Main Alpine Divide. Section 02. Northern Styrian Alps

Day 009. Neuberg to Graf Meran Haus.  18 Km. 6.5 Hrs. 1690m up. 580m down. After another truly great breakfast I set off at 0830. The weather did not look promising and the ground was wet from recent rain. I headed south over the bridge across the clear river near the redundant railway station and then turned left immediately behind a small house. After a couple of zig-zags the path reached a small octagonal lookout which had a great view over the Munster, the monastery and the Schneealpe mountain beyond.

061. Neuberg Munster and Stift from the octagonal lookout on the path up the hill to the south

For the next two hours the path pretty much climbed up the wooded hillside on the crest of the ridge, although in the forest it was difficult to know it was the crest given the trees. The path crossed some forestry tracks and ran parallel to others but by and large it continued up between the spruce and fir trees. At one point on the edge of a clearing I came across about 10 huge ants nests all clustered together. Some of them must have been a metre high and 2 across. I should imagine that one was the original stock and the others were all colonies of it. There must have been optimum conditions for them with the shelter of the trees and the warmth from the unimpeded sun on the north edge of the clearing. On and on the path climbed until it reached the wooded knoll of Veitschbachtorl, 1406m.

062. The sustained path in the pleasant forest was a 2 hour climb to Veitschbachtorl, 1406m. where the route levelled off for a while

From here the path undulated gently for the next two hours as it loosely followed the crest of a rounded ridge for about 5-6 km. Some of the route followed a path which wove a narrow trail between half meter high blueberry bushes where my feet got soaked with the wet leaves. Then on other occasions it followed forestry tracks, some pleasant and grassed over, while others were new and carved a brutal ochre coloured trail right through the tall spruce trees, who must fear their execution approaches as such a road is for timber extraction. At last this rather dull section neared an end and the path climbed more steeply to the gorgeous cluster of alpine huts at Veitschalm. The was a small hut here serving tourists in season but it was closed now. 

064. Looking back from the ridge up to Hohe Veitsch towards the summer farms at Veitschalm and then beyond that to Veitschbachtorl, 1406m, in the middle distance and the Wien Hauseberge in the far distance

I lingered in Veitschalm taking photos before continuing up the track across the more open hillside. The route left the track after a km and now went across sparse meadows where dwarf pine bushes and rocks encroached. The flowers here were plentiful probably due to the rocky calciferous ground whose minerals would have nourished the meadows. As I climbed a bit more the huge whale back of the Veitsch mountain appeared to the west. It was covered in smaller snowfields, many dirty with blown dust from the surrounding hillside. It was an easy gentle walk for about 2 hours as I gradually climbed up the alp with the steep craggy wall to the south never too far away. 

063. Looking up across the alps to Hohe Veitsch from Veitschalm. Graf Meran cabin lay just to the south of the summit.

The lush meadows at the start of this section after Veitschalm and the idyllic Ebenhutte slowly petered out into a more alpine vegetation of hardy grasses and dwarf pine. Although the flowers remained prolific, especially the small pink primroses which covered vast swathes of the hillside. The snow fields became more prolific as I climbed above 1750 metres and I had to cross a few. The wind was cold and almost gale force and I had to stop to put on my softshell jacket over my thin shirt.  As the path levelled off on the plateau of Veitsch mountain more and more large sinkholes appeared where underground caverns in the limestone had collapsed over the millenium. Just off the path to my NW was the rock and grass slope which led up to the summit of Hohe Veitsch, 1981m, The highest point in the broad mountain. I skirted round the slopes leading up to this summit and descended slightly into the dwarf pine before Graf Meran Haus, 1836m, appeared a few hundred metres ahead of me. It was a very ordinary, almost ugly, hut from the outside. 

065. Graf Meran Haus was an old traditional mountain cabin with an old characterful wooden dining rooms and bedrooms. It was at 1836m.

Inside it was mixture of traditional old characterful wood in the main lounge/dining room and the bedrooms upstairs.  While an extension housed the modern washroom and toilets which where all cream tiles and gleaming white sanitary ware. It was surprisingly busy inside and I felt all eyes staring at me as everyone looked up as I entered. I also felt a bit bewildered having been buffeted by the wind for the last 2 hours. One fat,  scruffy, guy, who looked like a heavy metal fan, got up and said he was the hut warden. I was surprised as he looked like he should be working in a motorbike cafe or running a small, nerdish computer gaming convention. He spoke no English and my German deserted me with his strong dialect. Another guest intervened to translate. He showed me a small cosy room with two beds then disappeared to let me get out of my wet boots. He seemed to have very little for vegetarians except delicious emmental type cheese on dark Germanic bread. 

Once I had finished the blog the fat hut warden had retreated into the kitchen and it seemed his mother was now front of house. The son, who must have been on the spectrum, was now sweating over fleshpots, and probably dripping into them too, which was unfortunate as he undoubtedly didn’t have a weekly wash. The mother seemed a bit better at coping with people who were arriving thick and fast at the moment. She was really out of place here and should have been running a cafe for lorry drivers doing strictly non-organic fry ups. The time dinner came at 1830 and there were about 15 of us. Everyone else was Austrian and they were all in their own groups chatting excitedly. I was sat at a table with two burly middle aged Austrian men. They spoke a little English but it was quite hard work so I let them chat with each other while I felt a little bit of a lemon and stared at my phone. My supper was just a dumpling and a very large ladle full of sauerkraut. Everyone else had the same but with a slice of meat in gravy. After the meal I was a bit tired so went up to my small room at 1930 and was asleep soon after.

