Zillertaler Runde / Berliner Höhenweg 2015: Hut to Hut Hiking in Tirol, Austria


Berg Heil

Ahornspitze

In July, 2015, my son Daniel and I set out to Austria to hike the Zillertaler Runde. The 50 mile (80 km) trek is known to Germans as the Berliner Höhenweg and to Brits as the Zillertal Rucksack Route.

The entire tour takes eight days to complete and affords the opportunity to overnight in seven different huts.

After the hut to hut hiking, we toured Austria and Bavaria for several days to visit various essential tourist destinations.

So, what the heck is hut to hut hiking? I walked the uninitiated through this in my prior blog post documenting my 2013 hut to hut tour in Pitztal, Austria. Here, I’ll just assume my loyal readership is fully informed. But feel free to click that link if you need a refresher or want to read about hiking in Pitztal.

And where, exactly, is Zillertal?

Zillertal, (the “Ziller Valley”) lies in the Federal State of Tirol, in western Austria, southeast of Innsbruck.

Zillertal_map

The Zillertal Alps form the border with Italy. Although the province containing the border is called Südtirol by the locals and those that live in that part of Italy.

Südtirol

Remember: it’s “Südtirol” not Italien!

The Trip

On July 10, 2015, we flew out of Atlanta direct to Munich, Germany. The next morning, we arrived and drove from Munich to Mayrhofen, Austria to meet Gerd and Martina who would be joining us for the first couple of days of our hike. We spent the night at Gasthof Stoanerhof, which has the benefit of being right at the base of the Ahornbahn, the cable car that would lift us up the next morning to begin our tour. The proprietors there treated us well with a very nice breakfast buffet, a room with a balcony and great views. They also allowed us to keep our car and extra luggage on their property while we were off hiking in the mountains.

Our overall itinerary was as follows:

Day 1: Fly Atlanta to Munich, arrive morning of Day 2
Day 2: Drive from Munich to Mayrhofen, Austria
Days 3-9: Hike the Zillertaler Runde (cut 1 day short due to weather threats)
Day 10: “Bonus” day touring Zillertal valleys
Day 11: Zugspitze and Tiroler Abend Folk Dancing in Innsbruck, Austria
Day 12: Visit castles: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, drive to Ruhpolding
Day 13: Tour Salzburg and St. Gilgen, Austria, overnight in Ruhpolding
Day 14: Drive to Munich, tour Altstadt, overnight in Munich.
Day 15: Fly back to Atlanta

The entire trip is documented in a video you can find at the bottom of this post. The video is 1 hour, 20 minutes long, which admittedly makes it difficult to digest for the casual viewer. For convenience, each section header of this post takes you directly to the appropriate part of the video.


The Zillertaler Runde / Berliner Höhenweg Tour

The Zillertaler Runde is a high alpine hut to hut hiking tour that, over the course of eight days and seven nights, traverses some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes  in Austria. Each evening offers the comfort and refuge of overnighting in a hut, which means a warm bed, dinner, beer, schnaps, breakfast and good company. The benefit of these accommodations cannot be overstated as you awake each morning, revitalized and eager to pursue your itinerary.

We were very fortunate to experience dry, sunny weather throughout most of our vacation. Our Zillertal trek only required modifications for Stage 2 and the final stage to the Gamshütte, where rain and the threat of thunderstorms forced us back down to the valley.

The Zillertaler Runde is challenging alpine hiking. The entire eight day tour covers 50 miles (80 km) and consists of gains of nearly 22,000 feet (6,700 m). Each day consists of 5 – 10 hours of hiking through various alpine environments including: high meadows, cliffs, boulder fields, snow, passes and summits. Where appropriate, ladders and cables are provided for safety.  Because no glacier crossings are involved, crampons and ice axes are not needed for this tour. However, walking sticks are a must. And we opted to bring harnesses and via ferrata gear (Black Diamond Easy Rider, Petzl Aspir and gloves) for negotiating some of the cable sections.

But for me, the biggest challenge of this tour was what was most unexpected: the heat. Throughout our round, it was sunny and very hot. While this is no doubt better than cold and rainy, it did present some issues. The primary issue was foot care. While hiking up, in the heat, it was impossible to keep our socks and feet dry. So we periodically had to stop and air out our boots, socks and wrinkly feet. And in those wet circumstances, with softened skin, we were prone to and did get blisters. Moleskin offered only temporary relief as it would soon detach and start shifting around in our socks. Later in the tour, we learned of a British product called Compeed. A friendly group offered us some to try and these did prove more resilient than the moleskin under those hot conditions.

