Chasing the perfect trail (cont'd II)
When Lucas and I finished our trip in the Pyrenees last year, we were joking already that we should run again next year and finish somewhere near the sea because it has some magic to run across mountains for days and finish at the water. That sparked the idea of running across Austria starting in Salzburg all the way to Triest in Italy so we would end at the Mediterranean Sea. However, that route is roughly 500km and therefore too long for one week and the last 100km is flat so it’s rather boring to run. That’s why we decided to change it a bit and start in Schönau near Salzburg and run until Tolmin in Slovenia so we would end up in the beautiful Soça Valley.
There is actually a great book about hiking from Salzburg to Triest. I don’t know the author personally but want to thank him because it was a great resource to plan and do our trip. We used his route and descriptions to plan our route which was ca. 90% similar and we usually did 2-3 hiking tours in one day. We also used the Mobile App with GPS to ensure that we’re on the right track - highly recommended and thank you, Christof.
Please, don’t try to do this without proper training, planning, equipment, etc. but feel free to ask me any question about the trip.
Since this was the third time that I do such a trip, the equipment was very similar compared to the last years as you can see in the picture below (here is a picture from last year, here is the one from two years ago). I’m actually really happy about that because if you buy high-quality stuff, it lasts long and you don’t have to constantly buy new clothes. I literally took exactly the same clothes as last year and only had one new trouser - and a new book :-)
The route and the journey
I arrived in Salzburg in the morning one day before we started off and took the time to explore the area and to buy a few last things we needed for our trip. I went to Berchtesgaden from where I walked to Schönau and finally to the Königssee. It was a beautiful Saturday so it was quite packed with tourists. It still strikes me how many eBikes I saw - they outnumbered normal mountain bikes by far. Lucas arrived in the evening and we had dinner together and discussed the first day- more than 343km away from Tolmin.
Day 1 [ca. 50km, 3400hm]: Schönau - Königsbachalm - Wasseralm - Kärlinger Haus - Ingolstädter Haus - Riemann Haus - Maria Alm.
The first day was supposed to be the hardest when it comes to the total meters of altitudes we had to do - but the good thing was that we had completely fresh legs. The sun was shining and after a really good breakfast we started off from Schönau to run to the Königssee from where we had to go up the mountains with the Königsbachalm being the first stop.
From there we continued our way up with a pretty nice view towards Watzmann. Unfortunately, I already got a blister after 3h even though I used the shoes before and Lucas had to tape my foot (he had to do it several times in the next days).
After another steep climb, we got to a nice viewpoint from which you could see Obersee and the end of the Königssee. We continued our way up towards Kärlinger Haus and decided to eat something quickly since it was already mid-afternoon. It was a really nice afternoon and the rest of the people there were staying for the night and relaxing on the balcony which made it a bit harder to leave that place.
After a good portion of Kässpätzle at the Kärlinger Haus, we went across a rocky part which is literally called “Steinernes Meer” in German until we reached the Ingolstädter Haus. It continued to be quite hot but luckily we had to go over some snowfields. I used the snow to cool down my head and it felt really refreshing.
The last stop on top of the mountain was the Riemann Haus from where we had to go down to Maria Alm. It took us quite some time to get there but when we reached the house we had a stunning view over the valley, also called the Saalfeldner Becken. After a fast downhill, we reached our final destination at around 9pm in the evening and luckily our Turkish friends still made some pizza for us for dinner.
Day 2 [ca. 39km, 2200hm]: Maria Alm - Schwalbenwand - Statzerhaus - Rieser Aste - Taxenbach - Kitzlochklamm - Rauris.
The second day was supposed to be a bit more chilled. The weather wasn’t as good anymore but at least it didn’t rain - this is what we thought a lot throughout the next days and what you will also see in the pictures.
We had to go up over 1000m of altitude to Schwalbenwand from where we were running on top of the hills to the Statzerhaus with a view down to Zell am See. Looking back, we could see the mountains we were coming from the day before.
From the Statzerhaus we went down to a small town called Taxenbach. There were not only a lot of mushrooms on the way but also a lot of blueberries were at least a few ended up in our mouth. No big surprise but the taste of fresh blueberries that grow in the mountains is significantly better than the ones you buy in the supermarket. From Taxenbach we had to go up to Rauris and went through the Kitzlochklamm. We even had to go through a few tunnels.
