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Wild and without: 3 day trek in Karwendel Alps – Part 2

The bear categorically does not step in the mountain lodge. So I guess you are wondering what these stepping bears are all about? Well, it’s an Austrian countryside expression for something happening, like to find out where it’s cracking. Wo steppt der Bär?! Where is the bear stepping?! It’s perfect and the idea of bear in a seedy bar in the Tyrolean Alps swaying with his beer is just the best.

So yeah the mountain lodge party in the Tyrolean Alps was not happening. We had a beer and went to bed, too bloody expensive anyway. There were a couple of tables, not enough to fit everyone, no music, no atmosphere. Most people ate dinner and clocked off. Caroline was absolutely correct when she said I would be disappointed.

If you missed the first part of our hike go and read that first!

Forecast: rotten

We did however, learn something about the next day. One of the owners of the hut checked in with each group and asked them about their route (including ours) for the next day. He was giving out weather forecasts and it wasn’t great. The weather forecast was snow fall for some of the higher elevations and rain everywhere else.

A lot of the other groups were advised not to take their planned routes through the Karwendel area of the Tyrolean Alps because it would be dangerous. We were slightly nervous about our route but as it turns out, ours should be passable, just not great weather and visibility. That’s fine, we can deal with that, but it sucks for the other groups, they have to make arrangements and change their reservations and routes.

We go to sleep slightly apprehensive about the next day and what it will bring. We’re fairly sure we’re going to be hurting as well in the morning. 18KM is a sizeable amount to walk in one day. Especially when it comes with 20 more the next day, and the day after. Still, we probably won’t hurt as much as we did after climbing Dachstein.

View from the mountain lodge window in the morning, landscape looking very gloomy

This scene is already set – it’s wet, grey and miserable. The view from the corridor is a dismal yet precise and consistent representation of the day to come. However, do not let that deter you from the story ahead, because it’s an eventful and beautiful day to say the least.

Premium coffee

Groggily we head down to the restaurant and drink a ridiculously expensive bad tasting coffee. We have cereal bars for breakfast and then brave the rain. We both have waterproof jackets and rain covers for our rucksacks. Everything will be fine. We’ve been out in worse weather.

Before setting off, we take a walk around the lodge. There is an outdoor area which we are certain is cracking in the summer. The views over the Tyrolean Alps are impressive and the weather and rain clouds are creating some dramatic eerie scenes. The fog slithers through the high valley floor, coming from the direction we will head. It sneaks past the lodge and falls down the mountain into the lower valley like a waterfall of cloud. It’s early and still quite dark. We’re not sure if the visibility will get any better throughout the day – but if the mood continues, we’re in for a treat.

A view in to the valley we climbed from yesterday, cloudy, rainy and moody looking

The quest: survive the rain

Before we head off I’m already stumbling around in my bag trying to find my camera, packed away from the rain. I can’t resist, this is the type of landscape photography I love.

After we enjoy the landscapes we crack on. Today will be a tough day. The guide says it should take around 7 1/2 hours. We have to walk precisely 19KM with an elevation gain of 1350M (a lot more than yesterday) and an elevation loss of 1150M, and it’s pissinggggg it down.

Setting off we take a right from the lodge and head east further into the Tyrolean Alps on a slight incline. We are walking to the summit of Hochalmsattel Saddleback. Once we arrive there after 20 minutes or so we are 1800M above sea level.

From here we take a long walk down to the lower pastures of Kleiner Ahornboden. The walk is long and wet and it doesn’t stop raining. The path barely exists, it’s a river now. For we are not hikers, we are captains navigating the mighty rivers of the Tyrolean Alps.

Not really, we are hastily dodging water, hopping across rocks, slipping in mud all in a futile attempt to keep dry which is utterly ridiculous because if we had stopped for a second to take a look at ourselves we would have realised we were already completely drenched.

We are both wearing trail runners, because they are lighter and smaller, they get wet quickly but also dry quicker. They are dripping, we may as well be hiking in big wet socks.

One hour in and drenched

The valley path that is actually a stream now

We don’t take any breaks because, well, what’s the point. Standing in the rain getting colder by the second from the wet is not particularly appealing. No, we continue to walk, keeping ever so slightly warm. We have to keep our spirits high, we have to accept that we were dealt a card. There’s a warm, well maybe not, but at least dry room at the end of the day, should we make it.

