Saturday 29th September 2018 We drove our rental car today from Las Vegas eastward towards Utah and the colorado plateau. Made it to the town of Kanab – familiar to us from previous visits as well as being famous for its movie history – and then onwards to the dirt road over to Buckskin Gulch Trailhead for about 16:30pm.
Our intention as our warm up for this holiday was to hike down Buckskin to the Paria river and then do a cross country loop back north and west to the car via Long Canyon over 2-3 days. Buckskin is one of the best and most famous canyon hikes around being about 14 miles of pure beautiful narrow canyon before reaching the equally lovely but wider Paria canyon. We didn’t have a permit for camping in the canyons so that limited our overnight options somewhat to either camping short before the Buckskin narrows to a slot canyon or camping half way along Buckskin on the canyon rim scrambling up at a place called Middle Trail. Time was against us for the latter so we set off for a relaxed evening hike down the initial part of Buckskin Gulch.
The evening light made for a mellow hike to help stave off our jetlag – down the sandy wash of Buckskin Gulch surrounded by swirling sandstone slopes. We left the canyon floor about 18:00 and climbed up to the east over some slickrock to find a great pitch for the tent. There was just enough time to explore the rocky slopes further above the tent before the sun set and it was dark quickly by about 19:30.
Fantastic pillow rock shapes in the sandstone as the sun set……
Sunday 30th September 2018 We had a broken first night’s sleep still suffering from some jetlag. But it was a beautiful night with a bright moon lightening up the tent in the night and a stunning silence over the canyon. This was only broken by what I thought was a harley davidson buzzing by my head….it turned out to be a manic moth!
We hiked further down Buckskin Gulch in the morning and it soon closed in on us with lovely scooped red walls. Muddy marks about 3 meters high were signs of the last flood sweeping through here. The gully bed was surprisingly muddy too and we soon hit the first of many unavoidable dark pools. The confluence of canyons at Wire Pass gave us a bright sunny interlude before continuing down. But we were forced to wade muddy pool after pool with slippy silty slopes unseen under the water. We had visited this part of the canyon in 2014 and had a simple hike in dry conditions able to enjoy the fantastic scenery of the steep walled narrow canyon. This time was different with constant wading and mud…..so we turned around after about an hour and headed back to the open area where we had camped.
To save the day we chose to climb up the slickrock slopes to the east to the plateau above Buckskin Gulch and then head north through pinyon juniper forest to scramble back into Buckskin down some gullies. It was a fantastic little trip….
Monday 16th July 2018 Obergurgl to the Ramol Haus We took the train and bus from Innsbruck to Obergurgl in the Ötztal mountains. After a visit for lunch to the Backerei we set off up the north slopes of the valley gradually ascending on more good trail. We had sun, cloud and a little hail, but mostly nice viewful conditions. The scenery improved all the way to the Ramol Haus at 3000m set on a pedestal looking down south across glaciers.
This may be the best hut of our trip and we had a newly fitted wood dorm room to ourselves. We hiked uphill for about 5 minutes with the cooking gear and had a splendid dinner admiring the panorama set out around us.
Tuesday 17th july 2018 Ramol Haus to Martin Busch Hutte Swirling cloud in the morning added to the atmosphere as we hiked up a short distance then over the Ramoljoch 3186m. The descent was down beside a nice sweeping glacier field followed by boulders then a high traverse southwards on an unusually easy path. We stopped for a brew outside the small ‘Schafferhutte’ once on a bigger trail, then followed it up to the large Martin Busch Hutte.
We headed past the hut for a pass on the Italian border occupied by the private Similaun Hutte. We had intended to overnight here and go and look for the site where Otztal Man was found. ‘Otzi’ was a well preserved, frozen mummified man dating from about 3100 BC. However the weather was a bit grim and we needed to find somewhere else to stay, so we retreated back to the also busy Martin Busch Hutte and got beds in the dorm.
Wednesday 18th July Martin Busch Hutte, Saykogel, Vent Up at 5.45am for the 6am breakfast buffet then off early on a steady climb to Saykogel- at 3350m our highest peak of the trip. Nice trail with some scrambling at the top and we met a solo woman working at the hut who was out for a morning jaunt up the peak.
