The pack is loaded, done with 3 weeks of walking the Edmonton River Valley daily, wondering what else I should be worried about and then the plane takes off and away you go. Thus, this 10 day hike in the Alps begins with my older brother and hike leader Dennis (71), and younger twin brothers Craig and Kent (66) and me (68). The usual fly-all-night to Europe trip, wondering when to take a sleeping pill, to arrive in a busy Munich airport. Rendezvous here with the brothers, then find a train and next we are emerging in the Tyrol Alps at Innsbruck. From there a bus or tram and you get your first glimpse (below) of the Stubai Valley.
The Stubai Valley winds upwards for 40 km from Innsbruck to end with multiple arms of the Stubai Glacier. Along the glacial stream in the middle of the valley and on terraces above, Austrians have been farming for centuries – now augmented by more small town and and tourist facilities. The Stubai Valley hosts 4 ski lifts which provide access for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer. Austrians have a tremendous passion for mountain culture and especially hiking. All summer long day-hikers frequent the Alms- old farms now serving as rustic restaurants and Alpine Club Huts located high above the highway. These provide a destination and delicious, traditional Austrian soups, meals and strudel after a few hours hiking.
We’ve chosen this location as brother Dennis, bought a guide book in the early 1970’s titled Trekking in the Stubai Alps – Hut-to-Hut walks. Although Dennis had holidayed in the Stubai more than once, he had never tackled the complete RuckSack Trail – a circle route linking 8 Alpine Club of Austria Huts – our goal on this Trek. This was a continuation of our hike on the Tour de Mt Blanc, partially motivated by the injury that prevented brother Kent from joining us last year and partly to get this off of Dennis’s 1970 bucket list!
Our first night we spent a very nice hotel, overlooking the valley and a 5 course DELUXE meal – my first steak tartare for an appetizer. Next morning we use our free bus pass to head up the valley to the Elfer ski lift. Then up on the one free ski lift trip per day provided by the pass. Using a ski lift certainly makes alpine hiking different, but we were to find that there were MANY hills ahead -lacking these mechanical conveniences. The weather (as for almost the whole trip) was beautiful and we enjoyed the walk up and then down and then down to an Alm for soup and beer. As we enjoyed our late lunch we looked up and up at the 810 metre pass that awaited us for after lunch.
We huffed and puffed our way up the switchbacks to a welcoming beer on the patio deck of Innsbrucker Hut.
Although owned by the Austrian Alpine Club, each Hut is managed and the nearby trails maintained, by different chapters of the German and Austrian Alpine Clubs. Thus the Innsbrucker Hut (built in 1884) is managed and the nearby trails maintained by volunteers from the Innsbruck Chapter of the Alpine Club.
The second day promised to be the longest. The official guide book notes the distance from Innsbrucker to Bremmer Hut is 9km! Now remember that I hd been in ‘training” walking at least 9 km, and many days more, in Edmonton for the past 3 weeks. But we worried about the time – the guide book says 6 hours (but some take longer). Our hike turned out ob close to 12!!! The issue is of course how you measure a kilometer – horizontally or vertically!!. We were reassured by a German hiker on the trail that we were leaving early (8:30 AM) in time to make it easily and to remember that there was three major passes. Unfortunately, once we had huffed and puffed up to the first major hill in the first hour, we weren’t sure (but hoped) that that had counted for number one. What followed was the strangest and perhaps most interesting day of the trip!
We were hiking horizontally above the tree line, and 3 hours later, were at the height of our destination and in site of our Bremner Hut. However, between us and the Hut were three great ravines that we had to go around, or more often go way down then way back up to summit the Col, or pass. On the highest of these we had to scramble up irregular blocks of glacial rock, ever thankful for the Red and White train markers painted on the ‘best route” and the strategically placed rocks, wires or foot braces drilled into the rock. I love volunteer trail maintainers!! When we finally reached the top of the Col- was it number 2, 3 or 4?? I thought it would be a nice view to enjoy our sandwiches purchased that morning at the Hut. Two problems, worst sandwich of days old rye bread and a thin slice of cheese and even thinner slice of ham. But even more insurmountable was our lunch time perch. We were on rather comfortably sitting on a stone a ridge perhaps 3 feet wide, with sheer death on one side and shere death on the other. I couldn’t get comfortable and it was time to move on. It was on this day that we first encountered the cables that are drilled and anchored into the rock, to afford a handhold – or a clip onto – IF you were equipped with a harness. It wasn’t really that bad, but did give us a for-taste of more to come on this trip
After surmounting and scrambling up the last few meters we finally surmounted what we hoped was the final Col. Then part-way down the valley (or Eldewise as Craig kept referring to the Creeks) down to what the guide book referred to as ascent of a “chimney” up to Bremner Hut. Unfortunately it had started to rain and the light was already failing. I started up the chimney but soon realized that it was not safe for old men, with rubbery legs, heavy packs, cold cables, and wet and slippery rocks. We had been told that one could descend perhaps 300 meters and a couple of kilometers and then walk about a much easier route to the hut. Unfortunately, we somehow lost the trail (our only time to do that during the hike) and soon we were bush-wacking down a slope, crossing small streams but wondering (and hoping) that indeed, there was another way up to the Hut. As it began to get darker, I began tantalizing about plan B options- breaking into a shepherds hut we had seen in the distance or walking down to the town lights we could see waydown in the valley – maybe 8 kilometers away. We were RELIEVED to finally regain the trail (marked with the red and white flashes of Austria! It was then a 90 minute hike up to the hut and just as we were about to put on our flashlights, a big Alpine Ipex appeared out of the mist about 30 feet beside us. A great omen and sure enough the Hut also materialized in a few hundred meters.
