Waking up in the Starkenburger bunk room was like landing after a long flight. The first night on a big trip is often when the “what am I doing here” feeling comes in, and being alone in a dorm building on top of a mountain where no one spoke English added to that. No matter how little you sleep though, reaching morning is crossing a threshold, and I felt reinvigorated by the daylight.
Putting my clothes on quickly, I stepped outside and crossed over to the main building to wash up and get breakfast. Standard breakfast was dark bread with meat and cheeses, yogurt, granola and fruit, plus coffee. There were no showers at Starkenburger, but since I was gearing up to hike through rain, it didn’t seem necessary.
The talk in the hut was of rain today and ominous “winter-like” conditions over the weekend. The hike to the next hut on the route, the Franz Senn Hütte, was 15km and estimated to take 6-7 hours. At the moment it was only cloudy, so I set off quickly after breakfast with a good bounce in my step, hoping to get as far as possible before the rain started.
The cloudy weather turned out to be very… atmospheric (couldn’t help it). I was amazed at how quickly the clouds formed, moved, obscured and revealed the layers of mountains surrounding me.
Initially, the trail lead north and skirted around the crumbling stony peaks of the Kalkkögeln, the “Stubai Dolomites” that I had seen the day before. After about an hour, I came to a junction (marked by a well-kept sign post) and my trail swung westward to follow the long Stubai main ridge of more-typical granite mountains.
At the turning point I also got a glimpse of the Schlickersee, a small alpine pond.
Hiking along the main ridge was greener and by this point, also wetter. When the clouds opened, I could look down steeply rolling hillside to my left with occasional glimpses of the valley floor or the mountains opposite.
About halfway through the hike there was a tiny shack, or alm, called Seducker Hochalm that served food and my plan was to enjoy a good lunch break there. As I finally saw it materializing through the mist I doubled my pace. I was completely bummed out to find it locked up tight, with the tables turned over outside and completely abandoned. My lunch break turned into a few moments sitting on a wet bench in the rain eating an energy bar, but at least I knew I was on the right track.
Moving on, the rain and clouds continued to come and go, and I got to experience some of the fixed cables and metal rungs that aid you in particularly steep or tricky places. Everywhere the trails were extremely well-maintained and marked.
A couple of hours later I finally caught sight of the Franz Senn Hütte below and ahead of me, a larger stone building that was situated next to a rushing mountain stream before a waterfall. As close as it seemed, there were a surprising number of bends to round, mini ridges to climb over and even streams to cross first. “Why am I going back up when the hut is down there?!” was a common thought in this last section. Finally, I got down to the saddle it sat in and made my way across the marshy ground.
The Franz Senn hut was larger than Starkenburger and had a bigger crowd as well. Even so, I was the only person in the dormitory again, so I had an entire attic to myself. The hut is named after “the Glacier Priest” who served in the area and helped develop trails, huts and campaigned for better maps and access to the mountains in the 1800’s.
My Scottish friends were here again and I also got to connect with some of the German hikers doing the same route. There was a very easy-going guy who said he was a retired commercial photographer. He had unfortunately twisted his ankle and had to hike back down to the valley the next day.
For dinner, they served me a salad and a tasty dish of eggs over fried potatoes mixed with pork. The Germans thought the Dunkelweiss beer I ordered was extremely dark… when I mentioned I enjoyed some Belgian beers they were disgusted! Even so, they treated me to a round of Schnapps, which were popular at all the huts I went to.
After hanging with everyone for a while, I eventually crawled back up to the attic and into my bed compartment. It was very cozy having it to myself, but I could imagine it could feel very different if it was stuffed with people!