This was another lovely summit with glaciated summits all round. The descent scrambled down a rocky ridge between snowfields before trail took us into a stoney valley and down to Hochjoch Haus at about 2500m. This was to be our final hut so we had a farewell pancake and soaked up the surroundings before descending down valley on an interesting trail above a gorge to the hamlet of Vent.
We were able to pick up a bus here down valley and eventually work our way back to Innsbruck and Munich for some city sightseeing. This has been a excellent hike in the Austrian Alps and wetted our appetite to return again!
Thursday 12th July 2018 To the Brenner Hut We caught a bus out of Steinbach to a trailhead at the small rural village of Gschnitz allowing us to meet up with the Stubai Rucksack Route.
(I guess it would be easy and pleasant to connect our hiking steps into one continuous ‘thru-hike’ and avoid the bus, but we had limited time and were keen to go straight up to the high routes rather than use a connecting trail in the valley).
The Gschnitztal valley is idyllic picture postcard Austria with lush green fields, hay bales and cows dotted between small villages. We exited the bus at the end of the road and hiked up the valley gently at first before climbing steeply up hot trail through forest. A beautiful flower meadow surrounded by steep peaks and bubbling streams was an excuse for a stop before the final push up to the small Bremer Hut. This was possibly our favourite hut so far, being small and next to a tarn with grand mountain views.
After checking in to the hut, we decided to climb the nearby peak- Innere Wetter Spitze, which rises steeply about 700m right from the hut – ‘Weather Top’! Some great exposed scrambling with a little via ferrata took us to the sharp summit with panoramic views with no one else around.
A fantastic day and maybe the best yet.
Friday 13th July 2018 Bremer Hut to Dresdner Hut We started with another steep climb to the first pass of the day with a cool border patrol hut right at the top of a sharp ridge. We hit some rock hard snow slopes descending the far side and had our ice axes out with Brian pulling out a set of microspikes (mini crampons) providing additional grip for the running shoes. Below, the trail wound its way through some lush alpine meadows and streams before dropping through a rock band aided by cables. A mellow hike took us to the Nuernberger Hut nestled in another great spot.
From here another short climb took us up to the Niederl col opening up views to more and more peaks and glaciers to the west. The descent down passed some surreal blue lakes then onto glacier moraine ridges to the Sulzenau Hut. This one was bustling and must be within easy reach of the road as it was mobbed with people soaking up the sun and enjoying the good food and drink!
We happily exited from here for the last pass of the day, the Peiljoch, hiking up past a tremendous zone of glaciers dropping from the ‘Zuckerhuetl’ mountain range. It was late afternoon and we had this trail to ourselves as we descended steeply to our final hut for the day, the Dresdner Hut. This is situated within a ski area and is connected by road so is a bit more hotel like than the other huts, but the food was excellent and we had a great night there.
Saturday 14th July Dresdner Hut to Franz Senn Hut We are both feeling a bit fatigued after 7 long days but are soon fortified by the buffet breakfast- we are consuming a lot of calories on this trip! Our route turned northwards today on another scenic balcony trail, roughly contouring round the sides of the mountains. We cross a steep pass, Grawagrubennieder 2888m, and have the ice axes out again dropping down snow the other side to a rubbly boulder field before reaching trail again. From there we head pleasantly down a wide glaciated valley to the Neue Regensburger Hut, known for its home baked cakes which we had to sample!
Our first pass of the afternoon was the Besslerjoch, which was almost blocked by snow but we sneaked past. The descent is rocky and gets a bit slippery with some afternoon rain.
We are both happy to see the Franz Senn hut in the distance but find it to be mobbed when we arrive at 18:10. Our tactic this trip has been to avoid booking any huts in advance- unlike everyone else- but this gives us the flexibility to change plans and double or even treble up hut to hut days. This time though we have to wait until 20:00 to find out if we can get a bed but hoorah, luck out in that yes there are beds and that we have got a place in the overflow basement ski room. The good thing here is that it is quiet and has a door so that we can have fresh air through the night!
