It was time to get back into the mountains this weekend! My new job and moving made a tour in the mountains long overdue. A friend Georg called earlier that week and we decided to take a tour to the Richter hut. Another friend Armin, took the hut over about a month ago, we planned to surprise him.
Georg left lower Austria early in the morning to meet up in Bramberg around 8am. I asked him to call some time around 7am when he should be passing by Zell am See or Saalfelden to give me time to get ready and let me know how the trip was progressing. You can imagine my surprise when he called at 6:30 to say he was already in Mittersill (only 10 minutes away!). I got up and ready as fast as I could. We drove to Krimml to take a national park taxi deep into the valley. You can hike in, but we only had the weekend and very heavy backpacks. The luxurious, 16 kilometer taxi ride deep into the valley which would give us more time to relax and chat with Armin too. We paid 10 Euro each thoroughly enjoyed the long, steep trip to the Tauernhaus in comfort. We arrived at the end of our motorized journey sometime around 9:30 am and began the strenuous part. There was a huge St. Bernard barking at some pigs in a pen… I toyed with the idea of saddling him as my mule. We laced up our boots and started off along a wide segment of rushing rapids feeding the famous Krimml Waterfall. Our trail started off with a steep incline that just wouldn’t quit. We were drenched in sweat within a matter of minutes and my pulse was setting new records. I fantasized the steep part was finished our suffering would be over. The sound of a struggling motor reached us. A little red Suzuki with Armin’s Dad behind the wheel, was approaching slowly. It was having a hard time with the muddy slope and tight hairpin curves understandably. We backed into the bushes to make room for the skinny truck, an embarrassing twinge of hope he would offer to take our packs for us. The little red Suzuki pushed on and passed, motor squealing around 5000 rpm. The truck was packed to the brim with supplies and didn’t have room for our gear anyway.We trudged on up the demanding hill. It did start to flatten out somewhat after another 10 minutes of hiking. My calf muscles were so thankful that we picked up the pace and made good time. The trail continued through the pine tree forest following the river to our left. We passed several places I was shocked NOT to see the Suzuki stuck; massive boulders made the trail extremely narrow. But the little red truck was no where to be seen. We soon reached an elevated plateau, where the forest was replaced with thick bushes, wild flowers and plants. Field were filled with different plantlife leading all the way to the foot of the steep rock cliffs on both sides of our trail. We could see far into a side valley and enjoyed the beautiful view. Our trail widened into a sandy, stony path passing by a little hut followed by a hunters hut and an even smaller mini-hut after both. A shed with what looked like train tracks exiting about 5 meters boggled us. A small wooden bridge and our path, crossed over the river which was still surprisingly powerful, even this far into the valley. We found some wild blueberries ripe for the picking. What looked like the offspring of an army jeep crossed with an old covered wagon rolled down the path, crammed full with 4 burly hunters. From the looks on their faces, I don’t think they caught anything.
We knew that the Richter hut was nestled in the left corner of the bowl at the end of the valley and was atop a steep rocky climb. After relatively flat trail and following a short, very steep segment, we saw the hut for the first time. It was like a sight for sore feet: the finish line revitalized us. With a little more bounce in our step, we reached the material lift and parked red Suzuki, in no time flat. A skinny green off-roader was also parked there. The trail was a rocky climb from that point on. There was a bucket with ski poles down near the cars. I had read online that the poles were there for hikers who might have difficulties with the final stretch to the hut. We started up the trail looking forward to “taking a load off” in the literal sense!
Although it was rather steep, I found the last segment of the hike most pleasurable. Someone or a group of someones had spent a considerable amount of time and effort in constructing this rocky trail. The majority of the climb was made up of flat-ish stones stacked on each other creating a natural staircase. The final meters vertical were effortless thanks to the fantastic trail. We got to the hut, setting our packs down once and for all. We found Armin and his Dad in the Stube (hut dining room). After chatting a little, we cleaned up for lunch. The scent of phenomenal smelling cheese omelets wafted through the Stube making up my mind without a menu. It was great to finally catch up with both guys after not having seen either for at least half a year. My omelet was soon a joyful memory. I leaned back in the chair satisfied and enjoyed the conversation. We decided to go ice climbing on one of the glaciers towering above the hut the next morning. A few hours later, Georg got antsy and wanted hike more. I felt footloose sans-backpack and enjoyed the trail. A group of Army hikers was on the way down; Georg knew the leader who stopped to say hi. They had crossed over the summit from a hut on the back side. We passed a few more small groups along the way. Georg spotted a mountain goat ahead of us. We stopped to watch and saw more and more goats all hiking together. There were maybe 8 or 9 goats of all different ages. A few adorable baby goats were absolutely fascinating to observe. The ease with which they hopped from rock to rock and ledge to ledge, on insanely steep slopes, could turn anyone green with envy. They basically followed each other around but would branch off when the path got more difficult. Individual goats tried their luck with totally different routes. They kicked some stones loose causing small rock slides while hopping around; another good reason to stop and watch.We continued on about 30mn later when the goats were too far away to really watch. We hiked higher up the trail to overlook the glacier.. We wouldnt have to cross many crevasses which was comforting. I am pretty afraid of crevasses. We picked a route to the steep part where we could top rope climb. Pleased with the plan, we descended back to the hut. The high mountain peaks blocked the sunlight from falling upon us and the sky began to adorn its evening dress.
