Hohe Tauern, Austria
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
A reasonably efficient departure, and we are at the top of the Goldried cable car at 10.30ish on a cloudy day.
Our first stage is the Europa Panoramaweg round the hillsides to the Kals-Matreier Torlhaus in a cleft in the high ridge between the deep Tauerntal and Virgental, the great dividers of the southern ranges, and the Dorfer Tal to the east. The Panoramaweg is an easy walk and very popular, so we are far from alone. The first big bowl is ski-scarred, so not thrilling despite the huge westward views. After that, we wind pleasantly around the steep slopes.
An outdoor service is in progress at the Torlhaus: a couple of priests, a couple of brass instruments and a large mountain-clad crowd combining coffee and prayer.
Beyond, the Panoramaweg becomes a delight, winding gently across steep grassy slopes on the Kals side of the ridge. But we turn north up the ridgetop, now on the Sudetendeutscher Höhenweg, climbing fairly steeply at first, then gently, up to Kalser Höhe at 2,434m and on to the junction beyond. This is fantabulous walking, with amazing views all about. Were the clouds not down at 2,500m-ish, we would see both Grossglockner and the Venediger massif, Austria’s two highest mountains: as it is, we can see the shoulders of a host of 3,000m peaks, which emerge in their full glory as the clouds rise later on. It is still a grey day, so the contrast is low, but it is magnificent nonetheless.
Shortly above the Kalser Höhe junction, the Höhenweg turns left onto the steep grassy western flanks below the craggy ridge top, which fall in a beautiful sweep to the forests far below. The path is narrow, and a slide down wet grass could be disastrous so, while the path is easy, we walk with care – with a paranoid father clucking ahead. We swing round a crag and climb to the lovely Hohes Tot pass for what would be grand views on a good day.
We then traverse more steep green hillsides, until we turn north into a new world, the grey broken rock of the Dürrenfeld cirque. We climb easily along the steep eastern slopes then cross a patch of quartz pebbles on the floor to climb the upper western side to the highest point of the route, the 2,823m Dürrenfeld Scharfe pass, a notch in the extraordinary narrow, jagged ridge above. We meet a huge view across the vast bowl beyond, in which the Sudetendeutcher Hut sits insignificantly just beyond where the recent moraine gives way to older scraped rock and grass. Around the bowl is a ring of sharp peaks, several of them over 3,000m. To our right is what is left of the Gradötz glacier. In the far distance, the vast glacier of the Venediger is now out of the cloud. We are heading towards a fine tomorrow.
20 minutes of klettersteig cable-assisted descent of a looseish cliff gets us to the floor. It isn't especially difficult, but tense for Dad with two (actually very capable) teenagers.
We now cross the rock and broken stone of the basin floor, glacier-scraped and relatively tedious at this late stage; 45 minutes later, we reach the warm delights of the well-structured hut. We are all tired, but what a day. Our rooms are perfect warm little wooden wombs. I draw in the fading sun. Supper of gammon steak. 10 high-energy (high-aggression) rounds of Uno. Boys to bed and I write this account as beer is consumed and German talked around me. Zehr gemütlich.
We could descend to the Matrei valley, to make a varied walk, but it is some 1,700 meters downhill so not especially appealing.
Instead, we are going to return the way we came - well, some of it.
It is a glorious, cloudless day when we set off at 8.30, after a good breakfast. The return trek across the rugged floor of the recently glacial basin is, again, functional rather than fun. The climb back up the klettersteig is easier, although Geordie complains of freezing cables; at the cairn at the top we meet the warm morning sun. The sharpness of the ridge ahead of us is emphasised by the dark shadow on its northern side. The Dürrenfeld bowl is starkly beautiful in the slanting light.
The walk back down the corries and round onto the grassy slopes to Hohes Tor is a total delight. The sunlit mountains recede westward under a clear sky.
At Hohes Tor, we find a herd of goats led by a peculiar creature, huge, heavy, curving horns on a large-goat body. Among them is a sheep which clearly thinks it is a goat and wouldn't mind a little mixed procreation.
We turn east, off the Höhenweg, to circuit in a superb winding path behind the Blauspitze mass, stopping for a perfect picnic on flowery grass, gazing across the Kals valley to the drama of the Schober group one way, and Grossglockner the other, which teases us that it is going to shake free its cap of cloud, which it never quite does.
We drop to meet the link path to join the gentle Europa Panoramaweg to meander around the hillside back to the Torhaus, and on along the track to the cable car. It is really quite hot now, and we are glad to be back in the ski mess at last, after 7.5 hrs on the trail, although done in quite a leisurely way, with a lot of view-stops.