Sunday 15th July Franz Senn Hut to Innsbruck It rained hard through the night and the in the morning. We are a day away from connecting with our next mountain range, the Otztal but have some high passes to go over. We decide to hike down the valley instead and get buses to Innsbruck and dry out. The hike works out fine and once we reach the road, we actually get a lift from a couple also descending from the hut. They drop us off at the small town of Neustift and we catch a bus easily into Innsbruck from there.
Saturday 7th July 2018Edel Hut and Ahornspitze After some shopping in Innsbruck we had a pleasant ride on two trains up to the ski resort of Mayrhofen, past lush green valleys and steep hills rising all around. We sat around with fresh bread and cheese for lunch in the busy village centre before starting with the helping hand of the Ahorn cable car to 2000m and then strike off on trail!
We climbed on a good trail for about 1.5 hours up to the Edel hut and checked in quickly before heading for an afternoon ascent of Ahornspitze- a nearby mountain with a good trail leading to a scramble at the top. With lots of cloud around we had the occasional view of jaggy peaks and enjoyed some nice steep scrabbling up to the sharp summit at just under 3000m.
Sunday 8th July 2018Kasseler Hut We were off at 7.45 for the hike to the Kasseler Hut traversing the west side of a mountain ridge and crossing over 7 passes on the way. Much of the time the way wound its way through boulder fields of granites and platey schists making for slow but interesting going including some cool scrambling and via ferrata over the sharp ridges.We hear marmots, see some ravens and meet a flock of large black sheep that take an uncanny interest in us. Martina pats one and they follow us for about 20 minutes showing a stealthy ability to navigate the boulders!
It’s cloudy and chilly all day and we had a welcome brew up at a ‘bivvy hut’ as marked on the map but actually a rather wonderful wooden cabin with 4 bunks and 5 euro overnight charge. We reached the Kasseler hut mid afternoon before some rain set in. A good day over rough trails!
Monday 9th July 2018 To the Berlinner Hut via the Greizer Hut After finishing early-ish yesterday we decided to stretch out a bit and cover two guide book days to the Berlinner Hut.
From the Kasseler Hut we contoured round a steep valley generally westward crossing numerous glacial rivers and snowfields. The sun came out mid morning to brighten up the atmospheric scene around us. There was one exciting crossing of a steep gully filled with a snow tongue which involved hanging down the edge of the snow with our ice axe to reach the other side.
After meeting more friendly sheep we climbed steeply up about 700m to the Lapen Scharte pass at 2701m to great views with puffy clouds, peaks and glaciers. A steady descent took us down to the Greizer Hut around lunchtime. Being well ahead of our guidebook times we decided to stop for lunch then continue the plan to head to the next hut in the afternoon.
We sat outside the hut admiring the beautiful glacier views with two hut horses for company. To be honest, everyone was friendly here and the hut terrace was a great place to hang out so this would have made a good overnight stop.
But..fuelled by some Apfelkuchen and 2 cokes we descended steeply to the valley bottom crossing a deafening loud glacial river with a tricky loose gravelly slope. Then it was up 1200m to the next pass- Moerchen Scharte, firstly by some cool ladders and via ferrata to assist the way through an initial rock band, then steep zig-zags up a ridge. We were both ‘firing on all cylinders’ so made light work of the climb with a final snow covered push to the col. More great views!
The descent was stunning over snow patches then past some lakes including the Schwarzersee to the huge gothic Berlinner Hut at 2000m. What a atmospheric hut both inside and out and a fab day!
Tuesday 10th July 2018 Berlinner Hut to Dominikus Hut
After a pleasant breakfast on the hut veranda in the sun we set off steeply uphill with more great views of peaks and snowfields. We were following a busier trail here as hikers use it to climb from the hut to the nearby peak ‘Schoenbichler Horn 3133m’. Higher up there was some steep scrambling with cables to the top of the peak with spectacular alpine views.
Leaving the other hikers we descended down steep rock, then onto a snowfield before hitting easier trails to the Furtschagel Haus. Another grandly positioned hut where we enjoyed lunch with ‘knudel spinach’ dough balls. More steep zig-zags in the afternoon took us down to a low wide valley and past the Schlegeisspeicher Reservoir and the now unusual experience of walking along flat trails! The rain came on heavy though and we dashed for cover to a cafe when we reached a road. After a chat with the cafe owner who had lived in the UK for 20 years we headed out into the torrential rain and decided to stay in a bunk room at the nearby roadside Dominik Hut.