We were welcomed in by the Hostess and explained that there were 2 more following us. Craig changed wet socks and went back out to carry Kent’s pack and make sure they got in. I relaxed with a big Austrian beer. Thirty minutes later the host comes over to tell me the other two have arrived, but not the third one. So off he went with a light and found Craig in 10 minutes or so. Needless to say we enjoyed the dumpling and schnitzel meal that was served later.
The next morning we were ready for hike number 3 from Bremner to Nuremburger Hut – only 5 Km. The walk started with a very steep ascent. As I neared the top, about 45 minutes ahead of Dennis and Kent, Craig told me to come up where he was and check out the trail we were about to ascend. We surveyed the next 100 yards – scrambling up very irregular rocks ‘aided’ by wire cables, which one could clip onto – IF you were equipped with a harness. Of course we didn’t have either that kind of equipment, nor skills, so we made an executive decision, that we really didn’t need this type of adventure, since a mis-step could be fatal. We also soon rationalized that we were old men, and had come for a hike – not for a mountain climb. So back to Bremer Hut and nice day relaxing on the sunny hut patio. The goal of making sure we enjoyed the hike and did if safely, overwhelmed our need to make it around the 8 Huts of the Rucksack trail.
The next morning we had a delightful 8 km hike down to the valley and a nice beer at an Alm where the road began. It turns out the family run Alm had a grandfather who would be pleased to drive us back to Stubia Valley for 80 Euros. It is nice being able to both rationalize and buy our way out of challenges!! Back in the Stubai, we took the bus up to the glacier and bought a ticket for the “midstation” ski lift that let us off at Dresdner Hut. This was the most modern of our huts, really a medium sized hotel, with again two bunk beds in our room but this time with a sink as well and FREE showers.
The next morning we took two more ski lifts up to the top of the Stubai Glacier. 2018 has been the warmest summer on record in the Alps and needless to say the heat was assaulting the glacier. The ski lift operators had surrounded each of the lift support towers with hundreds of feet of felt wrapping trying to insure the footings didn’t melt away with the glacier. The view from the top was stunning and we decided to walk down the glacier. This was surprisingly challenging as we were slipping and sliding down the melting slush that was the glacier top. Fortunately, the ski lift people had run one of their tracked packing machines up and down creating a bit of serrated path to follow. We stopped to have a drink from one of the many melt streams and took to wondering about many hundreds? thousands? of years this running water had lain frozen in this massive glacier complex.
Getting back to the ski centre half way down the hill, I realized that neither the Shoe Goop nor the duct tape, I had used to arrest the opening of my leather boot from its sole was keeping the weather out. Thus, with some typical Anderson reluctance, I pulled out the Visa card and bought a pair of nice hiking shoes (on sale, but still 160 Euros!!) Now to finish this hike with a brand new pair of unbroken in shoes. Luckily they worked out great!
We searched for the trails heading both directions from Dresner Hut and had a chat with the two women from Colorado who we had met earlier and who had just arrived. They suggest there was lots of dicey, cable climbing on our intended destination. So again, we consulted and like old men, decided to take the bus down two stops and then hike up to the Sulzenau Hut – rather than go up and over the Col.
This turned out to be one of the nicest days of our trip. We hiked up along side the beautiful Grawa Waterfall. This is the widest and one of the highest waterfalls in Austria. At the base is a sunning deck where Austrians love to sit and wonder at the falls while soaking up both sunshine and the plentiful negative ions produced by the Falls. It is said that an afternoon ingesting both the mist and the ions, especially if coupled with a 2 hour hike to the Alm at the top of the waterfall, is a sure promise of health and happiness. One thing for sure, it was a beautiful hike up, though some of the stairways from logs notched to accept 2 by 8 treads were a bit slippery.
