Traversing the Austrian Alps on the Via Alpina

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BLOG | Traversing the Austrian Alps on the Via Alpina

For some reason I had the idea to pick up the Via Alpina in Feldkirch. Probably because I thought I would be hiking on the Suisse side of the Bodensee. I did, until Konstanz, where I took the ferry. That ferry brought me in 4 hours in Bregenz. It would have been more convenient to head towards Obertsdorf, but Feldkirch was still in my head, without giving it a second thought, I went to Feldkirch where I started hiking the Via Alpina in Austria.

The start

In Feldkirch my sense of direction completely left me, for as far as it was there in the first place. Instead of heading to the campsite, I went the opposite direction. Before I knew it, I was already on the Via Alpina. No good, because I needed supplies and a day off.

No campsite, no resupply. Instead I knocked on a door, met a lovely family and put my tent in their garden. The family was a bit worried, because of a thunderstorm. “You can also sleep inside if you like.” They offered me a room, a shower, dinner and coffee. Seriously, this is so much more fun than a campsite. Again it’s hiking without a strict plan (or without the ability to stick to any kind of planning) that leads to unexpected encounters. It’s beautiful and meaningful. It’s what makes my journey extra special.

My_first_day_Via_Alpina
My first day on the Via Alpina

Beyond borders

As I’m writing this, almost two months later, I have a hard time remember all the exact places. On the Via Alpina I kept on crossing borders. Germany, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Germany, Austria. The trail follows the mountains and well, nature does not know borders. Borders are often formed by nature, but I could hardly see the differences. So, I “filed” this story under “Austria”, but parts of this stage were actually in Germany.

One_supurb_bivouac_via_alpina
One superb “bivouac”

Some stats

In Austria I hiked 460 kilometres, 23 hiking days, 2 rest days. In Biberwier I took a whole week off. That week I stayed on a campsite, but besides that week I camped out in the wild. I met 1 other Via Alpina hiker, a real though one who’s hiking all Via Alpina’s in one season (!). There was lots and lots of swimming (I stopped counting), 2 very uncharming slidings, 3 spiders in my tent (not at the same time, but still Iieell!) I hit my toes several times, but only 1 time the pain didn’t go away. Au.

Besides hitting stones, I also hit some shit. Fresh, warm piles of cow shit, (also iieell). I picked tons of berries, had to run and hide for lightnings, been completely soaked, walked in the clouds for days, but mostly I had the sun on my side. Beautiful, unpredictable summer weather in the mountains it was.

I slept 1 night in a mountain hut thanks to the caretaker of Prinz Luitpold Haus who gave me a dorm and a shower. Thank you! There was 1 homestay, the first night on the Via Alpina near Feldkirch, and lots and lots of beautiful camp spots. My oh my. That’s the short version of me, hiking the Via Alpina in Austria. If you keep on reading, you’ll find out about the “wheres”, “hows” and “whats”. Where I’ve been, how I felt and what it all looked like.

Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Good day to stay in

Another Via Alpina hiker

24.07.2017 A few days ago I met another Via Alpina hiker, a real though one. He’s not only hiking the whole red trail, no he hikes all five of them. That means 5000 kilometres. Through the mountains! Of course I was impressed, it’s quite something extraordinary to do. Amazing that his body can handle it and amazing that he has the mindset to hike all day, day in, day out. But most of all, I was impressed, because he does what he loves to do. Hiking extreme long distances. He’s not testing himself, he likes to keep on moving. On top of that, everybody is telling him that it is insane and perhaps stupid. Nevertheless he follows his own path. Or paths actually.

Me on the other hand likes to take breaks. I do stare at mountains for hours. Or clouds, sheep, ants, people. I don’t get bored doing “nothing”. I’m a slow one and I love that. Besides, when I have had a long day, my feet tell me to slow down. I listen to them, although I don’t aim to hike 5000K, I do hope that those feet will bring me to Sarajevo 🙂

Prinz Luitpold Haus, Allgau
Prinz Luitpold Haus, Allgau

FiveFingers on the Trail

07.07.2017 Sweet muddy trails 😉 These shoes have been through tough times. I believe I hiked almost 2000 kilometre (oefff) and still like hiking ánd the FiveFingers. I haven’t got any blisters, my feet aren’t sweaty, they’re actually strong and steady. Yes, they get tired, but it’s a huge difference with the first 1000K. The hiking paths in the Alps is a bit more demanding, I really have to watch my steps. Stones hurt when you hit them and the mud is slippery as hell. But honestly it makes hiking so much more fun when you feel e-ve-ry-thing!

Hiking on Vibram FiveFingers
Sometimes it rained

Vorarlberg

Through the lovely Walsertal I made my way up. Green, flowers, water, cows, bells and mountains. Sweet and oh, so beautiful. I couldn’t get the smile of my face. Really, I was so excited and took so many photos. I’m in the mountains. Jeej, I’m in the mountains! Beautiful, beautiful mountains. Vorarlberg is this region called. My first time and definitely not the last.

From Vorarlberg the trail curved back into Germany, the Allgäuer Alps. It got wilder, the hiking path more demanding. Big screen slopes, high rocky mountains and deep deep valleys. Up and down, up and down. Austria, Germany, Austria, Germany. “This is Bayern,” “No, it’s Tirol,” “Welcome in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena” an information board said. Oh my. Impressive, overwhelming almost.

Voralberg_walsertal_via_alpina_austria
Voralberg, Walsertal

Algäuer Alps

11.07.2017 Oh the Algäuer Alps, back in Germany. Apparently I crossed the border, but hey, nature does not know borders and me neither ;-). These mountains actually remind me of Montenegro, near the border with Albania. Rocky and green. Now I think if it, the colours are probably similar, because I was there in the same season. Actually, exactly one year ago I hiked in Komovi NP. But besides the season, the scenery really has many similarities.

