Pitztaler Runde 2013: Hut to Hut Hiking in Tirol, Austria


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI very recently had the opportunity to travel with good friends to spend a week hut to hut hiking in Pitztal, Austria.

After the hiking tour, I stayed in Germany an extra week to visit family.

So, what the heck is hut to hut hiking? And where on earth is Austria and this place called Pitztal?

The American notion of "hut."

The American notion of “hut.”

I suppose it’s unfortunate that the English translation for Hütte is “Hut.” Hut connotes, well, something entirely primitive. Something one would strive to avoid.

In fact, the huts situated throughout the Alps offer comfortable, clean accommodations, with food, drink, bedding and hot water. Some, in Switzerland, rise to the level of four-star hotels.

The benefits of hut to hut hiking are many. First, you need to carry only essential gear and clothing in a relatively small, light 40-60 liter backpack. No need for a tent, sleeping bag, stove, or food. Second, by staying in the huts, you are able to generally stay up above the treeline and spend more time enjoying the alpine scenery. Also, the huts and their proprietors offer good food, warmth and Gemütlichkeit.

Enjoying our time at the Kaunergrathütte.

Enjoying our time at the Kaunergrathütte.

So, shed no tears for us having to “suffer” on our vacation.

And where, exactly, is Pitztal?

A big part of me really doesn’t want to say, because much of the appeal is that it’s a relatively quiet valley in Tirol, Austria. The big industry is skiing, but it’s certainly far less peopled and tramped upon than neighboring Ötztal or Kitzbühel and other more famous resorts. I believe it’s very likely we were the only Americans in the entire valley when we were there. So, against my better judgement, I’ll share:

Pitztal, (the “Pitz Valley”) lies in the Federal State of Tirol, in western Austria, west of Innsbruck.

Pitztal_map

If you do go, that’s fine. Enjoy. Just don’t ruin it.

The Trip

Burg Nanstein

Burg Nanstein

On August 22, 2013, we flew out of Atlanta direct to Frankfurt, Germany. The next morning, we arrived and drove from Frankfurt to Landstuhl to pick up the fourth member of our party, Gerd.

While in Landstuhl, we walked through the town and up the hill to tour the Burg Nanstein.

Landstuhl is a wonderful town located in the Rhineland-Pfalz. It backs up to the Pfälzerwald, a natural park of rolling hills and forests. Lots of great walking opportunities. I know the town and it’s environs quite well. I spent many summers there, in my youth. My mother is from Landstuhl.

Landstuhl view from Burg Nanstein

Landstuhl view from Burg Nanstein

Afterwards, we stopped at my cousin’s house to enjoy a wonderful welcome party and finalize the next day’s departure plans for Austria.

While in Landstuhl, we stayed at the Air-Hotel Royal. I recommend it.

Heading out. Ignorance is bliss.

Heading out. Ignorance is bliss.

From Landstuhl, we drove to Piller, Austria at the beginning of Pitztal. We spend the night at Gasthof Hirschen, hoping that it would stop raining.

The Hut to Hut Tour

Day 1: The next morning we awoke to rain and saw new snow on the distant mountain peaks. A call to our intended destination, Kaunergrathütte, confirmed what we suspected. There was new snow up at the hut and it was recommended we not attempt the hike. In the mountains, the best laid plans are always subject to the weather. But having a detailed itinerary provided us the necessary information at our fingertips to modify and reschedule our plans to accommodate the realities brought upon us by the weather. We opted, instead, to hike up the adjacent ridge from the hamlet of Plangeroß to the lower-lying Rüsselsheimer Hütte (2,323 m : 7,621’). It turned out to be kismet, because the demands of the originally intended hike–even in ideal weather–would have been too harsh for our un-acclimatized group.

In Plangeroß, beginning our trek up to the Rüsselsheimer Hütte.

In Plangeroß, beginning our trek up to the Rüsselsheimer Hütte.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlong the way, we encountered some “git’er done” handiwork:

Our introduction to "watch your step" hiking.

Our introduction to “watch your step” hiking.

Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the Rüsselsheimer Hütte, greeted by low hanging clouds.

Rüsselsheimer Hütte (2,323 m : 7,621’)

Rüsselsheimer Hütte (2,323 m : 7,621’)

View down to Pitztal from Rüsselsheimer Hütte.

View down to Pitztal from Rüsselsheimer Hütte.

After lunch, we hiked further up from Rüsselsheimer Hütte  to Gahwinden (1 hour up) for the view. And what a view it was. We also saw Steinböcke.