We don’t take many photos, it’s too cold and wet and our cameras aren’t waterproof. It’s s shame because it’s stunning. It’s much different than yesterday. There is no blue sky. No warmth. The colours are subdued yet still pleasant, the yellows and orange peek through the darkness adding contrast to the bleak landscape. Water is everywhere. There are a thousand rivers and streams. Every path is alive and needs to be reasoned with. Waterfalls come crashing down walls of rock so high you can barely see the top, straining your neck in the process.

The ancient sycamore valley

The valley floor is filled with ancient sycamore maple trees, trunks the size of giants, golden red leaves blowing viciously in the wind, spinning around in a whirlwind of colour.

We weave in and out of trees in this gargantuan valley, heading for the waterfall, but before we reach it we cross its river bed, it’s huge, maybe half a kilometre wide, but apart from the rain and a small stream in the middle it is almost dry. We can’t ever imagine it full – it would take all the water in the world to fill it.

After crossing the river bed the path turns and rises, hugging the mountain, weaving in and around. We gain elevation fast and work up a sweat, we are now soaked on the inside and outside. The rain is showing no sign of remorse.

The trees become barer the higher we climb, bare because of the wind in this instance. The leaves are still whirling and twisting in a vicious flurry, freshly detached from their branches. We look down into the valley from which we climbed momentarily ago: in the distance, creeping slowly towards us, is a thick, luxurious all-encompassing fog.

The fog monster

Actually, it’s not creeping, it’s advancing at a catapulting speed, swallowing the Tyrolean Alps as it moves. We turn away and the branches shake furiously and the final leaves succumb to their fate. The fog is closer, moving towards us at alarming pace. It sucks the light and life from the valley. The wind grows stronger, sweeping melancholy throughout. At first the weather fascinates us but that fascination turns in to anxiety and worry as the fog swallows every inch of the landscape.

An enormous crash thunders through the valley, we both jump from our skins, what the hell was that?! It sounded like an avalanche, rocks crashing and sliding, reverberating from the huge vertical rock faces surrounding the valley. It sounds like rocks and snow have fallen down the huge waterfall we crossed earlier. We are entirely unnerved and not about to hang around waiting for what may happen next. Before we can finish the first step, more rumbles and crashes detonate from the not too distant falls.

We start to pace, this time appreciating the strain. We are cold, from standing still for 5 minutes. The rain has not stopped all day, we are completely drenched. Not to worry though, we have waterproof rucksacks and rain covers.

The going never gets easy, the path rises and rises, every finish is a mirage, the destination disappearing further in to the distance with every step. The path emerges from the forest and clings to a stream, an alpine pasture emerges, but not like you imagine. It’s not green, there are no flowers, the sun doesn’t shine and there is no sign of life.

Looking for signs of life

There are a few farms dotting the landscape, a few shacks here and there. Suddenly it’s not obvious which is the river and which is the path. It doesn’t matter anyway. We approach a stone building by the river, will someone show some sympathy and invite us in for tea?

Nope. Maybe it’s for the best, we’re not even half way through the hike. Up we go, higher, higher. We begin to to get hungry. For the past half hour we snack trail mix from our pockets, our wet hands dripping in to the bag and pockets. The trail mix is now a cold disgusting soup.

In about two kilometres we will pass another Tyrolean Alps mountain lodge. This one is closed for the season but we are hoping the winter room is open. We can sit and eat something proper, maybe make a tea and escape the rain for a short while. The name of it is Falken Hut.

Before making it to the hut we have one more wet lethargic climb to make. The path is steep and washed away, replaced with waterfalls and wet muddy marshes. We assume a general direction of up, pulling each up over the steeper and loose parts. A short while later we reach the hut; it’s closed, including the winter room. Under maintenance, come back next season.

Der Wächter

We huddle under a small porch, barely protected from the elements, peering cautiously toward the next section of the hike through the Tyrolean Alps. The first sign of live we’ve witnessed all day approaches us. A young German who had his plans unwittingly altered. He was one of the unfortunate folk from the previous hut whose treks had been cut short because of the weather. He adapts, changing his route, similar to ours. We exchange pleasantries and discontent for the weather. German dude is not sure whether he will make it all the way to the next hut, the weather is too much.

