Thursday, October 4, 2012

A stroll in the Alps

As the end of my first year of work approached I still had two weeks of vacation left, and since Jenny was going to Vilnius (in Lithuania - though I'm sure you knew that) for two weeks for a writing workshop, I decided to take two weeks off and travel through Europe with Jenny. We arrived in Munich on a pleasant Monday morning in early July where we promptly hoped on the train to the city center and then boarded an express train for Jenbach, Austria.

In Jenback we transferred from the express train above to the narrow-gauge Zillertalbahn below - a tourist train if I've ever seen one.

An hour later we arrived in our base town of Mayrhofen, population 3,800 at the foot of the Zillertal Alps in southwestern Austria. After combining our stuff and storing a few bags at the train station, we walked to the gondola and ascended 3,500 feet to our trailhead. I could get used to this ( though it seems like cheating if you don't have to hike up yourself...):

We actually began our hike around 3:30 PM, a flat two mile hike to the Karl von Edel-Hutte at 7,300 feet. Here's the hut as we approach (upper left):

And here's my hiking buddy out front:

For those of you who aren't familiar with backpacking in the Alps (at least in Italy and Austria), there is no tent camping like we have in the United States. Essentially you hike from hut to hut (Hutte in German and Rifugio in Italian), where you sleep and eat all of your meals. This has a couple of obvious positives:
     - No tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, or stoves (I didn't know what to do with all the space in my pack!)
     - Regular access to tasty food (and beer!). Not to mention regular showers (if you're into that...)

The huts themselves are built by mountaineering clubs from cities and towns around Europe who pay hosts to run and maintain them in the summer - for example the Karl con Edel-Hutte above is run by the mountaineering club from Wurzburg, Germany (near Frankfurt). The accommodations range from private rooms to 20-person dorms and everything in between. There were only six of us at Edel-Hutte (which sleeps about 50), so the host was kind enough to give us a private room for the price of dorm, which looked like this:

After a dinner of potato salad, pasta, and some complimentary "Welcome-To-Ze-Alps" shots of schnapps, two very jet-lagged travelers crashed around 7:30. Zzzzz....

After hearing some pretty epic storms in the night, we woke up to this... well as stern warnings from the host, that we should hike back to the cable car, ride down to the valley, bus to the next trailhead, and then hike to the next hut from there, instead of hike the 13 miles directly to the next hut. Since there was a pass about 30 minutes after we left the hut, Jenny and I decided to hike up there and then figure out the best course of action. The trail was really glued to the rock on the way up:

The fog also led to some interesting views. This bears an uncanny resemblance to the California Coast:

Once we reached the top of the knife-edge ridge things were a little clearer, so my hiking buddy and I decided to continue on. Here's her agreeing with me:

We also got our first view of the interior of the range. Obscured in this photo is the valley, 3000 feet below, which we didn't see all day.

After a couple of hours of hiking we saw some friends in the distance:

And then much closer:

It turns out that while we just wanted pictures of the sheep, they thought we were reaching into our pockets for food, at which point they promptly stampeded toward us. Here's Jenny singing to her children- blame the cameraman for the bad angle:


The hike for the day translated to the "Seven Sisters", named for the seven ridges we crossed. Here's a couple more, including this knife edge:

And this ridge with an awesome stone wall on top.

About five o'clock we finally saw our destination, the Kessler Hutte- unfortunately we had to cross this chasm to get there. The actual hut is in that cloud...

After a big dinner and a hot shower, we crashed early and woke to clear skies...

To Be Continued.