Hiking Solo through the Austrian High Alps E4 Route

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This five-day hike would take me along the E4 Adlerweg (‘Eagle Walk’) and E5 alpine walking routes through Austria, and in the shadow of some of the highest peaks in the Lechtal Alps.

Essential trip information

  • Access from Reutte in Tirol with the 110 and 155 bus routes. The OBB-Scotty trip planner is useful which you can view here.
  • Maps: Kompass Map 24 1:50,000
  • Food: German staples are ‘Knorr’ dried pasta sachets, croissants, and sausage (wurst)
  • Water: freely available in the Alps from springs and lakes. I carried 2L and topped up twice a day
  • Mid-July weather varies from clear sunshine to rain and fog. Snowfall is possible. Overnight can get down to 0°C
  • Summer equipment: 75+10L ‘Deuter Aircontact’ rucksack, 3 season hiking tent, 0°C down sleeping bag, air mattress, Trangia stove.
  • A good raincoat and grippy hiking boots are also essential
  • Total pack weight: 25kg
  • Accommodation: most walkers eat and stay overnight in the alpine huts. The Deutsch Alpine Club has a useful website for more details.
  • Many Bergschule (Mountain schools) offer all-inclusive tours for the E4 and E5 Walks.

View of a train station in Europe

Reutte in Tirol has excellent public transport connections with the rest of Germany and Austria. A great base to explore the Alps.

Starting the hike

To reach the beginning of the hike, which is Stage 19 of the popular Adlerweg, I took the OBB Postbus from Reutte to Boden.

The bus climbed steeply toward Boden as I looked out of the window across the Lech valley, at the wonderful snow-peaked mountains that would be my only sights for the next five days. Two motorcycles rushed past on a tiny section of straight road, making the bus driver curse under his breath as he hit the brakes to give them time to get in before the hairpin bend.

Around the next corner, we passed a polizei speed trap and saw one of the motorcyclists being pulled over by a stern police officer. Bad, or good luck, depending on how you looked at it. It was gloriously sunny as I hopped off the bus, repacked my rucksack ready for hiking, sunscreened up… and then set off at 3 pm.

A-view-of-scenic-Dremelspitze

A view of Dremelspitze, looking from Hanauer Hütte. The bright yellow signposts make following the routes very easy.

Day 1 – Boden to Hanauer Hütte

The track began flat along the rugged valley floor, with a small river gurgling nearby. Hanauer Hütte – an alpine hut – could be seen in the distance, sitting on a small rise with the lofty Dremelspitze (2733m) in the background. At the Hanauer cable car station, the path became rocky and steep, and it took another two hours to hike to Hanauer Hütte. A few walkers passed by, coming back from day trips to the hut.

Front view of Hanauer Hütte

Hanauer Hütte offers overnight accommodation and is a 2-3-hour walk from Boden. 

The air became cool and fresh as I followed the path upwards past some grazing cows. The hut was busy with walkers settling in for the night, so I went ten minutes further and found a place to set up my tent in a meadow above the hut. It was a good spot to spend the night, with flat ground, a glorious view, and running water which is generally quite safe to drink this high in the Alps.

Markings along a trail in the Austrian Alps

The walks are often marked with red-and-white-paint on rocks.

Day 2 – Hanauer Hütte to Württemberger Haus

Every day is better with a scrambled egg breakfast, so I took on the challenge of carrying ten fresh eggs in their cardboard container. I had just finished eating when the first party of walkers came past on their way to Östler, east of Dremelspitze and Steinsee lake via route 625 – all well marked with signposts or signs painted prominently on rocks. The slightly less difficult and more popular alternative is via Westler (west) Dremelspitze via route 601.

View of the scenic Steinsee Lake in Europe

Steinsee lake from the east Dremelspitze pass.

I tried route 625, traversing scree slopes and patches of snow, and soon realised that my rucksack was far too heavy for this kind of alpine work. After jettisoning my luxurious three litres of fresh fruit juice, and most of my water knowing I could get more on the other side, I ascended to Östler pass (2470m).

