Chapter 35 — Brandnertal – 20 summers in the Austrian Alps

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A view back on our walk to Lindauerhütte in 1981. In the background right is majestic Schesaplana, 3000 m high, which we would climb in 1986.

Introduction

We had a bright idea in 1980, after we had sold our little fermette in l’Indre. We would probably enjoy going hiking in the Austrian Alps. Our last and long hike in the Brandnertal was in the year 2000. We then rediscovered the wonders of what might have been our favorite hike, to Gemslücke (Gemsluggen, or alternative spellings) on the very border between Austria and Switzerland.

Our 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, the Mainland of the Orkney islands, and also the inner and outer Hebrides in the west. Ireland had already been the site of a pretty long and fascinating visit in 1997– what I called a historic and prehistoric tour., Newgrange being definitely prehistoric, and other sites as well.

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) – Lapland and Lofoten, Norway” + Par ts 2-5). But how northern Lapland and the huts had changed! Food available in the huts in many places, and also, in Staloluokta, there was now a house. In 2002 there was only water at the pump though. 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 (river) then runs into lake Viriaure, widely considered, with its continuation north, Vastenjoure,, to be the two most beautiful lakes in Sweden.

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. Running water came in a pipe of sorts that brought water from the melting snow higher up, and it was stuck in between two rocks just outside the hut. As we arrives 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 go on living another year in the “Sound and Fury” of the clanking and rushing world. This was in 1950.

In those days thare was no helicopter and the last stretch form Stalo to Kvikkjokk was 35 km. Two more huts have now been added on that piece of the trail around Sarek. 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 day except cloudberries and some bread we cooked over an open fire that in Swedish is called pinnbröd. We had run out of food, but amazingly enough Mother had some flour and some salt. The third ingredient is water, and you put the dough on a stick..

Back to 2002. Since there was no caretaker we had to make sure everything was neat and clean before we left (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 at a travel agency for Austria in Paris. The town looked delightful on the map he brought home and there seemed to be a great variety of walks. We decided to try it . That was the beginning of twenty summers of vacations at Haus Kella-Egg.

The beginning of a large number of walks was Lünersee at an altitude of 2000 m., You got to it by a Seilbahn, or, quite a few years later, by Böser Ttritt, a fun but not really easy climb up, especially 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.

Mottakopf hovering over Brand village, always impressive  (1981)

Haus Kella-Egg run by our dear friends, the Königers. (1999)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will relive here a few of the most striking hikes we took 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 (Ebnglish teacher in Bludenz) and his beautiful wife Lisi have now taken over the running, and I do hope that Gerti does not make beds any more. There are three grandchildren, Manfred, Jennifer and I forget the name of the third one, a boy.

We also made friends with Fritz und Renate Lange the very first year. As we descended from Saulajochsteig and all the rest of the walk down to Heinrich-Hueterhütte, we ran into Fritz and Renate who were also straying at Haus Kella-Egg. They were eating Kaiserscmarren, an Austrian egg-and-flour-and-raisin specialty, which our very good friend Ruth, German-French, had 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.

The walk that I remember best from the first year, 1980 was to Totalphütte, from where we later took many different walks much further up . What struck us this first year was how much snow there was. We never saw that much snow any later year, even though 1981  also saw 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. Even John very soon became a flower fan. That, for a man who until then had only known the names of tulips and roses,

Ranunculus glacialis on the way down from Todalphütte

was a noteworthy change in a man. 

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 Brandbertal, in 1981.

We had wantyed to try out Montafon valley as well, but found that we did not at all like it as well as Brandnertal.We were snowed in at a gästehaus in Gargellen, and I called up Gerti and asked if we could come one day earlier than we had reserved for. We could.

The two things that stand out from the walk to Saarbrückenerhütte were the adorable little group of glacier buttercup and the wonderful view from the Hütte towards the south over mountains and an impressive glacier..

On our trekking in the Swedish ‘fjäll’ (high mountains) in Lapland in my youth, we saw ‘isranunkel’ on and off, but it was always a big event when we did. The same for the little blue-blue gentians, so blue that they practically cry out to you. Gentians are not at all seen in Lapland in the masses and in all the varieties that we see in the Austrian Alps —  various blues, various yellows and various reds.

View from Saarbrückenerhütte in 1981 over part of the mountain in the south, with the impressive glacier that continues in the snowfield in the foreground, indicated by the big crack in the snow/ice.

