Not long after my last vacation in the Alps, I fixed dates for another week-long trip in Kleinwalsertal. The last vacation was wonderful and adventurous with snow, ice, and spring breeze all present at the same time, but there were still paths blocked, heights unreached, peaks unseen. This time, I thought, I would revisit them in early autumn. From my past experience, this could be a magical time of the year between high summer and when the higher peaks receive their first layer of snow.
Day 1, Saturday, September 15: the thought of spending almost the entire day of my birthday in the train didn’t seem bad at all. There is always a direct connection from Hamburg to Oberstdorf (the closest train station next to Kleinwalsertal), which surprised almost everyone who first heard about it. Of course, I am more than happy that there is such a connection, it is a gateway to the Alps for people who love it there and are
stuck living in north Germany. Getting back on the subject – I spent most of the time on the train reading ‘Death on the Nile’ by Agatha Christie, listening to songs of my new favorite albums from ‘Get Well Soon’, and doping off from time to time. Just before 6 p.m., I found my way to the guest house. The hosts were away but left me welcome messages and simple instructions on the door. I unpacked, organised my stuff, and stepped onto the balcony, where I snapped this picture.
Day 2, Sunday, September 16: unfortunately, I came down with a cold in the middle of a business trip leading to this vacation. Therefore, I decided to just take it slowly at the beginning. For the first day, I planned to take the cable car to Walmendingerhorn (1940 m) and take the more difficult path (so-called ‘nur für Geübte’: only for people with practise) along the ridgeway (Ochsenhofer Köpfe) to reach Ochsenhofer Scharte (1850 m) and be spontaneous about which way to continue from there. There was not a single cloud when I started out in the morning. Autumn colors, how crisp and intense!
Day 2: a narrow but comfortable path. Turning corners and enjoying the bits of colors near and far.
Day 2: A lower hill on the south side of ridgeway, dressed fully in green.
Day 2: the ridgeway gets more rocky and interesting when you get closer to the peaks. Here you see the twisted, dwarfish, bonsai-like trees (‘Krummholz’ in German), they are usually a good indicator of the treeline – above which trees cannot fully grow due to exposure of weather, e.g. much stronger wind. I personally like to think of them as self-regulating Bonsai 😉
Day 2: Some paths were steeper than others. I soon realised that this route was a bit more than what I had in mind suitable for a walk with a cold. Alright, I had to combat my cold symptoms, i.e. blowing my nose every few minutes, but it actually didn’t bother me much, it could always have been worse. Can you spot the two hikers behind me?
Day 2: The ridgeway leading to Ochsenhofer Scharte had been accomplished! An alternative, easier option would be to take the route below the ridgeline, which is also visible in this picture. Personally speaking, I would not trade the thrills of walking on a ridgeway for comfort. However, I make sure to always know my limits (physical status, water supply, weather, equipment, etc.). Better safe than sorry, especially when you are alone.
Day 2: view of the majestic Hoher Ifen, which I climbed on Day 6 from its northern side (rear, in this picture) – which was much less green and full of rocks. The southern side (front) is an undisturbed wildlife area. The uncommon rock formations are what makes the Hoher Ifen a striking landmark of the region.
Day 2: after passing Ochsenhofer Scharte at 1850 m, I continued to Grünhorn (2039 m). The weather started to get cloudier, I put on a jacket and ate a snack bar next to the summit cross. My water supply was really running short at this point, I had to save a few sips for later. Without further ado, it was time to wind my way down to Baad over Starzeljoch (1867 m).
Day 2: descending from Grünhorn to Starzeljoch, more ridgeway 🙂
Day 2: impressive view!
Day 2: red grass which you find only in autumn.
Day 2: the overcast weather had its charm. Some distance further down, I came across a stream coming from the top of the mountains, I drank the ice cold water and refilled my water bottle. The big problem was finally solved.
Day 2: finally, arriving in Baad, where I grabbed an ice cream with berries from the forest, it was very delicious. I went back to the guest house, took a shower, washed my clothes and went out to dinner with a book. The waitress at the Wirtshaus Hoheneck, whom I remembered and liked from my last visit, asked me whether I was there in the beginning of May! Wow. It felt good that somebody remembers you from a one-time visit five months ago.
Day 3, Monday, September 17: one destination on the top of my list this time was the Großer Widderstein (2533 m). I didn’t plan to climb the last part to reach the summit because all together it would be too much for one day going from where I was. What I thought would be sensible was to start in Baad, make it to the Seekopt (2039 m) via Bärgunthütte (1408 m, as pictured here), take a break at the Widdersteinhütte (2009 m) and descend back to Mittelberg (town next to Baad) via Obere Gemstelhütte (1694 m). And let me just hope that my muscles could still work at their full capacity after the previous day. Sounds like a plan?
Day 3: passing through an area with lots of cows, you could hear them from far away because of the bells on their neck.
Day 3: a curious one, I think she’s cute.
Day 3: a pretty mushroom.
Day 3: some hikers in front of me.
Day 3: looking back and found this little house at the foot of the Widderstein.
Day 3: ascending against the sun. The wind was cool but I was dripping in sweat.
