We arrived just before 9 am and the trail parking lot was already full, although you can still park on the street. The trail starts with a bridge over the Poudre River. We hiked up the Meadow trail first. Unfortunately, a lot of the forest in this area is burned, which gave me some appreciation into the scale of these fires.
After a winding 1.5 hour drive from Fort Collins through Estes Park, we arrived at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. By 8:30 AM the small parking lot at Glacier Gorge was already full, so we continued down the road and parked at the Bear lake parking, which had plenty of room.
It was a nice morning on the trail at Devil’s Backbone. Despite the ominous name, it was a nice, short hike. The trail came highly recommend from a friend and it was covered in our new favorite guidebook, Hikes Around Fort Collins, by Melodie S. Edwards. The name refers to the rock formations that span the valley. Quoting Edwards:
The “hogbacks,” as they are known, which stretch from north of Fort Collins all the way down the Front Range and including Devils Backbone, are remnants of an ancient seafloor that has been exposed by wind and water over hundreds of thousands of years.
At the trail head a free trail map and interpretive guide are provided (aslo available here). It’s an easy hike that is family friendly and it allowed me an opportunity to test out the 3D shots with the Nexus 4 (here).
Until I can land a job as a full-time Alpine hiker, I generally start planning (dreaming of) my next trip on the flight back from my existing trip. Granted, the realist in me appreciates that wandering (it is very fitting that the german verb “to hike” is “wandern”) probably isn’t going to be my full-time career. Besides, what would I do for a vacation then? Most likely visit a metropolis and work as software engineer for two weeks. 😉
Before we get to the next trip, let’s wrap up this one. First, I want to make some comments about the gear that I used:
Handheld hiking GPS. I know Garmin’s stock went down when Apple announced it’s maps initiative, but the iPhone can’t beat the battery life and sensitivity of a dedicated GPS (currently), especially one that can’t get connected to the Internet. My Garmin eTrex 20 was fun on the trail, with constant moving averages and recorded the data to produce those great Google Earth maps.
Camelback. Absolutely essential in my opinion. I had a backpack with a Camelback sleeve and it makes a huge difference having the water fit nicely in the mid of your back vice carrying water bottles. Plus, it’s easy access to water. I was drinking about 3 Liters of water each trip and honestly, I should have been drinking more in the 80+ degrees.
Dry-fit clothing. I sweat profusely. After switching to all dry-fit clothing I adamantly avoid cotton on hikes. When we stopped for breaks and I took my bag off, my shirts would dry. The smell on the other hand…
A lot of spoken German practice for me, which was fun. After a few trips to Germany, I quickly became a fan of the German Trinkkultur, hiking and the language. I mean, it’s a great language for Computer Scientists since it uses a stack; in some cases all the verbs pile up at the end of the sentence and once complete, one pops the stack of all the verbs! I even was able to help hikers and tourist with directions in the area, in German! So, you know… go me.
Hotel-to-hotel-hiking is the way to go. My previous hiking in Berchtesgaden and Lauterbrunnen were both amazing in their own rights, but having a luggage service really opens up the day to maximize time in the mountains. This was also my first experience with a travel agency and Wanderweg Holidays really made this effortless. They also specialize in this kind of trip. I highly recommend you check them out if you are interested in a similar vacation!
So, what’s next? Some possibilities:
Another hiking trip. I would love to go back to German speaking countries (mainly for point number 1 above). But there’s a lot on this geoid where I haven’t been, mainly I’ve never been in the Southern Hemisphere! Despite a circumnavigation through both major canals and visiting Singapore (1 degree away!!), I’m still a pollywog. So, if it is a hiking trip, New Zealand is looking like the candidate. Or New Hampshire if we’re driving 🙂
Cruise. Cruises are effortless vacations. I get massive amounts of reading done on these while I’m sitting on a deck looking out onto the sea. It’s great, relatively cheap and easy. While great, we’ve done our share, so meh.
The Alps in the winter. My wife is a skier, I’m a faller-down-the-mountain-and-kill-myself-so-just-stay-in-the-lodge-and-read-guy, so it works out great! Plus, point 1 again.
