With all the countless mountains and trails scattered throughout Austria, choosing a mountain range to hike turned out to be quite the difficult task.  I don’t know what drew me to the Dachstein.  The easily accessible chair lift to the mediocre skywalk, the family-themed Ice Palace, and the uninspiring suspension bridge obviously attracted groups of inexperienced “hikers” but I managed to find a hike long and challenging enough only suitable for the determined.  Despite the crowds lingering near the chair lift, we only saw one other couple during our hike, and my poor planning led to additional unplanned adventure. =)

Due to unfavorable weather in the forecast, I had to alter our itinerary.  Originally I planned to visit Salzburg after Vienna, followed by hiking in the Dachstein.  But with thunderstorms on the rise, we ended up skipping Salzburg completely and hit the road at 7am to drive 3 hours to the mountain.

We made it to the parking lot shortly after 10am. Gorgeous views all around!IMG_4547

We rode the chair lift up, which cost €22 per person. Purchase of a chair lift ticket validates the €14 fee to drive up the road and park in the lot.

Once at the top, we immediately set off for the Dachstein glacier walk, a 45-minute hike across a glacier to Seethalerhutte.  The hut is situated at the foot of Dachsteinwarte Peak, just below the Hoher Dachstein, the highest peak in the range.IMG_20160722_111350IMG_20160722_111322

Standing on the summit of Dachsteinwarte Peak:IMG_20160722_113913

From Dachsteinwarte Peak, I gazed down at the neighboring massifs and the valley below. This view was a winner.IMG_4569

We carefully returned down the glacier (30 minutes) and headed toward Kleiner Gjaidstein Peak.  However, instead of hiking up the peak we took a right at the fork toward Guttenberghaus.  Little did we know it would be a long, 1-hour downhill scramble over steep piles of rocks.  There were a few climbers coming up, and they all wore helmets for protection against loose rocks.  Smart.IMG_4575

Fortunately after the 1-hour rock scramble, we hiked an easy trail through the mountain range behind all the craggy peaks.  We had the entire trail to ourselves.IMG_4579

Curious and adorable sheep:IMG_4583

Two and a half hours later we made it to the scenic Guttenberghaus, the highest mountain lodge in the Dachstein mountains.IMG_20160722_151220

My poor planning became apparent at Guttenberghaus.  Originally I planned to hike all the way back to our motorhome, which was parked at the Dachstein chair lift parking lot.  “It is too late to start now,” the woman in the lodge told us, giving us the “stupid tourists” look.  She confirmed that the trail wasn’t a simple hiking trail, but a technical route that required proper mountaineering equipment.  “There are no more buses to the parking lot,” she added, “so you’ll have to hike down to town and take a taxi.”

That’s when we decided to hike down the mountain to the nearest town of Kulm.  We’d catch a ride to the turn in the road leading up to Dachstein, and try to catch another ride from there.

Fortunately the hike down to Kulm was gorgeous.  All the rain painted the mountains a glorious green, and wild flora dotted the hills with color.IMG_4587IMG_4590

As we gingerly made our way down, making up stories of how our night would end, a solo male hiker hurried past us down the mountain.  Pointing at the thick clouds in the distance, he said, “The storm is coming!” He disappeared around the bend, and we picked up our speed.

It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hit the pavement and by then the sun had disappeared behind a sky full of clouds.  Darkness was settling in quickly, despite sunset being scheduled two hours out.  Luckily there was a bus stop and within ten minutes a bus appeared. We each paid €2.20 and rode it to the last stop, exactly where the road turned up to the Dachstein chair lift parking lot.

At the same time the bus slowed to a stop, giant rain drops began to pit-patter all around us, quickly increasing to a downpour.  We hopped off the bus, put on our rain gear, and hurried toward the toll booth for shelter.  What a wonderful time to begin hitchhiking, I thought.  But hey, at least we have shelter.

I knew at that point our only chance of hitching a ride was if a local or Dachstein employee happened to be going up the mountain.  We hopelessly watched every car, bus, and truck drive along the main road without passing the toll booth as the winds picked up, the rain poured down around us, and the lightning boomed every few seconds.  At least this particular hitchhiking episode wasn’t boring.  We had a lightning storm to watch, and my feet needed rest anyway.IMG_20160722_175202

Twenty minutes later, literally after we discussed the possibility of a taxi, approaching headlights sparked our hope and stopped just before us at the toll gate.  Putting our hands together like beggars, we asked, “Can you please, please, please give us a ride to the top? Our car is parked up there.”  He told us to hop on in.  It turned out he was a local climbing guide, and he had plans to meet a client at the hotel in the parking lot to discuss their climbing route the next day.

And that was how our six-hour hike in the Dachstein mountains ended: a last-minute change in plans, a bus ride, a lightning and thunderstorm, and a hitchhike back up the mountain.

The next morning, as we drove through the beautiful mountain villages, we planned our next adventure in the Austrian Alps.  IMG_4595IMG_4600

Hopefully this time around, my plan wouldn’t leave us stranded on the street in the pouring rain.  But hey, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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