In any case we arrived at the Alm for a beer and gawking at the gothic carvings that filled both the restaurant and the sun deck. Each chair and most of the tables was carved with some mythical Australian wood creature. From the Alm we could see our
destination Suzenau Hut on the cliff above us. Craig and I actually made it in the 90 minutes promised by the way-sign. As Craig said you just get into a pace and don’t stop. We arrived around 2:00 PM at the hut and were welcomed with bowl of dumpling soup.
We really enjoyed this Hut – both for the atmosphere and the friendliness of the hosts. It was a Saturday night so there was several families in the Hut – full nearly to capacity with about 30 guests. The food however was great and we easily got our 48 Euros each worth (private room for 4 with bunk beds, supper and breakfast included). The next morning we hiked up to Blue Lake and again saw the retreating glaciers that once filled this plateau. Then back down the trial to the bus.
Obviously our trip was no longer going according to circular route of the RuckSack trail, so we opted to take another ski lift and then a 4 hour hike up to Starkenberger Hut. This was a great hike, again high above the tree line but with spectacular views of the Stubai Valley below. The trail was fairly easy as we walked over and around the huge avalanche fences that protected the towns below.
The Hut proved to be the least welcoming in our tour (not withstanding the rainbow that greeted arrival). We were forced to sleep in a very tiny room (2 bunkbeds and not even room to change your mind between the beds!). No showers and the food was as mediocre as the reaction by the Hut managers.
We had intended to do day hikes and spend a second night at this Hut, but changed our minds, based upon the atmosphere of the Hut and the raging snow and wind storm that hit during the night.
Fortunately, Dennis had plan B. After hiking back down to the Valley, we took the bus to a very cushy Spa/Hotel. Here we enjoyed the hot tub and other delights which we “had not been accustomed to thus far in the hike.” The next day we headed back to our original hotel, but first stopped at another ski lift to take the steel toboggan ride down. This was a bit bone shaking for me – clinging to this metal sled as it screeched around and down the mountain side.
Our hike was now pretty well done. We spent the next day as tourists in Innsbruck and also noting the bikes, competitors and tourists here for World Junior Bike race championships.
For our final day we decided to rent a car and drive 2 hours to Hitler’s summer home at the Eagle’s Nest. After a nice morning drive through the Austrian countryside and then into Germany we arrived at Berchtesgaden. Here we went through the Nazi museum that documented the arrival of Hitler and many of his top commanders to this rural retreat. The Nazi’s confiscated or bought many of the farms and built homes for themselves, with of course numerous barracks for SS guards. The museum was packed with tourists – almost all German speaking. The photos and film clips of people fawning over Hitler as he emerged from his home, were sickening and reminded me of the adulation by some of the current US president.
To get to the actual “Eagles Nest” one buys a bus ticket for the 7km one way road up to the mountain top. Turns out the building itself was used more
for receptions and high powered meetings by the nazis than as Hitler’s residence. The original 1936 elevator takes visitors up for the final ascent to the Eagle’s Nest (silhouetted at top in photo to the left). The scenery no doubt served to impress visitors. However our visit was a bit strange in that you can’t actually go into the “Nest” it is now a large kitchen surrounded by patios filled with lunching and beer drinking Germans!
Our trip back to Innsbruck was uneventful, but we avoided the Autobahn and drove through Austrian valleys. It is amazing how many ski lifts (all operating during the summer) there are in Austria. Makes we wonder no more, how they win so many Olympic downhill medals. The next day we were up early to catch the bus to Innsbruck, then Craig and Dennis split to do the BMW museum and enjoy a day of Octoberfest in Munich, while I headed home.
Thus ended the second and likely last Alpian hike by the Anderson brothers.
Footnote – Total cost, all in, was about $1,330, not counting airfare for this 12 day adventure.
Part B in which Elder brother and leader Dennis provides a detailed account of this trek.
The Stubai Adventure September 2018
September 17 was our meeting day in Munich Germany. We were all scheduled to arrive in the early to mid-morning and surprisingly, all of the flights were basically on time and one by one we managed to find each other, made our greetings, and found our way through the airport to the train station where we joined the throngs milling around the ticket machines and trying to figure out how to purchase our fare to Munich and on-going ticket to Innsbruck. We were not having any success and a ‘local’ woman who we couldn’t seem to get rid of persisted in trying to help us and then finally said, come with me, just follow me (was she a travel Angel in disguise?). The 4 Anderson sheep followed quickly in her foot steps and she lead us onto a train and to some empty seats where she proceeded to say that she had a group ticket and it was available to us for 20E (which was about 1/3 the cost of individual fares). At this point, we were pretty well committed, and so all 5 of us settled in for the hour long ride into Munich.
