Rätikon/Silveretta Trek

Trip Start Jun 15, 2004
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Trip End Apr 03, 2005


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Flag of Austria  ,
Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hello from Austria (still)

We can't seem to leave this country except for the odd time when our trail crosses into Switzerland.

We have just returned from eight days of backpacking through the Silveretta and Rätikon mountain ranges which lie west of Innsbruck along the border of Austria and Switzerland. We hiked Hütte to Hütte which allowed us to leave our tent, sleeping bags, thema-rests and several kilos of food behind.

We started by taking an hour long train ride from Innsbruck to Bludenz and then an hour bus ride along perhaps the twistiest and steepest mountain road we've ever been on to a small town called Brand. At this point there is a choice to take a gondola or hike the steep trail below the gondola up to the Lüner See (Lüner Lake). Sorry to disappoint our harder core friends but we took the gondola. It would have offended the folks that built the darn thing if we'd opted for hiking. The gondola ride was not without excitement however as there was a 40 km wind blowing and I was pretty sure the cable was going to come off of the track. As I am writing this now you can presume that it did not.

From the top of the gondola we had a very windy hike around the see and then up and over Schweizetor pass (2137 meters) and down the other side to a small stone building that used to act as the Swiss border crossing station. We were greeted to the sound of shouts and whistles as several people were rounding up and herding a good size herd of cattle down the valley. The whistles and shouts were barely audible over the sound of 1000 cow bells. I'm not sure about the toughness of the Calgary cowboys after seeing these guys running up and down the mountains tracking down cows that are grazing on the side of mountains at 8000 feet above sea level. No horses to help out in the mountains.

From the border crossing we had one more pass to go over. Ofapass is at 2292 meters and our goal, the Lindaur Hütte was at 1744 meters. The Hütte with its warm food and dry bed was a welcome sight with the skies starting to cloud over.

The next day dawned with clouds filling the valleys around the Hütte but the peaks were visible when we started off. The guide book that we were using described our morning climb to the pass as unrelentingly steep. The author wasn't kidding and we were happy for a little overcast to reduce the sweat factor. Over this pass was the Tilisuna Hütte. Because the weather had cleared we opted to pass this Hütte by as it was only about noon. We had to cross two more passes going in and out of Switzerland before descending 1000 meters into the small ski town of Gargallen. We stayed in a little family run pension and cooked pasta on the balcony. We bought some cheese and a 5.00 bottle of Chianti and the grocery store and had a relaxing evening while the skies opened up and poured rain. Thankfully the rain, once again, waited until we were settled in.

It was still raining when we awoke so we dawdled over breakfast and coffee. At about 10:00 we had to make a decision so we looked at the barometer, thermometer, altimeter and weather vane on top of the pension. All indications were that the rain would stop soon so we threw on the packs and started back up into the hills. Our hike was only going to be 4 hours but was to take us up and over our highest pass to date. About 40 minutes in to the hike, with the town still visible below us, the rain started again. It carried on as we climbed up to the Vergaldner Joch at 2515 meters but thankfully turned to snow pellets at the pass. According to Jacquie's thermometer it was 4 degrees without considering the wind chill. A bit of a change from our hiking a couple of weeks ago. We did not spend any time at the pass but headed straight down the other side getting into Tübinger Hütte (2200 neters) at about 2:00. The rain did not dampen our hiking spirits and we enjoyed the sight of clouds and fog blowing up and down the valleys. There were times when the valleys below us were completely filled in with clouds making for some beautiful views of peaks emerging from the clouds. During supper there was an impromtu concert put on by a young boy who worked at the Hütte. He played many traditional tunes on the accordian. After this it was a sing along with an older fellow playing guitar. Our spirits were warmed and we tried not to think about the rain.

It was still cloudy the next morning and it rained off and on in spits and spirts. By about 11:00 the sky started to clear as we made our way to our next refuge, Madlener Haus (1900 meters). This is more like a hotel than a mountain hütte. The original Madlener Haus burned down a few years ago and a new one was built in its place. A beautiful building with nice soft beds and great food. We sat on the deck in the sun for a couple of hours and met lots of people who gave lots of advice on which Hüttes were better to visit. Based on the concensus we decided to take a side trip and spend a night at Weisbadener Hütte which is nestled at the base of 4 glaciers. The hike was only 2 1/2 hours long but the scenery along the way and the scenery from the deck confirmed that the decision was a good one. The glaciers are huge and we were able to watch several groups of mountaineers making their way over these. Jacquie liked the spetzle but was not crazy about the strudel.

From Weisbadener Hütte we had a great day. The weather was a mix of sun and cloud but no rain in the forcast. The start of the day was a short climb to our first pass and then a drop into a beautiful valley filled with wild flowers, creeks and cows. From the valley it was a dramatic ascent straight up a scree gulley filled with huge boulders and snow fields. The final climb to the top of the Getschner Scharte (2839 meters) was almost vertical on the final snow field. From the pass the view seemed unlimited and we could see our next hütte, Jamtal Hütte, 700 meters below. The descent took us along the edge of the steep valley and we had to scramble our way down the first 200 or 300 meters. We were startled on several occassions by the loud warning whistles of the marmots. We also saw a lone chamoix bounding across the boulders below us.

Jamtal Hütte was destroyed by an avalanche in 1999 and rebuilt just recently. It is about 10 kilometers up the valley from the town of Galtür which was also hit by an avalanche in 1999 colapsing the roof of a gymnasium killing several people. The re-construction of the Jamtal Hütte used many of the same architectural styles as the original hüttes but added a number of updates to make the hikers life a little easier. There is a room for drying wet clothes and gear and heated racks on the wall to hang your boots on. So nice to put on dry warm boots on a chilly morning. There was even a climbing gym in the Hütte! Jamtal is a center for many guided tours from simple day hikes to technical glacier treks.

The next day was the crossing of our highest pass of the trip. The Kronen Joch, at 2980 meters is the border of Switzerland and Austria and the Switzerland side of the pass is partially filled with a glacier. Our route allowed us to skirt along the left side of the glacier over a snow field. The weather was windy foggy and cold but the experience of being that close to a glacier was exhilerating. We had an enjoyable wander down to Heidelberger Hütte (2265 meters), still in Switzerland, through a valley filled with marmots. One side hill looked like a piece of swiss cheese there were so many marmot holes in it. This, along with the abundance of wild flowers, made for a slow hike but lots of fun taking photos.

Heidelberger Hütte was very rustic but we had our own room with hot and cold running water (a luxury not to be expected in the Hüttes). Jacquie would like to report that both the spetzle and the strudel were excellent.

The last day of our trek had us descending 1400 meters to the town of Ischgl. This is perhaps the most famous ski area of Austria. There are gondolas and high speed lifts going up the hills from every direction. The walk was pretty tough on our old knees and we were happy to reach the town. After a quick Snickers bar and some water we managed to locate the bus stop and make our way back to Innsbruck.

We really enjoyed this trip. It was filled with spectacular high passes, wonderful flower filled valleys, friendly and talkative people and good local food. It is going to be very difficult to leave Austria but Italy is calling.

Hope you are all enjoying our ramblings about our ramblings.

Chat soon,

J&D
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