Karnischer Höhenweg

“We’re not going to climb 1500 meters on the first day again, are we?” Each time we start a hike, we want to leave from the valley and climb immediately to the high mountains. Each time we drag a heavy backpack with all our food many meters up the mountain and each time we say to each other that we should use the first day to get going calmly. “Yeah, yeah, we’ll see.”

We’ll see, that will become the theme of this tour. We take food with us for seven days, start from the campsite in Sillian/Tassenberg and will hike the Karnischer Höhenweg. At departure we walk and climb easily over route 32 through the forest to Hollbruck. We drink some coffee there and eat an apfelstrudel for the necessary energy. We continue climbing over route 15 to the Höhenweg.

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Hollbruck.

Last year a lot of snow has fallen, even late in the year. This year we’ve walked over more snow that last years. Good for building experience, but we keep questioning how thick a snowbridge should be for a safe crossing with heavy backpacks. While climbing we find a snowbridge of 10 cm thickness, about 30 cm above the ground. We’ve been testing it and this particular snowbridge can hold Fred + backpack without any problem. After around eight jumps the bridge collapse. Leaving a hole of two shoes wide.

At the end of the afternoon we pitch our tarp under the Hochgräntenjoch. We’ve climbed another 1500 meters today. The footpath was steep but very easy going, we climbed with ease.

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At the joch we find a soldiers cemetery from the First World War. This tour we’ll be seeing a lot of remains from this world war because a lot of fighting took place at the border between Italy and Austria. What a difference with the here and now: the beautiful surroundings and quietness (except near the mountain huts).

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Soldiers cemetery near the Hochgräntenjoch.

Our last tour in Italy we were very hot during the night at the same height and the same temperatures. This time we take our summer sleeping bags. Sadly, the first night the temperature drops to 3C. We put on extra clothes, but don’t sleep too well. Later this week the wind drops and the night temperature rises again. During the day it is sunny. Though we already have a good tan, we get sunburnt! At this altitude there’s apparently more UV than we think.

In the morning on our way to the Neue Porzehütte we’re startled by the loud whisle of a marmot. He’s only four meters away from us and remains there. We see a lot of marmots in the Alps and most of them are less shy than we’re used to.

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This is one of the few times that we meet some hikers with tent. They tell us where they spent the night and indeed we find trampled grass there. In all areas that have mountain huts we notice how few people hike with a tent. Almost everyone sleeps in the huts.

There are not only a lot of marmots in this part of the Alps, but a lot of sheep as well. They are not used to the heat as well: we find a small herd, who are close together with heads in the scarse piece of shadow that can be found here.

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Pushing and squeezing for shadow.

Today we meet another marmot. This one has found such a tasty patch of grass that we could come as close as two and a half metres without him whistling or running. Maybe he’s short sighted?

When photographing at night we accidentely wake a fox. He makes himself heard, but doesn’t show himself. When he makes some noise for the second time that night, Fred just keeps on sleeping.

Someone added the following to the sign to the Hochweißsteinhaus: “gefährliches Schneefeld”. We’ve asked upfront at the information office if there is still a lot of snow on this route and they ensured us that there was no snow. We thought that there might be some small patches of snow left, but a big snowfield we didn’t expected. A detour has been set around it, but in hindsight we found the detour more dangerous than crossing the snowfield. From the other side of the path a few signs has been set up with the text: “Weg gesperrt.”

The rest of the route after the Hochweißsteinhaus alternates between jeep tracks and footpaths through the forest. Only few views at the high mountains unfortunately.

The Wolayer See-Hütte is the most crowded of the whole route. From three sides one can climb from the valley to this mountain hut and it is the weekend now. Both factors add up to the crowd. We arrive around noon and treat ourselves to a hot meal to complement our calory intake.

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Wolayer See-Hütte.

We’re thunderstruck when we meet someone with a grass trimmer on one of the footpaths. What is he doing in the mountains? We thought the cows are here to mow the grass. It takes us till nightfall to find out why he’s here: Parts of the path that are not walked much are overgrown easily. This guy mows the grass and weeds so we people can find the correct path. Never seen before!

At the Plöckenhaus we hear a helicopter circling. A rescue is going on, they collect four climbers from the Frischenkofel mountain wall.

At the map a busstop is plotted at the Plöckenhaus to take hikers from there to the valley. (This bus does not drive during the weekend) We continue walking, but are not going to walk the full Karnischer Höhenweg. The part after the Plöckenpass is more walking through forests than walking in the high mountains. We decide to walk for “a while” and then climb the Polinik. From there we can descend back to the valley.

We walk along the Grünsee which appears to be private property. A few creeks flow here, but we would like to camp a bit higher. Why not take the water there? A bad decision looking back. The higher creeks are all empty. We have to keep climbing until the Obere Spielbodenalm before we find a working water source. At the alm a farmer is enjoying the last rays of the sun. We ask if we might use his source and he nods that it’s ok. We fill our water bag and bottle and leave for the Polinik. He continues to observe us till we’re over the horizon. He doesn’t understand what he just saw, that late at the day two people climbing with almost ten litres of water.

We eat at the plateau. There are a lot of cows in this valley so we walk some time after dinner before pitching our tarp. It wouldn’t be the first time that we’re awaked by our friendly, grazing and melk-producing friends. When we arrive at the col (Spielbodentörl) we accidentely startle some mountain goats. They hadn’t expected people here that late. They puff loudly to warn each other and then hurry down. While descending they kick a lot of loose stones down. They come back later that evening, but don’t make any noises anymore.

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Summit Polinik.

At ten o’clock the next morning we arrive at the summit of the Polinik. The view is astonishing and we notice that it’s more foggy than at the start of the week. Just before we start our descend, another hiker arrives. Judging by the look in his eyes he didn’t expect anyone up here that early. We descend to the col and then to Mauthen and Kötschach via path 430.

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Polinik seen from Kötschach.

Unfortunately no busses or trains ride on Sunday. We meet a German family that also hiked in this area and want to go back to the campsite in the same direction. We decide to share a cab. We have to wait for two hours before the taxi arrives and then it is another hour driving back through the vally back to our campsite. The whole week we had beautiful weather, sunny, clear nights and sometimes thunderstorms in the distance. As soon as we arrive at the campsite, it is raining cats and dogs. What a timing.

All articles we’ve read about this route it’s described that it’s well-known and crowded. We had expected crowds like the Icelandic Laugavegur, where in the summer you will see people along the whole route. Here all people tend to be near the mountain huts. Nearly each hut can be reached by a day hike from the valley and a lot of day trippers do this. At the mountain path itself we meet a few people, but certainly not the crowds that we had feared.
The timing that is shown in the guidebook we used are not always correct. The times written on the Austrian signs match the times we actually travelled a lot better.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

Bergverlag Rother GmbH, München
Hüttentrekking Band 1, 32 Mehrtagestouren von Hütte zu Hütte
Ralf Gantzhorn & Andreas Seeger
ISBN 978-3-7633-3007-2

Kompass Wandern – Rad – Skitouren
1:50 000
47 Lienzer Dolomiten / Lesachtal
Karnischer Höhenweg

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