Day 010. Graf Meran Haus to Seewiesen. 15 Km. 4.5 Hrs. 370m up. 1260m down.  It was noticably cooler in the morning but it was still dry albeit totally overcast. Everyone in the hut was gathered at the locked door by 0645 for the 0700 breakfast but she was not going to let in early as she hurried around setting the tables. When she did let us in it was a bit chaotic still and was rushing about so quickly she did not have time to heave her jeans up so soon a  great white moon was appearing on each side of her pants. The men sniggered, not finding the sight the least bit alluring. I had my 4 pieces of bread and jam, a mug of coffee and then was ready to head of a 0730. As I left a couple of chamois strolled across the hillside just below the hut. It is almost a daily occurance to set these animals at the moment. 

066. Looking west from the lip of the plateau near Graf Meran Haus across the valley to Hochschwab in the distance

I headed across the remainder of the plateau to the lip on the west side and then looked over the edge to the forests and alps far below. The path followed a rocky course down between dwarf pines as it dropped about 300 meters. Across the large valley to the west into which I was heading rose the next mountain I had to traverse. It was called Hochschwab and it was slightly higher than the previous mountains in the Wien Hausberge. It would be tomorrows challenge and I am glad it was not todays as snow was forecast up there from midday onwards. Towards the bottom of the descent the greadient eased slightly and I headed into the uppermost firs.

Shortly afterwards the forest cleared and there was a small shine. It was the first of many alms today. An Alm or Alp being summer pastures in the mountains where there are usually are a few cabins and summer dairies. This alm was called Rotsohlalm and there were already large healthy grey brown cows here all sitting in the long grass and watching go past as they chewed their cud. Even on a drab day like this the alm was a peaceful and serene place. 

067. The hectares and hectares of blueberry bushes all with a huge developing crop in the fir forest between Rotsohlalm and Turnaueralm

The route now headed down old grassy forest tracks and footpaths in the fir forest. The blueberry bushes here were prolific and laden with fruit, in a few months there will be tons of fruit here to pick. The path was easy as it descended gradually and after a good half hour the forest opened out again and meadows spread into it with stands of giant firs reaching into the meadow. Soon it was all meadow with the occasional copse of fir. I rounded a small hillock and there was Turnaueralm spread out before me. It was quite a big alm with perhaps 10 summer farms, one of which was a smaller tourist hut, open at weekends. There were many clusters of cow here milling around. I am not sure if they were a fragmented part of a collective herd or the herds of individual families who cows tended to stick together as thay had been in a barn all winter and were most comfortable with their herd only. It was a lovely working alm, perhaps not in the same level as Hinteralm a few days earlier but it felt more genuine as Hinteralm now not only milked cows but hikers also.

068. The open meadows of the lovely Turnaueralm with its 10 summer farms and dairies was perhaps the prettiest of the day.

I briefly caught up with a hiking couple who had also been at Graf Meran and we chatted slightly before they headed on while I took photos. It was then back into forest tracks and small footpaths again for another good half hour until the forest cleared again to reveal the lovely Goriacheralm, sited on a grassy saddle between two knolls.  It was certainly smaller than Turnaueralm and only had about 6-7 summer farms. 

069. The relatively small Goriacheralm on a saddle was the third of 4 alpine pastures and summer farms today

The route now pretty much headed exclusively on a forest track as it descended more steeply down a open grassy valley with the forests on each side. It was essentially a long pasture and it eventually spilled out into the wider meadows of Seebergalm, which with its 20 odd houses was the largest of them all today. Seebergalm being close to the main road was also a bit of a holiday destination I think and a few of the log cabins were rented out. There was also a small ski lift here for the winter season. 

070. The last of the summer farms and meadows today was Seebergalm where there were about 20 houses. As it was near the road it was more developed and even had electricity

From the charming Seebergalm the route made one last climb up a gentle track to a meadow full of cows before it started a steep 250 metre descent through mixed conifers to reach Seewiesen. It was a bit more that drizzle now as per forecast so I dident linger until I saw the village church and stopped for a photo. I bumped into the other hiking couple again and thought they might be staying at my Gasthaus also, The Seeberghof. But they were carrying on for 3 hours in the rain to make tomorrow shorter. We would both be going to the distant Sonnschienhutte over Hochschwab mountain so would see each other tomorrow night. 

The Seeberghof Gasthaus would not open until 1500 so that meant I had a 2.5 hour wait. However there was a sheltered seat where I could do some digital work. After an hour Regina, the host must have seen me sitting outside and bade me in early, just I was beginning to get cold. She gave me a large welcome brandy.  Pretty soon I was washing my clothes under a hot shower and then devouring a large terrine of consume soup with semolina dumplings in it looking out of the window at the continuing rain. The Gasthaus was large but very quiet and it was nice to recharge my batteries in the calm and Regina fed me well. 

Day 011. Seewiesen to Sonnschienhutte. 25 Km. 9 Hrs. 1750m up. 1140m down. I got an early start after a big breakfast and was away by 0730 as it was going to be a long day. I left the village, which could have been an alm as it was at 950 metres and surrounded by pastures. It was probably the through road which allowed the village to grow. Initially the route went up the large deep Voisthaler Valley to the west. Meadows covered the floor, many with cows grazing on them before the fir clad sides rose up until it was just the huge grey rock wall which disappeared into the mist. The route followed a track up the valley floor which was good as the grass was long and wet and would have soaked my feet in no time. A lot of the ash trees in the valley seemed to be affected by ash dieback, and they were in their last years.   

