Child of the Mountains
What a difference a year makes… We are approaching the ominous summer of 2020, the summer of COVID-19, prolonged travel bans and cancellations. Faced with uncertainty, I can at least look back at my hut-to-hut trip in Austria in the summer of 2019, when the world was still on the move and queuing to buy groceries sounded like something from the bygone Communist-era.
Standing in line takes me back to Poland of the 1970s and 1980s, where I spent the first 11 years of my life, before moving to Germany with my family. But it was not all grim under Communism; some of my happiest childhood memories involve hiking in the Tatra Mountains, in the south of Poland.
Given the happy memories, it wasn’t surprising that I decided to recreate the experience with my 10-year old daughter. She took my decision with a mixture with stoicism, fatalistic resignation, and incredulity when told that the iPad was staying at home.
The Packing List
I did most of my shopping in the hiking department of Decathlon in Canada Water. As a fan of minimalism and Marie Kondo, I always pack lightly. I like to keep things simple and organised when travelling or at home. We were away for a week in total and since this was a hut-to-hut trip, we had to carry all of our possessions on our backs. I brought a 50-litre backpack with me (not packed tightly) and my daughter carried a light day-backpack. Our packing list was spot on but in hindsight, it might have been a good idea to add hiking poles to the list.
My best buying decision was to get a pair of minimalist barefoot hiking boots from Vivobarefoot. They were sturdy enough on rocks, comfortable throughout and as a result I completed the hut-to-hut hike without a single blister.
Our Austrian hut-to-hut hike
We started off in the village of Galtür in the Paznaun valley in the Austrian state of Tyrol. To get to the village, we took the local bus from Landeck, where we arrived by train from Germany the night before.
Our first hike was a gentle warm-up walk to the Alpengasthof Zeinisjoch where we spent our second night in Austria. Luckily we packed our waterproof clothing because it was bucketing down at first. The weather in the Alps can be unpredictable. The mood of my 10-year old reached the all-year low at this point but the sunshine and some spectacular views came to our rescue.
The spirits were high so we managed to add the circular walk around the Kops reservoir to our hiking repertoire. After lots of fresh air and the slow realisation that life also happens beyond the iPad, we settled in for the night. There was a storm that night and from our window, we could see hikers hurrying down the mountain to the safety of the shelter.
Neue Heilbronner Hütte
The next morning, the storm was forgotten and we made our way up the mountain to the Neue Heilbronner Hütte. It was a gentle hike – great for youngsters, beginners and unfit people. My daughter was delighted to encounter some patches of snow in the middle of the summer. We didn’t rush and enjoyed frequent breaks to soak in the new impressions. We arrived in the hut just in time because the weather turned again and we spent the rest of the day cooped up in the hut reading.
The next day’s hike to the Friedrichshafener Hütte was a little bit tougher. The path was quite narrow and rocky at times and as we were climbing higher, there was more snow on the ground. We were unfazed by it and managed to keep our balance most of the time. I discovered how to quickly get down the mountain once my bum connected with the ground on the slippery snow. The speed was incredible. I was rather grateful for my quick-drying hiking shorts.
The Friedrichshafener Hütte was our favourite – situated in a charming valley and featuring a small pond with a paddling boat. We spent the day relaxing in the sun and my daughter learned how to control the boat and not to lose the paddle. My motivational speech how I would certainly not retrieve it from the icy water hit the spot.
Back in the valley
The next day marked our descent from the mountains back to the lowlands of the valleys. We made a stop at the Wildererhütte, a “poacher’s hut” to enjoy delicious local trout, get to know the local wildlife and play in the mountain river.
We spent the next couple of days in the now infamous ski resort of Ischgl. The place seemed like a standard touristy resort but I had my practical reasons to finish our Alpine mini-adventure there:
- The cable car with access to a water park on the top of the mountain and the Walk of Lyrics
- An outdoor and indoor swimming pool
- Good transport links
- Skyfly – something for zip wire enthusiasts
- Lots of nearby activities from rock climbing to horse riding (not that we had the time to sample them).
In a nutshell, lots of activities to keep a tween busy and her parent relaxed.
To Sum Up
This was a special trip where we both learned the value of alone time despite being together around the clock. Coronavirus permitting, I would certainly repeat my hut-to-hut mini-adventure and maybe relive the experience in another European country. Feel free to drop me a line if you have some tips about where we should go next.