Kurnell to Cronulla, mid-week adventure

A rare novelty, I was 7 mins early for my 4:30pm train to Cronulla. The grand plan for tonight was to run the coastal tracks and meet up with a friend at sunset, who’d be out at Wanda doing some sand dune hill reps for an upcoming race !?!

Strangely the train was already packed (what’s everyone else’s excuse?). I changed onto a bus and got dropped off outside the National Park in Kurnell. My original plan was to start at the end of Polo st, cutting off the headland. However, after alighting and being excited by the prospect of bush tracks once more, I figured I should have enough time and set off in the other direction instead to do the full loop.

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It was a little bit of Choose Your Own Adventure working out which trail to take (hadn’t really studied the map) but I was happy with my choices. The tree lined trails were beaut and I was happily alone until I popped out at the Cape Solander Lookout.

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The cliffs were stunning and I traveled south, not seeing another soul until I reached the Boat Harbour. I was certainly loving this adventure and the office was already far from my mind. I was trialing out a new pair of shoes and they def made rock hopping more enjoyable too.

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I wove in and out from the cliff edge, up and over a sandy hill, past the light house and then past another vehicle access point. There were no 4wds or fisherpeople to be seen.

The tide was low enough to run around the bay (at boat harbour) and then I got a bit excited about the rock hopping and stayed down low too long. But this ended up with bonus crowd support, with some blokes looking down on me and cheering me on. When I got bluffed out I scampered up the heath, and I was clearly not the first person to do this.

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I was now on the beach tottering along and smiling at each of the runners I passed. The pre-sunset views were a  beauty. I was worried I’d miss my turn off so stopped to get the maps out (I’d forgotten to study them on my commute – got distracted by my phone!) This would cost me seeing the actual sunset, but meh.

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Now I had mere minutes to chow down the road to the rendezvous place. My friend was already there waiting, having finished his sets. I looked down at the dunes and refrained myself from telling him just how crazy he was!

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Somehow he convinced me to try one, which I refused unless he punished himself further too! So here i was, with 13km of trail and beach running under my legs, running a 750m sand dune hill circuit! LOL! I didn’t say it, but it was a crazy kind of tormenting fun. Haha!

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We took the roads not the beach back to Cronulla (we were both tired), pulling in for a quick dip en route. Now … what to eat for dinner !?! :D

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Wasseralm to Stahlhaus: over Schneibstein (2276m) and Hohes Brett (2238m)

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We woke up to blue skies, to everyone’s relief. Breakfast was quite something: tasty muesli, fresh fruit (including strawberries) and yoghurt. How am I ever going to go back to “uncivilised” hiking in Australia?

After saying goodbye to all the nice people at the hut it was just Frode and I again; heading first east and then north. I didn’t feel very comfortable walking with him anymore but I made sure to not let it show. I needed to get my stuff back.

Our first milestone was the Hochgschirr saddle at 1949 m. On the way we saw some deer and some people that we crossed mentioned they’d seen ibex but we didn’t see any ourselves.

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We were walking through snow well before we hit the saddle, and would continue to do so for hours, until the final descent to the Stahlhaus – where we intended to sleep that night.

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Marmots again! (Bottom right)
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Hochgschirr saddle (1949m)

The vistas were magical, especially the Seeleinsee with ice still on it. What a treat.

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Seeleinsee

It was surprising the number of groups we crossed who asked us if there was a hut on the way to the Wasseralm for beer and lunch. Had all these people seriously not looked at a map??

We stopped below the Windschartenkopf summit for lunch. I was now watching the clouds forming in the south like a hawk. I didn’t want to be caught up here in a white out like the groups the day before. Sometimes it was hard enough to see where to go through the snow even though we had full visibility.

On top of the Schneibstein I was delighted by the view before me of the Steinernes Meer. Gosh, I’ll have to come back here when there’s less snow and the alpine traverses are open!

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We descended the 500 vertical metres to the Stahlhaus. This was my least favourite part of the day. The rocks were well worn and hence quite slippery and there was mud in between them from all the melted snow. High concentration was needed and the steep descent was really getting on my knees.

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This Aussie will never tire of border crossings! German-Austrian border. Hohes Brett in the back ground. Stahlhaus (hut) at saddle to the left and below (not visible).

We hit the hut at 3pm or so and checked in. I noticed that the clouds off the Hohes Brett had lifted – a mountain that I longed to climb! Who wouldn’t want to stand on top of something called the High Breadboard? I was experienced enough to know a storm would come, but I was certain it was still an hour or two off. I took my chances since I could turn around at any point and started ascending the other side of the Stahlhaus towards my goal (500 vertical metres above me ). I was on my own so upped the tempo to the max.

