Simply beautiful. This is one of those places I’ve been, where the words to describe my first view of this place are difficult to formalize. Sounds cliché, and it totally is, but I still stand by my statement. Our taxi driver picked the four of us up from the train station and headed north, towards the mountains. The small towns we passed through were so tight, I barely thought one car could pass through, let alone us and the ones he kept passing. The road began upward from the valley, along these winding mountain roads that were just as tight as the ones below in town, but now the sides of the road were nothing but empty space and views of the sprawling mountains ahead. This led to quite a few white-knuckled passes of trucks moving too slow for our driver’s liking. But we had finally made it to the address our AirBnB hosts’ gave us… or so we thought.
The four of us, tossed our backpacks over our shoulders, and proceeded to walk up the driveway towards the kind-looking, elderly Austrian woman who walking toward us to greet us. My broken German met her broken English to realize one thing, she was not our AirBnB host. I showed her the address, knowing that there was only about a 10-20 homes on this hill on the side of a mountain, she explained it was the correct address but that she was not who I was looking for. “Well great. We’re screwed,” I thought to myself. So we started to wander up the street and thought we found a house that matched the images in the AirBnB description. And what do you know, there was a woman, watering her plants, on the second story deck. We made I contact, I gave a wave, and she proceeded to ignore it and walk back inside. Again, close, but no cigar. At this point, I was pretty discouraged and decided to pull out my phone, commit to the foreign cellular fee, and try to contact them again via email. No cell reception.
After three strikes, we finally caught a break! Luckily, Maggie’s phone found service and I was able to log-on to contact the host. And wouldn’t you know it, it was the house we were standing out front of. She finally came out to welcome us into her and her husband’s home. It still hadn’t hit me until after I threw my bags down onto the bed. I opened the doors and walked out onto our deck to see one of the most incredible landscapes. A truly postcard moment that I usually have to hike up mountains for hours upon hours to get. About a football field’s distance away, stood a sapphire lake in the valley of the monstrous, grey mountains above. We had finally made it, and it couldn’t have been a better way to end an exhausting backpacking trip. You know, spending time at the base of a mountain that’s begging to be climbed and explored!
We all decided to lay around and relax for a little while until lunch time rolled around, making us realize we had no food to eat and no restaurants were even close. Whoops. So we all made the trip the grocery store, walking along the road, to the town of Maurach which was only 1.5 miles away. A distance that made me appreciate the close proximity my home is to a dozen grocery stores… and having a car. The walk home proved much more difficult. We not only needed to buy food for the next two days, but also nearly a case of glass-bottled beer. The bottles clinked and clanked all the way home, where we emptied the cabinets and prepared for a big pasta dinner later that night. But first we spent hours playing card games over various salted meats, delicious Austrian cheeses, and cheap German beers that would cost a fortune stateside. Raising our glasses of wine, we cheers, and enjoyed our first “home” cooked meal in over two weeks.
We got up the following morning with the Sunrise over the mountains to the east, pulled the comforter off the bed, and had coffee out on the deck in the morning light. Once all the troops were up and ready, we packed up our small packs and planned to hike the mountain behind our AirBnb. We seriously had to walk out our front door, head up the street for a block or two, and there was the start of a trail. The day before, on our walk around the lake, we could see a waterfall on the mountain that fell directly behind our house. Not only was that going to be worth it, but the top of the peak, called the Rotspitz, looked just like Pride Rock. However, we were not going to have the crystal clear conditions that were around the day before. As we hiked up the trail, we could see the clouds were slowly heading into the valley and dropping faster and faster, covering the trails above.
About 45minutes into our climb, we reached the incredible Dalfalzer Wasserfall. The water cascaded down an 80 foot drop, eventually leading into the lake below. As we made our way further up the trail, we could still hear the sounds of the cowbells from the farms below, even though the clouds blocked our view. After one of the steepest, switchbacking sections of hiking I’ve ever done, we arrived at the much anticipated Dalfaz Alm hut. A place that couldn’t have been any more, stereotypically Austrian. We open the door to the sounds of conversation and music, we saw tables of men drinking liters of beer, telling stories, and a multi-generational family singing traditional Austrian songs. The proprietor sat us down right next to that family, allowing us to awkwardly listen in amazement that they really do yodel in song. The atmosphere, combined with a deliciously, salty soup, warmed up our tired and cold bodies.
After that quick stop, I felt beyond energized for the rest of this hike, which we were only half done by this point. The further we headed up (and into the clouds), and behind the fast pace of Laz, the more and more snow was found on the ground. Flashbacks to our attempt on the Zugspitze were constantly on my mind. Luckily, conditions held off, and we were able to scramble our way to the top ridge. It was a section that had us dropping our packs on the one side, crossing the narrow path which dropped off into the clouds on either side, then climbing the last bit of rock to reach the summit of the Rotspitz. Success! We all reached the summit of the mountain, high-fiving each other in the abyss of the cloud that surrounded us. Nearly on all sides was a 500 foot drop, which we didn’t realize until looking back on pictures we took the day before when the summit was visible from the ground.
We made our way down a different route, so that we could head into town again to pick up some more food (and beer). The trail dumped us out onto a ski slope, directed downward towards the sound of cowbells in the distance. We eventually made it back as the light faded behind the mountains on the far end of the lake. Card games and empty beer bottles filled the night. We swapped stories of growing up, nights in college, and the recent memories of the countries from days before. It was nearly all over as soon as it had begun. We packed up all our belongings into our 60L packs, headed past the cows in the front yard, and out onto the street for the bus. In my broken German, I tried to ask another couple waiting for bus how much it would cost us to get into Jenbach (where the train is). They did not know, or they didn’t want to talk to us, either way we just hopped onto the bus.
After what seemed like an eternity of holding up the bus, the driver finally communicated in his best form of English that it would only cost $15 to get there, but he kept saying there was two busses. Well, we absolutely screwed up the transfer and ended up on a bus going in the complete wrong direction. We got off at the first stop, having to walk a mile back to the transfer stop, wait another hour for the next round of busses, and then we finally got on the correct direction. The difficulties didn’t end there either. Seeing as I’d already let the group down once today, figured I’d try it again with using our Flex-pass train tickets to catch the earlier train. That train, of course, was flat-out full. We made it two stops before finally finding seats in the last car of the train headed to Munich.
I usually don’t have much affinity to places I’ve already visited, but this one is definitely one of them now. All around us was exciting adventures to be had, whether it be the three ski slopes in sight, the obvious water-sports to be done on the lake itself, the endless network of huts on the hiking trails in the mountains, and so much more.
Until next time Achensee, or Achen Lake, whichever you prefer.