Adventure in the Alps

Hiker in silhouette against cloudsBring you lederhosen and head for the hiking lover’s ultimate destination – the Bavarian and Austrian Alps

In the Bavarian Alps, under cloudless skies with a small group of friends, Anton, our lederhosen-attired guide led us on a gradual uphill climb – 90 minutes from our start in Grainach, a small German town, past a working mountain farm, beneath the firs of an alpine forest and through rolling meadows.

Our charming destination, located near the middle station of the Hochriesbahn cable car, was Kaseralm, one of the Alps’ many huts, a cozy chalet-like respite, complete with dark beams, brightly filled flower boxes and a sunny outdoor terrace teeming with picnic tables and fellow hikers.

Upon our arrival a German family gathered around their accordion-playing grandfather, their opa, whose festive music was accompanied by the singing of a young girl with blond, braided hair and lively foot-tapping by all.

Hungry after our hike and a good dose of fresh alpine air, we sampled the local weisswurstessen, white sausage with sweet mustard (a traditional specialty of the region historically eaten before the clock strikes noon) and downed drafts of good German beer. “Prost!” we toasted, as we clinked our freshly filled beer glasses.

Waterfalls and dark pepper chocolate
The next morning, ranger Carmen Kraus with the National Park Berchtesgaden (summer and winter programs include ranger guides for day hikes) introduced herself at the park station. “Hello, Carmen. We’re afraid of you,” confessed a very honest member of our group, referring to the guide’s reputation as a hiking taskmaster. We’ll do some soft hiking today,” she promised.

After a brief stop at a sheep farm operated by the Aschauer family,where we sampled chocolate from sheep’s milk (my favorite: dark pepper chocolate) and a short-but-steep climb, Carmen fulfilled her pledge to enjoy the Wimbach valley almost effortlessly.

Hiking alongside Wimbach Gorge’s series of waterfalls by navigating wet, wooden steps flanked by a secure handrail was more than worth its one-euro admission fee. But our ultimate reward was a brief peek of Palfelhorn, a major Bavarian summit that slipped in and out of clouds.

Alpine mountain viewHome in the Austrian Alps
Our departure from Germany to Austria was unexpectedly emotional – like leaving home for the first year of college. But like the second day of college, we easily adjusted.

The steeple of St. Michael’s parish church greeted us long before we arrived in the Tirolean village of Ellmau. It was visible for miles. To say the setting was exceptional was an understatement: A collection of towering Alpine peaks surrounded the valley that would be “home” for the next three days.

Immersion into hiking the Austrian Alps began early morning at the Soll cable car station. Our guide was Roman Hofer – blond, athletic, sporting a day’s worth of facial hair, and seemingly straight from central casting. First, he fitted us for hiking poles. “It’s normal that you don’t use your hands to hike,” he said, explaining our initial awkwardness with the equipment.

I can hike for miles and miles. . .
The gondola ride to Hohe Salve summit (6,000 feet) took 30 minutes. Its panoramic view showcased over 70 precipitous peaks reaching 9,000 feet. This summit connects to 100 lifts – it’s the country’s largest circuit, creating limitless hiking possibilities. (There are more than 400 miles of marked hiking paths in Tyrol.) With poles in hand, we began our descent.

“Servus,” we greeted those in passing on the trail, including families with young children, elderly hikers and both fit and not-so-fit visitors. Our route led us past chapels, cow pastures, lakes and to Jochstubn, a well-known hiking hut where we ate lunch. My choice: pancake soup.

At 7,690 feet, Wilder Kaiser, translated as Wild Emperor Mountain, was the final challenge, saved for our last full day on the trails. I soon learned why. The sharp silhouette of the rugged Alpine peak was ominous. It was difficult to see our goal, Gruttenhutte, the hiking hut at an elevation of 5,315 feet, when our guide Marcus pointed towards it.

“Fur Geubte!” read the sign at the mid-way point. “What does that mean?” I asked Marcus. He hesitantly translated, “For experienced hikers.”

German man in traditional Alpine costume“Exclamation point!” I added, wondering if I was up to the imminent task. At this juncture, Marcus said he would carry our hiking poles. It would be too difficult to negotiate the upcoming terrain: a narrow path bordering a drop-off and a boulder ascent to the final walkway.

Thirty minutes later, we arrived at Gruttenhutte, known as a famous hut for very good hikers. We were feeling like members of a very exclusive club. The return route was a gentle, though lengthier trek into the valley, through Ellmau and to the hotel. I opened the door to my room at 4 p.m.

Though a long day, it was the most fulfilling of my limited hiking career. I reflected. The term WohlfuhlWelt means “feel-good world.”

After trekking the top of the world – with good friends and for many days – I felt “wohl-der-fuhl.”

HIKING FOR- GET-ME-NOTS

HIKING THE ALPS
-- Germany’s Bavarian Region Contacts
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Bavaria Tourism Marketing
www.bayern.by

National Park Berchtesgaden
www.germany-tourism.de/e/6308.html

-- Austria’s Tirolean Region Contacts --

Wilder Kaiser-Brixental Tourismus GmbH
www.skiwelt.at

Roman Hofer/Marcus Sappl (local hiking guides)
Outdoor Sport & Abenteuerschule
www.outdoorhofer.com