It was a lovely easy start to the day and as I walked the mist started to rise and soon high towers of rock were starting to appear from the clouds. Flashes of sun appeared on the valley floor, illuminating the vibrant spring green foliage as the sky opened up bit by bit to reveal everchanging blue patches. If I did not know where I was I would have guessed the Dolomites such were the spectacular rock faces, huge screes of white stone and the lively green vegetation. After a short 2 hours the valley had climbed to reach the Florlhutte, which itself looked well cared for but around it the furniture and outhouses were falling apart. 

071. Looking down Voisthaler Valley from near Florlhutte. The green meadows in the distance are around Seewiesen

The path climbed more steeply now and I was amazed at the flowers which were everywhere. There was the odd snow patch and it seemed the flowers were coming up a day or two after they were exposed, especially the fleshy Black Hellebore, Helleborus niger, whose hand shaped leaves were already there as the snow melted uncovering them. Also champing at the bit as the snows uncovered them where the Alpine Butterburs, Petasites paradoxus, whose flower spikes were leaping up. There was also a wealth of primula, and I counted at least 4 prolific types. I was also interested to see Daphne Mezereum, something similar has a wonderful fragrance in Nepal, called Lokti. 

073. Four types of primroses found in Voisthaler Valley below the hut. Clockwise from top left: True Oxlip (Primula elatior). Mountain Cowslip or Bear’s Ear (Primula auricula). European Alpine Primrose (Primula clusiana). Alpine Snowbell (Soldanella alpina).

072. Looking up to Voisthalerhutte from the depression below which was rich in flowers and in any other geology would have been a lake

The plants I saw made light of the effort and I was soon climbing the final slopes up to the very modern looking Voisthalerhutte. Below the hut the valley was almost damned with a big alluvial fan but there was no water in this depression as the porous limestone filtered it away through tunnels and caverns before a lake could form.  Just below the hut I saw a chamois gently grazing between trees. It looked old and stiff and I suppose it was lucky to have survived the winter. 

074. An older stiff and ungainly chamois grazing among the trees below Voisthalerhutte.

I did not stop at the hut as I had only been going 3 hours and the weather was rapidly improving and just the odd mist patch or cloud lingered now and the day was full of promise. I went on up into the inner valley which curved round to the north slightly and revealed the steep south face of Hochschwab. The snow patches were large here on the valley floor and there was perhaps more snow than rock showing. I saw a few ring ouzels darting after insects in the grasses around the dwarf pines and also a young marmot who had not really developed an adult sense of caution yet. 

075. A young and surprisingly calm marmot. They spend some 6 months hibernating in their burrows under the snow pack

076. In Voisthaler Valley looking west up to the summit of Hochschwab. The route up goes up the right of the photo

On and on the path went until it almost levelled off in the bottom of a huge amphitheater. I knew there was a way out and it soon revealed itself on the north side climbing steeply for a good 5-600 hundred metres. There were a few false summits as I climbed hoping that the Schiesthaus hutte would be just over the next knoll but my optimism was a good hour ahead of reality. Still it was now a beautiful day with virtually no cloud of mist and certainly none around Hochschwab. There were many snowfields to trudge up but other people had been here earlier today. Eventually the path reached the main ridge and there were tremendous views along its crest to the east. I was surprised how much snow there was still up here.

Eventually the hut appeared just below the summit really. It was very modern and looked quite out of place. I went in expecting to find a perfunctory interior with an apathetic crew. However it was very well laid out with huge south facing panorama windows which warmed everything. The staff were very savvy. I think 2 brothers had the lease. They were tall, lanky and very athletic, perfect rock climbers build. They were very well travelled and educated and spoke fluent English. Helping them were a couple of very sporty, bright switched on 30 year old girls, who I assumed were the savvy brothers respective girlfriends. I think most of the dishes on the menu were vegan or of indian origin with a couple of token Austrian meat plates thrown in for hikers who would not see beyond a fleshpot. I had a lentil and dumpling stew with fresh vegetables. In contrast to the grunters running Graf Meran Haus the crew here were the epitome of sophistication. Organic and considered is more expensive though. 

Feeling well nourished I headed on up to the top which only took half an hour. The skies had begun to cloud over now but the views were still there, just not as photogenic as the landscape was dull where the clouds were. I lingered at the top enjoying the great day I was having. It was without doubt the best of the trip so far. By early afternoon I had begun the descent down the west ridge. Initially there were long snow slopes to glissade and run down to reach a small metal emergency bivouac shelter perhaps half a km, if not less, west of the top on an open windswept saddle.

077. Looking east from the summit of Hochschwab down Voisthaler Valley below with all the snow lying in it

From here the route followed the path along the ridge for what felt like nearly 2 hours. I was surprised it went on and on before it finally headed down to the south side. As I went along the easy creat I came across a ptarmigan, Lagopus muta, feigning injury to distract me away from its well camouflaged chicks hiding in the short rock strew grass. I also scattered a small herd of 5 chamois who walked down the grassy slope but ran across any snowfields they crossed before dropping back to a saunter for the grassy slopes. 

078. A rock ptarmigan, Lagopus muta, high on the west ridge of Hochschwab. It was feigning injury to distract me.

I was surprised at how big some of the depressions were. Some must have been 2-300 metres across and perhaps 50 meters deep. They were prolific along the ridge which was maybe a kilometre wide plateau. These depressions or sinkholes had huge snowfields in them. They would melt and the water would go straight down into the bowels of the mountain to emerge cold and clear in a gushing spring in the valley. It was little wonder there was a water issue in the mountains here.

