The summit is not the destination

The new Ortler Höhenweg

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Those who want to break new ground have a hard time. Not only because everything always comes differently than you think.

Actually, I should be one of the first, who commits him step by step - the new Ortler Höhenweg of seven daily stages around South Tyrol's highest mountain, the 3.905 meter high Ortler. It was officially opened in October 2018, but it should not be committed by hikers until June 2019. That was the plan. But as John Lennon sang, life is what happens while you make other plans. So what if the hike falls into the snow? Of course plan B to D rauskramen - sometimes go down a path, sometimes around the corner, but almost always in view: the Ortler. Its summit at Höhenweg is not the destination, because instead of scrambling stubbornly towards the summit cross, it is important to get to know the big and the beautiful from different perspectives, to perceive the small changes in landscape and village culture and to treat oneself to something in between. Be it a Kaiserschmarrn, a foot bath in the mountain lake or a round sauna at the mountain lodge.

One of the challenging mountain tours in the Alps ...

... call it the new Ortler Höhenweg, which meanders 119.5 kilometers from the Stilfserjoch pass through the Stelvio National Park - the only one in South Tyrol - to Lombardy to Sant'Antono, Cancano Lake and back to the Stilfserjoch Pass. Its brand new guidepost made of light-colored wood with blue lettering depicts the heraldic animal of the Stelvio Pass: a golden eagle that, with good luck, can be seen gliding over valleys and mountains from time to time.

A colleague told me about the new mountain trail: "They'll only get me up there, if an attractive mountain guide carries me on my back." Not without reason, because the high-alpine circumnavigation demands a whopping 8.126 meters of altitude, up and down, to the body at 3,258 meters. If you do not have a mountain guide who takes a piggyback, you should bring sure-footedness and good physical condition - and mountain experience, because if you want to complete the entire seven-day round on your own, you will cross the chance hut and the Casatihütte in Lombardy on day four Glacier. All this information I read before I leave, must swallow more often, because I still mountains are not one hundred percent hideaway. For the first time I saw them up close when I was 26, and it took me many more years before I climbed a not so tall specimen for the first time. But what do you do not do anything to mark an almost never-haunted path with its footprints?

During the long, lonely car journey from Munich to northern Italy, I am concerned with the question of what sense it actually makes to set up a high-altitude circular route. As much as I work on it, I'm not one of the people who easily recognize the path as a goal. Most of the time I go a way because I want to reach the goal, rather sooner than later, and patience means that I have to google goo every now and then. If there are mountains, I usually want to go to the top. There, where the view is furthest and the I-got-done-feeling strikes. While the Navi maneuvers me past roadblocks and built mountain passes through Austria and Switzerland and my patience gets caught somewhere between Garmisch Patenkirchen, Austrian mountain villages and serpentine roads, I cling to the idea of ​​arriving as so often.

Where the nightingale sings

And I arrive - four hours later than planned, but at least. In Trafoi, a village with about 80 inhabitants on foot of 'King Ortler', as the South Tyroleans call their biggest baby. The name comes from the Romansh Tral Ful, meaning 'three springs'. Sources that are said to have discovered a shepherd named Moritz in the thirteenth century, and on which, according to legend, people were blubbering crosses, from which the shepherd snatched two. At this point is now the tiny church of Three Holy Wells, about three kilometers outside the village, where you can still test the healing properties of the water today.

But that's not all that Trafoi has in store: Gustav Thöni, a ski legend, was born there in 1951 and, together with his wife Ingrid, runs a hotel in his birthplace, the Hotel Bella Vista. Although I do not meet him personally, but Ingrid, which shows me proudly inside a small museum in honor of her husband, who won Olympic gold in the 70s and later several times the World Cup. He is considered to be one of the most successful Italian winter athletes, but today he only gets on the boards with his family, which keeps him on his toes: "We have three children and now eight grandchildren," says Ingrid.