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A view across to the Schneibstein

I could hear the odd storm grumble to the east and I was still watching the clouds from the south coming in. I took note of the path I was walking on and promised myself to turn around at any point where the path could not easily be traversed in the opposite direction if it was raining or storming. Thankfully I never encountered such patches. I was making excellent progress (the sign at the bottom claimed it was 2 h to the top – but I was convinced it was only half this since I’d seen the route from the Schneibstein before arriving at the hut earlier on). I noticed there was another guy coming up behind me, whom I had briefly met at the bottom. He was clearly hesitating to ascend and I hoped he wasn’t ascending simply because I was, but that he had sufficient experience as well.

I made it to the peak in under an hour and the view was amazing. Huzzah. And here I was standing above Mt Kosci once more today ;) A few quick pics and a moment to appreciate Mt Göll and then it was time to descend again.

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Hoher Goell from the Hohes Brett
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The peak is pretty flat – the breadboard name suits it

I did so at lightening speed since I could see the storm getting closer. On the way down I “picked up” the other guy who lost his confidence when I was not above him anymore. He confessed he was only up there because I was! We descended together and only got rained and hailed on (just tiny hail this time) during the last 10 minutes. Win :)

The rain and storm didn’t last long and we saw an amazing sunset. This sunset got almost everyone out of the hut, onto the terrace and exchanging words. What followed was a fun evening of playing cards together until “quiet time” descended :)

At the very end, one of the guys I’d met assisted me in asking the hut staff about places to store my belongings the next day when Frode left. Thankfully one of them knew that the cable car up to Jenner  has ski lockers available year round. I would learn the next morning that Frode had looked up a fancy place to stay in Austria with running tracks and that was where he was headed the next day. He obviously had planned not to hike with me the whole week before we’d headed into the mountains and had not shared this decision with me. I certainly learnt another valuable lesson on this trip for sure.

Nochspitze (2403m)

After two nice days of catching up with friends and meeting their babies I had the Nochspitze on today’s to-do list. Setting out after a rainy night and morning, with the promise of a lot more rain to come, the word reckless came to mind. I waited until it stopped rainy (hah!) so only set out at 10:30am. With only a ski-area type map at hand I turned left out of the Nattersee campground towards Gözens. I found the bottom of the winter-only chairlift. There were no yellow signs to any of the way marks up to the Nockspitze, only to the towns east and west. I thought I had to head a little more west to find the path up. There happened to be a local walking his dog come past at that moment and he told me I could take the road heading steeply upwards before me. I thanked him and started the ascent. About 20 minutes or so later I came across 2 guys working on a new building. They looked at me in a way that said “that’s strange to see a walker”. I said hello as I passed and continued on. Sure enough the road eventually ended at a power(?) maintenance spot. Lacking a topo map I didn’t dare try and bash my way through to the correct path so I had to descend, head west and start again. The worst part was having to walk past the builders again!

Finally on the right path, it was a long slog of switchbacks on a dirt road past the Gözer Alm (a hut) before I made it onto a single track. The clouds were coming and going and quite thick at times so I wasn’t sure just how high I’d make it.

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Then the weather seemed to be turning in my favour. I startled a deer at one point. At another point I lost the path next to a creek where there were some snow drifts. I didn’t spend enough time looking for the next marker and instead followed a set of footprints going up steeply through the trees. Then I laid eyes on a path intersection way up on the other side of the creek to me so I had to retrace all my steps (it would have been a lot of tree bashing otherwise) – a fair punishment for my impatience. I headed up the other side and was rewarded with the view of a marmot (my favourite alpine animal!) and hearing its call.

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Up on top I found myself at the Birgitzköpflhaus (2035m). I was finally over 2000m again. The sign claimed it was another 1h45m to the peak. It was already 2pm and I was starting to worry about the weather again. I couldn’t understand why I would need so much time to get to the top (a 400m climb). I clearly didn’t have time to get to the top but decided to take the path until I could see ‘around the corner’. It’s hard to turn back without achieving a destination so I found myself ascending the mountain. I’d only been walking 10 mins and I figured that I could allow myself half an hour so long as the weather played along. I looked across at the clouds forming over the Ampferstein (2556m), an impressive peak with a via ferrata route over the top. I could now see the south, where two independent sources had told me over the past week that the south is where the weather always comes from in this area. It looked like I still had some time, but maybe I was just thinking that because I didn’t want to turn around just yet?

