Above Nurenberger Hut: Mairspitze, Wilder Freiger
Stubai Alps, Austria
William Mackesy’s account of this walk
3 days, August 2018
The climb to the Nürenberger hut is a demanding 900m, but a fine walk with the joys of the highlands as your reward.
From the Unterbergtal road above Ranalt, you climb steadily into the Langental glen through mixed (mainly pine) forest for 40 mins or so, on wide made-up paths, walking motorways, with a resulting whiff of the 'burbs. You emerge to the ravishing B’suchalm, a classic wide upper-valley bowl, with unbelievably green meadows and a superb cascade of the vigorous, glacier-fed river in the cliffs ahead. Several waterfalls tumble down the near-sheer eastern side; the valley floor is sprinkled with farm sheds sheltered from avalanche by horseshoe uphill banks.
We eat our lunch leaning against the bank above the busy stube, contemplating the helluva climb up the cliffs ahead.
We walk up a grassy track through rocky grazing, exhausted from our ingestion, then start the switchbacks up the cliffs, taking regular breaks in shade patches - our teenagers find heat difficult....
We gradually gain height, the view getting ever-better, although we are now screened from the waterfall. A (relatively) flatter stretch is attained, through patches of low chewed beech and low shrub, then we are back to zig-zags, albeit gentler than our earlier tormentors.
Emerging from the tree line properly, we turn a corner to find a magnificent wild bowl of ice-scoured rock, and the Nüremberger Hut not so very far above - so it seems.
But we have first to get up to a path across a high cliff, possibly blasted and beautifully embanked in such a way as to declare the whole route as a mule path. We climb further switchbacks through patches of low (azalea) and heather, then are crossing the cliff. The boys display irritating late-flowering walk mojo, skipping ahead of their now very plodding parents.
Around a final corner is the hut, a few minutes on: a four storey affair which gets more attractive as you get nearer. Its age and complex origin are given away by what looks like a late-added terrace…and the smell of sewage.
The hut is warm and gemütlich. We are in a comfortable 4-bunk room. We unpack (slowly - we are all pretty tired) and head down to secure a table. Some aggressive Uno is played, then supper arrives at 6.30, 4 delicious courses, including the boys' first goulash. Geordie collapses, head on arms, and is taken to bed. Archie follows soon after, but not before drinking an apricot schnapps passed on by our neighbours - his eyes spiral around. I stay up to write this account, and get talking to our nice Bavarian neighbours.
A lovely day.
Day 2: Mairspitze
We leave the Nürnberger Hut at a leisurely 9.15 - we aren't on the trail all day - after a filling breakfast of muesli with yoghurt and honey.
We are climbing to the minor peak of Mairspitze on the high ridge 500m above the hut, and we have a steep slog ahead. Our path heads off with purpose, straight up the hillside. The route to the Niederl col straight above continues ahead - lower, but an apparently direct flight up a sheer boulder almost-cliff - but we turn off right (north), climbing steadily up the hillside.
It is a gorgeous morning, with cloud over the peaks across the valley so that we are in shade, but beams slant across the high valley behind us, mellowing the black rock and glaciers of the high border ridge on the southern horizon.
After a rough clamber round a corner, we cross a boulder field, then climb delightfully up a long grassy hillside, with a steep series of zig-zags half way. We gain a rocky lateral ridge, and turn up it for the real slog of the day, up to the wildly broken Maierspitze ridge high above.
We teeter up the above a cliff, cable-assisted for a longish stretch. I am neurotic about boy safety, regularly instructing care, but we make steady progress. Geordie tires, not unreasonably as we are now at 8,000 ft, so we stop regularly for snacks and water. We shift across onto a sheer boulder field, our path well constructed, with quite a lot of steps.
We eventually dip the high ridge, and find a small and very broken bowl, rather peculiar; if we weren't on top of a 9,000 ft ridge, I would think it was a sink hole.
Across the dip, we meet the view we have been waiting for, across the vast bowl at the head of the Stubaital. We turn right up the ridge and are atop our peak (as far as trekkers can go) 5 minutes later. 3 hours.
This must be one of Austria's finest views. To our south, our ridge sinks a bit towards the Niederl, then begins its long climb to join the 3,413m Wilder Freiger on the high border ridge, a rocky drama nestling a series of glaciers. Below us to the west the Sulzenau Hut sits above a wild glacial river which falls into a magnificent cascade down the cliffs just below. Above it is a wide ex-glacial bottom, which climbs between high broken ridges to the foot of the Wilder-Freiger-Ferner glacier. A series of low cliffs and cataracts punctuate the valley. Below the glacier is a dirty lake, which doesn't appear on my map - which shows that this was glacier not that long ago. We fall to sad musings on the fate of the Stubai's famously beautiful glaciers.
Immediately below us a blue mineral lake and a cloud-reflecting tarn. To the west, the biggest mass of the Stubai Alps is tipped with whirls of cloud. To our east, we can trace the retreat of the glaciers in our valley.
An hour passes delightfully; lunch is munched.
We could have dropped down a thrilling series of cabled ledges to the tarn below, then re-crossed the ridge back to the hut via the Nielderl, but the boys are tired, so we retrace our steps.
The return descent is uneventful, and only takes 1.5 hrs. We flop onto a bench on the hut's sundeck. A wonderful walk, if a slog in places...
The morning light is extraordinary, slanting in rays from above the cloud-capped eastern ridge so as to render the mountain tops hazy behind its warm veil, the lower cliffs and valley bottom still dim in the morning murk.
We (ok, I) decide to head an hour up the valley from the hut, over glacier-smoothed rocks which nestle pretty pools, and then across a wide, gravelly bottom, to the stunning mineral-blue Freiger See glacial lake. It is fed by a tumbling cascade-stream from the now sadly reduced glacier in the great bowl above. The Seescharte is high above to the west (right). This is the most magical of all our walking: it feels like the whole world is sparkling. The boys have plodded and complained on the way up, then shoot ahead back down to the hut. We refill water bottles and pick up packs at the hut, then head off for the long return descent to the quotidian world.
Geordie has a bit of a turn, feeling odd, which he blames on the swing at the hut! Archie straps his pack to the outside of his own, and off we trudge. Good boy. Geordie soon perks up, and after some while realises the severe tease potential of having his pack carried, and tries to get it back....
We whizz down, stopping for lunch in the shade of the cliff climb which had us so tired on the way up. The B'suchalm looks gorgeous, so green after the harsh highlands. We have had enough by the time we reach our car, somewhat discombobulated by encountering the mundane world, but what a 3 days.