At the train terminal our ‘hostess’ pointed out the train ticket info office and we thanked her (with a tip) and she headed for another train! We pulled a number and eventually made it to the front of the line where we were sold another group fare for the 12:30 departure for Innsbruck (which we just made). This was the slow scenic train and we enjoyed (despite the fact that we missed grabbing some eats in Munich) every minute of the spectacular run into Austria and the Alps. At 3:00 we met Peter – our host from the Bergkranz Hotel, “in front of the buses”. This innocuous description can be interpreted at least 2 ways and after a quick phone call we determine which of the 2 was correct. The hotel was just like it was 2 years ago – snappy, and full.
We sat outside on our deck for an hour soaking in the sunshine and +27 degree weather (both Calgary and Edmonton had snow when the boys left) and listening to the cow bells in the distance as we waited for the Church bell to toll 6PM. We then moved to the hotel patio to enjoy a beer along with the stunning view over the valley. At 7:15 we moved inside for a spectacular 6 course meal – none of us could remember our last one (or if there even was one) but we were all sure that there wasn’t one in the Anderson boy’s home days, that was for sure! Four exhausted gents hit their respective beds at 9:00PM.
Day 2: Mieders to Innsbrucker Hutte
After some drug induced sleep we awoke refreshed and ready for the challenge of the day. A ragged start at breakfast – with half arriving at 7:30 and the other at 8:00 – but to a wonderful full European breakfast buffet which included just about anything one could possibly consider for breakfast, and all gorgeously presented, which nicely set the stage for the day.
We walked down the hill to catch the bus at 9:30 and had enough time for Dennis to get a knee support and the others some snacks at the local SPAR before we boarded the bus to the Elfer Lift and the first phase of our hiking adventure. A 1000M rise via the gondola and then a 30 minute switch back trail led us to the Elfer Hutte and the beginning of the Panoramaweg, a nice Interpretive trail that featured plaques on the flora and fauna of the area during the first part of the walk and then, at the halfway point where the broad trail deteriorated, on geology. This section wasn’t as interesting and the footing continued to deteriorate as we made our descent to the Karalm for our lunch stop
From the Alm we could see the top of the Col which was our PM objective. It featured a well-defined ascent trail and then finished off with some long switchbacks which traversed the face of the cliff just below the summit. After an hour’s walk and arriving at the first of the switchbacks, we could see a fluttering flag which was our target. When we arrived at the Col we saw the most spectacular site of the day – the Innsbrucker Hutte basking in the late afternoon sunshine at 2360m.
We arrived with enough time to share beers on the deck with 2 women from Colorado before the sun dropped below the peaks and we checked into Room 7 for the evening. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the small dining area which featured an enclosed portion of the original Hutte build in 1885. We did some route planning and then had showers before hitting the sack at a very respectable hour (we paid 1E for a .5M – the M standing for minute, of hot water!!!) This would not be the first incident of not being familiar with the German signs and terminology! Notes from the day:
- Craig and Terry make up our A team (Kent and I call them the jack rabbits)
- The B team is composed of a guy with a 75% pumper and another who is carrying the equivalent of a 50LB bag of cement – but no complaining; we made it!
- We did notice that we missed just about all of the posted STB times on the way-points. The locals must run these trails!!! For the B Team our rule of thumb became: add an additional ½ of the posted time to get a total realistic time estimate.
- At dinner we had a ‘Toast to Ethel’ as we celebrated the anniversary of her birthday.
Distance: 11.59KM; Hiking Time: 6hr 26min; Elevation Gain 1327m Loss 816
Day 3: The Creaky Bed and the Hike from Hell
The night was jet lag time for the overseas travelers and there was lots of unrest associated with not being able to get to sleep and hence the creaking noises coming from the wooden bunk beds. Breakfast was very basic and the sandwich which we opted to buy for lunch was probably one of the most uninspired efforts that I have ever bought. We didn’t eat most of them.
The day presented at least 3 of us with the greatest alpine challenges of our lives – three steep ascents aided by fixed supports – Via Ferrate (Italian for Metal Road!!!) of cables and steps. We left Innsbrucker under a full sun just after 8:00AM and hiked up and over 3 incredibly steep passes guarded by glacier boulder fields both up and down, and one Col across a narrow ridge with a steep drop-off on both sides – however the trail was incredibly well marked with new red and white flashes. We walked all day with only short stops and arrived at Dresdner Hutte 2308m at 8:30PM.