All this heat was highly unusual and much of the clothing in our packs was therefore un-needed, but still required because conditions can change rapidly in the mountains.


Stage 1. July 12, 2015:
Mayrhofen (via Ahornbahn) – Edelhütte (1 hour, 45 minutes)link-html
The next morning began with a leisurely breakfast at Gasthof Stoanerhof. Afterwards, we all met at the Ahornbahn, the cable car that would lift us effortlessly and facilitate an easy, first day, 1 hour and 45 minute hike to our first hut: the Edelhütte. Upon arriving at the hut, we checked in to our 4 person Zimmerlager, ate lunch and discussed our ascent of the Ahornspitze (2,973 m / 9,754′).

BH_Stage 1

elev_profile

View down to Mayrhofen from Ahornbahn

View down to Mayrhofen from Ahornbahn

Daniel, with Edelhütte and Ahornspitze in background

Daniel, with Edelhütte and Ahornspitze in background

Daniel at Edelhütte

Daniel at Edelhütte

After lunch, Gerd, Daniel and I set off to climb up the Ahornspitze (~3 hours, 15 minutes Round Trip).

Our destination: the Ahornspitze

Our destination: the Ahornspitze

Edelhütte below

Edelhütte below

Gerd and Daniel

Gerd and Daniel

Posing

Posing

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

Ahornspitze panorama

Ahornspitze panorama with Edelhütte below in lower right hand corner

With Daniel at summit

with Daniel at summit

with Gerd at summit

with Gerd at summit

Inside the Edelhütte

Inside the Edelhütte


Stage 2. July 13, 2015:
Edelhütte – Kasseler Hütte (2 hours, 22 minutes)link-html
The previous night and next morning brought steady rain. And with the rain, came a necessary modification to our planned route to the Kasseler Hütte. The original itinerary was a long, exposed,  8 to 10 hour high alpine tour over Der Aschaffenburger Höhenweg (aka the Siebenschneidensteig, or Seven Cuts Path, so named because of the seven ridges crossed). Because of the extensive boulder fields and cliff exposures this is not a route to be taken when wet or when bad weather threatens as there are no emergency routes down to the valley.

So prudence dictated we return back down to Mayrhofen via the Ahornbahn and then drive and bus up the Stilluptal to the Grüne Wand Hütte. From there, we walked 2.5 hours up to the Kasseler Hütte.

The proprietor, Martin Gamper, maintains a well-run hut. It’s clean and the food is great. The check-in process was personally managed and very friendly.

BH_Stage 2

departing the Edelhütte

in the mist

Edelhütte in mist

Edelhütte in mist

Ahornbahn back down to Mayrhofen

Ahornbahn back down to Mayrhofen

Stillupp Speicher

Stillupp Speicher

Grüne Wand Hütte

Grüne Wand Hütte

Material cable to Kasseler Hütte

Material cable to Kasseler Hütte

typical water crossing

typical water crossing

Daniel, 30 minutes below Kasseler Hütte

Daniel, 30 minutes below Kasseler Hütte

Gerd and I slept in the Matratzenlager

Inside Kasseler Hütte


Stage 3. July 14, 2015:
Kasseler Hütte – Greizer Hütte (7 hours, 45 minutes)link-html
The next morning we awoke to clearing skies as we began our exploits. This also brought an end to our time together with Gerd and Martina. We bade fond farewells and they headed back down to the valley as Daniel and I headed off to the Greizer Hütte.

Farewell photo

Farewell photo

5 hours to Greizer Hütte. Right...

5 hours to Greizer Hütte. Right…

The photo above reveals a recurring theme of our experience hiking the Zillertaler Runde. As a general rule, the time estimates provided by the trail signage proved unobtainable for us. I consider us to be reasonably fit and experienced hikers. And in the United States, Daniel and I routinely beat any time estimates for trails we hike. But here, in the Alps, we were merely adequate with respect to pace. And while we can give ourselves some slack because it was hot as hell hiking that week, we were often bested by fellow hikers of the German persuasion. We accomplished this “5 hour” hike in 7 hours, 45 minutes.

