It was hard to get out of bed at Neue Regensburger Hütte because some of the other guests had been loudly drinking downstairs into the early morning. Once I managed to get up, I realized the landscape had been changed: snow was covering the high pass behind the hut and had even covered the ground at our level.
Down at breakfast, the hut wardens were recommending not to go up over the pass for the normal high route to the next hut. This stage was one of the longest of the Höhenweg (7-9 hours) and the highest pass. The wardens worried we wouldn’t see the trail markers on the loose rock when it was covered in snow. Instead, they recommended hiking down from the hut to the valley, catching a bus, and then going back up to the next hut, Dresdner Hütte.
In all honesty, this ended up being a relief for me because the knee pain that had developed the day before was still sharp, and I could feel it even going up and down the stairs in the hut. If I was to make it through another 6 days of hiking, including the Dolomites, it seemed like a good idea to let the knee rest. Tomorrow would be largely a travel day between Stubai and the Dolomites, so an easier hike today meant I’d have about a day and a half to rest it.
It turned out that hiking down through some lower elevations was extremely beautiful. Neue Regensburger is at the top of a very steep cliff, and zig-zagging down, I was constantly crossing over waterfalls and streams. At the bottom of this section, the land flattened out onto a little “alm” with the stream flowing between pine trees and a few small farm structures. The sky had opened up and wisps of cloud were wafting up from the valley below, creating a dramatic backdrop to the beautiful high pasture in front of me.
I was stopped in my tracks by one of the most picture-perfect sights I had seen: a scraggly pine tree perched on a rock in the middle of the stream, backdropped by the mountains across the valley and the clouds floating up from below.
After enjoying this scene for a bit, I moved onwards and the mountainside dipped into another steep descent. One thing I learned about hiking in this area was that often the lower elevations were the steepest—like a funnel or drain, the last section seemed to get almost vertical!
I was very grateful that one of the Scottish hikers had let me borrow one of his hiking poles because going downhill so steeply was a lot harder on the knee than climbing up or across. At times I practically used it as a crutch.
I reached the bottom in a little under three hours and it dropped me off right behind the bus stop. Sitting on the bench, I ate my bagged lunch from the hut and watched people fly by in BMWs and motorcycles.
The bus came right on time (every 30 minutes) and took me to the end of the valley below Dresdner Hut and Stubai Glacier. Due to the glacier, this is a popular ski area in the winter and they had a gondola up to Dresdner and beyond. The weather had taken a turn for the worse so I decided to fully rest my leg and take the easy ride up.
Probably because of its location on a ski area, Dresdner was a bigger operation with a lot more people. It also seemed to be the finish line for an intense up-mountain marathon that I was told had started in Innsbruck.
I explored the area around the hut for a bit but the clouds moved in and hid most of the view, so I went inside to enjoy an afternoon cappuccino and bit of strudel. While I was eating, the Scottish hikers arrived and we caught up.
Even though this hut felt more commercial, they definitely did not drop the ball for dinner. I had salad, soup and stuffed schnitzel, which was amazing. Dessert was a delicious pudding. I was seated with one of the people sharing my room, a man from northern Germany. We had a pretty quiet meal since neither of us spoke much of each other’s language, but he got across some crazy stories of hiking over glaciers.
After dinner, the Scottish hikers joined us and helped translate (they knew better German) and I was given very impassioned instructions on how to properly ice your leg (wrap the ice in cloth so your pants don’t get wet) by a grandmother bringing her grandkids on a trip.
It was sad to know I was leaving Stubai in the morning, but I was also excited to see the Dolomites across the border…