Wednesday 11th July 2018 Domikus Hut to Brenner Pass and Steinach It was ‘socked in’ grey and misty in the morning with heavy rain. We decided to set off anyway and cross a slightly lower than intended first pass (the Pfitscherjoch) into Italy then climb higher from there in the hope that the weather would clear!
We headed south, gradually ascending a valley- and lo! – the cloud lifted to reveal some views and the rain stopped at least. It was rather pleasant, relaxed hiking up to the pass into Italy. We then took a balcony trail winding its way grandly round the side of mountains high above the Italian valleys heading towards the Landshutte at 2700m. Here we stopped for a drink and to escape the damp cloud that had now set in again. Another fine hut both inside and potential views outside (when clear!).
A long steep descent now followed to the main road crossing the alps at Brenner Pass – 1350m. The trail was good and the weather cleared as we dropped way down into tree lined hillside and eventually to fields in the valley floor. We had completed our traverse of the first range, the Zillertal Alps, and to save us some road walking to start our next stage, we took transport to the town of Steinach for the night. A superb 5 day hike!
We had a two week holiday in the Austrian Alps in July 2018. Our aim was to hike on trails as high up in the mountains as we could without climbing and thus avoiding the need for technical climbing or glacier kit (we did carry lightweight ice axes though). We chose to not bring the tent along as well and to overnight using the alpine hut network across Austria. This was a big change for us as we like the freedom and solitude of camping, but the huts allowed us to go light and are a cultural experience in themselves.
So we flew from Scotland to Munich, then trains to Innsbruck in Austria. From there trains to our startpoint at the winter ski resort of Mayrhofen. Then… hike roughly westwards! The three ranges we crossed through were the Zillertal, Stubai and Otztal Alps and you can read our story in the links below…..
Thoughts on the hike We followed marked trails all the way on this trip but they took us through some incredible alpine scenery. Many times the trail looked improbable but wound its way through boulder fields, snow slopes, high passes and scrambles aided by ‘via ferrata’. The addition of an extra scramble to the summit of Inner Wetterspitze (3050m) was a great bonus.
The hiking included lots of ascent and descent and many trails were bouldery or over rocks so the going was slow. But the scenery was almost continually dazzling
We hiked from July 7th – 20th which is quite early season for the Alps and there were a few snow patches covering the trails but nothing that caused a problem. We did carry lightweight ice axes and were glad to have them at times for security crossing and descending icy snow patches.
The huts were a positive experience. I have to say I still prefer wild camping with its freedom to lay down where you like and not be confined indoors in bunks or to fixed eating times. But the food was mostly pretty great, the wardens friendly, it was good to chat to other hikers and each hut had great character and sited with splendid views.
In comparison to the classic US trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide, Austria provided more spectacular true alpine scenery with many glaciers and scrambling in exposed positions. There are more people though and much less wilderness with huts, the odd ski resort, occasional pylons dotted around. Trails are universally excellent and well marked but often include scrambling or via ferrata.
The lower valleys and villages are scenic and make resupplying easy. That plus the superb public transport network makes organising getting to and from trailheads simple.
We really enjoyed our visit and would easily head back out to Austria for another hike!
Trekking in the Zillertal Alps Cicerone Definitive guide to doing the Zillertal Rucksack Route (Hoehenweg) which is a classic 7-8 day loop in the area. We followed most of this then cut west from the Olperer Hut. Also good info on additional peak ascents along the way.
We drove down to the Flagstaff area in northern Arizona and climbed the Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak (12,633ft or 3,851m) using the standard route up from the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area. It was cool to be in forest with pondarosa pine, douglas fir, then aspen up to limber pine and bristlecone pine on the highest ridges. Above we had views around northern Arizona and to the pitted landscape of volcanic cones. Being the highest peak, there were a fair number of hikers around with an excellent trail to follow. I guess though, the peak didn’t have particularly dramatic views compared with what we have in our own sunny Scotland so we decided one day was enough for us and we would spend the last few days before we flew out back in the canyon country of southern Utah.