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It was getting chilly so I stopped and put on my thermal top and ate a banana. My sensible-ometer was starting to go crazy so I told myself I would turn around at 2:30pm no matter what. I was (and had been the whole day) memorising the route and making sure I didn’t go anywhere where I didn’t think I could get back through in rain or a storm again. I saw an eagle and some falcons or hawks over this next section. I was now scrambling over some rocks and decided that the clouds were getting too grey for my liking. At 2:25pm I almost turned around and then told myself just to stand on the knoll next to me so it would feel like a destination I could turn around from. Then I saw the cross on the top of the peak! Hah! I did get to stand on top of the Nochspitze after all, with an ascent of under 30 mins :)

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It was quite stunning actually with all the cloud formations around and the sun streaming down on me, standing in a drift of snow :) After a few photos I descended back to the last hut and ate lunch on the terrace.

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I had originally intended to return from the summit another way, but it was too full of snow. Near the Gözner Alm I headed towards Mutters to get back to Nattersee.

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There was a cool waterpark/playground on the way and I enjoyed walking through the forest on my own. I returned back to the camp cabin completely dry and a little sunburnt and could see the Nochspitze from the campground. Overall, a great day out.

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Pyramidenspitze (1997m)

Today we set off for Austria with our sights set on the Pyramidenspitze (1997m). It was raining as we left the house and the forecast could’ve been better. It rained almost the entire drive and we were delighted to find the sun shining when we arrived in Kufstein (499m).

We first tackled the never ending stairs, which reminded me of my race only 2 weeks prior. Then we were on a groomed, wide and steep ramp for hours. Hmmm the descent was going to be *fun*

The views were mountain filled and stunning. We’d climbed about 950 vertical metres when we discovered we were out of fruhstück (breakfast) juice. It was time for a slice of Julia’s homemade Russischer Zupfkuchen (Russian pick cake). Think of the best cheesecake (German style of course) and the best brownie you’ve ever eaten and image eating the cheesecake wrapped in the brownie. Delicious.

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Russischer Zupfkuchen – think of the best cheesecake (German style of course) and best brownie you’ve ever eaten and imagine eating the cheesecake wrapped in the brownie.

We were now finally off the ramp and on proper mountain single trail. Up on top of the Petersköpfl (1633m) we had a schnapps to toast the panarama before us. There were 3 ladies happily soaking up the rays and atmosphere.

We would have happily stayed for hours but our sights were on the Pyramidenspitze we could now see and the clouds building up in the Inn valley. Could we get up and back before the drenching?

After 4.5 hours we toasted the top, just shy of 2000m (I was tempted to climb the cross) and sat down to our fair of fresh bread and meats. We had a great view and then slowly clouds started forming off the peak (breathtaking) and more clouds were forming in the valley.

It was time to descend.

About 30mins later Julia recognised the signs of an incoming thunderstorm so we kept the pace up. We said goodbye to our single trail circuit and were back on the ramp. With about an hour to go it started spitting rain and we passed the hut where a large group planned to celebrate a birthday that night. On we went and then the heavens opened and delivered a barrage of marble-sized hail. We cowered next to a rock that provided a tiny bit of shelter and used my walking poles and then even our packs to protect our heads. Def type 2 fun!

Soon it abated and we were back at the cars delighted with how the walk went, that our knees held up and at the knowledge we’d be eating Käsespätzle for dinner.

Coburger Hütte

We started the day with a tasty, traditional Bavarian breakfast of weisswurst, pretzels, sweet mustard and wheat beer.

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Then we headed down through Garmisch-Partenkirchen with our via ferrata gear packed and absolutely clear views of the surrounding mountains. The Zugspitze was in prime viewing position. On we drove into Austria and as we pulled into Ehrwald I looked up at a spectacular mountain that I longed to climb. The map told us it was called Drachenkopf (dragon head) and I noted this for another trip.

The walk started with a steep ascent through the pine forest and over many tree routes. Then we went up a steep moraine which was getting harder and harder to find traction on before we found a good route up the very edge.

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Zugspitze

We had a sensational view of the Austrian side of the Zugspitze from a lookout and then proceeded with a very fun and technical climb up the mountain with a few permanent chains to assist. After a small downhill section we found ourselves at the Seeben alpine lake.

It was a beautiful blue colour in the middle and a ring of teal/green around the outside. There were drifts of snow nearby and sooo many surrounding peaks.