We finished the day already at around 4.30pm so we had quite some time to relax and put our legs into a small spring in the middle of Rauris. It’s crazy how much you appreciate small things like that if you’re exhausted and running for the whole day. Somehow this also caught quite some interest from the locals who asked about our tour and why we do this. Not the first time we got this question :-)
Day 3 [ca. 65km, 2730hm]: Rauris - Nationalpark Taunus - Schutzhaus Neubau - Fraganter Scharte - Saustell Scharte - Fraganter Schutzhaus - Stall.
The third day was supposed to be one of the longest routes but we were also mentally well prepared for it. The only thing that made me worry a bit was my blisters which were bleeding throughout the night but we taped it properly again. We started earlier than usual around 8.30am and had to run 10k flat until we reached the Nationalpark Taunus from where the ascent started and we were really good in time. We continued to pace relatively fast up to Schutzhaus Neubau which was the first out of three stages we did on this day.
From there we continued without any break our way up to the Fraganter Scharte. The higher up we went, the stronger the wind and the foggier it got (on good days it can look like this). So when we arrived at the Fraganter Scharte we couldn’t really see the Mölltaler glacier but we saw part of the ski resort at least.
We went down to the mountain lakes (Hochwurtenspeicher) and finally took a quick break to eat bread and sausages that we bought the day before. We still needed to go up to Saustell Scharte which was again a very steep way up and due to the fog we had no idea when it would end.
After reaching the Saustell Scharte, the next kilometers were a mix of downhill and flat which we really appreciated. Since we were still good in time we decided to stop by a small mountain house just before we reached the Fraganter Schutzhaus. Fortunately, the owner had apple strudel and fresh buttermilk - even for a small price. After a quick break there we only had around 16km to go - that’s what we thought. After around 10km the street was blocked due to a landslide and people were working there. One of the guys told us that there is no possibility to continue here (“Sperrgebiet heißt Sperrgebiet”) and we had no other option than going back and doing an extra loop. If you have run already more than 50km that’s not what you really want to … but we had no choice. And so we went a different route and had to run the last 10km on asphalt until we finally reached our destination. Just in time a few minutes before the kitchen of the local restaurant closed at 8.30pm and we got a proper Wiener Schnitzel.
Day 4 [ca. 42km, 2000hm]: Stall - Hugo-Gerbers-Hütte - Berg/Greifenburg.
No surprise our legs were quite sore when we woke up. The good thing was that the first 10km was more or less flat so we started relatively smoothly into the day. After the first 10km, the ascent began and it was quite steep - as usual. After a few kilometers, there was again some construction going on and the way was blocked. We really didn’t want to take a different route this time so we just went up straight the mountain and went around the blocked street. The construction workers probably saw us but didn’t say something.
We went further up the mountain. It got again foggy and we could eat again lots of blueberries. After another 1-2 hours going up, we finally reached the Hugo-Gerbers-Hütte. Since I was hungry we decided to stop there and got a nice goulash soup. The owner there was super friendly and his son couldn’t believe it when we said we still need to go to Greifenburg. We also met a woman who did the same route and went up quite fast - 6h instead of estimated 7.5h by the book.
I had the feeling all the people there were quite interested in our trip and became fans - they even watched us running down when we were leaving the place. It was a steep but pretty fun downhill where we could run quite a lot on small tracks. When we reached the valley it was again around 8-10km until our final destination for today. Our hotel was made for families which was good in a way that there was a big buffet with salad and pasta so we could have a long and very big meal that was much needed after a few sauna sessions.
Day 5 [ca. 67km, 2600hm]: Berg/Greifenburg - Hermagor - Dolinza Alm - Tarvisio.
From Berg, we needed to go Greifenburg first until we had to go up the mountain. Again, we thought great that it doesn’t rain but the fog gets a bit annoying, we somehow couldn’t really get rid of it…
After we finished our first ascent and went down towards Hermagor quite fast, Lucas knees started to hurt. Looking backward, the long downhill on asphalt on the third day was probably one of the reasons for that. We took it a bit more slowly and tried a mix of running and walking but it didn’t get better even though it was flat and after a while, Lucas decided that it would be better if I go by myself and he will hitchhike his way to Tarvisio. That’s a really tough call and I have a lot of respect for his decision since I know how hard it is to quit and to be honest to yourself - but it also doesn’t make sense to get a serious injury of course.