079. Coming offvthe west end of Hochschwab and about to head down through the dwarf pine to Hausalm and Sackwiesenalm

At last after perhaps 5 km of the gently descending ridge with a good path on the short grassy vegetation the path started to head down. It took another good half hour across snowfield and rocky patches to reach the dwarf pines and then another good half hour of a rocky path between the pines to reach the alpine meadow of Hausalm. There was an alpine house here which had been expanded into a larger rustic mountain restaurant but it was only open on the weekends. A grassy track connected this alp to Sackwiesenalm just a bit further down the hill on the edge of a flat grassy meadow. I could not see any cows here but I could smell them. 

080. Looking back down to Sackwiesenalm from the path to the west. This alm sold alpine dairy products in the summer when it

I was getting a bit tired now having been on the go for 8 hours but I still had another hour of walking through patchy undulating fir forest with glades and snow fields between the grand trees. Halfway along here there was a rare alpine lake. It was difficult to get a view of it from the track so I detoured down through the firs. It was boggy round the perimeter with huge patches of march marigolds but beyond that the lake was serene and calm with a couple of male tufted ducks in the middle. Beyond the lake was the tremendous backdrop of the steep wall of the south face of the ridge I had been on. It was a living postcard. 

081. The beautiful Sackwiesensee is a rare lake in this limestone landscape lies between Sackwiesenalm and Sonns

About half an hour after the lake I reached Sonnschienalm which had about 10 traditional small summer farms on it. In the middle tucked away between tree clad knolls was Sonnschienalmhuutte. It looked very traditional and quite large but was unnder a new sensible plate roof. I went in and met the Austrian couple who I had seen a couple of times yesterday. They were walking the width of Austria from North to South. The couple running the hut were just what you would hope to find and were easy going and warm with welcoming smiles. I had a small snack and then went up and changed. As I changed the weather which had been threatening to break for the last hour finally let go and hail started pummeling the plate roof and the trees outside. I was now very cosy and settled for the evening and this downpour enhanced that feeling of wellbeing. It had been a great day. The size of the  meal was a bit of a let down but it was healthy and with a bit of salt quite tasty. 

082. The friendly welcoming Sonnschienhutte at its best on a quiet beautiful early summer morning

Day 012. Sonnschienhutte to Eisenerz. 21 Km. 6.5 Hrs. 490m up. 1300m down. I slept well and was ready for breakfast at 0700. There was already a warm friendly banter in the dining room with the hosts and the two Austrian couples, and it was for an atmosphere like this that one stays in these mountain cabins. I wolfed down the breakfast in no time and set off at 0800 after chatting to the others. It was a beautiful sunny day as I strode off across the meadow of the alm which were covered in the large sapphire blue trumpet gentians. A couple of Ring Ouzel birds were hopping about the grass snatching insects with great agility. It was a perfect start to the day. 

083. A Ring Ouzel, which is part of the thrush genus, hunting for insects in Sonnschienalm.

084. Looking down onto the serene Senkbodenalm from the edge of Sonnschienalm.

At the rim of the meadow there was a wonderful view down to the adjacent Senkbodenalm and then across the valley with some early morning mist still clearing to a 2000m mountain on the other side. In fact wherever I looked there were idyllic views and I knew I was in for a memorable day. For the next two hours the path undulated through a fairytale landscape of tall grand silver firs, many open glades covered in flowers, and some with melting snowfields. Birdsong rang out across the glades in the warm morning sun. I passed the picture postcard summer farm in the meadows of Androthalm. The house and barn were closed but there were tables outside for hikers, probably on the weekends. What a wonderful place this would have been to enjoy authentic alpine fare on a warm summer’s day such as this. 

085. Looking back to the beautiful undulating landscape I had crossed between Sonnschienhutte and Forbistorl saddle

After 2 hours walking I came to Forbistorl, which was something of a saddle in this undulating landscape. To the north were the great limestone walls of the 2000m Brandstein, but here in the mixed forest and glades below them it was much flatter. I descended on the other side and in the glades the fleshy Black Hellebores were everywhere and were the predominant flower. Just to the south of the track I heard water and went to have a look and found a cool clear spring welling up out of the ground, obviously where the upper limestone strata was sitting on a more impermeable one. The small stream which gushed forth now followed the route of the path and it was refreshing to hear the gurgling of water, which had been a rare thing so far this trip.  After half an hour the path reached the fabulous Forbisalm with a small barn uppermost and a building which was just a pile of rotting logs further down, which were so far gone they looked like a couple of old trees decaying rather than the ruins of a house. In the middle of this alm was a large rock and beside it a crystal clear pond. 

086. Looking down Forbisalm from the upper barn to the grassy meadow and pond beside the huge boulder

For the next hour the route was perhaps one of the nicest descents I have ever walked. The grassy, unused track which served the alm gently followed the stream as the two slowly wove down the open valley between fir forest and open flower filled glade. The flowers in the glades were just starting to bloom prolifically and they were providing a feast for the bees and butterflies. Small orange tip butterflies were hopping from flower to flower too quickly for me to photo them and occasionally a swallowtail butterfly would dart past. Due to the grassy track the going was soft underfoot and I could enjoy the beauty of the valley rather than concentrate on trip hazards. It was warm too now, if not hot, but the trees protected me from the sun. Had it continued like this all the way to Eisenerz I would have been lucky but it was not to be as after a few perfect kilometres the track got much steeper as the valley descended into a gorge. 