BH_Stage 3

A half hour into our hike, we arrived at a door in the middle of nowhere. Immediately after the door, we crossed a suspension bridge.

with Daniel at the door

at the suspension bridge

Next came the boulder fields and slopes of the Eiskar. Then the steep slopes of the Loefflerkar.

view down to Stillupptal

view down to Stillupptal, Kasseler Hütte on right ridge

our first snow crossing

our first snow crossing

yes, that's a bridge

yes, that’s a bridge

Fixed cables provide security on the way around the near vertical buttress and difficult sections that form the Elsenklamm gorge.

fixed cables, steep drops at Eisenklamm

fixed cables, steep drops at Eisenklamm

We continued through the Lapenkar boulder field and then climbed steeply up switchbacks to the Lapenscharte saddle (8,861 ft / 2,701 m). We paused to enjoy the views and take pictures. From the saddle, we descended steeply into the Griessfeld, and on down to the Greizer Hütte.

Lapenscharte saddle

Lapenscharte saddle

up the Lapenscharte

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lapenscharte views

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

descending to Greizer Hütte

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

our view as we enjoyed a well earned beer on the deck of the Greizer Hütte


Stage 4. July 15, 2015:
Greizer Hütte – Berliner Hütte (8 hours, 5 minutes)link-html
This marked another long day and the one I found most difficult, with substantial uphill and very hot weather. The rewards for all the effort were the tremendous views from the saddle and enjoying our stay at the majestic Berliner Hütte.

BH_Stage 4

The day began with a 400 m descent from the Greizer Hütte down to the Floitengrund valley before proceeding 3,280 feet (1,000 m) up the Mörchenscharte.

Daniel pointing out the Mörchenscharte

Daniel pointing out the Mörchenscharte

Daniel crossing die Floite

Daniel crossing die Floite

heading up from Floitengrund

heading up from Floitengrund

the ladder introduction to the Mörchenscharte climb

the ladder introduction to the Mörchenscharte climb

ladder

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

taking a break

taking a break

foot drying, great views

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

Upon reaching the saddle of the Mörchenscharte, we acquired commanding views of new mountains.

looking west, from saddle of Mörchenscharte

looking west, from saddle of Mörchenscharte

down to Berliner Hütte

down to Berliner Hütte

Am Schwarzsee

Am Schwarzsee

beautiful

beautiful

Since the end of the Little Ice Age, many glaciers around the world have been in retreat. The Hornkees and Waxeggkees glaciers once joined below where the Berliner Hütte now stands.

Hornkees, Waxeggkees , Berliner Hütte, Zillertal, Tirol, Österreich, 1932 / 2012 © Sammlung Gesellschaft für ökologische Forschung / Wolfgang Zängl

Berliner Hütte

Berliner Hütte, 2015

Daniel at entrance to Berliner Hütte

Daniel at entrance to Berliner Hütte

Berliner Hütte bar

Berliner Hütte bar

We had a private, 2 person Zimmerlager at the Berliner Hütte. It’s an imposing, 5 story structure and the oldest hut in the Zillertal. It reminded me of some of the grand National Park Lodges in the United States. Definitely worth a visit, although I prefer the Gemütlichkeit found in the smaller, more intimate huts.


Stage 5. July 16, 2015:
Berliner Hütte – Furtschaglhaus (7 hours, 45 minutes)link-html
Today’s route included another 1,000 m ascent, navigating the highest pass along the Zillertaler Runde:  the Schönbichler Horn (10,279 feet / 3,133 m). As you approach the summit, fixed cables are available for safety. This stage is partially exposed and demanding. Once thing is certain. I would not enjoy climbing down from the Horn in the opposite direction from which we ascended. Our route made negotiating the cable section much easier.