So, probably back to Germany 😮 , but I’ll work on my plans some more. Of course, if you have suggestions, feel free to leave a comment! Well, I don’t have any more hiking adventures upcoming anytime soon, but I’m burning through a backlog of books and my database class is interesting (sounds of massive unsubscribing… 🙂 ), so feel free to stick around.
Day 6 of 6. Satisfied with a filling pre-hike breakfast, we set out north from Weißbach to the famous Lamprechtshöhle (Lamprecht’s cave). The 700m of cave that is accessible to the public is just the foyer to the 51 km cave! The cave has the medieval version of the Goonies story: a famous knight (Knight Lamprecht) hid all of his treasure in this mysterious cave. The Knight’s two daughters, one blind, one greedy, inherited said treasure, but the greedy sister betrayed her kin and tried to take the treasure for herself. Somehow, the blind sister discovered this and cursed her sister with the treasure in the Frauenhöhle section of the cave. Then there’s this thing about a Baby Ruth bar and a pirate’s ship, or something like that, I’m not fluent in German remember 🙂 Anyway, the tale convinced at least 198 adventurers to seek the treasure unsuccessfully, since that many human skeletons were found by more experienced spelunkers.
The entrance to the cave is marked with a wooden awning with a stone carving, which gives the cave a dwarven feel. We were fortunate to even get to see the cave since it was initially closed due to “High Water” when we first arrived. But, the attendant told us it would open in about ten minutes and we waited while she setup her kiosk and arranged all the plush bats by the cashier’s stand. We proceeded into the cave with caution…
After the cave, we continued up the Saalach a bit and then veered west to detour to the Vorderkaserklamm. Just one… more… gorge… I’ve mentioned before that it had rained after we returned to the hotels, each night in fact. However, we carried our rain coats with us every day, just in case. Well, at the base of this gorge, we shrugged off the sign that said something like “You will get wet on this ride.” After 40m of a single-file-wooden-catwalk, we were soaked. A deluge of water, all runoff from the mountain above, poured into the gorge. We took momentary shelter under a hanging rock and put on our rain coats and the otherwise beautiful gorge became a blur as we raced up the hundred or so steps to the exit. We were immediately greeted by two resting women who could do nothing but laugh at the sight of us, so we asked for a picture 😉
Out of the gorge and through the woods, back to Lofer we go. Stopping of course, for a snack at a well-timed snack-bar just north of St. Martin. Another healthy snack: Nussschnecken and Pretzels! Ending our day at the Salzburger Hof again, we completed our six days of hiking without luggage in the Saalachtal! One last night in Austria before we set off for a travel day in Munich where we had one more adventure…
Day 5 of 6. One of the nice things about a hotel next to a church, is that one doesn’t need an alarm clock. Initially waking up at seven bells, we finally stumbled out at three short bells (0745) for a light breakfast before saying Auf Wiedersehen to St. Martin.
Starting pleasantly enough on a shaded path, we reached the ascent on a road through the pastures. Basically, today’s goal was to get to Weißbach, which isn’t really that far from St. Martin, but it wouldn’t be all that fun to walk directly there. 😉 Instead, the theme of the day was walk around the Gerhardstein “hill” (refer to map) and arrive to Weißbach through, that’s right, gorges and pastures. So, maybe about 3/4 of the ascent (at 1260m) from St. Martin, there was a small chapel (Eiblkapelle) that had one of the best viewpoints of the trip yet. We sat up there for a while, taking pictures and enjoying a snack before moving on.
The peak of our day was at the snack-station Litzalm. It was filled with hikers and bikers (of the bicycle sort) taking well-deserved breaks from wherever they came. However, we decided to press on. A rather steep and rocky descent (I’m glad we went in this direction) followed before we were back in a river’s valley. Finally, our stomachs got the better of us and we stopped at the Gasthof Lohfeyer.
