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

If you haven’t read the previous parts of our trekking story through the Karwendel mountains already, do backup and immerse yourself in the adventure: part 1 & part 2.

The sun is peeking through the edge of the window, the light dancing on the floor from the fluttering of the curtains. The window had been opened a little in the early morning, it had managed to get pretty warm in this little room during the night. Awake bright and early, we rise and prepare for our mammoth hike. The room was super comfy with the most luxurious sheets and duvet you ever slept in. So large it required a map and compass navigate in and out of the bed.

Our clothes only just dried, we were slightly nervous in the evening. We really didn’t want to hike in wet clothes. The evening had been slightly frustrating. It was beautiful outside, the evening light casting shadows across the peaks of the Karwendel mountains with pink and purple clouds floating in between. We were exhausted but I still wanted to go outside except all of our stuff was soaking. I couldn’t bear to put wet clothes back on again, and well, we needed them to dry for this morning. Hiking in the rain and snow sucks.

We leave around 7AM and calculate that we need another 2 hours for the 4KM’s we didn’t hike yesterday, and it’s all up, the 4KM that is. On our way out we grab a coffee and a local speciality loaf of bread from the café next door and stuff cereal bars and the leftover humus into our coat pockets.

The start of the trail, water trickling down from a high lake in the Karwendel mountains.

The day is glorious, the sun is already beaming, the sky is a deeply saturated blue. We’re pleasantly content. The weather will be great today. Heading out along the track, backing up to where we came from in order to climb out of the valley, we immediately feel miniscule. The valley swallows us up, the huge towering peaks of the Karwendel mountains, which yesterday were smothered in fog and clouds are all now standing proud and confident. A cloud daren’t smother and obscure the views of theses giants now. It wouldn’t be allowed.

Even though we are in the bottom of the valley, we can see far, the tips of peaks we would never known had existed the day before remind us how far from the hustle and bustle of the city we have come.

The first ascent into the Karwendel mountains

Immediately we climb upwards, following the path towards the end of the valley and then loop back as it climbs the side of the rock wall where in a few hundred meters it will turn in to a gorge and continue ascending.

We are both snapping an abundance of pictures, enjoying the views, elated. We are so happy to not be wet. The mood is completely different from the previous day.

Some fog rolls through the valley, creating a wonderful mood, but I’m too low to photograph it properly. I wonder if I can reach the path where it turns in to the gorge whether I might have enough height to capture it better. I don’t have much time.

Behind us, gentle waterfalls trickle over the landscape, a lake sits like a bathtub in the side of the mountain, streams of water flowing over the edge, all navigating to the floor of the valley where they converge in to the river Isar and eventually the Danube.

Breakfast meeting

I tell Caroline my plans and we agree to meet at the inward turning of the path for breakfast. I begin to run, with my 60L rucksack on, up the mountain path. At first it doesn’t look so far, but then after running for 5 minutes it looks a million miles away. I push on, building up heat fast. I work up a sweat and then fall, panting to the floor. It’s too early for this shit with no breakfast, but I won’t give up now.

I pick myself up and with a few more short breaks make it to the corner. I tear off my rucksack and chuck my outer layers on the floor, dripping with sweat, frantically fumbling for my camera. The view is slightly obstructed by some gigantic pine trees, but I make it work.

Morning mist floating through the valley

After taking a few shots, I slump on a log and make it my chair, already exhausted but barely started, I wait for Caroline. We eat some breakfast. The bread is one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. It’s so tough and dense it takes an army of teeth to chew through it. We argue about how good/bad the bread is. I end up using the bread as a spoon for humus and resorting to cereal bars.

Morning mist floating through the Eng valley in the Karwendel mountains with soft warm morning light

The bread is so dense you could take one bite and have enough energy for a week, and we have enough of it. I immediately have terrible thoughts of a post apocalyptic world where I am still only 30% of the way through this loaf of bread and there is no other food and no way to end my miserable existence. I shudder and come around, I think it’s time to go.

Up up up

We clamber to our feet and the path turns in towards the valley, winding adjacent to a small stream much further down below. We’re navigating through the low forests on a slight incline. After a short while we emerge in an opening and in the not too far distant is another mountain hut (Binsalm).