I still had a full marathon in front of me and it’s less fun alone but I also wanted to push through so I started running again. In Hermagor I bought a quick lunch that I was eating while walking. After Hermagor I had to run a couple of kilometers along the river before a very long ascent towards Dolinza Alm. I was quite fast and felt pretty good and so I made my way up until I had a very nice view over the Julian Alps and the weather got better.
I knew that I managed to make all the way up and was good in time so I did a short break at the Dolinza Alm to eat a Krapfen and drink something. There was also live Blasmusik which made my break even more enjoyable. I crossed the border to Italy and then ran down a small track and the last few kilometers to Tarvisio where Lucas was waiting in our hotel already. I also must say, I love Italian food, it’s just great. We had local sausages, cheese and pasta as a starter and pizza as a secondi - what a great way to finish the day.
Day 6 [ca. 38km, 2300hm]: Tarvisio - Refugio Zacchi - Vratica - Tamar Hütte - Vrsic Pass - Trenta.
When we headed out of Tarvisio on the next day Lucas knee was still not good even though he taped it. So after a few kilometers, I had to continue again by myself and had to do two out of three tours alone on that day (we did the last tour together).
The way up to Refugio Zacchi was quite nice and I passed by two beautiful mountain lakes. I think it’s actually really nice to swim there if the sun is shining. However, the weather got really bad and it started raining so I didn’t even think about taking a swim. It got actually so bad that I even could hear thunder from time to time but it still felt miles away. After a relatively easy ascent, I reached the Refugio Zacchi. Without taking a break, I went further up and due to the book, I knew that the way was poorly marked. Even though I was mentally prepared for this, it was worse than expected.
When I was going through the stone dessert it was really difficult due to the fog and rain and I had to use my GPS often to stay on the right track which also took some time. I kept on thinking, who the hell goes such a bad route? Everything was wet so it was really slippery, I fell a few times and well, 15min later I met two Norwegian families with three kids. Chapeau!
After reaching the Tamar Hütte I had to climb up some rocks and went the wrong way before finding the right track again, quite frustrating but I somehow managed my way up to the beautiful Vrsic Pass from where you have an amazing view over the Julian Alps.
I went down and met Lucas there and after these hours in the rain, I was really exhausted. So we went for a big portion of Spaghetti and Palatschinken before we hiked together down along the beautiful river Soça until we reached Trenta. The color of the river really is like the pictures we saw on Google before. The evening ended with fine dining at our guesthouse thanks to the chef in the kitchen.
Day 7 [ca. 43km, 1500hm]: Soça - Tolmin.
The last day should have been an easy one I thought. Not even 2000m of altitude and only a marathon, that’s manageable. Since we went a slightly different way compared to the book on the day before, we couldn’t use our guide this time. I tried to find a nice route using GoogleMaps and thought I had found one .. turns out the way Google suggested didn’t exist I found out a few hours later. Unfortunately, I also had to do this stage alone since Lucas knees were not better.
I first started to run along the river. Due to the temperature and the rain, there was fog above the river which made it look mystical when I watched a few fishermen standing in the river. After the rain went away I saw a lot of people kayaking and riding their eBike.
After 2h along the river I had to go up the mountain and suddenly there was no way anymore. Lesson learned, Google Maps is really bad for hiking. I had to find my own way and many times I thought I had found a way but it wasn’t really one. I saw that there was another way marked on the map and tried to use that one but I had to go straight up the mountain for one hour until I finally reached it. I never saw a single person for 4-5h when I was going up and down the mountain and I also was running out of water because there were no local springs. After I went down for nearly two hours I finally approached the Slap Kozjak waterfall. Just before, I could refill my drinks for a small donation which was awesome. After the waterfall, I still needed to run around 15km through small Slovenian villages to Tolmin but with every kilometer my smile got bigger. I really made it - again - all the way across the Alps until Tolmin in Slovenia. We celebrated our finish with a huge portion of local food and had a few more relaxing days in Slovenia. Finally, the weather also got better and we could refresh ourselves in the river.
The good thing with being in the mountains for hours and often the whole day is that you can really disconnect from the digital world which is great. Also, it always teaches me to appreciate small things like a shower, a big piece of cake or a cold coke. And I always have to learn it again - there is no easy run :-)