I had another grilled-meat-sampler-plate with a Weißbier and being a bit more aggressive about asking for the check then on our second day, we were soon off to the Seisenbergklamm. The best gorge so far! A few hundred meters long and maybe just less than 100 meters deep (the website has plenty of great pictures, none of mine really developed well). The gorge is the gateway to Weißbach and our hotel, the aptly named Landgasthof Seisenbergklamm, awaited us. It rained again that night and we rested up for our last day of hiking which would be the return trip to Lofer.
Date completed: 21.6.12
Start Time: 0932
Start Elevation: 674m
Highest Elevation: 1323m @ 1256
End Time: 1612
And because I can’t get the song out of my head and because it’s the rare German version, here’s a treat:
Fortunately, we did not encounter said Holzfäller.
Day 4 of 6. Leaving our luggage again, we re-traced Day three as far as the Innersbachklamm, but continued through Reith and quickly through Au. Along the way we had great views of the Steinberge mountains. The morning was relatively cloudless, but the forecast called for heavy rains starting around 1700, so we decided to clip about two hours from the planned route. But back to the trail… We stumbled on a few hunting shelters (Jägersitze) in the dense woods, which when discovering them unoccupied, has a creepy feeling, like finding the “others” camp on LOST.
Next, we went through the Maybergklamm (we were taking the Route der Klammen, “Route of the Gorges,” after all) and up to the Auer Wiesen pastures. With panoramic views overlooking Au, we continued in the open slowly making our way back to Lofer. As we approached the Knappenstadl restaurant, we passed a small chapel dedicated to St. Hubertus. I took the photo at the well-trampled photo spot, where it should be obvious from the photo that St. Hubertus is the patron saint of hunters, which probably explains the many Jägersitze!
From there, we hugged the base of the Kienberg and popped back out in Lofer in the campground behind Castle Grubhof. There is a cultural difference about camping in Germany / Austria than in the U.S. that I can’t quite explain; it’s somehow more accepted but still has a certain stigma to it. In fact, a few years ago while I was traveling in Stuttgart, I saw a German comedy sitcom called, “Die Camper,” which captured the social drama of living in a RV-park. Anyway, the Grubhof campers were very content sitting on their lawn chairs in the shade of their pull out patios. From the campsite, we crossed the highway and arrived at our hotel in St. Martin, the Gasthof zur Post. Interesting typography fact: a roman cursive medial character, ſ, looks like a ‘f’ but is pronounced like an ‘s,’ i.e. the “long s.” A short trip around the church in St. Martin confirmed that the Gafthof zur Poft was indeed our hotel 🙂
Day 3 of 6. Day two left us very, very sore so we decided to make Day 3 an easy day. We were supposed to take a route following the Saalach river in the direction of Bad Reichenhall and cross into Germany and come back. Instead we followed a trail south to the Innersbachklamm (gorge).
It was a particularly nice day to visit the gorge and we had fun walking along the bridge and taking plenty of pictures. This entire trip and especially the gorges, made me feel as if I was wandering through Zork. Going through the gorges, I felt I would suddenly
After a pause at the end of the gorge, we walked through cow-infested trails into the village of Unken. Stopping briefly for cash and some groceries (pretzels and Mezzo Mix), we walked back to the hotel. But on our way back, I walked up a trail briefly to get a view and I serendipitously found a small cabin, with a stone lion fountain (again, very Zork-like). We had a short pause in the lion-hut before calling it a day.
Back to the hotel for a restful afternoon. I opened my Kindle and finally got around to finishing Life of Pi. A decent book to read while traveling. Although, the algae-island that turns carnivorous at night is a bit trippy… Dinner was a delicious Austria BBQ consisting of grilled chicken, sausage, pork, beef and bacon. Otherwise known as a Vegetarian’s Nightmare 😉
Day 2 of 6. One of the best aspects of this trip was the “Wandern ohne Gepäck,” or hiking without luggage. Each day when we would walk to a new hotel, we would leave our suitcases at the “old” hotel and then, magically, they would be transported to the new
hotel! This allowed us to hike with only a backpack and we could arrive at a hotel with our bags (and clean clothes) awaiting us. So, we packed our luggage and left them at the reception desk of the Salzburger Hof and started our second day of hiking.