Behind the hotel and the village church, King Ortler goes crazy, soon let the last yellow sun rays from his tip. And as I slowly shake off my impatience of the journey and rejoice in this path that leads to no summit, I hear her sing for the first time in my life: a nightingale that chirps happily, as if she shared my anticipation. Then the silence that only nature can lulls the mountain world.

Who goes slower, arrives faster

When a lowland Tyrolean from Hamburg lands in South Tyrol, she receives a mountain guide for her own protection and that of mountain rescue. Point. "I'm the Busy," my guide introduces me the next morning. Ernst Reinstadler, 72 years old, in blue dungarees, plaid shirt and Tyrolean hat with an alpine rose and a gentian blossom. The hope of my colleague that takes me an attractive mountain guide sometimes piggyback, which had secretly transferred to me, fizzles. "Did you mind my dog ​​coming along, the Dorka?" I have not, and the six-year-old brown hound is standing by. After all, I have enough mountain experience to realize that a human being nearly twice my age may be more than twice as likely to be in the mountains as I am. "I was on the Ortler about 1,000 times, the first time at the age of 13, partly barefoot, because the shoes were nothing," are Ernst's first words, to which he swings his wooden walking stick. Whether I face a similar shoe fate? I stand with brand new hiking boots at the start, have planned on what all Bergfexe warn - a long hike with unused shoes. Anyway, my confidence in the two pairs of hiking socks is there, let's go.

Actually, stage one would start at the top of the Stilferjoch and descend 18.5 kilometers from 2,820 to 1,300 meters, but Ernst waves away. "Everything is iced up, we take a deeper path with the same view of the Ortler." Together with the 30-year-old South Tyrolean Carina we make our way and hurl ourselves shortly behind the famous Stilfserjoch road with its 48 turns - curves - in the scrub ,

"It still snowed until May, it's extraordinary," says Carina, as we sink into the snow on the lower path to our ankles and fight our way through the snowy slopes where Ernst paves the way for us. I have never been more grateful to follow in someone else's footsteps. My concern that he would rush ahead is, fortunately, unfounded - he walks as slowly as if we had fallen out of time. "You have to walk very comfortably, then you distribute your energy and end up faster than the ones who are running and out of breath." Except Dore is only Dorka, who runs us tail waving ahead and disappears again and again in the distance - followed by pointed cries of just awakening from hibernating marmots, warn their conspecifics in the entire Ortler area before the bitch. Disappointed, Dorka returns every time: no marmot wants to play with her.

At the first stage of the Ortler Höhenweg you walk just opposite the mighty mountain and with a view to further two- and three-thousanders, which Ernst knows by name as his best buddies. "Ortler, Zebru and Königsspitze form the so-called triumvirate," he explains to me. Reinhold Messner also climbed the Ortler several times and discovered new ways. "Not today anymore, today he only has a few yaks here, which he drives every summer from Sulden up to the Madritsch", laughs Carina. And a Messner Museum in Sulden. I fill my lungs with clear mountain air, listen to the silence, give myself to the idyll. In contrast to the day before, when I was sitting in the rental car and on autopilot alternately accelerator pedal, clutch or brake kicked, just wanted to arrive quickly, I am floating in the mountains in the comforting den-moment-hold-want stage, which makes me especially traveling comes over in the most beautiful moments. Here is the world in order. However, this was not always the case: "It was here, on the Stelvio Pass, over the Ortler and Lake Garda, that the front in World War I ran from 1915 to 1917." It was Austria- Hungary and Italy , which were hostile and a real one High mountain and position war led. At the Goldsee, where the Ortler Höhenweg passes, an ammunition magazine was erected before the outbreak of the war. "The road was practically the border between the Habsburg monarchy and Italy," Ernst knows. To lay the war in the mountains was not stupidity, but strategy - the higher the mountains were occupied, the better one could observe and defend the environment. "In the '50s and' 60s, these ways were then used by smugglers smuggling tobacco from Switzerland to us," reveals Ernst in a conspiratorial tone.