At the end of the day we faced light showers and then once we lost daylight a drizzle and bank of fog. For our final ascent we sent the A Team ahead to ask the Hutte folks to save us some dinner while the B Team plodded along – however we weren’t too far behind and our hostess provided a wonderful meal when we finally did arrive. Our American friends had told them that we were on our way, and we did have a reservation, however they were a little ticked off at our scattered arrival.
The last hour of our walk was done with the aid of lights following the ‘friendly’ flashes illuminated by our headlights. What a welcome site to see the spot light of the maintenance shop and then the inviting lights of the Hutte. Somehow we had managed to get off of the trail. There were three routes to the Hutte but only 2 described in our book. Terry had checked out the Chimney option that in the rain was not really an option and the alternate mentioned in the book was the high route which was a significant way back on the trail that we had climbed down. We had an idea of where to go for the third option – the Lake option – mentioned by a fellow hiker going the opposite way, and we saw this alternative route for most of the afternoon from across the valley. We used our bushwhacking skills to finally find the access we had spotted from across the valley on high. We still don’t know exactly where or how we missed the trail to the access route up from the lake to the Hutte and our detour did add considerable hours to our day – the longest and hardest day of our hiking lives for most if not all of us!
Distance: 16.5KM; Hiking Time: 12hr 30min; Elevation Gain 1997m Loss 1950m
Day 4: “This is a Hut not a Hotel!”
Last evening, when we apologized for the disruption of our late arrival, Anni, our hostess replied, “no problem, this is a hut”. In the morning when we were a tad late for breakfast and requested a bit more time, she said “this is not a hotel.”
We departed at 9:00 seeking our 4 hour traverse of the Col to the Nurnberger Hutte, and it was a push to the top – which our Jack Rabbits made. However, what they discovered was a very daunting looking Via Ferrate which they determined was probably more than we would like to handle – the B Team still had a few hundred meters of ascent to go before we got a look see, however it was not difficult to provide consent to the A Team recommendation that we abort the day. We returned to the Bremer Hutte and found out they had space for us for the night so we decided to stay and hatched a plan for the morrow – down to Gschnitz and then taxi or public transport back to the Stubai and, hopefully, in enough time to make it up to the Dresdner Hutte for a couple of nights.
For the afternoon we cleaned up ourselves and our clothes, caught up on emails, enjoyed a nap, and then the wonderful sunshine on the Hutte veranda and ‘gravel deck’ – which faced the mountains with their towering peaks. At 6:00 we went into the dining room with about 20 other folks for another substantial meal “the hikers menu” – that none of us could actually finish (a hearty soup; salad; and tonight mash potatoes and “spam-like” Schnitzel). Many folks add Strudel to what always seems the substantial “hikers menu” however, it was more than we could contemplate. Distance: 3.21KM; Hiking Time: 2hr and 37min; Elevation Gain 504m Loss 507m (For the B Team)
Day 5: Bremer Hutte To Dresdner Hutte
We are all sleeping more comfortably with each passing day – the snoring isn’t even keeping anyone awake! After a basic European breakfast we broke camp and were heading down the trail at just after 8:00 – we were getting into the idea and realizing the necessity of early starts. We said good bye to Anni – our travel Angel – who had made all of the telephone calls straightening out reservations on our behalf, and headed off down the hill for the Laponesalm at the end of a road and beginning of the foot path. We actually enjoyed the steep walk down and did the trip in the posted Austrian STD – that included a number of strategic stops to see if we could figure out our arrival path and other options for getting to the Bremer Hutte from Innsbrucker. We could see ‘specks’ traversing the high hills, bits of trail; and other clues but no definitive options that showed how we might have missed a turn – other than the sign post we followed before Terry hit the “chimney” and then bushwhacked our way down to the lake and up the far side – adding a couple of hours to our trip. Anyway, the walk down was steep in places but offered no technical challenges and eventually lead us into the trees and down to the valley floor where we celebrated with beers and Raddlers before our server assisted us with arranging a very reasonable taxi ride back to the Stubai – we had actually crossed into the Oschnitzal Valley and were right up at its very end.
Our trip in the taxi took about 40 minutes (back to Mieders); was a scenic marvel; and was one of the best 80E spent on the trip. The Alps were at their best with farms, villages amuck with houses and buildings beautifully overgrown with blooming flower boxes.
At Mieders we hit a bank machine and caught the bus up to Mutterberg and the Stubai Gletscher for a ride up the Gondola to the Dresdner Hutte. We arrived at about 2:30, checked-in; had showers; did laundry; and soaked up some sunshine on the veranda. At 6:00 we headed down to the restaurant with the other dozen or so quests for another first rate 4 course Austrian meal that featured a mixed meat skewer in a tasty sauce served with Frites, along with a wonderful salad (more veggies than lettuce); hearty soup; and spectacularly presented Kunken dessert. It was amazing that the place is more like a hotel than a Hutte – and that it is virtually empty (now). This was actually another German Alpine “Hutte” but definitely more like a mountain 4 star hotel!