The Stube had a lively bustle about it. Bursting at the seams with tired, satisfied looking hikers. It was more of a cozy than cramped full. We thumbed through some old mountaineering books and magazines waiting for dinner. We enjoyed fresh elder juice with our feet up, as the fatigue of the day descended upon us. We joined a table of 5 after dinner. We joined the animated conversation which covered everything from ornithology to world politics and back again. Armin took part in the conversations between working and recounted the fascinating history of the Richter hut. This was actually the 3rd, as the two previous huts had been destroyed by avalanches. Around midnight it was time for bed. I fell sound asleep immediately until someone walked in looking for the group bunks around 3am. We left after breakfast under a dreamy blue sky: not a cloud in sight. The panorama was extraordinary. We quickly reached the foot of the ascent where course changed from straight on to nearly straight up. I was way too warm under all the ice gear. We put our crampons, helmets and gloves on at the edge of the glacier . I quickly remembered why I didnt climb much ice anymore: my boots are 1,5 sizes too small. The guys struggled to build the anchor because of the ice quality. Even after chipping down a good way, the ice screws still spewing out crushed ice. It which would have been more suitable in a cocktail than as an anchor point! Neither screw was really solid, but the angle to the route made up for a lot. That is how the feeble anchor held when Armin roped himself in and tugged to test the hold. He felt confident in the anchor so Georg lowered him down. He was back up in a flash and said it was fun to climb. Armin belayed me over the edge. I placed my first axe to test the ice down there. The hammer sunk easily deep into the eternal ice. It actually felt a little bit like New England ice did. I could place the axe well enough to hold me on the first hit each time. I remained cautious not wanting to have to trust the anchor. Even though it was only top rope, it still had the no fall fear factor a normal climb would. I belayed Georg while Armin took some pictures then roped back up to rappel down. It gave me the opportunity to really inspect the glacier up close and personal. As glaciers usually do, this one also kept making large thunking noises which resembled the sinking feeling you get standing on a frozen pond when the ice begins to settle or crack… the thunking is caused from pieces either settling into different positions or when chunks underneath break off and move. Either way, I find it unsettling.
There was a massive amount of water running down the glacier. At the end of the rope, I walked to the end of the glacier along a little run out which ended next to a large boulder. I sat on a big rock and shot some photos. Armin was climbing again and this time descended a little to the left stopping on a small ledge in vertical ice. It looked pretty cool. We packed everything back up hiked down to the hut directly rather than crossing back to the trail. The sun was pushing down on us heavily as we didn’t have the cold of the glacier to necessitate the heavy clothing. The thought of cool elder juice and finally taking my painful boots off was immensely motivating. We reached the hut soon thereafter and peeled off all of the unnecessary layers of winter gear, happily flinging them left and right. We transformed the terrace in a matter of minutes into something resembling a climber’s flea market.Even before we could finish laying out the last item to dry, there was fresh elder juice waiting for us on the table. It was a tremendous feeling to sit in the sun barefoot and take the first swig of cold juice. We had about an hour to relax at the hut before we had to head back down to the Tauernhaus to catch our taxi. We ordered another cheese omelet and spent the rest of the time yakking away with Armin. His dad offered to put our backpacks on the material lift to the cars for us if we did it fast. We sprang gladly into action, repacking the nearly dried gear. Once everything was loaded up, Armin released the brake and the basket with the goods sped down towards the cars at the foot of the cliff. Although it is totally forbidden for people to take the lift down, it would be one heck of a ride for sure if you ever dared to do it! Every millimeter of the way down without the burden of the packs was a blessing on every joint in the body. We watched amused as our gear arrived safely down by the cars. Back in the normal hiking boots and backpack-free, we set off down the rocky trail to collect our bags. With a resentful grunt, we hoisted the heavy load back onto the sore position on our backs. Nearly 20 kilos heavier we descended towards the valley. It goes without saying that we stopped every now and then to pick juicy looking blueberries along the trail, but all in all we held course at a pretty fast tempo through the flat section, even the backpacks weren’t too bothersome yet. I dreaded the final descent down to the Tauernhaus however! We made great time through the flat elevated plateau and even passed a few older couples who had left much earlier, always trying to figure out whether or not we were making good enough time for the taxi back, estimating how much of the hike we had to go still. We made such good time that we had a whole hour to go when we arrived at the top of the last nasty descent through the forest to the taxi. By then, our shoulders and backs were aching under the load again and we had to laugh at how difficult it was to descend slowly and controlled. With a steep slope and heavy pack, its easy to get going too fast, fighting to not stumble. We arrived at the Tauernhaus and set our packs down vowing to never ever pick them up again. I rewarded myself and soothed my aches with a giant banana split (that always helps). We relaxed in the sun until the taxi arrived on time at 5pm.
It was a fabulous 16km descent considering the taxi did all the work… we relished every meter of the trip sitting down and not carrying anything even more on the way down. It was worth every cent! We arrived about 45minutes later at the parking lot finally slipping on flip flops: a dream come true to tired feet.
It was a short but thoroughly satisfying weekend with many enchanting impressions of the mountains and nature.