Both South Tyroleans laugh at my provisions in the backpack, ranging from nuts to cottage cheese and a thick casserole. I never break into the mountains without enough to eat and drink, and nowhere does the slippery banana taste better to me than with grass or rocks under my butt and a view over the landscape. At the side of the road, the gentian blossoms, sometimes even pale purple bells peep out of the snow.

"In an hour we are at the Furkelhütte," says Ernst, "I'm eating there." The one hour turns into two and a half, because time and again the snow forces us to pause, to choose every step with care. A wrong step could mean the crash and possibly death. Ernst is right: who goes slower, arrives faster. Arrives at all. What is particularly worthwhile, when sausage, fries and apple strudel on the waiting at 2,153 meters Furkelhütte wait.

From there it is well-fortified continue to Stilfser Alm, past the Valatsches farms and to the village of Stilfs with about 1,150 inhabitants. "This village and the people are very special," whispers Carina. "You do not need to be surprised if someone hugs you spontaneously, people are just so open and welcoming." Although no one hugs me, smiling faces and a cool forest - beer from the Forst brewery near Merano - are Reward enough for the first stage passed, which allows me to agree with the essayist Josef Hofmiller: "Walking is an activity of the legs and a state of the soul."

Plan C: the donkey way

The second stage of the Ortler Höhenweg would actually lead from Stilfs up to the Düsseldorferhütte at 2,721 meters - Düsseldorf, because the mountain hut was built in 1892 by the Düsseldorf section of the German Alpine Club. But Ernst waves immediately. Again, the stage falls into the snow, an alternative must be: the so-called donkey trail on the opposite side, on the probably really donkeys were used for the goods transport from valley to valley. First, it goes steeply uphill through dense spruce forest, past trees, from which hang meter-long tree bears, as I have seen recently in Nicaragua and Newfoundland.

Again, Ernst takes all the time in the world, again Dorka sprints ahead and brings us sticks, which we should throw her. Soon the trees clear and clear the view of the Ortler, its dark gray, fossil-free dolomite rock, which flashes through the snow, where the rock formation at high pressure and 400 degrees made every living thing a long time ago. Before I came here, I assumed that the Ortler also belonged to the Dolomites, but Carina teaches me a better: "The Ortler is simply Ortler area, but does not count to the Dolomites."

At some point the forest spits us back into the sun, the tree line is reached. Anyone who now dreams of a cold beer like Ernst or like ice-cooled sparkling water, is heard by the mountain gods: In the middle of the Kälberalm hikers are first provided with herbal liquor in a hut, then there is everything you really want. Some sink into the sun loungers, in front of them undiscovered Ortler panorama as on a huge flat screen. Around the hut cows graze and convey the feeling of having arrived in the midst of the mountains with their gently ringing bells.

My head is still buzzing with schnapps when we set off again, under the stern gaze of King Ortler. Goethe once said that it was only really where one was on foot. He is right, because only when moving slowly on my own legs do I have time and leisure to notice the little details that make the way. Glacier crowfoot growing between stones, a delicate blossom with a yellow pistil and white petals stretching towards the sun. They are the sturdiest among the alpine plants, the only ones to survive at altitudes up to 4,275 meters.

Again and again, Ernst pauses and looks with binoculars at Alpensteinböcken or Gämsen, but they do not want to show themselves to us. Unlike marmots, who cheekily shoot out of their holes, but immediately disappear into it with loud screams as soon as they see Dorka. Soon we reach a mountain lake formed by snowmelt, so peaceful that the Ortler reflects in it. The perfect spot for Ernst to unpack his mountain guide diesel and generously share with us: a bottle of delicious white wine. The fact that I prefer to reach for my bottle of tap water deepens the wrinkles on his forehead. "I drink water at most once in the evening, on hikes I only take wine with me." So that does not heat up in the midday sun, he puts it in the snow without further ado, before we tackle the last, steep meters to the Dusseldorf hut.