BH_Stage 5

After an initial descent from the Berliner Hütte, we proceeded to climb the moraine on the right side in the picture below as we advanced up to Schönbichler Horn.

we hiked up the moraine on the right side

we hiked up the moraine on the right side

Daniel on the moraine

Daniel on the moraine

powering up before final push up

powering up before final push up

Schönbichler Horn

Schönbichler Horn

trail with fixed cables

trail with fixed cables

Daniel ascending

Daniel ascending

Schönbichler Horn summit

Schönbichler Horn summit

Schönbichler Horn panorama

Schönbichler Horn panorama

Schönbichler Horn panorama with Daniel

Schönbichler Horn panorama with Daniel

I pledge allegiance to the flag... of Furtschaglhaus

I pledge allegiance to the flag… of Furtschaglhaus

Furtschaglhaus

Furtschaglhaus

on the deck at Furtschaglhaus

on the deck at Furtschaglhaus


Stage 6. July 17, 2015:
Furtschaglhaus – Olpererhütte – Friesenberghaus (7 hours, 45 minutes)link-html
From Furtschaglhaus, we descended to the Schlegeis reservoir and walked alongside it before ascending to the Olpererhütte for lunch. The Olpererhütte is entirely new, having just been rebuilt in 2007. The hut has the advantage of possessing a commanding view of the Schlegeisspeicher below and offers a very scenic setting for a relaxing meal before continuing on to Friesenberghaus.

Friesenberghaus, which turned out to be our final overnight along the Zillertaler Runde, is and excellent hut. It’s also the highest hut in Zillertal.

BH_Stage 6

Schlegeisspeicher backdrop

Schlegeisspeicher backdrop

Schlegeisspeicher

Schlegeisspeicher

Schlegeisspeicher view, ascending to Olpererhütte

Schlegeisspeicher view, ascending to Olpererhütte

Schlegeisspeicher view from Olpererhütte

Schlegeisspeicher view from Olpererhütte

bridge near Olpererhütte en route to Friesenberghaus

bridge near Olpererhütte en route to Friesenberghaus

en route to Friesenberghaus

en route to Friesenberghaus

30 minutes down to Friesenberghaus

30 minutes down to Friesenberghaus

sign humor: 5 minutes to Friesenberghaus

sign humor: 5 minutes to Friesenberghaus

at Friesenberghaus

at Friesenberghaus


Stage 7. July 18, 2015:
Friesenberghaus – Ginzling (8 hours)link-html
We got an early start out of Friesenberghaus because the hike to Gamshütte is a long 9.5-12 hours, with extensive boulder fields and steep, slippery, grassy trails. Additionally, there was a threat of afternoon thunderstorms.

Despite the very slow going on the boulder fields, we were making very good time. But as we arrived at Graue Platte, still up high, exposed and 2 hours away from the Gamshütte, were were suddenly beneath dark, threatening clouds. The high exposure and remaining distance to Gamshütte led us to quickly conclude it was too risky to proceed. So we took a long steep route down to Ginzling in the valley. We were exhausted by the time we arrived in Ginzling. We enjoyed a beer as we waited for the bus to quickly shuttle us back to Mayrhofen and the very accommodating folks at Gasthof Stoanerhof, who offered us the flexibility of not committing to a specific return date (as it was all weather dependent). So, even though we arrived a day earlier than planned, they had a room for us. We stayed there two nights. And both nights, we enjoyed excellent meals with authentic Tirolean food at Hotel Ländenhof.

BH_Stage 7

still en route to Gamshütte

still en route to Gamshütte

Daniel

Daniel

steep, grassy, slopes

steep, grassy, slopes

shelter for livestock

shelter for livestock

Daniel and cow

Daniel and cow

trail junction where we opted to hike down to Ginzling

trail junction where we opted to hike down to Ginzling (3 hrs)

it was a long hike down

it was a long hike down

back in the forest

back in the forest

Ginzling

Ginzling


Stage 8. July 19, 2015:
Gamshütte to Finkenberg
As noted above, the threat of a thunderstorm forced us down to the valley the day before. So what would have been the final stage of our tour from Gamshütte to Finkenberg, became instead:

Tourism, Day 1. July 19, 2015:
Schlegeisspeicher & Hintertuxlink-html
Beginning today, we donned fresh clothes and became tourists. Our abridged tour gave us an extra day to explore the valleys of the Zillertal. So we drove back up to Schlegeisspeicher, enjoyed lunch at Dominikushütte and then walked along the impressive dam that forms the Schlegeis reservoir.   Afterwards, we drove up a side valley up to Hintertux.