Tuesday 24th October 2017 Hackberry Canyon
The aim for our last couple of days in Utah was to visit the Hackberry Canyon, Paria River confluence and find somewhere nice to camp overnight. From Page Arizona we drove over the Colorado River, past Big Water then left the tarmac to head north up Cottonwood dirt road for about 12 miles to near the foot of Hackberry Canyon. The light was sharp and clear and the cottonwoods looked particularly golden and autumnal.
With Michael Kelsey’s guidebook in hand we hiked east uphill to the top of Cockscomb ridge on steep dirt road then cross country to the top of the ridge itself. The panorama was cool with great views over rippling sandstone layers and slickrock to Yellow Rock, Castle Rock and Powell Point way in the distance to the north. We then hiked north up Hackberry Canyon which we rather rushed through previously on our 2014 Hayduke hike. The twisting canyon was beautiful and a healthy stream rushed over the sand and between the curving red walls. As the canyon opened out further upstream continued up through cottonwoods to rustic Watson Cabin in a technicolour scene of gold, reds, greens under a deep blue sky.
Back at the car, we packed the camping gear and headed uphill again this time to the west to the top of the amazingly colourful slabs of ‘Yellow Rock’. We found a superb camp near to the summit on slickrock and pitched the tent just before the sun set.
Wednesday 25th October 2017 Yellow Rock, Paria River
We awake early in the morning to see the sun rise and it quickly warms to tent up for breakfast. Stroll over Yellow Rock down to the natural feature ‘the red cairn’ where the rock patterns are particularly vibrant. The peak to the south provided some slabby scrambling – this whole area is cool! We then followed a faint trail west then south back down into the ‘box’ canyon of the Paria River past some lovely cactus rock gardens amidst pinyon juniper forest – very mellow!
Once down in the Paria we hike up to the old movie set (last movie filmed here was ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’) nearby situated under some particularly colourful Chinle rock formations. The heat began to build in the afternoon and we were happy to splash back down the Paria through the box and up Cottonwood Wash back to the car to complete a great little mini trip!
After a good breakfast at Twin Rocks diner in Bluff we drove to South Mule Canyon for a day walk to look at some Anasazi ruins. Flaming Roof ruin was the best, living up to its name with its impressive streaky sandstone overhanging roof. Whilst here though we both agreed that backpacking for a few days suited us better than day hiking and allowed more of an immersion into the backcountry! So we decided to visit Dark Canyon further west and drove off mid-afternoon back to the basic Hite marina campsite at the edge of Lake Powell.
Tuesday 17th October 2017 Dark Canyon
Some eerie coyote choruses overnight including some right next to the tent. A guy drove into the campsite last night and asked if there were any shops or diners nearby (Hite is a looong way from shops with Hanksville or Blanding being maybe 90 minute’s drive away). Martina gave him 2 snickers for the road and he set off for Hanksville!
Drove down in the morning to the Sundance TH- 11 miles of dirt road with beautiful vistas including the Henry Mountains prominent to the west and Sigor Ros on the stereo – superb! This road is also used as part of the Hayduke trail to hike between Dark Canyon and Hite and then onto the Dirty Devil river.
On leaving the car, we hiked for about an hour using the Hayduke route variation from the trail on a nice faint line through pinyon juniper and some cool slickrock before reaching the beautiful rim of Dark Canyon with horizontal layers and towers below. Three ravens and a raptor swooped above to complete the scene. The descent was steep, down bouldery and sandy ground, but at least is well cairned. We took it slowly and were down to a sub valley that feeds into Dark in an hour. After relaxing behind some massive boulders we moved on down the sub valley on good trail to cottonwoods and Dark Canyon itself with a healthy flowing river (rangers had warned us there might not be water here but that seemed unlikely with this major river system!).
Our aim was to hike Dark Canyon upstream to the junction with Youngs canyon and set up camp to explore- this again being part of the Hayduke trail that we hadn’t yet seen. This was a fantastic walk, often on limestone pavements above the river shore providing a mix of easy walking mixed with scrambling. The pavement terraces were often undercut and embedded with red, white and black cherts (we think) in a beautiful abstract array. Fossils appeared now and then too. With the water often pouring down slabs forming pools and waterfalls, we managed one cold dip but it was fun. The canyon was deep with high open walls blocking the sun out much of the time- perhaps where the ’Dark’ name comes from?
