currently living in Kleinwalsertal, Austria.
Lechquellengebirge - Kleinwalsertal 2 day circuit
Mountainbike Laguz - Day 1: Riezlern - Söllereck - Schrofenpass - Lech - Formarinsee - LaguzalpeThe weather had been uncommonly unpredictable of late. Now, finally, it promised almost a week of sunshine with only a slight risk of precipitation in the evening. Good enough for us! A mere two-day tour to Laguz and back would certainly not be unreasonable.
Starting from home near Riezlern, we returned to climb the airy ferrata of Schrofenpass south of Oberstdorf. As we took on the steep uphills of Stillachtal, light clouds were gathering to the south on the pale blue sky. We were only thankful for the relief from the sun, and for the dynamic light playing on the emerald slopes around us. What a day! In good humor and without a pause, we went on across the Schrofen plateau to reach Lechtal on the other side.
A quick stop in Lech to refill water, then we followed river Lech on the way to Formarinsee. It was here, in the long tarmac uphill that we began to sense that something was off. Clouds had swept in and chill droplets hung in the air. The sky darkened even more ahead and it began to drizzle. Oh, no... Worried that the next mountain pass might become grueling with the bikes, we stopped to consider: What are we to make of this? Return over Schrofenpass to down-climb the ferrata and then go home? That option didn't sound too tempting... Stop at the Freiburger hut and hope for a better tomorrow? Well, we were in good time, so we could afford loosing an hour on slippery rocks if needed. Thus, hoping that the thunder-dark clouds would eventually dissolve, we opted to carry on.
Formarinsee, you might remember, is the lake awarded the "most beautiful place in Austria" in 2015 (we happened to be there on the celebration day during our hike in 2016). Now it was gray and gloomy. We kept moving to keep warm. From the lake, a difficult trail over the "Lange Furka" would lead us to the comely little hamlet of Laguz.
Well, at least part of our team got some biking done on this last trail of the day! The terrain is complex with hilly karst, cracked rock everywhere. Wet, slippery rock, although thankfully the rain had stopped. We were now low on energy, having realized that we brought too little food for this "4750 meters altitude in 2 days" undertaking. We'd just have to get through today with empty bellies, keeping hopes up with the fact that Laguz not far away. As the crow flies, anyway.
Once we arrived, Laguz had us forgive any suffering straight away. Such a beautiful spot on Earth! Removed from most of modern convenience, it's a genuine old-school alpine hamlet not often found today. The hamlet doesn't accept many over-night visitors; caring for the cattle is still the main occupation, all summer through.
The cows are allowed to graze everywhere around the valley during daytime. Before sunset they are all called home to their barns. We happened to be standing on a nearby hill, with a nice view to Rote Wand in evening sun, as this spectacle was taking place. The cattle was herded in from all over the place; a jeep coming through a vale from Rothorn, different parties by foot with dogs and canes from the west, behind us, and other herders down by the barns, helping the cattle to find their way indoors. It was fascinating to watch them work with such efficiency. Soon a great calm spread around us as the ringing of hundreds of bells abated into evening.
Mountainbike Laguz - Day 2: Laguz - Gronggenkopf - Sonntag - Zafernhorn - Au - Derrenjoch - RiezlernThe following day we woke to a clear blue sky. Oh, yes! We would certainly need it, with no less than three mountain passes to negotiate on our way back home. After a generous locally produced breakfast, with rich fresh milk and eggs, we started easy-going from Laguz. A gravel and tarmac road led up to the first mountain pass of Garmiljoch. We were alone, enjoying the fresh morning air and the birdlife. Sandra even spotted a large black grouse! Then, a 1100 meter downhill followed to warm up the brakes. First on more tarmac and gravel, but after that, for the rest of the long descent, we got to bike along cow paths and steep trails through the woods, all the way down to Sonntag.
Back in civilization, we followed the tarmac road uphill to Fontanella. Soon thereafter we found the somewhat hidden gravel road that, after a considerable distance and gain, leads to the mountain pass by Zafernhorn. Two hours from Sonntag we were finally up at the pass. Still in good in time, and although we'd been diligent there seemed to be lots of energy left. So, why not do a hike to Zafernhorn summit? It is a green and welcoming mountain, easy to hike and the path bordered by lovely purple heather.