With the huts on hikes, it often happens to me with my goals - I see them from afar, I'm glad, because it's not that far anymore. And then the cabin disappears behind the next mountain ridge, reappears, and I run and run, doubting whether I've ever seen it, or if it was just imagination. Then, much later than expected, it sits enthroned high above us again: the Düsseldorferhütte. We are hungry and thirsty, even Dorka can hang the tongue. We are the only guests, no one else wants to boot high in the snow to eat South Tyrolean cheese dumplings with coleslaw at 2,721 meters - and then a freshly baked Kaiserschmarrn afterwards. Why not, I do not understand, because I bet that the specialties taste nowhere as good as in Weitblick over the Ortler mountain wall with the now tiny blue lake deep down, where Ernest's white wine is cold. As we slowly go limp, Dorka sacrifices himself and pulls in the rest of Kaiserschmarrn within seconds.

"The bridge below was torn away from the water," says the landlord. The bridge over a mountain river to Sulden, the next village. Ernst dismisses it. "I can think of something." As long as he can collect his wine again, his world seems alright. The landlord has not exaggerated: The river has split the small wooden bridge near the lake - in summer a small mountain stream, which has turned the snowmelt into a tsunami.

When Ernest repacked his half-empty bottle, we walk along the river until he finds the right place to pass the water - dry feet. The man is a genius! Then it goes steeply down towards Sulden along the angry water, which has incorporated large parts of the trail, so we crawl through woods and scrub to get down. But it is, as always, somehow.

Plan D: Snowshoe hike in June

Actually, the third and last stage of the Ortler Höhenweg in South Tyrol would have led from the Düsseldorfer to the Zufallhütte, our destination on my last day, but once again, ice destroys the plan. As always Ernst has a suitable alternative ready: We let his mate from the mountain rescue in the SUV drive up to the still closed Schaubachhütte, put us there on the leggings and strap on the snowshoes.

The plan: up to 3,123 meters to the Madratschjoch and from there down to Martelltal and hike to Zufallhütte. I have never snowshoeed in June. Actually, I only did that twice, many years ago, on a pretty straight line. How to get up and down mountains with the irons under your feet is what Ernst is doing now. The snow forces us to slow down even more than usual, the snowshoes make me slow, driving sweat out of my pores as you go uphill.

Again and again avalanches plunge into the mountains around us, make us stop, look, be grateful that we are far away. As much as I feel in the mountains now, I never forget that they are not to be joked with. That nature always sits on the longer lever and can remind us at any time that we are only guests with her. That the deep blue sky and the radiant sun just pretend security. But as long as Ernst is with me and he keeps enough wine in my mood, I'm not worried. At first I wonder how we should ever arrive at the accident hut on the incredibly long climb and even longer descent from the tall, muddy snow that thirsts for our feet and legs. And again, the mountain gods or ghosts, or whoever has the say, are kind to us - this time not in the form of schnapps on a mountain pasture, but in the shape of a snow cat, as the South Tyroleans call their snow plow, at the wheel of which an acquaintance of Ernst sits and frees his hut from snow. "Do you want to go upstairs?" We give Ernst a questioning look. May we? That's cheating, a true Bergfanatiker would not lose a meter of the way. Minutes later we sit in the beefy vehicle. It's okay. Sometimes it is okay to access a difficult stretch of way when a hand reaches out to help.

"But not that you think all hikers could do that!" Warns us Ernst, who already sees his buddy as a sought-after chauffeur for wandering tourists. We understood. VIP service, this only time. Granted, the feeling of reaching the Madratschjoch Pass would certainly be more glorious if we had completely hiked it. And yet the snow cat did not save our lives, but it did save a lot of energy, which we need now for the steep, slippery descent. While Ernst precedes the steep slope in the deep snow, as if he were riding on asphalt, my buttocks more and more with the slippery snow. Every few minutes, I dig my legs and walking sticks out of the clinging snow and try not to think that it's going right down to my right.