After dinner we once again did some planning – taking into consideration the pending forecast and looking at our various options. We were now very flexible and had a good idea about our limitations and requirements for ‘hiking’ rather than ‘mountaineering’ in this part of the Alps!
Distance: 4.94km; Hiking Time: 2hr 47min; Elevation Gain 174m Loss 1001m
Day 6: “Out of Our Demographic”
We spent another very relaxing night – each of us becoming more familiar with our ‘situation’ – four snorers sharing a room. After a substantial breakfast – second best so far, we headed for the Stubaier Gletscher Gondola to Bergstation Eisgrat and the transfer up the Schaufeljoch to the Top of the Tyrol at 3210 meters that featured an outstanding 360 degree view of this section of the Eastern Alps. The deck was well posted and we enjoyed picking out the peaks under a bright blue sky. After 40 minutes on the top we returned to the station and did the Gletscherpfad – a wet and slushy (at this point in the season) marked route down the face of the glacier back to the Bergstation. This was one of the warmest years on record and the glacier has taken a beating. Interesting to see the measures they are taking to keep the bases for a number of the 47 lifts on the ice/rock secure and stable – covering them with thick pads of felt, and it seems to be working as the base mounds are at least 6 – 10 feet higher than the snow and rock that surrounds them. After our ‘slush walk’ we returned to the Mid Station and Dresdner Hutte to get rid of our cold weather gear and prepare for our “waterfall” walk from the Hutte. It was a great little walk and we scrapped the possible walk for tomorrow (after viewing it on the opposite side of the valley from our resting spots) and decided that “We Are Out Of Our Demographic” for the Hutte to Hutte Rucksack Route in the Stubai. Our demographic is doing day hikes from the tops of the lifts or from the valley floors to the Alms/Huttes. We are now comfortable with this reality and we planned accordingly.
When we arrived back at the Hutte we met the 2 women from Colorado, whom we hadn’t seen since day one at Innsbrucker, but they had just done our proposed route for the next day and confirmed for us the decision that we had made – it was more than we would ever have wanted to contemplate! We had a great hour on the deck with them and a father/son team from Holland, and the day concluded with another superb 4 course dinner!
Day 7: Dresdner Hutte to Sulzenauhutte Hutte
We had breakfast with the Colorado trekkers – Mary and JC and then made the short walk down to the Mittelstation Fernau and hopped the Gondola down to Muttenburg for the bus to the Sulzenau stop – which the driver roared right by, so we got off at the Grawa Alm stop. Not really a bad stop because it featured the second of the spectacular falls that make up ”Wilder Waserway”. We made the short side trip to the base of the falls with its “Ion spray”, and then began the trek to the hut on the falls trail that runs right up beside the thundering falls on some pretty amazing board works for about 45 minutes before it joins the lower grade trail from the Hutte bus stop. This part of the trail was heavily improved by various forms of planking and walkways so it provided us with another new walking experience! After about an hour and a half we broke the crest of the hill onto a valley that featured the Sulzenaualm – a flat area that is no longer farmed and where the original buildings had been turned into a rest stop that featured some very impressive Austrian wood carvings on the furniture, buildings, and signposts. The breakthrough also provided spectacular views of the Cirque shaped valley with extremely steep sides, the 200 meter upper falls – tallest in the Eastern Alps – and crowning the falls, a glimpse of the Sulzenauhutte (2196m) perched right at the top of the falls back-dropped by glimpses of the high peaks behind it.
After a brief stop we made our way up the steep, but wide and easy to maneuver in, switch backs to the top of the falls and the Hutte. The A Team managed to make the ascent in the STB Austrian posted time. The B Team hit the target of 1.5 times the posted number.
The Hutte was another example of German architecture and efficiency. We had dumpling soup for lunch (2 spinach and 2 bacon, which we shared) and were again most impressed with the Austrian dumplings – a tad different from what Ethel used to make out of Bisquick!
This was the final of our two days of overcast and we were only treated to the occasional sucker hole to show us glimpses of the towering peaks, valleys, and glaciers that surrounded us. It was definitely cooler and for the first time on the trip we had hiked for most of the day in our light outerwear – not bad for the final couple of weeks of the season in this area.
