Austria // Mayrhofen

Thursday, June 23, 2016

After our hike above Alpbach, the weather turned a bit nasty which was fine because we were driving for about an hour to get to Mayrhofen. This drive led us up the Ziller Valley which was huge compared to where we had been. After checking in at our Inn, we drove up to Ginzling, which is way up in a much narrower, high alpine valley. The sun broke through and for a bit it was shorts-and-T-shirt weather. Having already hiked a few hours that day, we opted for a windshield tour of our new surroundings. Again, waterfalls galore. Ended up driving to nearby Finkenberg and Tux in the Tuxer Tal valley. The latter is definitely more of a ski destination but man was it still gorgeous in the summer.

Saturday night in Mayrhofen was spent enjoying bratwurst and more schnitzel for dinner and then live folk music at the local dancehall. Before getting into the dancing, it’s important to describe the music. This was Saturday, so the band playing was a local favorite. People came out in force to see the ‘Duo Montana’ crush it on the guitar and accordion. When we got to the local hotspot, Hotel Rose, we noticed right away that the average age of the crowd was hovering around 75 years young. This didn’t stop a good number of partygoers from dancing up a storm, in classical Austrian style of course. It was pretty adorable and actually really cool to see the local culture thriving. Mayrhofen appears on the surface to be a bit touristy because of the large number of hotels and ski areas nearby but the local scene is definitely alive and well. Our favorite pairing on the dance floor was a female couple, probably late-70’s, who had matching tattoos and danced like there was no tomorrow. The younger looking one hooted loudly when a song was really good and the older one rocked her traditional Austrian garb with a sweet nose ring. They were legendary.

Sunday was our big hiking day. To get to our chosen trailhead we drove up to Schlegeisspeicher which is a big turquoise reservoir surrounded by 3,000 meter peaks. From there we started hiking counterclockwise on the 'Zillertal Circuit' towards Friesenberghaus - a hut that would be our main destination for the day. The beginning of the hike was in the trees, climbing steadily passed a handful of stream crossings. About 45 minutes in, we came into a meadow where the Friesenbergalm sat just above the treeline. For the remainder of the climb we would be above the trees which would have been great except that it wouldn't stop raining. Hiking in the rain actually wasn't so bad but it was a bummer that we couldn't see more than a few hundred meters down the epic valleys below. Regardless, we trudged on with the warm hut at the summit calling our name. At about 2 hours into the hike we hit our first snowfield. At this point the rain had also turned to snow making visibility even worse. This is when the hike shifted from wet, cold and mostly-bearable to type 2 fun.


Type 2 fun is actually a wonderful thing. No one likes miserable conditions when doing stuff outdoors but sometimes things are just miserable enough to make the whole experience more memorable, rewarding, and yeah - fun. Granted the fun part is mostly appreciated in retrospect after you're recovering with a beverage of choice and fresh socks on but still, it is actually fun. We found ourselves enjoying some type 2 fun as we made a final push to the hut. We were at about 2,500 meters now and climbing up in ankle-deep snow. Our shoes were soaked and we couldn't see more than 50 meters ahead. We sort of lost the trail a few times but quickly found our way again by following some footprints in the snow. Just when we thought the hut would never appear, we found it.... and it was glorious!

Inside the hut, we met the friendly local Austrian host, also named Anna, and her boyfriend who was also the chef. There was one other guy there who was Dutch and still hanging out after what we were told was a big party the night before. The hut had just opened for the season and so they had all spent the night before with about 20 people drinking schnapps and playing music. Although we had missed the party, we were right where we wanted to be - the dining room was warm and had a fire going. We ordered a beer, a hot tea, and a big bowl of hot soup with bacon dumplings. For dessert, Anna (the Austrian) talked us into trying the raspberry chocolate cake. It all hit the spot. 

After our delightful lunch in the Friesenberghaus, he reluctantly put our wet shoes back on and marched back out into the snow. The hike back was fortunately all downhill. We were originally going to do a big loop that included one more hut - the Olperer Hutte - but there was a pass between us and there that required some more serious footwear to get up and over. So, we decided on the out-and-back option which put us back at the reservoir about an hour and a half later. All in all, this hike is one that we will definitely remember - not necessarily for the views but more for the (type 2) fun that was had and the warm welcome we got at our new favorite mountain hut. Truth be told, I would do it all again for another bite of that bacon dumpling soup!

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