We are alone in the white space, the sky above us postcard-blue, Ernst, who runs far ahead of me, small as an ant in front of the mighty mountain wall. Pretty prettier prettiest. The true beauty of this mountain world begins where the superlative ends. I look and am amazed and grateful. And inattentive. Suddenly my left leg sags in a snow hole and does not want to come out again, as deep down there hungry a hungry monster starving for me. After a short struggle, it gives up. Ernst shakes his head. "You have to be careful with ice holes, when you fall into the water, you can barely free yourself."

Then everything will suddenly change. The snow has given way to the sun, the snowshoes become superfluous, it is as if we had only dreamed of the snow masses. Partly green, partly rocky, the Martelltal spreads before us, in the distance the Zufallhütte is already recognizable at 2,264 meters.

If Ernst estimates we'll arrive in half an hour, I know we'll need an hour. I'm right. There is a wooden sauna next to the hut, and a small chapel on the other side, which will certainly provide you with health and spirit. The landlord does not agree at all that I order only a small salad and a water. "Girl, you are still falling from the meat! Then we'll make you another Kaiserschmarrn. "Opposition excluded. This time he is even more delicious than the day before. From the mountain wall, a waterfall plunges out of the snow.

I wish I could stay, spend the night here, sit in the mountain panorama and waterfall noise in the sauna. As it would be the case with the real Ortler Höhenweg hike. Maybe I would have liked to try on a glacier in the next stage. With seriousness and his satchel full of wine. Into Lombardy, where people feel like real Italians again and the villages look different and the food tastes different. I want to continue, but I have to go back. Because the snow and the time like it. Because life is a stubborn blacksmith of plans than I am. And in the end, that's okay too.

This trip was organized by IDM Südtirol / Alto Adige. All information about the Ortler Höhenweg and the individual stages can be found at: https://www.vinschgau.net/de/aktivurlaub/wandern-bergtouren/ortler-hoehenweg.html . During the hike, it is best to spend the night in mountain huts, if possible. For overnight stays in the mountain villages in South Tyrol, among others, the following hotels are recommended:

Trafoi: Hotel Bella Vista

Stelvio: Hotel Sonne

Solda: Hotel Cristallo

  1. Jürgen Bittner

    Very nice written and a lot of individual details. First, a Sulden legend is still alive. You meet him again and again in the Sulden mountains, whether winter or summer, it's serious.
    As the Suldenians say, you either love Solda or never come back. I definitely belong to the first category.
    Best regards
    Jürgen B.

    • Thank you for the nice comment, and yes, the seriousness is already a fine :)
      Many greetings from the north
      Bernadette

  2. Really amazing. I want to be there. Many thanks.

  3. Compliment!! Really well written, had a lot of fun;) also as Suldnerin and who knows our "noa" Ernst (as he is called by many in the village), can feel really clean in the tour!
    Maybe you will meet next time in person, greetings from Solda

    • Thank you, Yvonne. I would be happy about a personal meeting on my next visit in any case :) Greetings from Hamburg

  4. Michaela Spindler

    Very well written, get mountain sick ;-).
    South Tyrol a beautiful spot of earth ... .. <3

    Greetings Ela

    • Thank you, Ela, and it's true, South Tyrol is really a dream :) Best regards, Bernadette

  5. Nail gaby

    Super nice written. I know the area from ski touring in winter and summer as a day trip. You have to give the chance hut for a few days. Great team, great food and a place to unwind. And you have now made me teeth for the mountain trail. I'll add it to my wish list now.
    Lg Gaby

    • Thank you, Gaby. I like to spend a lot more time at the Zufallhütte next time. And I hope that you can go the Ortler Höhenweg very soon. Best regards, Bernadette

  6. Thank you :)

  7. Great written because you want to go right now

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