Swiftly up, a few photos snapped and back again. Now, pausing at the little chapel at the joch, a decision had to be made. The aim was to go down to Au, but there are two options. Either the obvious gravel road, or a path that first climbs a little more, up over a ridge of Zafernhorn, and then traversing the mountain slope before turning downhill. We could only see the uphill section of the path from here because of the ridge. Not knowing what the rest would be like with bikes, but seeing that the uphill part looked good, we decided to simply try it. What could possibly go wrong…?
Up at the ridge it dawned on us that this might have been a bit foolhardy after all. The path climbs down sections of steep rock face supported by ferrata wires. Today the rock was soaking wet and slippery. At the more path-like sections, shrubs lining the path made it too crowded to down-climb with the bikes on the back. A lengthy procedure of lowering bikes, climbing after, and repeating this commenced. It took its sure toll on both energy and temper, before we finally reached the flat but narrow traverse on the other side. Nope, this is not a recommended path for bikers.
On we go, then. After the traverse we headed down the steep meadows, past the grazing cattle, through mud and high grass (on the map there is a path, honestly!), soon to emerge on that gravel road we should have taken long ago. Now tired, almost to the limit. And still, a long descent left awaited, counting 1100+ altitude meters in total from the pass. The brakes were hard at work for the second time today.
Down in Au we were starving. But somehow the clock had turned from noon to 3:30 p.m., and all the lunch restaurants were closed by now. We finally found an Italian place in Schröcken that served filling and delicious food even at this odd hour - wonderful, our day saved! We enjoyed the meal for quite some time before noticing something disturbing. Are those clouds building up to the east…?
There was a slight risk of thunder in the evening in our two day-old forecast. But somehow, maybe because the report had said the same thing for many days before we left, and it never happened then, we thought the risk to be slight. After yesterday we knew it to be quite possible; but still, we would surely be over the last mountain pass by the time it hit anyway. Now though, the unsettling clouds hinted that we really ought to get going at once.
The climb to Derrajoch was not the quickest even if we tried. With some 2800 meters of gain in total today, pushing on with tired legs steep uphill, in pressing pre-thunder heat; now a slow and steady pace would have to do. Even with the sky darkening above. In the shaded forest Markus measured the temperature to 28 degrees Celsius. But as we came out in open landscape, about half-way up, the first few raindrops appeared and it quickly plummeted to 10 degrees. Oh no, not that soon! Jackets on, we would get through this with persistence.
It started raining. Not hard at first - sometimes it even stopped for a while. But as we passed Pisialpe with some 450 meters of gain still to do, it was rapidly getting worse. At this point the gravel road turns to a very steep and rough dirtpath, now all wet and muddy and utterly unbikable. The thunder was all around us, and there was occasional lightning. Thankfully never too close, yet unnerving. Near the steepest section we passed a family (!!!) that had gone out to stay with their cattle during the thunderstorm. How incredible. Not just to drive a four-wheeler in this terrain - but bringing the kids along! While we would have loved to stop and chat with them, now was not the time. It poured heavily and winds were gusting. We continued uphill, pushing the bikes through the mud.
The rain turned into hail. We kept moving up the path in snails pace, keen now to keep moving to avoid hypothermia. Before long we finally made it past wind-blasted Derrajoch and into some partial lee beyond. Lighning still lit the sky on and off as we paused to look down on the other side. There it is, the last descent to Kleinwalsertal.
Another muesli bar and an added layer to keep temperature and vitals in check. That's crucial now. Then we opted for the path passing Mittlere Spitalalpe. This descent, while just as wet and slippery as anything else, seemed wide enough for me to feel confident even in these conditions. Thus, at last, we began making haste downhill towards Baad.
Soaked, dirty and rather cold, spent after a full day out with both the best and the worst that mountains have to offer, we reached the end and starting point. Grateful to be back safe and sound. Now, all we want is to get a long warm shower and go into a yet longer restorative hibernation. I'm sure we'll be back another day, preferrable a sunny one, on new adventures among the hills.