Trail: Hohe Köpfe
Location: Rätikon, Austria
Difficulty: Mountain hiking trail with Alpine Hiking trail sections
Distance: 18.86km, Duration: 9:22:46 (ROUTE)
The day started at the parking lot with our heads down, spending too much time meticulously getting the mud out of our hiking boot treads with twigs. Worth it! They were losing traction with all the mud from previous hikes. Grip was back and we were ready to rock!
The hike began on an open hill with a steep and narrow single-track. As we were already high up in elevation, the view behind us was spectacular. We then went in and out of forest areas. Very lush trail! There were surprisingly minimal, if any, bugs around even with the dense vegetation. Within an hour, we reached our first summit cross (Bazora, 1335m) which was slightly off the trail with a hut nearby.
The trail took us past the hut into a lush mountain path. It was quite steep and required picking the best line due to all the tree roots.
The steep soil path eventually turned into a steep rocky climb. A white retriever dog decided to hike with me at this point! It was close to an hour of challenging cardio and leg workout before reaching the 2nd summit cross (Gurtisspitze, 1777m). I autographed the guest book inside the metal box on the cross, and also inherited a hiking stick that someone left behind by the cross.
Lots of time was spent here for lunch and fooling around with the camera. It wasn’t until 50 min later when the urgency to continue set in. We could see the rest of our route from where we were and I felt a slight panic. My knee wasn’t doing too well, yet there were still countless mountains in the mountain range to conquer and our final destination was far way, 14+km away.
Our next summit cross (Zäwas-Heil Spitze, 1771m) was 20min away on the mountaintop right beside the previous one.
There were lots of ups and downs, mostly ups, as we tackled mountain saddles and passes.
An hour later, we reached our first alpine trail which had an immediate contrast to the mountain trail. It was not just the obvious switch from the red/white markers to the blue/white markers. The path was narrower on loose gravel, exposed, and fell away to a steep drop-off on one side. Fixed cables and railings were a common sight. We faced a section that looked too narrow to have both feet in parallel. Real fear set in for the 1st time. My friend went first. After witnessing that survival was indeed possible, I ditched my walking stick (needed both hands) and went for it. It was surprisingly not frightening and felt safe. In fact, it was FUN!
From then on, this type of trail was a fun challenge as long as a fixed cable existed. The next 30 min was in similar fashion. There was a hiker that seemed like a local. He had nothing with him, just a floppy blue hat. No backpack, no water, did he even have any hiking boots?! He came from behind and passed us at top speed without using the fixed cable at all, like a walk in the park. It was incredible!
We zig-zagged up the steep mountain for 50 min. My fitness was subpar and I had to take frequent breaks for a few seconds when my heart beat out of my chest.
Then came 10 min straight up a steep rocky section. The general direction was clear but sometimes not the path, resorting to making our own line. The reward? A summit cross (Hohe Köpfe, 2035m)!
The route was leading us to another summit further up. The path quickly turned ugly and slightly dangerous. We were navigating on rubble up the mountain. We aborted the mission as we would have to come back down the same way afterwards to continue the hike. The presence of a summit cross at the top was also uncertain.
The rest of the hike was primarily a descent.
An hour of descent brought us to another summit cross (Galinaalpe, 1564m).
About 30min later, we were faced with a broken section. The path ahead simply vanished. It was meant to take us from one side of the mountain saddle to the other. The area looked like a construction zone with loose gravel and fallen rocks everywhere. Without the path, the only way across was to literally slide down on one side, and then scramble up the other side back to the path. I slid a short way down, and was shocked to see the rest of the way was almost vertical. I sat down, not caring how dirty I was getting, and hung onto a tiny plant for dear life – the only thing that was securely rooted to the earth. None of the rocks were stable as they came loose if I grabbed onto them. Every move I took, the rocks went crashing down the valley. I did not want to end up like that! My legs stopped working and so did my brain. Without a clue how to proceed, I thought of getting my jacket out and using it like a magic carpet to slide down, hoping for the best. My friend convinced me to abort the idea as it would totally destroy the jacket. Instead, I scrambled back up the steep incline to take his line. It involved walking sideways on an almost vertical terrain to another path down that wasn’t as steep. My footing had no grip to get there and there was nothing to grab onto. My feet kept sliding down and I was back on all fours. Frozen again, my friend climbed back up to help. What a relief it was to be at the bottom of the saddle.
Scrambling back up the other side wasn’t as bad, except for a big black & red spider that latched onto me. I flicked it off without hesitation – a huge feat for someone who is deathly afraid of insects. I was on survival mode! It somehow weaved a web on me during those short few seconds (or perhaps I walked into its web). For the rest of the day, I could feel the web clinging to my skin until I showered.
It wasn’t long until we faced another broken trail on another mountain saddle. My angry knee was not happy with this encore. What was going on! It was another challenge but definitely less memorable than the first.
We soon reached some sort of civilization. A hut! We were thirsty and out of water a while ago. We gulped down an assortment of liquids (perhaps slightly overboard) – orange juice, beer, water. Side note: In these countries, carbonated water (“Prickelnd”) is the default. Not the best for hydration! Make sure to specifically ask for still water (“Ohne”). Alas, we were still given carbonated water even though we asked for “no bubbles”.
We also struck up a conversation with the owner to find out what happened to the trail. Turns out the heavy rainfalls over the summer washed out the path and any safety barriers in its way (this may also explain all the rubble on our aborted summit earlier). She also showed us the watermarks on her wooden window doors – the water level got that high during the summer! The washed-out trail greatly affected their business as there would typically be many hikers here. No wonder we saw noone on this part of the trail!
It was around 7:30pm and the sun was setting rapidly. The owner was surprised when we told her our final destination. We would definitely be walking in the dark! Luckily we got flashlights (powerful ones too!), but we still had to hurry as some sections could be dangerous without visibility. There was a cross (Sattelalpe, 1397m) by the hut. We took some quick pictures and hurried on our way.
The rest of the hike was back to mountain trail. By the time it became pitch black, we were walking on a wide gravel road meant for cars. This was a longer route which almost doubled in time, but it was much safer as it bypassed narrow & possibly steep trails in dense forest. As a bonus, there were bats flying above us! My first “bats in the wild” experience!
It was past 9pm when we reached the car. This was the hike that truly broke me for the rest of the vacation. The accumulation of descents on this hike plus previous 2 days wreaked havoc to my left IT band injury. It was ANGRY! I felt crippled near the end of the day. The only way to alleviate pain was to keep my left leg straight – not an easy task, and sometimes dangerous, on uneven grounds and narrow paths at high elevations.
With growling stomachs and no open restaurants in sight (zero night life here!), I had my first McDonald’s burger and fries in what felt like 10 years. Tasty? Um, no comment …