We started the day with a stroll through Lofer to the cable car to Loferer Alm. We arrived at the lift after nine, but we had to wait to the first run until ten. Once in the enclosed lift, we enjoyed a scenic ascent on a warm day to the first pasture (Alm). From there, we went on foot up to Haus Gertraud (elevation 1348m). Here we stopped for a healthy lunch: Wießbier und Apflelstrudel. 🙂 However, with the break (about an hour, mainly because I’m still not accustomed to aggressively flagging down the waitress, as is the custom in Germany/Austria) and the delay from the lift, it was already after noon and we still had quite a ways to go…
Appropriately fueled for the the trek, we continued our slight ascent through alpine pastures before plunging into the literal “black forest” and the long walk to Unken. On a
paved lumber-road, we descended all those many meters we climbed, which wasn’t too fun on the knees. Brief interludes of the Schwarzbergklamm kept us entertained, but otherwise, it was a tedious walk. Nearing Unken, my GPS, a Garmin eTrex 20, froze and unfortunately I was too tired at the time to think to take out the batteries and replace them, so unfortunately my track recording died. Otherwise, the device was excellent save for this one incident.
A remaining pesky detail remained: we didn’t know where our hotel was 🙂 We thought it was in the center of town… At this point, I was pretty much exhausted and I probably looked as bad as I smelt. Without a GPS, I was forced to try the old fashion way: asking for directions. I’m not fluent in German, but I do have my Zertifikat Deutsch, so I asked a helpful looking man sipping his coffee. Unfortunately, he had a heavy swiss accent, so all I caught was, “I’m a tourist here, … from Switzerland … ask the women.” Seeing how he pointed in the direction of a young woman behind him, I tried again. She was from Berlin and the Oracle women were apparently inside. Wandering inside the nice hotel, I was quickly helped and given detailed instructions and told that I should get a new GPS. 😕 However, as detailed as they were, we were quickly lost without a map.
Fortunately, the information center was still open, we received our map and found our way to the beautiful Landhotel Schütterbad where we showered, ate a wonderful dinner with a very fancy dessert and slept very, very well.
This is Day 1 of 6 hiking days in and around Lofer, Austria. But first, some comments on Day 0, or the travel day to Lofer. My flight was routed through NYC (JFK) to London Heathrow and then to Munich, Germany on British Airways. Arriving late in Heathrow in Terminal 5 I had a funny experience with the BA staff, mainly I participated in a group run through the terminal. There was a very nice staff member who met the lot of us going to Munich at the exit of our plane where we were instructed to run to the lift. In the lift, she told us that despite how fast we run, we may not make it and that we
shouldn’t be upset at her. When the lift opened, a group of 20 tired travelers dashed through the terminal to the next waiting point 🙂 We didn’t make it to the gate on time, but it was no problem rebooking the flight and overall, it was a fun game in the terminal. Oh, and we received a full bottle of Champagne from the BA steward (separate story), but we couldn’t take it with us since we had to go back through security again in Heathrow, uggg!
Once in Munich, I bought a Deutsche Bahn ticket in the Munich airport all the way to Salzburg. For two people, it was only around 27 Euro or so since we used the local regional train, which only arrived 30 minutes later than the nearly twice as expensive trains. The automated ticketing machines are so easy it really makes traveling by train in Germany a breeze! So, S-Bahn to München-Ost and then the RE to Salzburg. From Salzburg, the 260 Bus for 1.5 hours to Lofer, Austria.
After much-needed rest at the Salzburger Hof, we started Day 1! A hike up the Salzburger Steig to almost 1100m (see elevation graph) and then down to the beautiful Maria Kirchental. There was a service ending as we arrived so the Pilgrim’s church and surrounding shops were bustling with
churchgoers. Cutting between Lofer and St. Martin and then walking north along the Salaach River, I learned an important lesson about hiking maps. The lesson is: a dotted black trail on the map basically means you pave your own path. After 45 minutes of forging my own path through a black forest, I realized it’s better just to follow the more established “red” paths…
Anyway, back on the road and following the Salaach upstream back into Lofer, we finished Day 1!