And so, after a very lazy rest day with lots of good food, we returned to the trail for our tenth day. The charming manageress of the hotel sent us off with two packs of Manner wafers from Vienna that would fuel our rest stops over the next couple of days.
This tenth day on the trail marked the beginning of a series of long climbs and stays at a higher altitude than previously. We also started seeing more hikers on the trail. We had begun on a Friday whereas the other people that we would meet over the next few days had left Franz Josefs Höhe on the Saturday, meaning that our rest day allowed them to catch up. Most were only doing part of the trail but, over the next few days, we formed a sort of hiking confrérie that would discuss the day’s experiences each evening.
We met the first of these fellow hikers in Tangern, a village that we reached via a short cut direct from our hotel. Just as we were coming out of the small church where, of all things, there was a religious music jukebox, we ran into a guy whom we would subsequently call Superman. He had started the trail on the previous Monday which meant that he had done two stages in one more than once. He was clearly at home in these mountains and quickly headed uphill leaving us far behind.
Apart from the religious music jukebox, Tangern was also memorable for a stuffed fox straight out of a Wes Anderson movie on the balcony of someone’s house. We half-expected it to turn to us and speak in George Clooney’s voice!
From Tangern, we had an easy climb to the Pichlhütte at 1336 m. Just as we arrived for a reviving coffee, Superman was setting off again. We got talking to a very friendly couple from Hamburg and Munich who were going as far as Bad Kleinkirchenheim. They both had a great sense of humour and were a delight to frequent over the next few days.
Shortly after setting off again, we met a very young couple with huge packs, clearly campers. The girl was lagging far behind the guy and seemed to be suffering a lot. As we never saw them again, we can only guess what happened to them. And it’s not pleasant!
At Tangerner Alm, because of the cloud wreathing the summits that the trail passed over and the threat of rain, we opted for a shortcut across the Alpine pastures as it didn’t seem to make sense to climb up if we weren’t going to see anything,
As a result, we had a pretty easy walk to the Alexanderhütte, with wonderful views of the lake below through the clouds and mist. We even found ourselves in rain at one point, simply because a cloud moving upwards was unloading moisture as it passed.
Because of the shortcut, we arrived fairly early. As we were heading up to the Alpe-Adria checkpoint, we ran into Superman who had completed the whole route (including three summits at over 2000 m) in the same time that it had taken us to complete the shortcut! We were astounded by the speed he was going at, but everything became clear when he told us he was from Salzburg, had the mountains just outside his door and had been walking in them since he was a kid. He was in incredible physical shape and we were very surprised to see him light up a cigarette on the restaurant terrace after downing a couple of large beers! I did manage to impress him a little later, however, when he came out of the shared shower and warned me that the water wasn’t very hot. When I told him that wasn’t a problem for me because I only take cold showers, I could tell I’d marked at least one point!
Alexanderhütte was a wonderful place run by a friendly Austrian family. Most of our interaction was with the oldest son who had a terrific sense of humour and resembled a young Rufus Wainwright in lederhosen. On arriving, before going to our room, we settled down on the terrace for cake and chocolate pancakes, making the most of the spectacular view of the lake. Our room on the first floor was cosy and typically Austrian with great beds and antlers on the walls. It also had a small balcony with a view of the lake. We knew right away we would have a wonderful night’s sleep.
During dinner (delicious pork from a local farmer), the clouds above the lake put on an amazing show, continually shifting and forming mobile masses that would come speeding uphill towards us.
The next morning, after a great night’s sleep, the amazing organic and locally sourced breakfast laid on by the family set us up for the day. We left a few minutes after Superman, but he was soon no more than a faint dot in the distance. As we were leaving, I spotted a young guy camping just outside (the owners had clearly let him pitch a tent there for the night). I was sure we’d seen him over a week before at Marterle, but Odile thought he was a different guy. I went over and asked, and he was indeed the same person, planning like us to do the full trail. And so Luis from Stuttgart became another member of our confrérie.
It was a beautifully sunny morning with the masses of cloud over Millstätter Lake again performing their ballet, rising and falling behind us and providing a continually mobile spectacle.
We soon passed Millstätter Hütte, which looked like another fun place to stay, and began the steep climb up to the summit of the Kamplnock at 2101 m. At the top, we got talking to two Austrian ladies who had also been at the Alexanderhütte. They had seemed a little distant at first but became friendlier as we went along. They were both very fit hikers and soon left us behind. That said, they had much lighter packs.
The trail then continued to unfold on the ridge at the 2000-metre line, heading up and down to take in the different summits. The clouds over the lake formed a magical backdrop as we went along and the views were breathtaking.
As we approached the Garnet Gate at 2063 m, we began to meet more and more people. The rather ugly archway was clearly a huge draw, although we couldn’t figure out why. We subsequently discovered that garnets were often found in these mountains and that the words inscribed on the arch told that story. All the same, with so many great hikes and peaks around, the archway was pretty underwhelming.
We then began our descent towards Lammersdorfer Hütte, our planned lunch stop, and encountered hordes of people heading up to the archway. There was clearly a huge car park somewhere and we guessed that we’d have no trouble finding a table at the hut as it would take them all a while to reach the top and come back down.
The 400-m descent was easy and steady on wide mountain tracks. There were a few annoying stones underfoot, but we soon made it to the hut, found a table on the sunny terrace and ordered a cheese platter (one for two this time). It was a very pleasant spot, with great staff and shady tables (and, indeed, a huge car park).
