The next hut-to-hut trek we wanted to explore was the Karwendel Transverse in Tirol, Austria. The weather held, and so a few days after we got back from our hut to hut trek along the Gosaukamm, we decided to set out on our next hiking adventure.
Karwendel – I have loved that name from the time I was a child. Although it’s named after some forgotten hero named Gerwentil, it has always invoked images of mysterious mountains, dragons and gemstones. The reality of actually hiking through the Karwendel Mountain Range didn’t disappoint.
We had heard for some time the Karwendel Range were extraordinarily beautiful. Friends had told us of ancient maple groves in its long and deep valleys, and climbers had described its cliff faces as some of the tallest in all of the Alps. We wanted to see for ourselves. Most of all we wanted to find out if we can combine a hut-to-hut trek in those mountains with one of our Art Journaling workshops.
I’ll treat the entire Karwendel Trail and our experiences on it in separate posts, with enough detail to attempt it on your own, but here it is in a nutshell: it’s one of the most beautiful treks we have ever been on, and we are planning to adapt it to a traveling course in art journaling.
Almost all of the Karwendel Range lie in a Nature Park. What’s more,we had learned of an easy, several days long hut-to-hut trek, the Karwendel Transverse, which leads from one end of the range to the other.
The Transverse simply leads from valley to valley over easy mountain passes. It starts in Scharnitz, a small ski resort north of Innsbruck, and ends in Pertisau, a small town on a lake about 30 miles east of Scharnitz. Along the way are three mountain huts that offer food and shelter, the Karwendelhaus, the Falkenhütte and the Lamsenjochhütte. They are spaced at about three to four hours apart if you are hiking at a leisurely pace. The hike to the first hut, however, takes at least 5 hours, and it’s a long slog from the last hut to Pertisau. Looking at the map led us to believe there was little opportunity to cut the trek short, that once we got as far as the Karwendelhaus we were committed to the entire distance, but we found that wasn’t so.
On a crisp and clear fall morning we started our hike in Scharnitz and soon found ourselves on a well maintained gravel road that also serves as a mountain bike trail. Numerous bicyclers passed as we made our way through the long, but beautiful, valley called, by sheer coincidence, the Karwendel Valley.
We took our time admiring the creek at the valley floor, waterfalls dropping over sheer cliffs and enjoying the scenery.
When we reached the Karwendelhaus some 7 hours after we had started that morning, we were tired from a long hike. The last four miles were the steepest of all. But when we got there the view was worth it. The Karwendelhaus sits at the head of the valley, and looking back we saw a few miles of it laid out below us.
We liked the second segment of the trek, from the Karwendelhaus to the Falkenhütte, even better. A mountain bike trail also connects these two huts, but a hiking trail cuts through several of its loops. Its shorter and not at all difficult. Either trail takes you down to the Small Maple Grove, where we took our time absorbing the scenery before we started up another mountain to the next hut, the Falkenhütte.
Falke is German for Falcon, and like a falcon’s nest, the Falkenhütte perches at the base of cliffs, called the Ladiderer Wand, that rise some 2500 feet vertically into the sky.
We stayed there one night, but two nights might have been better. The hosts, a family who’s run the hut since 1946, are friendly and hospitable, the scenery just outside the window is stunning, literally, and there’s lots to explore all around. One day is not enough to soak it all up. Nearby we saw chamois and best of all, a herd of stags (a little smaller than our elk but similar) grazing on the slopes below. It was mating season, and we could hear the bulls bugling from miles away.
Our last leg of the hike, from the Falkenhütte to the valley below, was a regular foot path, not easily passable on a mountain bike.
We took to the trail after it had rained all night. Apparently, rain had turned to snow just a little higher on the mountain than the hut. The peaks and cliffs around us were powdered with snow, and the morning air was crisp. Although it was slow going on the trail because we had to watch our step over wet segments, a reasonably surefooted hiker can easily manage it, especially with the aid of one or more hiking sticks.
We skipped the hike up to the next hut, the Lamsenjochhütte, and ended our trek in the valley below, the Eng Valley. The hike to the next hut, nearly 2100′ above us on another mountain, daunted us, and we vowed to save it for another day. Then, too, we thought we found a way to cut the trek short by way of the Eng Valley and we needed to explore it. By the time we reached the valley we had decided that if we came here with a group, we should go no farther than the Eng Alm.
The Eng Valley is also famous for its large stand of ancient maples, the Great Maple Grove. Some of them are over 4oo years old and host a species of fungus found only in two completely disjunct places in the world: in that valley and somewhere in China (an unsolved mystery).
At its head also lies a kind of Show Alm – a commercialized Alm open to the public. Tourists arrive there by the bus load, walk over groomed trails, view cow milking and cheese making demonstrations and ride around in horse drawn carriages. They looked at us a little sideways as we strode along the groomed walkways to the bus. We had been hiking for several days and looked somewhat trail worn. Also, we carried backpacks and well used hiking sticks, and we obviously came from the mountains high above us, a place they wouldn’t reach that day or perhaps ever again. But most of all, we walked with a gait acquired from walking long distances over uneven terrain, and that alone set us apart from just about anyone strolling the foot paths.
We skipped the various spectacles of the Eng Alm, they were a little too much for us after experiencing mountain solitude, and we took a bus back to civilization.
All in all, this is a hut-to-hut trek we recommend. You can easily do it on your own, if you want. You can even stretch it out with extra stays at one of the huts, or with additional days on either end of the trek. You might even hike the whole distance from Scharnitz on one end and Pertisau on the other, as many people do, with no regrets whatsoever. You’ll find a complete set of instructions on this site in the next few months.
The Karwendel Transverse is also a hut-to-hut trek we will offer in combination with a traveling art journaling workshop in 2015, with some modifications. We will shorten the first leg of the trek, from Scharnitz to the Karwendelhaus, by several hours. At the same time, we will preserve a few hours of an easy and memorable hike through one of the most beautiful valleys imaginable. We may also add another day at the Falkenhütte.
If you want to join us on one of our hut-n-trek adventures to the Karwendels, look for more detailed trek descriptions, itineraries, and on ways you can join us in future posts. The easiest way to learn of upcoming hut-to-hut treks is to subscribe to this site by email.