A CGRUK destination article in the Austrian Alps… beautiful Alpine scenery and fabulous food!
I had a week off and no partner so last year I tagged along with the Austrian Alpine Club on a tour of The Stubai Alps. I was in hallowed company with the leader being the Cicerone guidebook writer for the area and also the president of the UK section joined us. With great company and brilliant accommodation it’s probably a perfect week’s holiday, weather permitting but more of that later. The tour takes in all the main glaciers, high mountain huts and takes in some impressive alpine scenery. It’s a non technical tour so would be an ideal first adventure, but you do need to have crevasse rescue knowledge and be comfortable wandering around wet glaciers.
I caught a flight from Manchester in the UK to Munich in Germany. I then caught a train to Innsbruck and booked an overnight stay at The Weisses Cruz, a Ye Olde Worlde hotel just a stones throw from the Golden Roof with the added bonus of being able to leave baggage at the reception to be picked up after the tour.
The tour itself starts at the village of Neustift, a half hour bus ride from Innsbruck. The purist can walk up to the Franz Senn hütte from the village; those with cash can catch a taxi to the car park at the Oberrisshütte. This has the advantage of gaining plenty of height and leaves you with a 1 hour walk to the hut. If you have even more cash you can send your rucksack up via seil bahn; pop your sack in the carriage, call the hut and up it whizzes, leaving you with a lovely stroll to the hut. The, excellent hut is well stocked and has hot showers, a variety of via ferrata, rock climbs, zip wires and lovely 4 course meals (these were a feature of the week and I found it hard to lose weight – which is one of the reasons I do these types of trip).
Day one can be a training day, a long but satisfying day that walks up to the Rinnennieder pass and drops down onto the Lusener Ferner glacier. Rope up here and a traverse of the glacier and short climb will land you on top of the Lusener Fernerkogel. Retrace your steps to the pass and back to the Rinensee tarn. From here, if you still have energy you can climb the Rinnenspitze a great little climb that has some excellent rock sections well protected with wires. Or just go and do the Rinnenespitze and then spend the afternoon climbing the great Via Ferrata which are a stones throw from the hut. Or you can whizz straight into day 2 if you feel fit and acclimatised.
Day 2 the tour proper begins, follow the valley to the bottom of the glacier (red splashes), rope up and gain steady height on the Alpineiner Ferner glacier. Your first navigation test then begins as you need to locate the Wildgratscharte pass (3170m). You need to have spot on navigation as it can be difficult to locate, especially as not many people use this pass any more and way is not marked. But as soon as you have gained the initial height and come to a rocky bluff, start looking to pass over to another small glacier on the right. You should know you are heading in the right direction as if you look carefully the pass is marked with a big white circle. You are looking for a red arrow on the rock to the right, as the new way over features rocky, exposed scrambling, well protected by wired via feratta. As you reach the top of this section you can look down and thank your lucky stars you haven’t had to climb the grotty old way up the ‘couloir of mud’! Drop down, still wired, until the wire stops. If it has snowed you will need a short abseil to reach the next section of wire which will deposit you on the Schwarzenbergferner glacier, all exciting stuff and you can relax in the knowledge that you’ve completed the technical part of the tour. If you are still bursting with energy, then head due west to the right of the Schrankogel and climb it, dropping SW, following red markers to pick up the path to the Amberger Hütte. You can also reach this point traversing the glacier in a SW direction and dropping down until you pick up the same red markers to the hütte. Hot showers, beer and another 4 course meal await. This is the longest day of the tour.
Day 3 is a straight forward day but covers some beautiful mountain scenery. Head due S up the valley and pick up the Sulztalferner glacier, stay on the right hand side of this glacier heading S to the top of the Wütenkarsattel at 3103m, this then has a short drop onto the Wütenkarferner glacier and heads for the magnificent Hochstubaihütte at 3174m. There you will be greeted by the warden with a glass of schnapps and enjoy a real mountain hut experience; the beauty of this hut being that it takes real effort to get to so is populated by keen walkers and mountaineers. No hot shower here but awesome food and great beer.