087. The easy delightful descent beside the bubbling brook below Forbisalm

The track now was steep and rocky, too steep and rough even to get a tractor up and I think and it was perhaps the reason Forbisalm was abandoned decades ago as a dairy. The track plunged down clinging to the side of the steep valley side for an hour. At 1000m the first of the deciduous trees appeared on the steep hillsides and they accompanied me all the way down to the floor of the Hinterseeaugraben. On the valley floor spruce took over as the main trees but I could see deciduous going up the sides of the valley until the great walls which hemmed everything in rose up many hundreds of metres. 

088. Looking down into the Hinterseeaugraben gorge from the end of the delightful section

The rough track had now changed into a useful sensible one as the stream beside it had grown from wild tumbling youth into a larger more sedentary middle-aged series of ripples. I was happy to follow it in the hot valley for an hour until just before Leopoldstienersee lake. Here I discovered I could take a shortcut to a saddle and my legs felt up for it so I headed up the wide, well made forestry track climbing diagonally some 200 metres over 2 km. I saw a slow worm here, a legless lizard, which shuffled off slowly looking very vulnerable to prey. 

At the top of the climb I came to a small shrine at Urlaubskreuz and then started the easy descent to the town of Eisenerz down a track and then road. On the road just before I entered town a black adder was across the track. I thought it was run over initially as it was so fat and the head so small, but it shuffled off into the grass when I stamped my foot. Eisenerz was an industrial town which had fallen on hard times and the huge empty Pilkington Glass factory and empty block of flats testified to that. 

089. In the foreground is my Guesthouse with the start of the old town beyond. Looming over all is the towering mine going up the mountain

Eisenerz is a mining town and the iron mine dominates the skyline to the south where half a mountain has been removed. Once 15,000 of men worked here hacking into the mountain and filling iron ore railway wagons. But now it is all automated with huge dump trucks shifting vast quantities of ore single handedly and the workforce has dwindled to 5,000. As I wandered up the streets it was like a ghost town with many empty apartments and in fact very few people. After some 20 minutes wandering up the old main road I came to the centre and my Guesthouse. It would not open until 1630 and it was only 1500 so I went for a wander in the more charming but still empty older town. There were nicer buildings here but they still looked a bit tired. 

090. Out with the old and in with the new. The comfy Salomons cannot cope with the rocky terrain and the sole is ripping off from the upper with poor glue.

I found a sports shop and went in. I was going to have to nurse my old salomon shoes for another 3 days to Trieben where I had a pair of Lowa Renegades being delivered. However they had them for sale here in this surprisingly well stocked shop. I agonised about buying them,  so I went to a cafe for a snack and coffee. In the end I thought better a bird in the hand and if Amazon make another mistake I will curse my lack of foresight. So I bought them and will either return the next pair or ship them further down the trail. The salomon boots were comfortable but the glue was no match for these rocky trails and the sole was detaching rapidly.  The guesthouse was nicer than the reviews said and I was soon washing my clothes under a hot shower before my meal and blog writing. The last two days were really a traverse of Hochschwab and they had been the best of the trip. I think this traverse is something of an Austrian classic for a long weekend and it would make a great trip on its own.  

Day 013. Eisenerz to Radmer. 20 Km. 6 Hrs. 780m up. 770m down. Everybody kept say what a short day I had in front of me today but the estimates from various apps did not concur with them, so I prepared according to the apps. After a slow start and big breakfast I set off at 0830 full of trepidation for the new boots. I went under an arch in the old main street, crossed to the west side of the river and then started to climb up the hillside on the west to one of the many old gothic-style towers which overlooked Eiserzner.

091. Looking down on the staid, lacklustre town of Eisenerz from one of the gothic churches to the west of it

From up here the town looked pleasant but if I just swung my gaze to the south slightly the grotesque plundered iron ore mountain dominated everything. Huge trucks slowly growled up and down the roads between the 30 odd mining terraces taking ore down to the railway loading yards. There was a dull roar coming from the whole mountain as the combined noise of the machines drowned out everything else. It was difficult to believe looking at it but I reckon if humanity had been hit by a more serious pandemic which returned the survivors to the stone age then I think that within 500 years nature would have recolonized the terraces, railways and crushing plants with trees and order would be restored again.

My boots felt surprisingly good with just small niggles in the sole of the left. As I climbed the track to the SW of the town I was suddenly in the countryside, but the terraced hillside still loomed large to the south. The grumbling of the complex generally grew less until the birdsong started to overwhelm it. The track went past a number of very old farms. The last 4 or 5 generations of these farming families had a grandstand view of the landscape being slowly pillaged just across the small valley. They would have seen the town swell in size to 15,000 just a generation ago before it collapsed back to 5,000 now while being slightly aloof to it as they tended to the land. 

092. Looking from the old rural farms to the SW of Eisenerz across the valley to the grotesque edifice of the open mine

The track then carried on up the hill but I had to come off on a footpath and drop down into the valley to the west of the mine. It was a different world in this valley. Although there was a tarmac road it was quite rural with a scattering of houses all with hobby farming like keeping goats or chickens. There were a few cottage industry firewood cutting enterprises here too. The road, lined with meadows on each side, went up for a good 5 km passing many rural houses with enviable wood stacks and 2 hotels. There was the occasional car on the road but not enough to make me feel humiliated, as a busy road would. Many people greeted me from their gardens and one lady stopped me for a 15 minute chat. I get the impression that Styrians, as these folk are, are a friendly people. Eventually the road came to a winter sports complex with a ski shooting range, numerous ski trails in the winter and a ski jumping arena with a range of 4 jump sizes. I think much of this would have come from the tax or sponsorship of the mine.