We didn’t know this hut existed and if we did we could have probably stayed here instead of the expensive room in Eng Alm. Never mind – it could be that they also didn’t have anywhere to shower or dry our things. Better safe than sorry.

We continue up. Up higher in to the Karwendel mountains. Before long a group of hikers congregate behind us, they are catching up with us, which somewhat unnerves us. We don’t want to lose our lead. We pick up the pace. The path begins to steepen, zig zagging up the mountain, in order to cross it. It’s tough going but we can’t show any weakness. Priority number one is to keep our lead.

The views back down in the valley are beautiful, soft morning light illuminates all of the sparsely concentrated fir trees, shades of yellow and red popping up in between.

Everything looks less menacing today, the lines and colours of the Karwendel mountains are soft, the sky bright and warm. The landscape presents a feeling of calm and joyousness and that reflects in our attitudes. We are calm and centred, not worried and apprehensive like yesterday.

Sublime views over the Karwendel mountains

Blue skies and autumnal forest on the ascent from Eng Alm over the Karwendel mountains.
Blue skies, mountain peaks and autumnal forest on the ascent from Eng Alm over the Karwendel mountains.

The sun is blazing down, it’s HOT, and we are working up a sweat again. Our muscles are sore and our energy is low from the previous 2 days of hiking. We take short breaks every now and then. Soon the top comes in to view. There are lots of different paths to take, weaving in and out of each other, some shorter and tougher, some longer and less straining. It seems every person who walked this way carved their own path.

Small wooden bench looking down on the ascent from Eng Alm in the Karwendel mountains.

A few hundred meters from the top, we encounter this bench with an incredible view of the Karwendel mountains. The views here remind us of Gerlosberg. We take another short break, primarily to enjoy the views and secondarily to fill up on water. We’re nearly at the top, and once we cross the saddle which leads to the hut we should have stayed in last night, it’s all down hill, for 20KM’s.

Small wooden bench on the ascent from Eng Alm looking over the forest in the Karwendel mountains.
High above Eng Alm in the Karwendel mountains, surrounded by peaks and soft yellow colours

This is the view from the top back down to Eng Alm. We’ve walked all the way up here this morning and it’s only around 9AM. We’ve got a long way to go but we’re feeling good!

Caroline taking a break just below the top of the last ascent

Caroline is waiting for me just below what we think is the highest point while I’m snapping photos of the valley below.

Aydin standing at the highest point of the day surrounded by mountain peaks

Back to civilisation

At this point we decide to take a break. It takes a moment, but it starts to sink in that we have completed all of upwards hiking of the trek through the Karwendel mountains. We managed it, we persevered in the face of quite a few challenges, and now we are here, experiencing these wonderful views. We bask in the heat while mountain goats frolic around, clamber across the paths and climb up impossibly steep cliff faces, too fast to capture on camera.

As usual I get itchy feet. There is a peak nearby and I decide that there must be pretty good views up there, hopefully across the valley we have to pass next. Up I go and sure enough after a short while a plateau opens up and I shift over towards the edge. I can see Caroline down below, looking like a little ant. I shout to her to take a picture, but it’s too far and the wind tears apart any sound waves and sends them spiralling in disparate directions.

Clouds rolling over the peaks, autumnal forests lining the peaks

From this vantage point, I watch the clouds rolling over the Karwendel mountains in to the huge glacial valley below, beginning here it carves through the mountains and empties in to the huge lake, Achensee.

Looking down on a huge open valley towards Achensee.

Realising we are pressed for time I clamber back down to meet Caroline. We have one last stage before we reach the point where we should have started the day from, from which we will still have 20KM to walk to our destination.

A wider view of the valley through the karwendel mountains toward Achensee including the trails to reach our point

Crossing the Karwendel mountains via Lamsenjoch Saddle

We now have to cross Lamsenjoch Saddle. This proves to be one of the more difficult aspects of the hike for the day.

A tiny path weaves in between the two peaks. To our left sheer drops all the way to the valley floor, some hundreds of metres away. To our right steep walls of rock rise all the way to the peaks. The path in most places is only just wider than half a meter. The surface of the path is incredibly loose and some sections are completely washed away.

The next section is particularly bad, the path has gone and a makeshift one formed above it, barely walkable, on about a 60 degree slope. I feel my vertigo washing over, my balance succumbs and I begin to feel dizzy. In the moment the path looks impassible, I freeze.