Day 3: somewhere near Seekopf.
Day 3: from Seekopf to Widdersteinhütte. A rocky area.
Day 3: Widdersteinhütte!!
Day 3: I ordered a Trinkjogurt (yogurt drink) 0.5 L, it was easily manageable. See the prayer flags in the background? I was surprised to find them in the Alps since I only know them from the Himalaya region. Maybe they are just decorations, or perhaps the owner of the Widdersteinhütte went to Himalaya and brought them back. No idea.
Day 3: after a bit of tidying-up, I was back on my feet again.
Day 3: since you cannot call a yogurt drink lunch, I decided to stop by the Obergemstelhütte for something sweet, Apfelstrudel with whipped cream! The hand-drawn card in the back says ‘nice that you are here’.
Day 3: I helped some other hikers with their pictures before leaving.
Day 3: the descending route was rather tough, terribly rocky and steep at some parts. I didn’t even have a picture because it was not very comfortable and I just wanted to get it over with 😛 Paths like this with security cables were something I liked very much. This type of rock floor is comfortable to walk on.
Day 3: and the descent continued and I walked all the way back to the guest house. The total distance was nearly 19 km that day with elevation differences.
Day 4, Tuesday, September 18: I made up my mind to take a day off to relax. My body would most certainly appreciate that. So I started the day off with a slower, longer breakfast in the dining room, followed by a walk in the sun from Höfle (near the guest house) to Hirschegg via Schwabenhütte. I spent time on the wooden bridge to watch the stream flow, and took a closer look at all the wild flowers along the way (for the first time I found autumn crocuses, whose nickname is ‘naked ladies’ because the leaves would already be dead by the time the flowers emerge from the ground). Before reaching Hirschegg, I stumbled upon a small shop in a wooden house and bought two tablecloths that were locally made. Shortly after noon, the weather started to change but I went anyway with the cable car to Walmendingerhorn. In the cafe on top of the Walmendingerhorn I met another solo traveler – a lady in her 40’s from Frankfurt who was going through a divorce. We talked while eating and I told her about the annual event ‘Almabtrieb’ that was going to take place on Wednesday and that she should check it out.
Day 5, Wednesday, September 19: Almabtrieb!! Finally, the event I had wanted to see for years was here! This is a time when cattle herds return to their home barns in the valley from somewhere high up in the mountains. If there had been no fatal accident during the summer, the cows would be dressed up in typical flowers found in the Alps. In Kleinwalsertal, the herds were gathered in Riezlern before being sorted and loaded onto vehicles to be transported back home. –> Check out the slide show below!
Day 5: in the afternoon, I took another cable car up to Kanzelwand, and hiked from the plateau up to the summit (2058 m). I came to the same summit on foot from the valley once before, it was in August last year I believe.
Day 5: I remember I was quite obsessed with how the rock formations look at this corner last year. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s very pretty. This time, I couldn’t help but scramble to the ridge in the right half of the picture. This part though, is not marked on the map. It turned out that there was someone before me, he is actually in this picture but way too small to be seen. After double checking that I was not crazy enough to continue further, he left to make his way to the summit. “Too dangerous to go alone”, first time someone spoke English to me!
Day 5: die Siberdistel! As the name suggests, it has silver petals.
Day 6, Thursday, September 20: after more or less two days of rest, I was ready to take on the Hoher Ifen! I took a picture of the group I met on the way, they were together on a Yoga / Hiking program and the guy in the yellow shirt was the instructor / guide. When we first met I was walking behind them on a steep slope, the guide shouted “Where are you from? Tokyo? Hong Kong?”, I shouted back “China”, then he was like “Oh nice, I’m from India”. I couldn’t really see their faces so I was about to take his word for it until the lady in front of me suddenly turned around and said “他開玩笑的！(He was kidding)” in perfect Chinese. It turned out, she was actually from Hamburg and had spent some time in Shanghai during her study. Then we were somehow separated but I found them again among a zillion of rocks.
Day 6: after passing through the rocky area which seemed to never end, I came to the bottom of the vertical Ifen “rock” (please refer to the 8th picture, day 2).
Day 6: I took a small break and waited for the group to catch up. According to Jürgen, the instructor, it would be better for me to go together with them instead of alone. I thought that was a good idea.
Day 6: we scrambled our way up, I spent some time sitting on the grass, while the group continued to the summit.
Day 6: on my way to the summit, again, interesting rock formations here and there.
Day 6: just keep going…
Day 6: a relatively flat area, I sat by the edge of the cliff and ate my lunch. The wind and the chirping of the Alpendohle were the only things I could hear. The sun was very strong, so was the wind.
Day 6: there is the summit (2230 m)!
Day 6: overlooking the Bergstation (2030 m, closed in summer) and the Gottesacker plateau.
Day 6: autumn colors at 2200 m.
Day 6: this type of bird is called Alpendohle. That head tilt though!
On the 7th day, I took the train to head back to Hamburg. Arrived at the Hbf at 18:30, went home to have dinner and clean up, then headed out again for a midnight concert at the Church of St. Michaelis – because ‘Get Well Soon’ was in Hamburg and having a concert!! All together, a pretty awesome vacation.