Before dinner we did a walk around to take in the trail signs, the Via Ferrate, Flying Fox, climbing wall, and of course safety lines to tie into for traversing steep rock faces. After some dice games we had the Hiker’s Special – wonderful soup and Lasagna served with a non-lettuce salad. Another feature of the day was the butchering of the ‘Hutte Hog’ who had probably done well on all of the left-over food scraps from the past 4 months but hit the end of the road with the season ending in the near future – too heavy to take down by cable car and too valuable to loose!
The end of another good day with great food; interesting talks with folks on the trail; terrific scenery; enough work to not kill our bodies; and ending up in a very nice Hutte with an amicable host and hostess – whose family has been running the place since 1926!
Distance: 5.85km; Hiking Time: 4.5hr; Elevation Gain 1022m Loss 327m
Day 8: Sulzenauhutte to Starkenburger Hutte
We arose early to a spectacular day with all of the substantial peaks in full view along with the tongues of the icefield that comprises the remains of the Stubai Icefield. We enjoyed a plain but sufficient breakfast – unlimited coffee – and then we packed up and went for a short walk to ‘Bleau’ Lake – a very nice glacier pond at the foot of a peak. We returned to the Hutte, hefted our packs and enjoyed our walk back down to the valley and the Sulzenau bus stop – which proved to be a more leisurely and moderate grade for the descent. Just about the entire trip from the Alm down to the valley was through the trees on a broad trail that was not overly difficult. We then caught the bus down the valley to Fulpmers and the Schlick 2000 lift. We grabbed a wonderful bowl of Goulash at a local hotel on our way through town to the lift, and were amazed at how hot it was in the valley. When we were in the valley we were shedding our clothing, however, when we got to the top of the lift it was considerably cooler and a much more comfortable temperature to walk in. Our goal was the 2 hour trek to the Starkenburger Hutte. The walk was a real treat and totally different from anything that we had experienced thus far. The trail was wide and had a nice grade for the first hour. The second hour was a traverse across a face with rocky spires that towered above us on one side and then a drop down of hundreds of feet just off of the path on the other side. Another interesting part of the walk was that the path was composed almost exclusively of “white stone” and about 3-4 feet wide. The photo-ops were stunning!
The walk finished with a run through the avalanche prevention structures that we had viewed from across the valley at the Elfer Hutte on our first day.
The Starkenburger Hutte 2237m, was the smallest structure we had come across and the room that we were assigned and shared reflected the size of the structure! We couldn’t talk our way into another or larger or second room, so we were crammed into a space that made either of our bedrooms at 1943 – 48 Ave seem palatial.
Distance: 11km; Hiking Time: 5hr 38min; Elevation Gain 1327m Loss 816m
The ‘Hikers Plate’ is usually 3 courses and generally the least expensive item on the menu. Its 3 courses are usually a soup, salad, and main course. The meal is always filling and in fact about half have been more than at least one of us could handle in a setting. The soups are unique and the dumplings ones are very special. The salads are at the most 25% lettuce and often less, and include carrots, cold slaw, potatoes, and cucs, spread around abundantly.
Each Hutte is unique and they have their own personalities and culture largely determined by the hostess and host. All of them are over 100 years old but are totally modern facilities. Some have Wi-Fi and some don’t; some have hot water and some don’t; some have showers (from free to incredibly expensive); large public areas outside to soak up the sunshine, enjoy a drink or have a meal; and large to no public areas inside – aside from the dining areas.
Our least pleasant experience – Starkenburger Hutte. Our hostess had limited English, the place was rule bound and there didn’t seem to be any flexibility – however it was one of the least expensive of our stays. Dresdner was our most opulent – own sink in the room, lots of space in a large room; internet; great food – actually more hotel than Hutte. The Bremer Hutte staff were most accommodating. The Innsbrucker our most anticipated and welcomed (first one and after a long day). The Starkenburger for the most spectacular approach walk. Best overall: Sulzenauhutte for hostess, food, scenery, accommodation and showers. Least inspiring breakfast Innsbrucker; best non-Hutte Hutte, Dresdner.
Interesting Fact: Each of the huts has maintenance and trail work done by volunteers from different Alpine Clubs – hence the names of the Huttes. By and large the trails are exceptionally well marked and in superb condition. There are over 1,100,000 members of the German Alpine Club! Most of the Huttes that we stayed in were GAC facilities and hence their German names.
Craig noted a picture of a Hutte taken on the same day in 1900 and again in 1920. At the pre WW1 event there were hundreds in the photo in the 1920 shot there were only about 20. The post WW1 effect on mountaineering in Austria?