A few breaths later I take a step forward and leap to the old path, skipping over the washed away section. I turn around to catch Caroline fumbling across. She’s not scared and proclaims it’s fine. I can’t watch.

The trail where it crosses Lamsenjoch Saddle, steep cliffs and a small terrifying path

We reach the other side in once piece, we are now about 200 metres from the the hut we should have stayed in. We gaze back across the saddle we just crossed, it looks just as terrifying as when we were on it. The mountain really does fall away beside the trail.

The view from Lamsenjoch. The highest point of the day. The top of the Karwendel mountains.

The start of the hike…

We reach the hut, use the facilities and go for a little explore. There is memorial to the hikers and climbers who have tragically passed in these mountains, many far too young.

We watch a couple climb up an impossible looking path, passing warning signs heading towards a peak just out of the frame to the left. They have climbing gear including ice picks and are clearly experienced but it still looks dangerous as hell. A bit like when we climbed Dachstein. We enjoy the sun for a little longer before embarking on the mammoth decline back to civilisation.

The famed Austrian edelweiss at the top of Lamsenjoch
Some of the famous Austrian Edelweiss outside the mountain hut. It only grows above 1800M.
Looking up to Lamsenjochhütte on the descent with a high peak towering over

The path is quite steep on the way down and we immediately begin to feel our legs burning. This is the first descent of the day and our third day walking. So far we’ve covered about 40KM. We observe the hut behind us, looking like an ant below the towering peak. The peak we just saw the couple ascending.

A closer shot of Lamsenjochhütte, a large wooden mountain hut in the Karwendel mountains.

Barren lands of the Karwendel mountains

We are twisting and turning, forever descending from the Karwendel mountains, deeper and deeper in to the colossal valley which we must traverse. The land is barren at our height, apart from a few golden trees dotted around. Replacing the trees are ginormous chunks of rocks, littering the meadows. These rocks have tumbled down from the peaks and it is almost impossible to imagine them in motion. To witness it breaking away must be incredible yet terrifying, leaving a trail of utter destruction behind it. Nothing would survive on impact.

The path weaves in and out of the only inhabitants of this mountain and the lush green forests of the lower valley sings to us. The cool fresh shade of the damp pine forests is calling.

A mountain goat looking down in to the valley

A small mountain goat looks inquisitively at us. It allows a few photos but enough is enough and it gallops off down the scree covered slopes, never slipping or sliding, every step is swift, calculated and elegant. The masters of the mountain.

The path twists on, the going is fairly uneventful. The sublime views keep us going. We’re running low on water but we can hear the crashing of falls, we can’t quite see them yet but they must be close.

The secret forest

After a long while of walking, probably around two hours, we finally enter the forests. It’s magical. The colours are incredible. Everything is damp from the previous days onslaught of rain. The dampness accentuates the already deep and saturated autumn shades.

Tiny spheres of water like miniature snow globes nestle in the corners of pine needles, reflecting and mirroring the beautiful surroundings.

A close up shot of water droplets on a fir tree branch
A close up shot of water droplets on a red decaying leaf

We take a break in a forest opening. The light glimmers through the tops of the branches, the floor is damp and covered in shiny green moss. There is a dilapidated bench which creaks and bows as we sit on it. It too is covered in moss and soil. Minuscule bugs zoom across the rotten wood, emerging from every nook and cranny. We imagine the bunnies will come hopping in to our secret little forest but they never do.

We eat some lunch – We still have the bread from the morning, made of the heaviest chemical elements known to man. Heavier than the heaviest metal. We’re about 10% of the way through it and it’s just as (not) enjoyable as this morning, but it’s good energy.

The mighty river

After a while we emerge from the forest in to a wide valley, mostly devoid of trees. It is flat with a humongous river bed flowing through the middle of it, parallel to the trail. Lined with boulders it is obvious a glacier carved the path here through the Karwendel mountains, nothing else could posses the force necessary to sculpt such a landscape.

In relation to the size of the river bed, the river itself is but a trickle. It is apparent it will be a raging torrent of snow melt in the spring, but it is almost unfathomable to imagine the river bed full and brimming. Only a climate from a time we cannot comprehend could fill this almighty container of precipitation.

