In the Footsteps of Smythe, Lechtal

By Stuart Rees

In the preface to his wonderful mountaineering book ‘Over Tyrolese Hills’ published in 1936 Frank Smythe says that Austria “is a country for the wanderer.  Consummate your love for the hills by wandering across them.. Cross their passes and traverse their peaks.  Climb upwards out of a valley in the dawn and descend into another valley in the evening.  Then you will taste the very essence of travel.”.

Enroute to the Wurttemberger Haus – Lechtal – Matt Nobles

With these sentiments in mind I set forth to meet our seven fellow AAC ‘stravaigers’ outside  St Anton railway station on the 4 September 2018.  From here we caught the Postbus to Lech to begin our trek across the Lechtaler Alps.  Once settled on the bus and whilst in Lech eating the first of the many apelstrudel consumed on tour, we began those conversations between us which were to bind us together over the next 8 days. In the early afternoon we boarded the Rufikopf cable car to enable us to gain elevation quickly and a gentle introductory 6km saunter via the Raukopfscharte to reach the Stuttgarter Hűtte, our destination for today.

Inclement weather, unstable path conditions or difficulties with the terrain, illness of a party member all may conspire to force changes to the best laid plans for any hut tour in Austria.  Participants need to be flexible and adaptable.  Our tour was no exception when our departure time on the next day required adjustment because of the hut’s water pump failing to work.  This delayed breakfast and, only 3km into our walk, we found our red route path over the Paz Ferner Scharte was barred due to a landslide.  An alternative route up steep, loose and unstable rock enabled us to climb onto the narrow, wired south ridge leading to the peak of Valluga.  This testing start enabled Matt our leader to assess our capability to cope with the rigours ahead.  Descent by cable car to the upper station enabled us to enjoy an unexpected late morning apelstrudel. Our route now followed the 601 footpath which is essentially a high level traverse eastwards via a number of narrow passes through the Lechtaler Alps, our path for the next few days.  Before reaching our destination for the day we enjoyed a superb rocky traverse  wired around eroded and exposed stream gullies, descending to a final spur to gain a stunning view of the Leutkircher Hűtte 200m below us behind which lay the Stans Kogel.

Reaching the top of Dremelscharte – Matt Nobles

Weather conditions were again perfect for our second day of walking with cloudless blue skies and complete absence of wind.  Indeed, apart from one day of unpleasant drizzle and heavy rain, our trip was blessed with marvellous weather.  Our planned route from the Leutkircher to the Ansbacher Hűtte was both long and demanding.  After crossing an unnamed scharte a large flock of those noisy, but musical and acrobatic members of the crow family, the Alpine Chough, accompanied us on the descent to the Kaiserjochhaus.  We were to climb to another four schartes and jochs before reaching the Ansbacher Hűtte.  The most challenging of these passes did not involve a significant climb but instead a tricky traverse around a series of precipitous dry stream gullies and ledges which was helped by twenty fixed wires of varying lengths that enabled passage to the Alperschonjoch.   A ruined shelter lay at the centre of the broad joch.  It was with some relief that we crossed the narrow notch of the Flarschjoch and raced down to the Ansbacher Hűtte to attempt to outpace the approaching rainstorm.

The next day dawned wet, the only day of inclement weather and unfortunate as today’s route took us into an area that was a highlight of our tour, the remote and beautiful wilderness of the Parseier Valley, a place of refuge for wildlife, with close sightings of chamois, fox and groups of ibex at higher elevations.  Before reaching this paradise, however, we had to cross two passes, the Winterjöchl and the Grieβlscharte . This latter scharte required an unpleasant and very steep 90m descent down loose and unstable rocks, making use of some none-too-secure fixed wires tucked into the gully wall.  As we reached the slippery grassy slopes above the valley, there were frequent shouts of,  ‘Watch out for that Salamander!’ as a large population emerged in the heavy rain.  Our billet for the night was the extremely busy Memminger Hűtte, a stop for those many parties walking along the E5 route.

Grossberg Spitze Summit – MAtt Nobles

Yesterday’s weather was forgotten as we set off across frosty pasture under a cloudless sky before climbing to the Seescharte.  Progress was slow behind a large party of German hikers frequently stopping to take photos, and was enlivened only by the sighting of four ptarmigan already in winter plumage.  Once over the scharte we were treated to a magnificent temperature inversion covering the valley below.  Beyond our next objective, the Groꞵbergscharte, we experienced 90 minutes of the most exhilarating mountain adventuring one could imagine as we scrambled up dry rock onto a rough but broad ridge.  Clouds swirled around us as we were rewarded with spectacular views back to the Seesscharte.  A couple of ibex appeared and inspected us as we climbed up to the summit cross on the Groꞵberg Spitze (2657m).  It was truly idyllic to lie amongst the rocks in our shirt sleeves identifying and admiring the shapely peaks lying in all directions before descending to the Wűrttemberger Haus lying far below us.

Watercolour of Muttekopf from Imster Höhenweg – Stuart Rees

Finally tribute should be paid to the tremendous leadership of the group shown by Matt Nobles who, throughout our wanderings, showed consideration, thoughtfulness and an awareness and understanding of the needs of each member of the group.

Last word goes to Frank Smythe and his hope that the mountains of Austria “will remain a country for the wanderer, and all who rejoice in the beauty and freedom of the hills“.

Summit Muttekopf – Matt Nobles


[Updated 02 April 2019]

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