Day 9: Starkenburger Hutte to Hotel Almhof
In the middle of the night (in our very cramped room) the window blew open as a result of a ferocious gust of wind. The window was secured but the howling wind continued until daylight when we discovered a totally socked in day with a light dusting of snow covering the Hutte and everything above it. After a basic breakfast with great coffee, we donned our warm clothing options, and headed out the door. We were fortunate to have the wind at our backs and we made excellent time back to the Schlick 2000. We realized how fortunate we were to have had the spectacular weather and visibility of yesterday. As the day progressed the clouds did give way to a dappled sky with periodic sunny periods but it was definitely glove and toque weather and just over 1 degree Celsius. We made the ascent/descent in posted STD time and were only too happy 2.5 hrs later to be sitting in a small bake shop enjoying coffee and strudel in Fulpmers.
Plan B (as opposed to a tentative plan of heading across the valley and to the Elfer Lift and the Elferhutte – which we had already been too) – was hatched. A call to the Hotel Almhof secured us 2 half board rooms in their 4 Star hotel section (we deserved a treat!). We were warmly welcomed and had no difficulty what-so-ever in settling in for the afternoon. This was followed by a brief walk down to the local SPAR for chocolate and peanuts, and a spectacular 5 course dinner. After dinner we headed for ‘Spa Time’ consisting of a coolish, ‘warm tub’ followed by a steam bath; another plunge; and then a sauna. The day couldn’t really have unfolded much better than it had!
Distance: 7.88km; Hiking Time: 2 hr 32 min;
Day 10: Hotel Almhop to Hotel Bergkranz
After another substantial breakfast we bid adieu to the Almhof and walked down the hill for the bus back to the Hotel Bergkranz where we deposited our packs and headed into downtown Innsbruck to book train tickets and look around. We then headed for the main square – now taken over by the 2018 European Youth Cycling Competition. We passed by the blocked finish line to the Court Church and Monumental tomb of the Hapsburg Emperor Maximillian, with its 28 larger than life bronze statues of the Emperor’s relatives and ancestors – including King Arthur. Quite a building and interesting 45 minutes.
We then waited for the Fulpmes Tram – which was rerouted and never came because of the races, and finally took the bus back to the Stubai Valley and the Serles Lift where we rode the gondola to the top and then on the rail bob sled, came shooting back down. It was a hoot and because we had Stubai passes for the day from both hotels, we did it again to improve our technique!
Descent: 620m at 15.34km/hr; in 4.42 minutes
The day finally came to an end with a glass of wine on our deck overlooking the valley following another interesting and more than adequate evening meal that we stretched out to well over 90 minutes.
Interesting little thing about the train tickets we had purchased for our departure: Kent was out early in the morning – the three of us were on a later and slower more scenic train. His ticket cost just a little less than the ‘group’ ticket for the 3 of us. Group tickets (for 2) are cheaper than 2 individual tickets!
Day 11: The Eagles Nest
Today we explored a wee bit of Bavaria. We had an early breakfast before our 9:00AM appointment to pick-up a rental car for a trip east towards Strasburg and to the Eagles Nest – Hitler’s retreat centre in the Alps. Right off the bat we got caught in the Euro Road Race changes and detours but managed to get a taxi to our rental car agency. They provided us with a little Ford Focus that even with the four of us, we managed to keep up to traffic on the freeways and secondary highways to the Nest.
The drive was interesting – from the rugged mountains down to tree covered hills through the foothills and then back into the Alps in Germany. After 2 hours we made the Eagles Nest parking area and Documentation Centre which provide an interesting overview of the Third Reich: The Fuhrer; National Community; Terror Apparatus; Racial Policy; and the transformation (making over by force) of the rural Obersalzberg area – including the construction of the military complex and its 3 miles of tunnels inside the mountain, and its eventual destruction by the Allied bombers – for the Nest.
After spending 90 minutes in the Centre we rode the bus and then took the elevator to the top of ‘The Nest’ – at an elevation of considerably less than what we had physically climbed above on more than one occasion over the last 10 days! The view however, was spectacular.
This is Germany’s only Alpine National Park and the views were stunning. The whole area is crisscrossed with marked hiking trails and plentiful ski lifts and runs. It is an amazing and physically very appealing area!
We didn’t need to linger at the top as it wasn’t any more spectacular that what we had been experiencing in the Stubai so we returned to Innsbruck via a nice drive on an alternative route outlined by the GPS. We made good time and found the tram to Fulpmes – but this time waited on it for 45 minutes only to arrive at the Banhof after the last convenient bus had left for down the valley and our hotel. We found a cab and made the quick ride right to the door of the hotel in time for a final and another wonderful dinner.
After Terry did our financial tally for the trip ($1330 each for the days we were together) we headed to our respective rooms to pack and get ready for our early departures on the 11th day of our Stubai adventure!
The Trip Stats:
Total KM walked: 60.97 Ascent in M 6731 Descent in M 5817 Moving Time 36 Hours