He forges ahead and we ponder upon his self-doubt. He was more experienced and in better shape than us but we had not entertained the thought of cutting short. Were we overly confident?

We shake off the rain, button our hoods and don our packs. We now have to cross a scree covered slope, with towering 3000M meter peaks rising vertically to the right. The crossing is menacing and in the current weather terrifying. It’s prime rock fall territory and water is running everywhere, turning the loose scree in to an unpredictable nightmare crossing.

Half way across the slope a river breaks away the path. We’re dumbfounded. There is no way across, though we certainly cannot turn around. I scramble up the slope looking for a more suitable crossing; nothing immediate presents its self so I end up leaping across and shouting to Caroline to do the same, insisting I’ll catch her, all the while my instructions being drowned out by the mighty water.

The German is watching us from above, having struggled himself he worries for our safety. When he saw we had passed, he disappeared and we never saw him again.

The highest point

Crossing the saddle from Falkenhütte

The view above is from the trail looking down, just before the treacherous water crossing. After the crossing the trail was fine. Wet and windy but fine. Soon we will be at the highest point of the day, but we have to push upwards yet. The going is tough but we find solace knowing the up is almost over.

The view back to Falkenhütte
The view back to Falkenhütte, low visibility, cloudy and wet

Mountain cloud barrier

Upon reaching the top we grab a snack and take a drink. Our legs are shaking. The wind is ice cold and sharp. We’re not going to spend too long here. Looking back we see the path winding across the scree. The hut porch we sheltered in is on the horizon, an eternity away. Our gaze shifts the opposite way and we are presented with the sheer force of nature. The mountain wall we just traversed is acting as barrier for the clouds across the valley. It is full to the brim, with fog leaking and pouring over the edges. For the most part contained. It seems impossible, like a gate with no fence either side yet here it is. A wall of mountains trapping the fog in the Tyrolean Alps.

It seems we are often hiking in the fog! Apparently the only time we hiked in decent weather was the first hike of our trip in Grünersee!

A wall of mountains forming a barrier against the clouds

The fog is so thick and heavy it seems as if the whole mountain is going to topple over under the pressure. We stand and watch, mesmerised by the forces, all the while dripping from the rain. The moment passes and the cold sets in. It’s time to go. From here we have to descend a long way to Eng Alm, a tiny alpine village in the Tyrolean Alps of great importance to Austria. Once we reach there we are to climb another 750M to the mountain lodge where we will spend the second night. We still have a lot of hiking to do and we are pretty knackered and discouraged by the weather.

Descending to Eng Alm

We start the descent. The trail is not so steep, however, as earlier, it is completely water logged. The path is a stream. On some parts of the trail there are huge rocks and boulders and you have to push yourself over and jump down. Well, these parts are now waterfalls. What is normally a fairly simple trail now requires a conscious effort to stay balanced and technical footing to save sliding down the stream.

A flash of light illuminates the path forward, the running water sparkles. The sun peaks over the mountains and the rain begins to dwindle. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for all day. 7 hours walking in the rain. We take down our hoods. Freedom. We can hear each other again, the cool air breeze rushes around our faces and necks and we can breath fully again.

The clouds converge in the valley. They float like mist. So close you could almost reach out and squeeze them. The landscape awakens, colours leak in every direction. A paint can was tipped over and leaks in to the 100 streams. Waterfalls as far as the land reaches carry all of the water away from the peaks. Waterfalls sprout from clouds, as if floating in the middle of the valley, pouring straight from the leaking cloud.

Floating waterfalls

Waterfalls forming from massive clouds in the valley
Clouds and waterfalls engulfing the valley

We pass through lush green meadows, the fog and clouds in the distance ever changing, reacting to temperature and pressures. It is one of the most beautiful scenes we’ve ever witnessed. All the hardships of the day thus far are justified and important. It was for this moment. The elation is indescribable, our mood is flipped around and upside down and thrusted spinning in awe. The colours, the drama, the peaks and waterfalls. It is not a scene that can be imagined, it is pure nature. Mother nature is the true artist.