093. The winter sports complex in the Ramsau Valley to the west of Eisenerz included a range of ski jumps

For the next 4 km the route continued up a track where the road left, keeping to the valley floor where the series of hobby homesteads continued. It was not really a cultural landscape, although there were many older buildings. Once the homesteads ended the track entered the forest and started to climb through the firs up to Radmerhals, 1305m, a saddle between two valleys just south of the looming peaks of Kaiserschild, a 2000m mountain just to the north. Kaiserschild looked impenetrable but my map told me there were steep routes to the top, one involving ladders. 

094. At the end of the Ramsau valley looking up to the lofty peak of Kaiserschild. The Radmerhals pass is just to the left of the picture

There was a shrine and bench at the saddle. The bench was in the cool of the fir trees and as I had been going nearly 4 hours I sat on it and watched a few cyclists going past for 20 minutes. Those on electric bikes arrived at the saddle fresh, with those on traditional bikes looked like they had had some exercise.

095. Looking down east into the Ramsau Valley I had jus walked up,
viewed from the Radmerhals pass

The descent down the otherside was easy as it continued on the good forestry track. I suddenly realized that my feet were giving me no trouble at all and in fact each step felt a bit more supported and secure than yesterday, while at the same time they were comfortable. I was lucky it could have gone horribly wrong. I could not really recommend the Lowa renegades for mountaineering but for bashing along forestry tracks and smaller paths they are superb.

Down and down the track went through the firs. There were a few hairpins and I thought about making a shortcut between bends, but one look at the steep, scrubby terrain was enough to make me return to my senses and plod on down the comfortable track. It took two hours to finally make it down to Radmer an der Stube. En route I passed a small alm with a house straight out of a Hansel and Gretel script in a small clearing. There were about 10 highland cows here, all with huge pointed horns. All but one were sheltering from the midday sun in the dark shaded woods. 

As I approached Radmer an der Stube I spied its magnificent twin towered church. Each tower was topped with a copper clad onion shaped roof. It seemed an extraordinary church for such a small alpine community, but judging by a few signs I think Radmer had some connection to the Hapsburgs, the royal of house of Austria, and indeed much of Europe, until the not too distant past. I walked into the drawn out town which was a series of houses along the valley floor at about 700m rather than a cluster.  All the houses had vast and well organized wood stacks with most of it in stacked metre long lengths still seasoning under a simple cover. 

096. The grand twin towered church in Radmer an der Stube looked out of proportion to the small town.

The guesthouse I was staying at was at the top of the village. I arrived just before 1500 and was pleased to be taken in and shown my simple room at once. It had a shared shower and toilet. By 1600 I had showered, washed and hung all my clothes and charged various batteries and went down to the typical stube, or bar, to write the blog and have a snack. I was done by 1800 which left the evening free. The hostess, Dora Heiml, was middle aged and adept at providing for workers who dropped in forca beer on the way home and families out for a meal. 

Day 014. Radmer to Hesshutte. 17 Km. 8 Hrs. 1780m up. 810m down. Dora Heiml who owned the Gasthof Heiml or Gasthof zum Erzberg, it seemed to have two names, gave me a great breakfast. What I tend to do now is gorge myself at breakfast and then walk all day without stopping until I reach my destination. That would be about 8 hours today so I ate everything she put in front of me, and shouldered my pack a litte before 0800. The weather was clearing a bit but the road was damp, the vegetation still dripping and mist clung to the hills. I walked back down to the centre of the village and gleaned that this was once a copper mining area. At the T junction I veered north under the very impressive church and then went up a lane. On my right I passed a large 3 storey villa. It looked at least 100 years old and probably had aristocratic heritage. Perhaps this was the Hapsberg connection and they liked to come here to hunt. There were signs everywhere saying “Hapsberg Miele”.

097. The almost aristocratic villa in the village of Radmer was set in a parkland. I am sure it had Hapsburg connections.

Near this villa in its parkland meadow with venerable decidious trees scattered across it, the path left the track and started to go through forest glades. It was a tiny overgrown path and I had to check a few times I was on the right one. The vegetation was knee high and dripping on my boots as I shuffled through. My bare legs were stinging from the young potent nettles and my boots were covered in water, however my feet stayed dry which was praise indeed for the new boots.

The route went up this tiny track for a good hour and a half. Sometimes I had to clamber over fallen trees and other times haul myself up slippery banks. Not many people came this way at all and yet it was the correct path for the Route 01 – Nord Aplenweg. Some 2 hours after finishing the last of Dora’s breafast I had climbed some 600 metres and reached the small Riintzmoos alm on a saddle between rocky peaks. It had an idyllic little “chocolate box” log cottage in it and was clad in wooden shingles. The cottage was the stage set for fairy tales. 

The route now continued up the small, overgrown, barely used footpath for another hour. However as I was gaining height all the time the lush vegetation was now becoming more montane and less dense. Blueberry bushes took over from the grasses and umbilifers and they were much drier. After an hour the firs started to peter out and larch took over and they afforded me more of a view. I was heading up the side of a deep valley with steep rock faces on each side. As the trees thinned I could see there was a way out at the top of the valley where it rose into a rocky bowl up to reach the north ridge of the very craggy Lugauer mountain, 2206m. 