The other side of the pass opened out to a magnificent vista of the Bergwerkskopf cirque. The rocky track then descended to the Steinsee, where I stopped for an icy swim. I then continued on to Steinseehütte (2000m), where the skyscraping alpine peaks and scree landscape changed to emerald green grass and shrubs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent negotiating the three high passes: first Gufelgrasjoch (2382m), then Roßkarscharte (2400m), and finally Gebäudjoch (2452m). The descent over the other side of Roßkarscharte was slippery and difficult but thankfully secured with wire rope.

Man walking along terrain near Steinseehütte

The terrain changed from rock and scree to grass nearby the Steinseehütte.

I stopped for a long lunch next to a spring before tackling the Gebäudjoch pass and was glad to reach a beautiful lake called Auf der Lacke a few hundred meters above Württemberger Haus (2220m). Here I put up my tent in a protected spot next to a weir at the end of the lake, which was fortunate as a storm passed through shortly after and it got very windy indeed.

Steinseehuette-in-the-mountains

Steinseehütte nestled in the mountains.

Day 3 – Württemberger Haus to Oberlochalpe

The day began with brilliant sunshine, but a dense fog swept across the mountains, so I decided to pack the tent and make a move before it was too late. The first drops came just as I stuffed the tent into its bag, and soon it was wet enough to need a raincoat. I stopped at Württemberger Haus to refill my water bottles at the fountain there.

Camping-overnight-near-Auf-der-Lacke

Camping overnight near Auf der Lacke. It became very stormy that night, luckily the tent was pointed into the wind.

The trail down to Unterlochalmhütte (route 631) was a constant descent of 640m total altitude. The fog dampened everything, including the sound of the river rushing in the valley below, making the atmosphere strangely quiet. Unterlochalm Hut is a popular lunch stop on the E5 hiking trail and was crowded that day despite the weather, so I ate my lunch amongst some fir trees next to the river footbridge.

After lunch I went north on the E5, back up the valley of the Lochbach river, and arrived mid-afternoon at Oberlochalpe meadow (1799m), my destination for the day. I set up my tent next to the Lochbach and then explored the meadow.

Drinking-fountain-at-Württemberger-Haus

The drinking fountain and signposts at Württemberger Haus.

The weather was varying between strong sun and cloud, and so was the climate in the tent – from cool and breezy to tropical humidity that required all vents and flaps open to avoid sweltering. Several groups came past in the late afternoon – a pair of young walkers, a family of four, and an older man. I wondered what their destination would be at this time of day, as the next stop on the E5 is the town of Zams – a solid three-hour walk.

That evening, despite being surrounded by mountains, I managed to pick up four Austrian FM radio channels. Listening to the music felt quite unnatural, as I had only heard the sounds of the mountains for the past two and a half days.

Cloud and fog in the Austrian Alps

The valley was engulfed in dense cloud and fog, for the entire morning.

Day 4 – Oberlochalpe to Mittlerer Seewisee

The weather looked promising, so I detoured off the E5 to explore the remote Patroltal valley, with the aim of reaching the Parseierjoch glacier at the end and obtaining a view of Parseierspitze, the highest mountain in the Lechtal Alps (3036m).

The signpost at the intersection with the E5 was the last I would see in the Patroltal, which was more of a choose-your-own-adventure style, with only a couple of arrows blazed on trees to show the way. However, navigation posed no difficulty as the main landmarks were always in view given the fine weather.

View-of-Seescharte

View of Seescharte from Oberlochalpe meadow.

The faint trail ascended through a pine forest, before opening up to a meadow and disappearing amongst the marmot burrows and grassy outcrops. Near the glacier, the route became steep and the scree loose underfoot, cascading back down the slopes with a jangly sound once you dislodged it.

The-remote-Parseierjoch-glacier

The remote Parseierjoch glacier was looking sparse in mid-summer, not much snow or ice.

