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?
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.
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.
If you do go, that’s fine. Enjoy. Just don’t ruin it.
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.
Afterwards, we stopped at my cousin’s house to enjoy a wonderful welcome party and finalize the next day’s departure plans for Austria.
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.
Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the Rüsselsheimer Hütte, greeted by low hanging clouds.
We spent the night at Rüsselsheimer Hütte.
Day 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.
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).
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.
Day 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
After drinking in the views, intoxicated, we hiked back down to Mittelberg via the waterfall trail.
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.
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):