Wildschoenau: wild and beautiful. If that wasn’t the translation you’d surely protest that it should be. Since earlier today when I started to mentally compile this latest blog, I have been having pleasurable flashbacks of my time in Niederau and the surrounding areas; I was there not too long ago but far too long ago, if you catch my drift.
As previously documented on this blog, my holiday at the Harfenwirt in Niederau was the greatest yet of my 20+ stays in Austria and Slovenia. I haven’t returned when perhaps I should have but, again chronicled elsewhere, I was mindful that a return visit might not live up to previous expectations and/or sully the memory of my erstwhile visit. Silly? Maybe but thanks to this blog, I’ve now resolved to return next year.
My visit was blessed with temperatures in the mid-nineties – perhaps too hot for the walking I planned to do and actually achieved but what are the alternatives: confine oneself to a balcony, the bar or pool? You can do that anywhere in the world, not in the least at home. I went for it; pushed myself hard and despite skin-damage from the fierce sonnenschein(no pun intended, Frau Thaler), I accomplished much and enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying stay in the Wildschoenau.
So, what in particular did it for me? Quite simply, although paradoxically it isn’t so simple to fully explain, every ideal-scenario for a successful holiday was to be found. Putting though aside the other reasons, I found the hiking to be surprisingly varied and challenging. The Markbachjochbahn is conveniently situated in the middle of Niederau, although the middle of somewhere this small is a little hard to quantify. I tended to use the Markbachjoch on my down-days after some punishing 20+ mile hikes on previous days; with though this is mind, it is entirely possible and realistic to have a week quite contentedly exploring the Markbachjoch and it’s environs without the need for seeking further, more challenging horizons. Once disembarking from the gondola at the misleadingly modest 1500 metres one cannot fail to be impressed when looking back over the valley. The verdancy of the landscape and attendant serenity will momentarily take your breath away; hearing only your heart beating, you will find even that quietening almost out of respect for the surroundings. And yet, these aren’t vertiginous peaks, nor rolling hills; what then are they? Topographically I couldn’t say, so I will leave it to more learned wordsmiths than myself to elucidate these stunning vista. Once the fragile peace has been shattered, albeit by the local paragliding school whose denizens land opposite the Harfenwirt, I suggest you make your way to the Kaesealm.
Kaesealm: roughly translates as cheese farm. I am sure you agree this sounds better in German than English but whatever your linguistic bent, this alm offers friendly service, ludicrously cheap but delicious homemade cheese(who would’ve guessed that?) and juices and more of those views to let your eyes feast upon. It should also be added that my walking companion on this occasion was no other than Mr. John CHEESEman – I hope you’re well, sir. To reach the Kaesealm is a relatively short and undoubtedly easy walk from the top-station but a comparatively more taxing goal is the Rosskopf. Topping out at 1731 metres this is not a peak to give you vertigo but the higher the altitude does in no way equate to the difficulty of the terrain. Momentarily there are steep sections in reaching the summit but you are amply rewarded with terrific views back over the Wildschoenau and the snaking Inntal. If you could bottle this the world’s riches would be yours but in reality you cannot put a monetary value upon views like these. Lower down but none to far from the top-station lies the Anton-Graf Huette where the aforementioned and incorrigible Herr Cheeseman lost his heart to one of it’s custodians. I am not though aware of her having lost anything whilst in his presence…
The Markbachjoch is great but on its own not enough to satisfy my wanderlust. My favourite expedition – the words walk and hike in no way do it justice – came predominantly at the far end of the Wildschoenau but took in vast swathes of the valley. Starting early from Niederau I soon found myself in Oberau which is basically Niederau in an even tinier miniature but housing a very welcome MPREIS supermarket. I eventually wandered into Auffach, the picture-perfect chocolate-box Austrian village which whilst a tedious cliché, is an entirely apposite one. Again, a very helpful supermarket was to found here – a Spar. From Auffach I took the Schatzbergbahn to 1903 metres – finally, I started to gain some serious height. Once you hit 1800 metres there is a discernible change to the density of the air although it shouldn’t unduly trouble you unless height is gained too quickly. On this occasion I didn’t continue with a ridge-traverse but headed down the other-side of the Schatzberg into Alpbach. Was I crazy to gain this height only to drop straight back down? Quite simply, I wanted the challenge to get myself to Alpbach using only shanks-pony and the Wildschoenau lifts, despite a blisteringly hot day and the journey being somewhat better than my arrival. After approximately an hour and three quarters wending my way down the other side of the Schatzberg I happened upon the benches; so, I hear you say? Well, I then knew I was getting closer to Alpbach when the plaques upon the forms changed from Wildschoenau to Alpbach Seenland. How nerdy?
Once arriving in Alpbach, I initially thought it closed but no, it was like that normally. Not in a pejorative sense but this really is the archetypal sleepy Austrian village; despite being a 365 day-a-year resort it almost certainly wakes up in the Winter. I was though impressed with the high-end hotels on offer, in particular the Boeglerhof and Alpbacherhof. Finding it all though a bit too quiet and an anticlimax I had a quick drink and turned tail back up the Schatzberg, all the while in the back of my mind that the hike back up to the top-station was going to take me much longer than my descent, especially on a day that was hotter-than-hell. I certainly didn’t fancy or plan being stuck atop the Schatzberg – however tempting it might sound – should I miss the final gondola journey of the day back to the valley. On arriving back in Auffach I in effect retraced my steps back to Niederau though taking a slight detour I gained ground which afforded pleasing views of my final destination. I was also hissed at by a red squirrel in his/her black summer-coat; I called this particular rodentia Dr. Dre. A fantastic day, which I have failed miserably to do justice but I hope you will go yourself and not just take my words for it.
Since my visit to Alpbach the rumours of the Wildschoenau(at Auffach) and the Alpbachtal being linked by mountain-lift persisted. The worst-kept secret in the Tyrol finally, in 2012, came to pass in the shape of the Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschoenau lift-system which in some eyes controversially links the summit of the Schatzberg to Inneralpbach. The contention arises from the pristine environment being unceremoniously bulldozed in the name of progress; I can personally see both sides of the Groschen but symapthise particular with the viewpoint that Alpbach is a quiet village no longer now it’s gates have been flung open to the relative outside world. For selfish reasons I would like to say this would in the future save me climbing down the Schatzberg into Alpbach but alas, the name gives it away: SKI Juwel – it currently only runs in the Winter…
Having been sufficiently sated by what the Auffach end of the Wildschoenau valley had to offer I returned a few days later, this time by bus so to be able to get to the Schatzberg lift quickly and therefore hit the heights with more time to spare. The time was now for a ridge-traverse. My two goals were the 1964 metres Joelspitze and more ambitiously the Lampersberg peak, topping out at 2202 metres. I achieved one, narrowly missing out on the other; I will permit the brainiest amongst you to work out which is which. Despite being marginally higher than the Schatzberg’s top-station the route to the Joelspitze is a protracted one, although I was happy for the trail to keep procrastinating my arrival such was the physical and aesthetic pleasure being derived from my trek. This wasn’t a particular arduous track but things certainly toughened on the final approaches to Lampersberg’s zenith, which I narrowly missed out on due to time constraints again involving the lift back to civilisation. No matter, I had laid down a marker for the future, a future I look forward to becoming present-day in June 2014.