I had considered taking an alternative route (633) to reach Memmingerhütte, but after a brief recce, I realised that the 40m map contours had well and truly missed the sheer rock face where the 633 traversed out of the cirque. The climb was secured with wire-rope but would have been a poor idea with the expedition rucksack I was carrying. Instead, I ate a chocolate protein bar for lunch and then descended in less than an hour, what had taken two and a half hours to climb (600m altitude from the E5 Oberlochalpe junction).

Small streams in the Austrian Alps

The glacier creates several small streams that run into the Lochbach river.

Back on the E5, I filled my water bottles from the Lochbach and then made the steep climb to Seescharte Pass (2599m). The pass offered splendid views of the Allgäu Alps to the north and the Ötztal Alps to the south. I was relieved to see in the cirque below, a small flat area next to the Mittlerer Seewisee where I could set up my tent. The three lakes – Unterer, Mittlerer and Oberer Seewiseen – still had large patches of solid ice on the surface and looked far too cold for a swim.

Signs at the top of the Seescharte climb

At the top of the Seescharte climb, the trail is covered in scree. From here you can return via 601 as a loop to Württemberger haus.

Descending to my chosen spot, I spent an hour fortifying an existing stone wall as a small windbreak and then sat down for a cup of tea as a lone steinbock (ibex) poked its head over the ridge above my camp. I took a sip of tea and upon hearing the tell-tale cascade of rock looked up to see an entire herd coming past my tent to the pastures below.

Steinbock feeding on a mountain

Steinbock will come nearby if you act quiet and safe. This herd descended further to graze near Mittlerer Seewisee lake.

Day 5 – Mittlerer Seewisee and Memmingerhütte to Bach

The large ‘Bergschule’ (mountain school) tour groups usually start walking around 7:30 am. I wanted to get going before they all came past, so I awoke early and packed the tent. I left my rucksack next to the trail and decided to climb Mittlerer Seekopf (2702m) nearby, which would offer a grandstand view of the valley to the north.

Sunrise-over-Mittlerer-Seewisee-lake

Sunrise over Mittlerer Seewisee lake. Parseierspitze (3036m) is the tall mountain in the background.

The sun caught me just as I reached the peak and gradually thawed out the whole valley with its warm rays. I spotted the first tour groups ascending Seescharte, and after taking in the view I returned to my rucksack below. This was my last hiking day, and upon inspection, it turned out that I had packed more than enough supplies. So, I cooked a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, cheese and croissants, and felt astonished that the eggs had made it the whole way without any breakages.

View of Oberer-Seewisee

Oberer Seewisee was covered in ice the previous night.

At 9am I started the descent to Memminger Hut, where I stopped to fill my water bottles and had a chat to a young lady who was working at the hut for four months straight. The track continued as route 632, passing beneath a waterfall from the Seewisee lakes and then descending sharply to Parseiertal valley (1554m).

Memminger Hütte is a popular alpine hut along the trek in Austria

Memminger Hütte is a popular alpine hut where it is possible to do some excellent day walks to the surrounding peaks.

I crossed the rushing Parseierbach river on the recently renovated footbridge to reach the Memminger Seilbahn, a ski-lift style pulley system used by tour groups to send up their rucksacks to lighten the load when tackling the ascent to Memminger Hütte.

The-last-section-of-the-E5

The last section of the E5 is through the valley to Bach.

Finishing the hike

From here, the E5 Walk follows a gravel road through the valley where it’s possible to take a ‘walker’s taxi’ at a reasonable price, to avoid the three-hour walk to the small town of Bach. I got to Bach at 2:30 pm where it was bright, warm and sunny, and had just enough time to fill my water bottles at a fountain before the bus arrived to return to Reutte.

 

Have you ever completed an alpine hike?

About the writer...

Chris Newman

Chris frequently attempts more adventures than he really has time for.

Joined back in January, 2014

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