The trek started up a steep road at first…

After an hour or so, we reached a path which would lead us to the original destination (the Bettelwurfhutte). There were three paths in total. One of them was labelled ‘Klettersteig’, which was out for us as we did not have harnesses or via ferrata equipment with us. The other two paths looked long, and as we did not think we could get accommodation at this hut anyway, and after Verena and Susanne took the advice of a very helpful local passing shepherd, we decided not to take this route.

The climb up towards the Bettelwurfhutte

We duly marched on headed for the other hut, the Hallerangerhaus., which from our our current position was apparently a further 3 and a half hours. That may have been true for a fit Austrian (for whom the signboards must have been made) on a coolish summers day. This however was sweltering, and I couldn’t walk for more than about 50 paces uphill without stopping to wipe sweat from my brow and catch my breath. It was simply draining.

The walk was however beautiful:

An alpine meadow looking in the direction of the Stempeljoch, which would be tomorrow’s destination.

From alpine meadows with beautiful tiny flowers, to hillsides scattered with Edelweiss, to towering peaks around 2,000m above the valley floor, the Karwandel Alps were certainly proving to be everything I hoped they’d be and more.

Looking south from the approach to the Hallerangerhaus

The walk ultimately took us around 6 and a half hours. This meant that there was no time for other peaks along the way, but this in no way detracted from the day. Ultimately it was too hot anyway for serious hill climbing. Even when we reached our resting place for the day, the Hallerangerhaus hut, the temperature was 28 degrees C, and this at 1800m.

From the top of our ascent for the day, at about 2,200m, looking down towards the Hallerangerhaus in the distance in the valley

And a closer look at the Hallerangerhaus, our destination for the night.

Dinner was a perfectly cooked Vienna Schnitzel (well we were in Austria after all) washed down with a few glasses of Austrian beer. From the terrace of the mountain hut (we literally sat outside all evening it was so warm) we saw an amazingly beautiful sunset, and were entertained by the local hutkeeper and his wife. The hut was completely full, and we were ultimately lucky to get a place for the night at all.

Sunset over the Karwendel

In the morning we would climb back up the hill we had just descended and head to the Pfeishutte. We had seen glimpses of the path we would go on on the way today, and it looked great. This trip was already going too quickly!