Day 4 is a mixed day, drop back down onto the glacier and head E to the Warenkarscharte at 3186m, this is straight forward. Getting off can be problematic; there are markers to follow but the ground is very loose and requires real mountain sense to pick the safest line, if it has snowed, you may get some thigh deep avalanche debris, if not it could be scree. You are aiming to head E under the Windacher Daunkogel then SE to pick up the bottom of the ski tows at Bildstockljoch, a short height gain brings to the Jochdohle. It will often be busy here as it is a tourist destination; there is a café and expect a complete contrast to the loneliness of the day you’ve just had. From the top there is a marked piste across the glacier heading SE, more waymarked path leads to another excellent high mountain hut: the Hildesheimer Hütte.
Day 5 – on my trip the weather crapped out here and we went back to the cable car to pick up the Stubaier Honenweg (the famous lower level route) at the Dresdeer Hütte where we still had time to climb two fantastic 250m Via Ferratas. Next day we then double hopped over to Sulzenauhutte for lunch then onto the Nurnberger Hütte. The tour proper makes for the Pfaffejoch (3208m) via some tricky manouvres to gain the Pfaffenferner, then make for the Wilder Pfaff (3456m), the high point of the tour, traversing the ridge EES to hit the Mullerhütte (3145m). It looks a great day and it was a real disappointment to not have done it. On the plus side it’s a great reason to do the tour again!
Day 6 – continue traversing the ridge NE to climb the Wilde Freiger (3418m). From the summit head NE and drop down to the Gamspitzl (3050m), take in the Urfallspitze (2805m) and onto the Nurnberger Hütte. This hut will be more busy as it’s on the Stubaier Honenweg, but it’s a great, welcoming hut with hot showers and once again, superb food. I was treated to the best hut night I’ve ever had with a full oompah band and the hut warden playing traditional Tyrolean music on his harp!
Day 7 should see you heading down the valley due N to pick up the bus at Spitz and heading back to the metropolitan delights of Innsbruck.
A great high level tour taking in some superb high mountain scenery, great food and don’t forget the unmissable Weißbier – just don’t drink too much you’ve got a tough days mountaineering to do!
Austrian Alpine Club membership – not only do you get discounted rates at all the huts, you get great insurance too . You will easily save the membership fee on this trip alone.
Map – Kompass Stubaier Alpen 1:50 000 sheet 83. Bought at Munich airport and covers the whole route.
Silk sleeping bag liner – ooh err, you get to sleep in silky bliss. We booked rooms that had duvets: oh, the joys of middle aged wealth.
I got all my kit into a 35l Häglofs Roc rucksack, with room to spare.
Crampons- Grivel Air Tech I have tried fancy aluminium ski mountaineering in the past but they don’t last.
Ice axe – Grivel Air Tech Racing. You can get lighter, and that’s fine. There was no technical use for the axe, but there were sections where you would need to arrest if you slipped.
Harness – Black Diamond Couloir. The perfect harness for this type of trip.
Basic toiletries – you could shave and there was the odd hot shower. Linx bullets are the business for the odd ‘french shower’.
Wide mouthed Nalgene bottle. Stuff it with snow when you run out of water.
What can I say; I can’t give an unbiased review about a guide that I feature in! The trip was designed for Allan to update the guidebook and May 2011 saw a new, updated version. It’s important to have the updated guide as the Glaciers will have changed since the last version. The guide is well set out and in order explains each day of the tour, with the highlights, quality photographs and snippets of history or hut lore to add interest. The diagrams are a clear aid to navigation and are backed up with any technical information you might need to help make your day an enjoyable one. The timings are about right, although if you go ultralight and are well versed in glacier travel you would beat them. The guide also offers hut excursions as you could extend your time on the glaciers by climbing several summits from most of the huts. The guide also covers the lower level and more extensive Stubai Rucksack Route.
I would have liked to see some mention of the rock climbing and via ferrata that were available at some of the huts. I would also liked to have seen some of the more important navigational features given WGS84 grid references to aid GPS programming as these are becoming an essential item of kit.
So, an indispensible guide for the trip, well laid out, accurate maps and timings and plenty of interesting anecdotes to keep you informed. The photos are good quality and will inspire you in your planning and my favourite part is the back pages where you can collect your hut stamps.
Do remember to join the Austrian Alpine Club before you visit as it’s worth its weight in gold and thanks to Allan Hartley (www.allanhartley.co.uk) for allowing me to use some of his great photos.