At one point we hit a dead end in the canyon and were forced to back track until we could scramble out the west side before picking up a cool trail following the rim upstream. Nearing Young’s canyon we hit some slower travel, more lush vegetation and bushwhacking before we arrived at the atmospheric confluence with Youngs canyon and set up camp with Youngs waterfall cascading nearby. Great day!
Wednesday 18th October 2017 Dark Canyon
We decided to leave the tent in place and explore Youngs Canyon today. To get into the canyon we bypassed the waterfall by going 100m up Dark Canyon then taking a steep cairned trail before traversing back into Youngs above its pool. Soon after we hit a deeply vegetated patch thick with poison ivy and bamboo- bashing our way through we were glad it only lasted a few hundred meters before we emerged out into a dry canyon.
From here we scrambled up the canyon floor on slabs and over boulders. Staying in the canyon we arrived at a beautiful slabby rockwall which we climbed before being halted in our tracks by another steeper 20m wall. We backtracked 400-500m down canyon to reach a cairn at a side gully and scrambled our way up past a tower on the east to pick up a rough trail contouring up the canyon rim. Following this for maybe a mile it dropped us back into canyon floor where we continued upwards.
Lunch was under some cottonwoods in an open section of the canyon at the foot of the cairned route taken by the Hayduke onto the rim again far above. The Hayduke does a big detour from the canyon floor here to avoid a dryfall above. At 2pm we turned back and this time stayed on the eastern rim trail as it went past the tower, round the rim of the side gulley and on another 500m or so to a cairned descent steeply down a rubbly scooped gully. This went better than expected and we were soon back in the canyon to scrabble through the vegetation before returning to the tent at 4pm. The rim route on our return was much quicker. Overall the section of Youngs we looked at was wild and scenic.
After dinner Brian explored up Dark Canyon from the Youngs confluence and again it was interesting with a more chilled, tranquil vibe.
Thursday 19th October 2017 Dark Canyon
After a warm night we had a brief rain shower at breakfast and once it stopped we decided to both head further back up Dark Canyon and leave the tent. The meanders are tight upstream and we both loved the mellow feel with a gentle stream flowing. There is an attractive large pool which we bypassed on the right going upstream. After about 1.5 miles from the Young’s junction the water stopped flowing and we went another couple of miles before turning back. It would be great to include upper Dark Canyon in a future longer hike- perhaps on the Hayduke alt from Salt Creek or joining into Woodenshoe canyon going south.
Returning to the tent, we packed up and headed back downstream in Dark Canyon. Repeating this stretch was no hardship as it’s so great! We found an excellent place to pitch the tent on a rocky limestone terrace right above the river. Heard a dipper and canyon wren on the way.
Friday 20th October 2017 Lower Dark Canyon and up Sundance Trail
In the morning we hiked back down to the junction with the Sundance Trail after taking a short diversion up Lost Canyon which was also rather scenic. Met a couple of hikers from Flagstaff camping on the way. From there we decided to explore down the lower part of Dark Canyon to where it flows into the Colorado river. The canyon walls close in a little after the junction with Lean To Canyon and after a false attempt on the left, we retreated and climbed up to a trail on right/east of the canyon (LDC). This was a fantastic high ‘balcony’ trail with short exposed sections and tremendous views downstream.
After about an hour the trail drops down steeply to the valley floor at the junction with a side canyon from the east- a lovely spot with water sliding down bare slabs. From here we downclimbed past a deep, beautiful pool on its left and then scrambled up right past some loose blocks. Then things got muddy! Lake Powell must have reached up to here in the past but the lake has since retreated back leaving the valley floor filled with mud and silt making for stodgy going! The temperature built up too and we plodded on but eventually turned round about 300m short of the Colorado river itself.
Going back upstream was easier and again a great hike- we thoroughly recommend this lower part of Dark Canyon. Made it back to the juntion with the Sundance Trail at 3pm in hot, sultry conditions. After a drink in the shade of cottonwoods we shouldered our packs for the steep, hot climb ahead to the rim. Made it back to the car at 5.30pm after another great scenic trip. Drove to the metropolis of Blanding for a motel and pizza!