Via_Alpina_Allgäuer_Alps
Allgäuer Alps

Tiroler Zugspitz Arena

13.07.2017 Sommerbergjöchle , an unexpected extra climb, but wow, what a view! That mountain in the back is Zugspitze, Germanies highest peak, but I’m actually descending to Biberwier. The weather is pretty predictable, rain during the night, sunny in the morning, storm in the afternoon. I like it. Dramatically beautiful skies and short hiking days.

Tirol_hiking_via_alpina
Tirol

No Zugspitze and no huts for me

I didn’t climb the Zugspitze. Too many people, too many cable cars and other ugly stuff. No, that’s not what I’m looking for. I descended down to the Reintalanger valley and went up the next day with the Wetterstein mountain range on my side. Interesting peaks and an attractive ridge, but I sticked to the hiking. I hiked down from the Meilerhütte to the next valley and up through Karwendel Alpine Park. And down again.

Every day I passed several mountain huts, all of them serve beer, Apfelstrudel, hot food and they have a sunny terrace with superb views. However my budget didn’t allow me to eating or staying there, it’s much fun to watch the crowds. Watching people during the day and stars at night. My tent doesn’t have a terrace, but it sure has the good views.

Seebensee_Tiroler_Zugspitz_Arena
Seebensee, Tiroler Zugspitz Arena

Mayrhofen

26.07.2017 They hurt the eye, ski slopes. Even worse when the mountain is full with closed bars, restaurants and après ski stuff. This is probably what Salau looks like during the winter. So sad. The good thing about bad weather is that I can’t see it. Every now and then a ski lift or cable car pops up, but most of the time I don’t see anything. That also means that others can’t see me… And you know what, while camping on a misty ski slope, I discovered that “Mayrhofen” covered the mountain with free WiFi. 🙂

Mayrhofen | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Mayrhofen

Wetterstein mountain range

27.07.2017 Yes, I can stare at them for hours. Here I’m almost up at the Meilerhütte, an incredible hike from the Reintalanger Hütte along the Wetterstein mountain range. I’m not sure if you can still see the Zugspitze, but that giant has been on my side for days. It really felt like hiking in an arena. This is the last view before I head toward the other side. Down to Karwendel Alpine Park. First of course I take another break and stare.

View_from_Meilerhütte_via_alpina | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
View on Wetterstein mountain range (left) an de Zugspitze in the back
View from the Meilerhütte | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
View from the Meilerhütte

Bad weather escapes

29.07.2017 Finding a place to put up your tent isn’t difficult. Finding a good place to put up your tent on the other hand, is a bit more tricky. Today I hiked from Pfitscher (where I could camp on someone’s land), to Loassattel. It was a cloudy, rainy day and although some guy said there wouldn’t be any thunderstorm, I didn’t want to take the risk, hiking the ridge to Kellerjoch. The day before, in Karwendel Alpine Park, the lightnings were pretty close. “You don’t have to worry, the path is not exposed,” some other guy said. Well, when there’s not even a second between the lighting and the thunder, I surely don’t feel comfortable.

So, long story short, I took the easy road and found this lovely place. Perfect for camping, flat, good view, quiet. Until the cows arrived… I was on their territory. For a second I was afraid they would destroy my tent. Suddenly they started to run, my tent was not supposed to be there. Ahhhh. Luckily they changed direction and moved away from me and my tent. That night another thunderstorm passed by, but at least that kept the cows away.

Loassattel_via_alpina | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Loassattel

Superb trails

30.07.2017 It’s a great pleasure hiking these well maintained trails. Especially near the huts it’s like a red carpet. Yes, it means that you’re not alone. It’s actually kind of hard to take a photo without people in it, but that’s the Alps. My tactic for not getting annoyed by all the other mountain lovers, is observe them. How they give each other a high five when reach a hut and order a beer before they put down their backpack. How they try to figure out which hiking poles were theirs and how kids acrobatically run in front of their heavily breathing parents. It’s great fun. As long as I find a quiet place to pitch my tent, I’m a happy hiker.

Route_to_Rastkogelhütte | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Route to Rastkogelhütte

Tirol at the the End

After Karwendel, I entered the popular skiing area: Tirol. This I, in my opinion, the least lovely part of the Via Alpina trail. Actually Mayrhofen was simple a sad sad place. Too many ski slopes, empty ski towns, ugly hotels, tasteless aprés ski stuff. Just sad when there’s no snow. And maybe also when is…

Although the Via Alpina follows unpaved roads, I think it must be possible to find a more scenic route. If you’ve got map and good weather. Two things I didn’t have. I followed my GPS to stay on track. Couldn’t see a thing, just clouds, clouds and clouds. At the Dominikus Hütte I took a day off, waited out the bad weather and when the clouds disappeared, I saw the first glacier. The Hochfeiler, I believe. What an incredible peak is that.

With mister Hochfeiler on my side, I crossed the border to Italy and left Austria behind. Again not really, the trail would go back, but for now let’s call it an end.

Tirol | Hiking the Via Alpina in Austria
Finkenberg, Tirol

Lovely giants

The Austrian Alps are versatile, the Via Alpina leads you through one National Park after the other. Each mountain range had its own characteristic features. It’s own beauty. I’m not even try to think of “the most beautiful,” because honestly all of it is worth to explore. And if you do, if you’re hiking the Via Alpina in Austria, please give them my greetings. Say hi to the lovely Giants!

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