Schlegeisspeicher

Schlegeisspeicher

Schlegeisspeicher

Schlegeisspeicher


Tourism, Day 2. July 20, 2015:
Zugspitze, Innsbruck & Tiroler Heimatabendlink-html
We left Zillertal and headed northwest to visit the Zugspitze (9,717 feet / 2,962 m). The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. At the top, you cross the border from Austria (Tirol) to Germany (Bavaria). It was somewhat cloudy, but still a rewarding experience. We ate lunch up there, at Münchner Haus, the highest hut in Germany.

on the Austrian side of the Zugspitze

on the Austrian side of the Zugspitze

Daniel with Zugspitze summit cross in background

Daniel with Zugspitze summit cross in background

Daniel in Germany

Daniel in Austria

After lunch, we cabled down off the Zugspitze and drove to Innsbruck, where we would spend the night in the Altstadt at the excellent Goldener Adler Hotel.

Innsbruch Altstadt

Innsbruck Altstadt

That evening, we enjoyed a lively and entertaining evening of Tirolean folk music with the Gundolf family. If you enjoy life and having fun, I recommend it.

Here is the Schuhplattler–Reith im Winkel dance:


Tourism, Day 3. July 21, 2015:
The castles: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau then on to Ruhpoldinglink-html
We drove from Innsbruck up to Schwangau, Germany to visit two of King Ludwig’s famous castles: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. We purchased tickets in advance, greatly reducing our wait times.

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau and Alpsee

Hohenschwangau and Alpsee

Neuschwanstein from Marienbrücke

Neuschwanstein from Marienbrücke

After touring the castles, we drove to Ruhpolding to meet with Daniel’s second cousin, Hannah.

Hannah and Daniel, re-united in Ruhpolding

Hannah and Daniel, re-united in Ruhpolding


Tourism, Day 4. July 22, 2015:
Salzburg and St. Gilgenlink-html
Now three, we drove to Salzburg and toured the old city and the fortress. It was another hot day. So in the afternoon, we sought refuge in the Lake District by visiting St. Gilgen and taking the cable car up Zwölferhorn.

Salzburg, Mirabell gardens

Salzburg, Mirabell gardens

view from Festung Hohensalzburg

view from Festung Hohensalzburg

Wolfgangseeblick

Wolfgangseeblick

Daniel on Zwölferhorn

Hannah on Zwölferhorn


Tourism, Day 5. July 23, 2015:
München Altstadtlink-html
For our final day, we drove to Munich. There, we parted with Hannah at the train station and Daniel and I went on to tour the old city. We stayed at the outstanding Platzl Hotel, located in the old city adjacent to the world-famous Hofbrauhaus. The next morning, we got up early and drove back to the Munich airport for our return flight to Atlanta.

Rathaus and Frauenkirche

Rathaus and Frauenkirche

Abschied

Abschied

Zum wohl!

Zum wohl!

I thoroughly enjoyed the high alpine hiking and tourism with Daniel. He’ll be graduating from Georgia Tech this winter, so I cherish our time together.


 Zillertaler Runde / Berliner Höhenweg Resources:

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

Zillertaler Rundtour

Maps: Alpenvereinskarte 35/1 and 35/2, available for purchase from the Austrian Alpine Club (UK). As an Alpenverein member, you get insurance and discounts at the huts. U.S. residents should join the UK section of the Austrian Alpenverein.

Huts: I booked all the huts in advance via the Zillertal National Park website. Payment needs to be sent via a bank to bank transfer, which was expensive and cumbersome. From my initial booking request, to receiving the packet in the mail, took just over a month to complete. It’s rumored that this will evolve into 20th century credit card technology in the next year or so.

Money: Just a note about money. In the remote villages and huts of Austria, cash is not only king, but is often the only form of payment accepted.

Weather: Late July through early September is the best opportunity for non-technical hiking in the Austrian Alps. Everything is weather dependent. Having a detailed itinerary affords you the opportunity to modify the plans based on weather conditions. We made changes to our original itinerary based on the weather. Beautiful, scenic hikes on warm, sunny days, can quickly turn into dangerous, life-threatening excursions in rain and snow. The Hohenwegs should only be attempted in ideal weather conditions.

I used Bergfex for mountain weather conditions

Literature:


Video

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 twenty minutes of your life watching this movie.  I recommend full screen and High Definition.

Zillertaler Runde 2015: The Movie (1 hour, 20 minutes):

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One Response to Zillertaler Runde / Berliner Höhenweg 2015: Hut to Hut Hiking in Tirol, Austria

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

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