Stymied by inclement weather for much of my first week on vacation in Kitzbuehel I was understandable eager to hit my stride, and belatedly acquire my mountain legs.

A fine day was forecast; an archetypal autumnal mist hung over Kitzbuehel of the kind that easily evaporates once the sun gets to work. After a fifteen-minute downward stroll into town from my Schloss Lebenberg base I took the bus to the Bichlalm bottom station, where it helpful terminates and turns tail back into town.

The Bichlalm name relates to the two-seater chairlift that rather slowly transports hikers and sightseers to just under 1,600 metres above sea level, and the eponymous restaurant adjacent to the top station. Those who have experienced mountain huts in remoter areas of the Austrian Alps will struggle to marry the often basic, sometimes bivouac-esque shelters with what are, in the case of the Bichlalm and the Sonnbuehel close to the Hahnenkamm summit, relatively sophisticated places to be seen, especially during the ski season.  The Bichalm resembles more hotel with restaurant, or vice versa, than the refreshingly simple Holzalm in the Wildschoenau. There is though an obligatory terrace affording commanding views of the wider Kitzbuehel region and heaven knows how many distant snow-capped peaks in excess of 3,000 metres in altitude.

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I though of course wasn’t here for the culinary experience; even if I had at 9.15 it would have been rude to expect a willing custodian to cater for guests at such an hour. Merely as a starting point to what I hoped would be a successful and challenging day walk, the Bichlalm(as pictured) is somewhere to regain strength at the fag end of the day before heading back to the valley.

The walking options were perhaps not as myriad as my research and expectations had hoped. An almost vertical path to the Lammerbichlalm below the Stuckkogel peak looked unpleasantly gluey, consisting of a quagmire contributed in equal part by several inches of recent rainfall and considerable bovine calling cards. The last thing I wanted at this nascent stage was to look over Kitzbuehel’s roofs before descending to a lower walk that offered little in the way of a physical challenge. I opted to strike out for a couple of summits, where at least a gipfelkreuz and visitors’ book would provide a pictorial and written record of my visit.

Taking the path past a small chapel I gradually gained ground before the route plateaued, with stunning views back towards Kitzbuehel, the Hohe Salve peak above Hopfgarten and Jochberg, the latter situated on the road to Pass Thurn, the Panoramabahn cableway and Mittersill.

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My first aim was the Gaisberg summit, which involved breaking off from the main route to snake up to the summit cross and some welcome seating. Considerable fly and wasp activity precluded my stay from being a lengthy pause, although the views towards Jochberg and the Staffkogel and Schusterkogel peaks ensured even a brief period of reflection was most fruitful.

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Carefully picking my way down the well-marked path back to the main route the options to remain at altitude or gain further ground were significantly less than I would have hoped. Lengthy treks were still open to me, but many would involve losing significant height to eventually reach Aurach, invariably taking in its ‘Wildpark’ animal park. I am not in any way an advocate of zoos and certainly didn’t come to Austria to view kangaroos, llamas and the like in considerably less than their natural habitats. Whilst it was still possible to seek higher ground there were few, if any, mountain hut options in an area that became increasingly, and refreshingly remote the further from the Bichlalm top station one travelled.  Nevertheless, I did not wish to be stuck too far away from civilisation and miss the final chairlift down to the valley, the alternative being a grim downhill hike to the Bichlalm bottom station or a more pleasant, but lengthy descent into Aurach. Whilst all hikes must come to an end I would rather let the cableway take the strain than my knees on a drab service road.

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On reaching the somewhat poorly signposted Gebrajoch I decided to retrace my steps back to the Bichlalm, taking no longer than an hour and half to reach the top station. This had not been the day for which I’d hoped and highlighted the limitations of the area which I came to understand far more as my time in the region passed by. The best walking was sadly inaccessible by cableway, or at least the type of walking that I was seeking. Walking from the Bichlalm top station in the opposite direction to the one I took would eventually bring you to the the iconic Kitzbueheler Horn, but in effect that is where the trail would go cold. More a viewpoint and somewhere to say one has been, the Horn is not really the starting point for a great many day walks.

Viewing Kitzbuehel, several of its villages, and many peaks both identifiable and otherwise from virtually the whole length of my walk from and back to the Bichlalm top station ensured it wasn’t entirely without merit. Unless one is prepared to drop down, on foot, to Aurach, once the higher peaks like the Stuckkogel and perhaps onto Bischof and the Sonnspitze have been bagged I wouldn’t recommend placing a great emphasis on the Bichlalm to satisfy cravings of lung-busting day walks. There are though variations and alternatives, and gaining ground immediately on reaching the top station, passing the Kneipp facility, when conditions underfoot are more propitious would present a greater challenge.

For the first-time visitor this offers a fine introduction, and overview, of the area and enables clear delineation of, for example, the villages of Reith and Kirchberg, the Hohe Salve summit, and even the all but hidden Schwarzsee situated behind the Lebenberg peak and attendant forest. If arriving in the region at a reasonable time on a clear but not hazy day, the Bichlalm is an ideal location from where to gain one’s bearings and begin the alpine acclimatization process. If the intermediate to expert hiker gets any more from it, that is an undoubted bonus.

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Route markers, albeit showing signs of weathering, offer few options to gain ground.

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As viewed from the Gaisberg summit.

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Looking towards Aurach and Jochberg.

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A view of sprawling Kitzbuehel, with Kirchberg towards the top left and Reith middle to top right. The Hohe Salve peak, above Hopfgarten and close to the entrance of the Wildschoenau is the dome-like mountain situated to the top left of the picture.

All photographs are copyright of C. Bowman – September 2019

Further information:

Kitzbueheler Alpen Summer Card: https://www.sommer-card.at/en/2-seater-chairlift-bichlalm-kitzbuehel-tyrol.html