098. Almost at the end of the long 1100m climb from Radmer to the north ridge of Lugauer

However to get up this rocky bowl was quite hard slow work. The path climbed steeply on the rocks and stones. The tiny Rhodothamnus chamaecistus I had seen in craggy sections of this trip was rife here and in full bloom. However the rough rocky path went up under the crags on the north face of Lugauer which rose steeply into the mists. I had to cross a few small snowfields and was alarmed at how many stones were on the surface of the snow. This was no place to linger as there was obviously some stone fall here from the vast vertical cliff above. With thighs pumping and my lungs gasping I speed past this section and made it to the ridge and the end of the rocky bowl.  It had taken some 3 hours to climb up here from the aristocratic villa ascending some 1100 metres in all. 

It was a different world on the ridge and the otherside. The alpine, rocky, harsh terrain and plants to suit it had vanished and I was now in a fir forest with lush glades of meadow between. I descended a little and came across a fenced alp where cattle would graze later in the summer. If I peered to the east of the ridge over the drier rocky alpine slopes I could look down to see the fairy tale cottage in Rintzmoos yet on the west side it was damp meadows full of marsh marigolds and tall firs. I crashed down through these damp meadows for a good hour until the faint path finally reached the valley floor on the west side of Lugauer, where there was a forest track. It felt as if my day should be done but I knew I was just half way with another big climb looming. I walked down the track for half an hour to a T junction. 

I turned off here heading up into the small Sulzkar valley, hemmed in between steep rocky mountain walls. It was a beautiful valley which climbed gently through the denser firs until it reached very rough pasture. The dense forest must have spread up here once but many of the trees had been removed over the centuries and the remaining trees were scattered in small copse or strips and pasture flourished underneath. The pasture was lush, but rocky, and the minerals from these rocks leached into the soil and supported a wealth of flowers. After an hours climbing I reached the very pretty Sulzkaralm with a sweet cabin and small barn, both made of logs. Both buildings were in need of a little care or else they would eventually reach the point of no return.

099. Looking up to the end of the valley and the pass over to Hesshutte from Sulzkaralm. The grassy headwall was covered in grazing Chamois


I could see path zig-zagging up the grassy headwall in the valley to a saddle. It was the last effort of my day. The skies darkened considerably now and I could feel rain was imminent. Soon afterwards I could see the first heavy drops spreading out on the rock, darkening it slightly. However, to my delight it came to nothing and soon there was a small patch of blue sky above the pass. On the way up I saw a few marmots, their mouths full of bunches of dried grass. It would have had little nutritious value compared to the plentiful lush green grass so I assumed it was for bedding and it was a collective project to renew the burrow and clear out the soiled and infested old bedding. I managed to get quite close to one of them. 

100. An adult marmot which was clearing out the old grass and relining the burrow with new grass. It let me get surprisingly close as I slowly stalked it

As I climbed further I came across a scattered herd of 20 chamois, who were all over the grassy slopes of the headwall. I was climbing slowly now, in 4WD Low Ratio setting. The chamois slowly moved to the sides with just a few breaking into a run as I approached. With tired legs I climbed the last remaining old steps,  which had now fallen into disrepair and reached the small crucifix on the saddle. Lookiing back I could see the sweet cabin and barn was bathed in sunlight beside the small lake next to them. Ahead of me on the west side the path descended into the larch on the upper valley floor and beyond it rose the rocky massive of Hochtor, 2369m, the highest mountain in this range called Gesause, which was also the name of the small National Park. 

101. Looking back down to Sulzkar alp from the pass to the west of it. The small cottage and barn beside the small lake are bathed in sunlight.

I dropped down into the larches and then spied the Hesshutte glinting through the sparse trees just 15 minutes away on a saddle beneath Hochtor. It was a lovely path up to the large hut. The host was very welcoming and relaxed. He soon gave me the key to a small room with a bunk bed. After I came through half an hour later to relax and write I noticed there was a Nepali on the terrace. He was workiing here and we got chatting. He was from Phoksumdo in Dolpo, a village of fabled beauty. He knew the couple I stayed with for a week when I first went there in 1992. What a small world it is although there are many Nepalis workiing in thse mountaiin huts where their multiple skills of guiding, cooking, repairing and building, and washing up mean they are sought after.  The food at Hesshutte was also excellant and it had a nice atmosphere throughout. After dinner I went and chatted with a very bright Hungarian mother and daughter team. The mother, who I initially though was French due to her understated but stylish Cote D’Azure attire had just retired and this hike with her daughter was to celebrate it. Later Norbu from Phoksumdo joined us. He too was very bright and quick of thought. There were also two Dutch lads who I chatted with. The host Leopold attended to us and also large party of 12 Czechs joining in the banter, if not creating it. He mentioned the two previous hut wardens with pride. They were two ladies who served 40 years and 20 years respectively. Leopold’s friendly manner will eventually mean he will be able to easily follow in their footsteps.  

102. Hesshutte lies on a saddle under the gaze of the huge mountain of Hochtor. It is run by the very welcoming and friendly Leopold

Day 015. Hesshutte to Trieben. 30Km. 9.5 Hrs. 1200m up.  2190m down.  Leopold had prepared a buffet breakfast for the 20 odd guests and allowed me to go in a bit earlier so I could get an early start, as I had a long day. However working my way through the cereals and breads, all with his mothers homemade jams, and then saying good by to everyone still took an hour and I did not get going until just before 0800. My stay at Hesshutte left a good taste. 

The path was rocky and the rocks were still a bit wet and greasy, so it was quite slow progress down through the larches and then the firs, passing small alps with tiny cottages on them. All the while the towering mass of Hochtor looked over everything, too looming to be a benevolent mentor, more a stern calvinist,  teacher. The path crossed limestone areas mostly but here and there were small ponds from recent rains and melt water but I dare say these would all dry up in the summer. There was hoofmarks all over the marshy meadows but I didn’t see any animals or recent droppings so perhaps they were still last years. 