Rüsselsheimer Hütte and Pitztal as seen en route to Gawinden.

Rüsselsheimer Hütte and Pitztal as seen en route to Gawinden.

Gawinden

Gawinden

Taking in the views.

Taking in the views.

Gawinden

Gawinden

We spent the night at Rüsselsheimer Hütte.

Our accommodations.

Our accommodations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 2: It was still raining on and off on our second day, so after hiking back down to Plangeroß we decided to hike to Taschachhaus (2.432 m : 7,979’) via the low-lying Tachachbach trail #924 (2:30 hours).

This, too, was a good decision because the alternative path–the Fuldaer Höhenweg–involves some cable work along steep, cliffy, terrain. Better to wait a day with hopes of drier weather.

The trail up the valley follows the path of a long receded glacier, the Taschachferner. As one nears the end, there is the opportunity to hike up a steep moraine to reach the hut.

Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Taschachalm.

View down Taschachtal.

View down Taschachtal.

View of Taschachferner.

View of Taschachferner.

Taschachhaus

Taschachhaus

We spent the night at Taschachhaus.

Day 3: The next morning, we awoke to some sunshine peaking through the clouds as we hiked from Taschachhaus to Riffelsee via the Fuldaer Höhenweg  (2.432 m : 7,979’, 3:00 hours).

View back to Taschachhaus along Fuldaer Höhenweg.

View back to Taschachhaus along Fuldaer Höhenweg.

Taschachhaus and Taschachferner as seen from Fuldaer Höhenweg.

Taschachhaus and Taschachferner as seen from Fuldaer Höhenweg.

panorama

panorama

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One of the more engaging sections of the Fuldaer Höhenweg.

One of the more engaging sections of the Fuldaer Höhenweg.

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Riffelsee

Riffelsee

We enjoyed lunch at the Riffelsee Hütte and then took the cable car down to Mandarfen. We next attempted to hike up to Braunschweiger Hütte, where we had originally planned to stay 2 nights, but again we aborted this hike after an hour of driving rain and reports of hail and snow above. Instead, we enjoyed luxury at the Hotel Wildspitze in Mandarfen. We plotted our next day, while enjoying dinner, a few beers and some schnapps. A call to the Kaunergrathütte confirmed room availability and a two day window of great weather. Since the Kaunergrathütte is the highest situated hut in Pitztal, good weather was essential. We booked it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 4: The forecast was for clearing skies as the day progressed. Since we needed about four hours to hike up to the hut, we decided to start the hike up around noon. So, in the morning, we drove out of the valley and into Imst in search of elusive alpine hats to buy. There were none in Pitztal. We searched and searched and almost gave up. Finally, we came across Leder Jäger, a small shop in Imst that was open and had hats.

With our newly acquired hats, in Imst.

With our newly acquired hats, in Imst.

Looking sufficiently silly, we drove back to Plangeroß in Pitztal to begin our trek to the Kaunergrathütte, (2.817 m :  9,242’) (3:45 hours).

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The hike up is captured in the following video. I recommend full screen and set for HD:

We spent the night at the Kaunergrathütte. Let me just pause a moment here and share that the Kaunergrathütte was, by far, our favorite hut. The proprietor, Julia and her family Dobler were very friendly and made us feel especially welcome while we were there. And the hut itself is situated in a perfect location at the foot of the majestic Watzespitze.

Alpenglow on the Watzespitze and Kaunergrat.

Alpenglow on the Watzespitze and Kaunergrat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 5: We awoke to perfect weather and after a leisurely breakfast, we began the first of two hikes up high in the environs of the Kaunergrathütte. Day hike from hut to Plangeroßkopf & back to hut. Plangeroßkopf, at 3,053 m (10,016′), offers a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding mountains of the Kaunergrat range and down into Pitztal. There was new snow over much of the hike, so it was very slow going, breaking trail and ensuring adequate footing. But it was well worth the effort as the views gained were among the best of our trip.
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At summit.

At summit.

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After refueling with lunch back at the hut, we set out again for a hike up to Steinbockjoch.
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View from Steinbockjoch.

View from Steinbockjoch.

Steinbockjoch

Steinbockjoch

Another cable section along the way down from Steinbockjoch.

Another cable section along the way down from Steinbockjoch.

Kaunergrathütte Kapelle.

Kaunergrathütte Kapelle.

After our exciting day hikes, we relaxed and spend our second night at the Kaunergrathütte.

