Chapter 35 (Part 1) — Adventures in the Austrian Alps

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Zimba, the landmark of the entire area. A view taken from Südschafgafall

Introduction

We had a bright idea in the early spring of 1980. We had sold our little fermette in l’Indre. and, very importantly, we had done a bit of hiking in the Colorado Rocky Mountains during  our almost unbelievable tour of the United States in ’79. We would probably enjoy going hiking in the Austrian Alps.

Our last, long hike in the Brandnertal (Brand valley) was in the year 2000, after having  skipped just one summer, the year we went to Argentina. We then rediscovered the wonders of what might have been our favorite hike, to Gemslücke (Gemsluggen, or alternative spellings in Swiss German) on the very border between Austria and Switzerland.

Also in the year 2000 we were the subjects of an Ehrung at Haus Kella-Egg, after we had spent twenty summers in Brand. There was a speech by a man from the tourist agency, a trophy, a medal and a nice picture book about the Brandnertal.

Repeated trips to India came not very long after that. Also two summer vacations in Lapland, Sweden and three longish visits to the Scottish Highlands, east, center and west, to the ‘Mainland’ of the Orkney islands, and also the inner (Skye, Mull) and outer Hebrides (Harris, Lewis) in the west. Ireland had already been the site of a pretty long and fascinating visit in 1997– what I was known to call a historic and prehistoric tour. Newgrange being definitely prehistoric, dating from circa 3,200 BC. as well as several other prehistoric sites.

Revisiting Lapland

Revisiting Lapland (for me)  in 2002 and 2003 was fabulous, but the hikes in Scotland were better suited to us elderly people. Still, I rediscovered quite a few places that I had the most wonderful memories from (Chapter 3 – Part 1). But how, in 2002, northern Lapland and the huts had changed! Food is now available in many of the huts, and also, in Staloluokta, there was now a house. In 2002 the only water was at the pump. There was  a shower room though, but, since there was no water at all in the house, we took a dip in the ‘jokk’, Viejejokk, that flows just 50 meters or so from the hut.The jokk (small river, Sam language) then runs into lake Viriihaure, widely considered, with its continuation north, Vastenjaure,, to be the two most beautiful lakes in Sweden. This is indeed a dreamland.

In 1950, as I have mentioned in a  previous chapter (“Chapter 3 (Part 5) – Lapland, three years later)”), there was only a Sami hut, built by Sami people since noone else knows how to build those. There were reindeer hides on the ground spread over supple birch branches, and that is what we slept on. there were sufficient reindeer hides to put over you as blankets too. Running water came in a pipe of sorts that brought water from the melting snow higher up, and it the ‘pipe’ was stuck in between two rocks just outside the hut. As we arrived we saw that we were not alone — one man already being there. He was totally love-stricken by the beauty and peace of this magic piece in the world, and he said he had to come to Staloluokta every year to recharge his batteries go on living another year in the “Sound and Fury” of the clanking and rushing modern world. This was in 1950! What would that man have had to say about the world of today?

In those days there was no helicopter and the next to last trek from Stalo to Kvikkjokk was 35 km. One more hut has now been added on that piece of the trail around Sarek. The very last trek was short, from Nunjestugan to Kvikkjokk fjällstation. This part of what is called Padjelantaleden took you through the almost unbelievable Tarradalen, where a micro climate made for plants that were higher than we were even though in other parts of Sweden they would reach us to our waste. We felt a bit as if we were in Alice in Wonderland, and we had drunk from the bottle that said “Drink me”.

We, Mother, sister Gun and I, were pretty tired when we got back to the tourist hotel in Kvikkjokk and the first thing we could think of was a bath. Then a good meal, since we had not had anything really to eat that last two days except cloud-berries and some bread we cooked over an open fire that in Swedish is called pinnbröd. We had run out of food (vacuum-packed food in those days), but amazingly enough Mother had some flour and some salt in reserve. The third ingredient is water, and you put the dough on a stick, so pinnbröd

Back to 2002. Since there was no caretaker we had to make sure everything was neat and clean before we left the house (be it by helicopter or on foot) and that there was water in the kitchen. I know I swept the floor quite carefully before we left, and John went to the pump to fill the bucket of water. If you saw someone else sweeping the floor you could wipe off all the tables, for instance. Communism prevailed.

 

Brandnertal

Now back to 1980 and our first visit to Brandnertal and Haus Kella-Egg, which John had found out about at the Austrian tourist bureau in Paris. The town looked delightful on the map he brought home and there seemed to be a great variety of walks. Plus it was at the end of the road — no through traffic with trucks and speeding cars. We decided to try it. That was the beginning of twenty summers of vacations at Haus Kella-Egg.

A large number of walks began at the Lünersee at an altitude of 2000 m. You got to it by a Seilbahn (funicular), or, quite a few years later, by Böser Tritt, a fun but not easy 400 m. climb up, but a bit boring when you reached the end of the rock climbing, which was a lot of fun.

There were of course other walks as well, Amatschonjoch, Sarotlahütte, and several others, where you started out from the valley.

 

I will relive here a few of the most striking hikes we made during these twenty years when we regularly spent close to three weeks in the summers at Haus Kella-Egg, hosts Gerti and Sepp Königer, who became dear friends and not just hosts. Their son Günter (English teacher in Bludenz) and his beautiful wife Lisi have now taken over running the house, and I do hope that Gerti does not make beds any more. There are three grandchildren, Manfred, Jessica and I forget the name of the third one, a boy. And young and beautiful Lisi has become a grandmother — Jessica has a little girl. It seems almost unbelievable.

We also made friends with Fritz und Renate Lange the very first year. As we emerged from Saulajochsteig and the walk down to Heinrich-Hueterhütte, we ran into Fritz and Renate who were also staying at Haus Kella-Egg. They were eating Kaiserschmarren, an Austrian egg-and-flour-and-raisin specialty, which our very good friend Ruth, German-Parisian, had also recommended. It was delicious and we were to eat Kaiserschmarren many times during those twenty summers in various Hütten in the area.

Todalphütte as we saw it our first year in Brand. The cable is for hauling up provisions from below. (1980)

The walk that I remember best from the first year, 1980 was to Totalphütte, from where we later took many different walks further up after the altitude of circa 2000 m. qt Lünersee and Douglashütte. What struck us this first year was how much snow there was. We never saw that much snow in any later year, even though in 1981 when there was a lot of snow above 1500 m. altitude. In 1980 kids were sledding down the slopes next to the hut on big pieces of cardboard. Anything goes.

In spite of the masses of snow, however, we saw some of the most exquisite flowers we would ever see in the Austrian Alps. And that is saying a lot. John very soon became a fellow flower lover. That, for a man who until then had only known the names of tulips and roses was a noteworthy change.

Ranunculus glacialis (isranunkel) very close to Todalphütte

In German  the name of this anemone (right) is Gletscher-Hahnenfuß — isranunkel in Swedish (ranunculus glacialis). In English it is Glacier buttercup, a direct translation from German.

We saw the same sweet little anemones on our first walk to Saarbrückenerhütte from the Montafon valley east of Brandnertal, in 1981.

We had wanted to try out the neighboring Montafon valley as well, but we did not at all like it as well as Brandnertal.We were snowed in at a Gästehaus in Gargellen in 1981, and I called up Gerti and asked if we could come one day earlier than we had reserved for. We could. I remember there was snow up to our knees in the Gargellen forest.

Continued: Chapter 35 (Part2)