Sadly our via ferrata route was closed because of a severed rope (and probably all the snow still around) so we took the snowy switchbacks up to the Coburger Hut (1959m) with the promise of a crisp pre-lunch beer. It was fun trudging up through the snow and there were quite a few people on this section of the route.

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Sadly the hut was still closed from the winter season so we had a schnapps instead (who doesn’t carry a hip flask?). A tasty lunch looking down onto the frozen-over Dragon lake and a look at the map showed we were right next to the Dragon head mountain we’d seen from below. Sadly we didn’t have quite enough time to attempt it so we sat in awe of our surroundings for about an hour, soaking up the sunshine and views and watching the odd mini avalanche.

We found another technical route on the way down and devoured a beer at the hut at the bottom before heading back to Munich. It’s so good to be back in the Alps!

Gampalp, Vorarlberg

The luxury of having a host who is a baker at the local backerei is that he brings home fresh bread (good Austrian quality bread!) for breakfast. This morning we hit the Gempalp. As always, I got excited at seeing the mountains during the drive.

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It was a fairly steady ascent and soon we found ourselves at yet another alp drinking Most (cider), eating Jausen-Brettel (spread of local meats, cheese and bread) and drinking Weizenbier (wheat beer). This is a popular leg for cyclists and we watched a number come and go. We also had a very lovely, older hiker join us whilst he ate his lunch and told tale after tale.

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It’s time to hit the train station now and cross the border into Switzerland … my old home.

Hohen Freschen, 2004m

The hospitality I’ve been shown in Rankweil is incredible. Today, 3 people took time off work to go hiking with me (since it’s not every day that I can pop by from Australia they said) and the fourth took an early mark to pick us up and hang out for the evening. The Austrian band from Nepal was back together.

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It was another very warm day and the views were impressive once more. From the house we could see Hohe Kasten, where I celebrated my first Swiss birthday a few years ago. We cycled to the other end of town (a mere two or so kilometres) to meet up with Elmar and Maya and caught the bus to Bettbad. We made good time to reach the peak where we indulged with schnapps from a hip flask, landjäger and käse (was sonnst?) It was just like 2 years ago in Nepal. The boys had delivered, as promised.

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Shortly afterwards, on the decent, we hit the first “tankstelle” (“petrol station”) as Elmar calls it, where one can ‘refuel’ with a beer or cider (i.e. a hut), and then the second one not long afterwards! Somehow we managed a free schnapps at each tankstelle and the cider was extremely good.

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Paul picked us up at the bottom and we reminisced the night away. Thanks guys!

Sulzenauferner Glacier and Beiljoch (2676m)

The ziel (goal) for today’s hike in sight, we first drove past two sections of roadwork where they were clearing up a crazy amount of mud from landslides that happened a few days earlier.

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We set out below the treeline and meandered our way to the first alm (a cow’s summer residence) with quite a view to behold – an open valley with a 200m high waterfall and the lunch hut in view above it.

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I took the “wild water” fork and found myself (attempting to stand) next to this powerful waterfall throwing spray and wind at me. It’s hard not to put one’s puny human thoughts and worries in perspective against such nature! A clear Tirol soup with knoedel for lunch (yum) and then I parted ways with my hosts.

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They returned the same way and picked me up from the other end (thank you !!) whilst I continued to climb. First visiting the Blue lake and then the Sulsenauferner Glacier.

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The view was sensational so I took a seat and enjoyed the whole glorious show to myself for a very long time before finishing the ascent and then descending to meet my hosts once more and enjoy another tasty bbq dinner with my old climbing buddies.

I promise to come back and stay at the Sulzenau Hut next time!

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Hochschwab, 2277m

I’m back in my alpine playground so it’s time I write another blog post. This time I’m in Austria and although I’ve hardly spend very much time here in the past I already feel like it’s home. The buildings, the food and the mountains deserve credit for this. Today saw me squealing in delight as the driver rounded a bend and I saw our day’s goal for the first time. I’d forgotten the look of such alpine wonders. The forecast of 34 degrees (Celsius) was not going to stop me now.

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We started in Bodenbauer with a lovely ascent through the woods before we ditched the tree line and put some serious ascent below us.

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Check out the ladders in the photo below (looked like a caterpillar from a distance).

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Once you’re up there are an abundance of peaks to choose from.

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And beautiful alpine flowers to appreciate.

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And animals such as marmots, chamois and ibex to behold.

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Not to mention the caaaaaaaaaake !

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(This apparently was a single serve)