We spot a farm on the other side of the river bed and the open pastures make sense. In the summer this must be grazing land, and well we sure as hell are jealous of the cattle that gets to call this home.

Swimming through leaves

A few more kilometres and we are back in the forest. We begin to descend again, but wonder if we will ever descend enough to reach our destination, we have over 700 meters to go down yet. It turns out we are still very much high in the mountains. We pick up the pace.

The layers of decomposing yellow, red and orange leaves on the forest floors begin to thicken. The friction from the sheer amount is slowing us down, but the sounds , the crunches are wonderful. To our left, the ground begins to disappear, the water rages below, echoing from the sides of the gorge. The floor descends at an alarming rate and the left side of the path becomes treacherous. If we fall there are plenty of branches and trees to grab, but if we miss, well it is impending death, confirmed by the various plaques and memorials dotted along the path.

It continues this way for a long while. We stay away from the edge. The rotten leaves are glistening, blanketed in water droplets. It’s hard to keep a grip on them, especially on the steeper sections.

If you like autumn hikes, checkout our post about hiking to the Kaprun high mountain reservoirs!

Monks on rocks

A section of the forest opens and we are presented with this fairy tale view. St. Georgenberg, an idyllic monastery sat atop a rocky outcrop. Should a strong enough wind blow, the whole structure will tumble down into the ravaging waters below. Luckily such a wind has not blown since its inception in 1708.

St. Georgenberg monastery. A monastery perched on a rock in the lower Karwendel mountains surrounded by autumn forest

We want to visit, but it seems there is no way across. In order for us to get to the monastery we must first descend far enough to cross the river and then ascend again. I sell the idea to Caroline on the basis that I treat her to a cold fizzy drink when we arrive. Sold.

Well – not so quickly. It turns out to be a good way before we can cross the river. A few kilometres and a few hundred metres down. We might not even make it before it closes. It could also be that our legs shatter into a thousand pieces on the sight of a steep inclining path.

All drama aside, we make it. It is a damn struggle though. The monastery is spectacular, but we have to admit, the views from the other side of the canyon were better. However, the bridge to the monastery, over a gorge, with a gushing waterfall streaming down the rock face visible only through the medieval wooden posts supporting the bridge roof is fantastical. It was worth all the struggles.

The structure is truly extravagant, the embodiment of wonder, mystery and adventure. Walking across it feels like being transported back a thousand years in to a less complicated time.

The magnificent bridge to St. Georgenberg monastery
St. Georgenberg monastery bridge from the bridge

The coffee

Outside the monastery is a coffee vending machine. We are transported back to present day Austria. Mountains are no obstacle for coffee addictions. We concede, for we are also addicted. However, much amusing to me, the coffee is SO bad that Caroline can’t drink it. This is a true first. I’ve never seen Caroline not drink her coffee, not because she has no taste, but because coffee is a necessity, not a luxury. In this case the tar like overtones are just too much.

The last 4 kilometres of the hike are spent tired and somewhat fed up. Our appreciation for the natural beauty dwindles and our longing for a soft cosy bed grows exponentially. The last section of the hike should be through a gorge, wooden boardwalks drilled to the rock faces. But it’s closed. We have to go around. That also means we have to go up for a while. Deflated is an understatement.

About an hour later we reach Stans, a small town in the same valley as Innsbruck. Our final destination. We meander through the tiny village. The sight of us must surely be a sore one, especially for all these unsuspecting pensioners, just trying to live out their lives in the beautiful calm mountain valleys.

We head to the train station and catch a commuter train back to Innsbruck.

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get there

The hike started in Eng-Alm so if you want to visit there check the facts section of our previous article. The only way to get there is via car.

If you want to visit the monastery of St. Georgenberg or the Wolfsklamm gorge then jump on the train from Innsbruck and get off at Stans (Stans b. Schwaz). The trains are going very often and cost around €7.50. Check the OBB website for more information.

Accommodation

We can’t really offer any tips about accommodation here since we stayed in Eng Alm and already detailed that in our previous article. If you want to stay in the hut we were supposed to, you can find more information on their website.

Pro Tip

Visit the Gorge (Wolfsklamm)! It is apparently beautiful, our Couchsurfing hosts Chris and Markus attested to it!

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