After lunch, there was a steep and root-ridden climb up to the Jufenkreuz at 1802 m, before embarking upon the descent to Döbriach. This one was a real killer, close on three hours of thigh- and knee-busting downhill walking, with a brief but intense hailstorm part way. By the time we reached Matzeldorf, the midway village, we were glad to see the trail level off, but that was only temporary before a final, very steep descent to the lake, a drop of 1760 m over the course of the day. At the bottom, we ran into Luis slumped by the side of the road. He too had also found it tough and was resting before heading to his campsite.
The final section into Döbriach was totally flat for the first time that day, but we then discovered that our accommodation was another 1.5 km further on, not by the lake but towards the centre of the town. Not a pleasant discovery after such a long day.
Fortunately, the guesthouse turned out to be a wonderful place, with a lively owner, a great room with a huge balcony and Superman, along with the Munich-Hamburg couple, there to greet us on arrival. The owner recommended the village festival that evening, with a barbecue and traditional music, but we didn’t feel up to it and, like the others, opted for a quick dinner before bed and a long sleep.
The twelfth day on the trail was when we said goodbye to Superman. As he needed to finish by August 20th, he was going to cut across the mountains to Bad Kleinkirchheim, where we would arrive three days later.
The day’s hiking began fairly easily with a pleasant, slightly ascending walk along the valley to Radenthein. Along the way, we added three other hikers to our informal group: a guy hiking alone, a little and very shy lady who was also alone and having her bags transported from one hotel to the next, and Birgit from Vienna with whom we would end up hiking the next day.
Along the way, a friendly cyclist showed us another spring that was supposedly good for eye ailments, the third or fourth with such qualities encountered since starting the trail. The water was deliciously cool in any case.
In Radenthein, we stopped off at the local cheese cooperative to stock up on a few goodies for the days ahead. They also made excellent espresso, which set us up for the forthcoming climb.
On leaving the village, we discovered that the Munich-Hamburg couple’s app was not showing the same route as ours. We supposedly had the official trail one, whereas theirs was produced by the publisher of the hiking guide that I had bought in Munich a year before but which we had left at home to save weight. The two apps showed totally different routes for the way ahead. We decided to stick to the official one which turned out to be the wrong solution.
Everything seemed fine at first as we headed out of the village, uphill along the main road before turning onto a country lane passing numerous farms and orchards. We quickly found ourselves at the Turkhaus Museum at the entrance to the Langalmtal, a beautiful wooded valley lined with old watermills and great picnic areas for families. It was a delight to be walking in this valley with its countless waterfalls and steadily rising path. However, after a while, the trail came to a sudden end. We tried to advance on either side of the valley, but a landslide had clearly blocked the trail from that point on. We ran into Birgit again and warned her that it wasn’t possible to go further, but she wanted to follow what her guidebook said and see for herself.
Fortunately, we were able to find a trail heading uphill which suddenly began to show the red and white markings of the Austrian hiking trails, even though there were no Alpe-Adria signs. By following the track that we had found, we soon found ourselves on a forestry trail that took us in the right direction towards the Aichholzerhütte. And, at one point, we suddenly found ourselves on the Alpe-Adria again when the trail emerged from the valley below just before the Aichholzerhütte. At the hut, we had confirmation that the trail had indeed been cut off by a landslide a few months earlier and that we had taken the unposted detour around it. The Munich-Hamburg couple were already about to set off when we arrived as their app had led them straight to the hut without the problems that we had encountered. Birgit arrived shortly after, having ended up taking the same route as us.
The rain had begun to fall quite heavily on the detour and we arrived at the hut in full rain gear. It was good to shelter there for about 45 minutes over a cheese platter and a couple of elderflower cordials.
It was still raining when we set off again. Outside the hut, we were treated to the rather unusual spectacle of a tiny but virulent dachshund tugging at the ear of a recently slaughtered stag. The dog’s owner was delighted and kept filming his pet’s antics, but there was something unsettling about the scene and we didn’t linger.
The rest of the climb to the Erlacherhaus was very pleasant, despite the light rain, passing through a mysteriously mossy forest of pines where every shade of green seemed to be present.
After the beautiful and very old Petodnighütte, where our Munich-Hamburg friends would be spending the night, we had one last steep climb to reach the Erlacherhaus.
This was another memorable place to stay: a beautiful old wooden mountain house with no mobile phone reception (my idea of luxury in this day and age) where we had a sweet little room on the third floor. There was a very cosy and friendly restaurant with great food (a trio of Carinthian nudeln stuffed, respectively, with wild garlic, fresh cheese and meat) and a very warm atmosphere thanks to the family that ran the place.
We got talking to various people as we whiled away the afternoon, notably Katy and Mike from Luxembourg who were walking with a dog. Katy was also planning to do the whole trail, but was taking much longer than us and using taxis when things got too much for her dog. Mike was simply along for one week to accompany her. As for the guy hiking alone whom we had met that morning, he surprised us by saying, “So you’re the French people on the trail.” We were clearly being talked about somewhere!
The rain continued to fall outside, but we were dry and safe in this beautiful old house. The whole confrérie was there (even the Munich-Hamburg couple came up from their hut for a beer) and the evening passed in a very friendly atmosphere. The rain eased off just before we went to bed and the view of the mist-shrouded woods from our room was magical. And so ended day 12…