103. a small cottage in a alp under the looking tower of Hochtor, the highest mountain in the area.

After an hour and a half the rocky path spilled out of the forest onto the ungrazed meadows of the farms of Johnsbach which looked like they operated all year here at the end of the public road. The large barns housed cows and these were grazing in the fields near the barns. I descended a little firther through these meadows to reach the road itself where there was a large farm building which had been converted into a rural guesthouse. It was a very rural scene, with rich rural smells like cut hay or manure and a buzz of small farm machinery and hand operated scythes. A chunky middle aged man was operating one scythe bare chested in the mid morning sun. 

104. At the end of the public road in the Johnsbach valley were a few large farms whose cows wwere in the fields nearest the farms and the more distant meadows used for grass

The route left the road quite quickly and crossed a bridge over the clear stream to the south side of the valley where it followed a mixture of woodland footpath, rights of way through meadows and forestry tracks. It was a lovely walk and quite shaded in what was becoming a hot day. In the shade of the forest and beside the small springs which fed into the main stream, Water Avens, Geum nivale, where thriving and dense, and most still had their drooping orange purple flowers. Across the valley on the sunny side where the farms were, tractors were spinning the newly cut meadows to dry the grasses. 

105. Beside the springs and wetter areas on the floor of the Johnsbach valley there were huge cluster of Water Avens, Geum navalis.

Eventually this lovely saunter came to an end as I knew it would and the track started to climb up through the firs. The climb at nearly 800m was the main climb of the day. It went up from meadow to meadow through the trees. Some meadows had very nice houses, one surprisingly large at Rotleiten alm, while other were small cosy cabins, many of which seemed to be in need of care. The route left the track and went up through the damp forest which were shaded, but I was still sweating as I worked hard in midday warmth. The climb took a good couple of hours but at last, some 5 hours after leaving Hesshutte I was walking through open fir forest with a ground cover of blueberry bushes as I homed in on Modlinger Hutte. 

It was a beautiful old wooden lodge, perhaps 3 stories. People were sitting outside in the sun but I wanted the shade inside so went into the very characterful dining room with its old furniture, huge beams and small windows. The windows offed me a great view NE to the massive towering hulk of Hochtor mountain, still looking stern, beyond the Johnsbach valley below. I could even see where Hesshutte was and the saddle I came over yesterday with the 20 off chamois grazing on it. Modlinger

Hutte is definately a mountain hut I would have like to have stayed at to soak up the history in those old wooden beams. I had a litre of water and 4 slices of bread with cheese and tomato and was ready for the second half of the day.

106. The very characterful Modlingerhutte is a large woodn lodge with a century of history

Modlinghutte was on a ridge so I dropped down its west side into the Fitzen valley, mostly on a small path which cut down through the trees, occasionally intersecting, and very rarely following, a forest track. In one section I saw a chamois in the woods gazing among blueberry bushes, and I thought it looked out of place. Just before the bottom of the valley the route headed north on a forestry track which petered out onto a footpath. There were some stream beds to cross here which showed signs of a voilent rain storm as there was recent rock debris everywhere as it got swept down from the very high Admonter Reichenstein mountain. During such a storm these streams, now a trickle or even dry, would have been impossible to cross.    

There was a long, but easy, 400m climb for a good hour now as I sweated up the footpath and then grassy track through felled area and forest to reach Kalbinggateri saddle. And that was the days climbing done. I still had some 10km to go but it was mostly flat of downhill. First came the Klinke Hutte with its easy access, large parking area and practical but ugly tile floors. It was not a cosy lodge and I would not want to spend more that the time it took me to drink a radler here. The route now followed a footpath and then road until it got to a small wintersports and ski area which was all meadow now save the grey galvanized structures. There was a resturant here besiide a large stately looking farm called Kaiserau. It looked like it had aristocratic heritage but now the council had taken it over and was struggling to keep it preserved on an ever diminishing budget. The track went right past it and down a long straight to some ponds and yet another parking place. 

I was now looking forward to finish but still had one last 6 km section. It went into the forest by the ponds and made a small rise to an imperceptable saddle before the cool descent to Trieben. The sun had vanished now under a veil of high cloud and there was even some mist on the tops on the Rottenmanner mountains where I hoped to go tomorrow. The route was a mixed course along gently descending and grassed over tracks, with occasional steep footpath sections in deep conifer forest linking the grassy tracks up, until it emptied me into the rural hamlet of Dietmannsdorf. The hamlet was mostly hobby farmers and middle class families but there were a couple of farms with a strong smell of manure. It had a proud little church in the centre of the hamlet. 

107. Coming down the hillside into the town of Trieben which is the end of Section 02. North Styrian Alps.

I could now see Trieben clearly below and it was an industrial town with a tall chimney and large lactories. I had to cross a motorway and railway lines over bridges and then followed roads to the centre of town and the Triebnerhof guesthouse where I had a couple of packages the owner Klaus had received for me. It was a lovely large old solid stone and plaster clad building, but inside was very welcoming. It took me ages to shower and wash clothes and then I went downstairs for a meal in the busy dining room.  I had planned on a day off here but cancelled that to push on through the difficult next two days for which the weather forecast is good. 

This brought me to the end of North Styria and next section, The Niedere Tauern, starts here where the mountains scale up a bit from the last weeks. However I had really enjoyed last week especially the 2 day traverse of Hochschwab mountain which was the highlight of the tour so far.   


Section 02. 146 km. 50 Hours. 8060 up.  8050m down. 

May 27 to June 03 2022.



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