A path snaking through an alpine pasture towards the clouds

Hungry and running out of time, we reluctantly continue. It is hard to keep my camera away and not take a photograph after every step. Water slides off branches and leafs and my lens is smudged from all of the water. Everything we have is wet, there is nothing dry to dry it with.

The trail winds and twists, snaking through the forests, the mountains tower above and the valley below in the distance is a small piece of heaven waiting for us. We move fast hoping to catch a break in one of the lodges in the valley. Eng Alm is a very popular destination in the Tyrolean Alps in Austria and there is a road which connects it to the rest of the country and is therefore well equipped. We will be able to grab a coffee and maybe a bite to eat. Currently we are running on a 100% chocolate diet.

Clouds engulfing the valley, autumn trees and waterfalls
Mountain peaks flanked by clouds, yellow and green trees dotting the landscape
Clouds forming in the valley as the rain begins to stop

Heavenly delights

The path winds for entreating, our knees ache but who could ever tire of these views? It’s magnificent. Hand crafted, nothing is an accident here, everything is as it should be. The area is renowned for attracting artists and painters. It’s not hard to imagine why.

More clouds forming in the valley as the rain begins to stop

Nearing the bottom, we begin to take it easier. Ever so slightly we warm up. It feels as if we are drying up but that is absolutely not true. It must just be that we are not getting wetter any more. We have become so accustomed to the wet it now feels strange.

Green pastures and cloudy peaks, waterfalls and forests everywhere

Finally we descend into Eng Alm, a tiny cluster of farms in the middle of the Tyrolean Alps. For the moment we concentrate on finding somewhere to rest our legs and get warm and dry, at the same ignoring the imposing mountain directly in front of us which we are supposedly climbing next.

Caroline walking down to Eng Alm

Not waterproof rucksacks

We find a canteen. Its expensive and not particularly appetising or vegetarian-friendly. Well, what should we expect, in a remote place high up in the Tyrolean Alps. Remember that we have rain covers and our rucksacks are waterproof? We sit down at the table completely drenched, water leaking from our boots forming puddles all around. We shuffle over to the food and inspect, embarrassed of the trail of mud and water we leave behind us.

Opening our rucksacks we notice the things on top are damp, not to bother, it’s been a lot of rain, it’s only seeped in a little. We dig deeper, it’s still wet. Everything is wet. Our clothes, our socks, our underwear, our sleeping bag liners.

We separate our electronics and attempt to dry them off. We begin to shiver. The fact the building is not warm in the slightest and the act of not moving has caused our body temperatures to drop drastically. We are stumped, what are we to do? We cannot climb to the lodge like this. We’re soaked, freezing and have no dry clothes to change into, nor are there showers in the hut.

Caroline runs around the village looking for a free room. Most of the rooms in the Tyrolean Alps are closed for the season but the next door shop has a room. It’s way too expensive but there is not much we can do. We need to dry our things. We need to sleep and we need to get up early and get out of here. Because now as well as a full day of hiking, we have an extra 3/4KM’s and a 700M climb to do.

Weird flowering plant pot with jeans and wellies on

The room is cosy but there is no wifi and THE RADIATORS BARELY FUNCTION…

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

If you want to start the Tyrolean Alps hike where we started then you need to hike from Karwendelhaus where we stayed the previous night. Check out their website: https://www.karwendelhaus.com.

If you want to stay in Eng Alm, which we absolutely recommend you do, it’s beautiful after all, you can drive there. If you are coming from Austria you will have to dip in to Germany for a few kilometers. From Innsbruck the drive is around 100KM, just under 2 hours. The drive will take you past Achensee, a beautiful huge lake surrounded by mountains. If you’re coming from Innsbruck, checkout our posts about hiking around Innsbruck and Couchsurfing in Innsbruck.

Accommodation

There are only a few places to stay in Eng Alm, it’s a tiny little village in the Tyrolean Alps. See below for any deals that might be available. Other than that, check Airbnb.

Booking.com

Pro Tip

Buy the Murmeltier (Marmot) socks from the gift shop in Eng Alm. They are just the cutest.

If you like landscape photography, hike in autumn and in bad weather, you will get the best photos!

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