Lindauerhütte

In 1081 we went on a long trek to Lindauerütte , setting out at the southern end on Lünersee and taking the path towards the impressive mountain Schweizertor.

We had planned on spending the night there and coming back the next day. Sepp Königer told us that there would be no problem getting sleeping places, if we referred to him, saying we were Königer guests. Wrong. We arrived in the afternoon on this gorgeous sunny day after a very interesting walk along the mountains bordering on Switzerland. we had a good meal on the terrace in the sun,BUT there was just one Matratzenlager left at all. If we could spend the night the two of us on the floor on one mattress, it was all right. We decided we could not. The host (Hüttenwirt) said we could ‘just‘ walk to the village 8 km away to the railroad that would take us to Bludenz, and from there we would get to Brand. It would be just a short walk he said and no problem. Right.

We walked and walked and walked, through a forest and through fields on some kind of path. Our feet got sorer and sorer. We had not yet learned to put a pair of thin inner socks inside the woolen ones. However, we made it, for better or for worse to the railroad and we took the next train to Bludenz. From there (I think I remember right) we took a taxi to Haus Kella-Egg. We had had it with what we call ‘strapatser’ in Swedish — hardship. I don’t remember if we got anything to eat that evening, but I am sure we got something, if nothing else, Gerti would give us a sandwich or something as we arrived pretty exhausted. Thank goodness we were young and healthy.

Saulajochsteig

John on Saulajochsteig in 1980, our very first year in Brand. Many many more walks that way were to follow.

The ‘path’ (if that is  a proper word for the rocky things you balance on here) that we very likely took the most often of all the high mountain paths, was Saulajochsteig, from a distance looking like a somewhat lighter colored irregular line on the side of the mountain. The very first time we took the Seilbahn up to Douglashütte and Lünersee, I saw with great fear the line on the mountain to the east and said falmously “There I will never walk. That’s for Gemsen (mountain goats) only.

From Douglashütte at the top of the Seilbahn (funicular) we walked east towards Lünerkrinne and from there on to the gorgeous beloved Saulajocch. On the way we took the shortcut via ‘Königersteig’, so named by the Langes who claimed that Sepp had found the path and inaugurated it?. It was not a path for small children and alpine beginners. In the middle of the path, for quite a long stretch, the mountain comes right down to the ‘path’ and more or less does away with it. I always put my hand on the side of the mountain to feel more secure and where there was no path you just had to try and find a rock that would hold your foot. (The path to Südschafgafall, where we also went several times, was pretty much the same on a short stretch.) We got very used to ‘Königersteig‘ though and it did not seem risky maybe after the first time.

Then, very soon came the glorious opening up of the valley, which is called Saulajoch since it is a Joch at the end of it. The absolutely fabulous flowers that we saw in this valley is impossible to describe. There were Alpen,rosen, millions(it seemed) of Silberwurz (Sw. fjällsippa), and especially the far more rare Feld Kleinenzian and the Troddelblume (Soldanella) which I believe was and is my favorite ever of all the gorgeous flowers we got to know in the Alps. There is no doubt about the importance that the flowers played in our love of the Alps, and the reason why we came back year after year. John got to be as great a lover of blooming meadows and specific flowers as I was.

Then came the Saulajochsteig. I have said enough in the captions to the pictures about ordinary walking conditions. So here comes the BIG story. 

One day (we don’t remember what year it was, and obviously we took no pictures on that walk) heavy clouds were amassing in the west and coming closer and closer. Then the cloudburst came. And it was not just an ordinary cloudburst either. We were obviously wearing our Gortex jackets, but what could a rainproof jacket do to change conditions on a ‘path’ like Saulajochsteig in a storm like this. And yes, there was thunder and lightning too.

It was not very different from walking under a waterfall. And yes, I have been under a waterfall, when sister Gubn and I took a shower on a hot day in Lapland to refresh us for further walking. Of course we held on to the cable on this drastic occasion. The cable felt cold, but it wouldn’t have helped much if we had been wearing completely soaked gloves. At each crack in the mountain wall on our left there was a waterfall, a real one, even if not very big. We just put our hands in the waterfall and we had no thought of being scared or feeling uncomfortable. In a situation like that, all your mind is s set on getting through to the end, moving forward, holding on to the cable and watchinhg-g where you put your feet.