Day 6: The next morning, we bid a fond farewell to the good people of the Kaunergrathütte as we set off to Riffelsee via the Cottbuser Höhenweg (4:30 hours).

Geigenkamm panorama along the Cottbuser Höhenweg.

Geigenkamm panorama along the Cottbuser Höhenweg.

This hike required one to focus as there were several cable and ladder sections along steep cliffs. Despite the challenge, the view to effort ratio was one of the best I’ve experienced.

This hike is also captured in this short video. Again, I recommend full screen and HD settings:

After lunch at Riffelsee Hütte, we hiked down to Mandarfen (1:30) in the valley. I took the bus back to get our car in Plangeroß. We spent the night at the Hotel Sportiv-Hotel Mittagskogel in Mandarfen.

Planning  our Braunschweiger Hütte ascent at the Hotel Wildspitze.

Planning our Braunschweiger Hütte ascent at the Hotel Wildspitze.

Day 7: Our final day of hiking began at the end of the valley, in Mittelberg. From there, we took the Pitztaler Gletscherexpress and then Wildspitzebahn to Café 3,440 for a view of the Wildspitze.

View of Wildspitze.

View of Wildspitze.

We then took the cable car back down to the termination point of the Pitztaler Gletscherexpress. From there, we hiked to the Braunschweiger Hütte (2:00 hours) over the Mittelberg Glacier.

Ben on the Mittelberg Glacier.

Ben on the Mittelberg Glacier.

Gerd, Gregg and Albert on the Mittelberg Glacier.  Braunschweiger Hütte in the background.

Gerd, Gregg and Albert on the Mittelberg Glacier. Braunschweiger Hütte in the background.

Braunschweiger Hütte panorama.

Braunschweiger Hütte panorama.

Our intrepid crew with Braunschweiger Hütte in background.

Our intrepid crew with Braunschweiger Hütte in background.

Me at Braunschweiger Hütte, August 2013

Me at Braunschweiger Hütte, August 2013

Me at Braunschweiger Hütte, July 1984.

Me at Braunschweiger Hütte, July 1984.

After eating lunch and reminiscing about my last visit to the Braunschweiger Hütte in 1984,  we hiked part way up to Pitztaler Jöchl. But time was no longer on our side, so we turned back and instead summited Karleskopf, (2,902 m). I had hoped on this trip to spend time hiking on the Mainzer Höhenweg, but weather and time did not permit. Perhaps I’ll have another chance on a future visit.

In the vicinity of Pitztaler Jochl. Braunschweiger Hütte below.

In the vicinity of Pitztaler Jochl. Braunschweiger Hütte below.

Crew on Karleskopf.

Crew on Karleskopf.

View from Karleskopf down to Pitztal. Riffelsee in background.

View from Karleskopf down to Pitztal. Riffelsee in background.

Karleskopf 360 panorama

Karleskopf 360 panorama

Karleskopf Gipfelkreuz.

Karleskopf Gipfelkreuz.

After drinking in the views, intoxicated, we hiked back down to Mittelberg via the waterfall trail.

Final crew shot on waterfall trail down to Mittelberg.

Final crew shot on waterfall trail down to Mittelberg.

Again, we spent the night at the Hotel Sportiv-Hotel Mittagskogel in Mandarfen before driving back to Landstuhl the next day.

Here is a map showing the location of the huts we visited on our trip.

The location of the huts we visited in Pitztal.

The location of the huts we visited in Pitztal.

If this post wasn’t long enough for you and you somehow feel cheated not having had the opportunity to see all the pictures to get the fullest sense of the fun we had, then I invite you to spend the next hour and forty minutes of your life watching this movie. Again, I recommend full screen and High Definition.

Pitztaler Runde 2013: The Movie (1 hour, 40 minutes):

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5 Responses to Pitztaler Runde 2013: Hut to Hut Hiking in Tirol, Austria

  1. Pingback: 2016’s Top 10 Posts | Bodamer Blog

  2. Pingback: Zillertaler Runde / Berliner Höhenweg 2015: Hut to Hut Hiking in Tirol, Austria | Bodamer Blog

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  4. Sharon Vinson (Gregg's sister-in-law) says:

    Albert, I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your blog, to the point that I called Gregg to see if he had a DVD of the trip that I could see. You did an awesome job with the pictures and description of the trip. I really look forward to seeing the DVD.

    • Sharon, that’s very nice of you to say. Glad you enjoyed it–we sure did. But be careful what you wish for: the DVD/BluRay is 1 hour 40 minutes long. It’s the same as the YouTube video at the end of this post.

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