Like last year, I opted to spend my birthday in the mountains hiking. You may remember that last year we went down to Berchtesgaden, for a semi-ambitious three-day hike to and from the Watzmann house. This year we didn’t have as much time, so we decided to do a day on the Untersberg. Ever since my first visit to Salzburg, I’ve wanted to go hiking on this gorgeous mountain just south of the city. We booked ourselves into a small guesthouse just below the mountain, and set off for a drive that took longer than planned. Welcome to August on the Autobahn, kids.
Information wasn’t tremendously plentiful online, and we set off with the plan to more or less wing it. There are several peaks on the mountain, the first of which can be reached by hike or by the cable car that leaves from the village of Grödig at the foot of the mountain. Since we only had one day and the hike up to the Geiereck peak was four hours on foot (with a gain of about 1400 meters), we opted to take the 10-minute cable car ride, and hike up at the top. Our loose plan was to hike from Geiereck to the Salzburg Hochthron (about 45 minutes), then hike across the German border to the Berchtesgaden Hochthron (maybe 2.5-3 hours?), and return, coming down the mountain back to Grödig.
In retrospect, this was perhaps overly ambitious. If everything went as planned, that would’ve involved a minimum of 7 hours hiking in a summer when we’ve been about as active as your average sloth. Luckily we got to chatting with the lovely owner of our guesthouse at breakfast, and she put the kibosh on our plans. She eyed up my flip flops (hey! I was only wearing them to the dining room and back) while telling us that the hike down was possible, but it may not be a good idea unless we were fairly experienced hikers. There were some parts where you need to hold yourself, but she wasn’t sure if ropes or any other equipment was necessary. BV is an extremely experienced hiker, but unless I have a good idea of what I’m in for, I’d rather play it safe. He also wasn’t comfortable trying it unless he had some of his gear with him, so we modified the plan to include taking the cable car up and down. That also modified the plan, as we had purchased the 24-hour Salzburg card the day before, and thus needed to ascend and descend the mountain before our 24 hours were up.
A New Plan was formed over a second cup of coffee: cable car up, hike around, hike back, cable car down, and maybe plan a little bit more for the next trip. To the pictures!
The photos above are both from previous trips… Unfortunately this time the car was packed and there was zero chance of getting a good shot. Trust me when I say it’s a great view though. I also particularly enjoy the King’s beard on the side of the ground station.
Directly above the mountain cable car station is the Geiereck peak at 1805 meters. There is also a mountain shelter there, but I believe it’s only a restaurant and not an overnight shelter. Obviously this was the most crowded point on the mountain, but it’s still beautiful.
The first time I came up this mountain it was completely enshrouded in cloud. But on this trip we got the perfect mix day. I mean…. c’mon….
Looking ahead here, the highest point you can see is our next destination, the Salzburg Hochthron. All signs pointed to a 45-minute walk to get there, so we joined the others and set off. There were all manner of people attempting it, and it’s fairly easy. We made it in about 30 minutes, and while I will say that I was very happy to be wearing hiking shoes, there were Asian tourists in skirts with slip-on sneakers tripping up and down the stairs. Oh, and a nun.
I mostly had a problem with the stairs on some of the up/down parts. They were wooden stairs, but like many in the mountains, the wood at the front of the step is rounded (think a split log, curved side up). I get the premise, the rounded and raised top keeps stones from falling as easily, but I usually have to go down with my foot sideways, because I don’t feel comfortable balancing on the curved top when there isn’t anything to hold onto. BV trips right down them, but he has giant feet and anchors himself much better. Next time we go I have to try and get a picture of these damn stairs, because they suck. But at that time, I was more concerned about not falling in front of the children and random tourists. An older lady in front of us did fall a bit, but it was going up rather than going down. Step carefully, even in the tourist zones.
When we arrived at the Salzburg Hochthon (1853 meters), we didn’t take much of a break. Since we were now short on time, we wanted to see how far we could get. Just a quick break for photos, and then onward and downward.
At this point, we figured we only had about 2.5 hours left before we had to catch our cable car down. We resolved to hike about an hour or so forward, then turn back and grab something to eat before the descent. There were a few different paths, so we chose the one we thought went to the Berchtesgaden Hochthron, with the thought that maybe we could at least see it, as we were definitely not going to get there that day.
BV found a nice-looking and meadow-filled detour for us to take when it was time for a snack and my birthday present. At this point we had left the majority of people behind, but it was still busier than a lot of the trails we’ve done so far and we thought it was best to get out of the narrow path for a break. Going into the meadow we were totally on our own, except for one girl down at the bottom of a dip, who appeared to be sketching mountain flowers.
As for the gift, feast your eyes upon this magnificence…
We had a little more time, so we pressed on, and were rewarded with a pretty sick view before the trail dipped down into the saddle. Some parts here were getting tricky, and we thought it best to stop there. It’s always better to stop before you have to go down and climb back up again. But before we go, pictures!
Our hike to the start of the saddle had taken us a bit more than an hour, but of course the trip back was only about 30 minutes. We took a shortcut, bypassing the Salzburg Hochthron and instead following a (way steeper than it looked) ski trail that intersected with the main path. The good part about being early to the cable car meant we had time for lunch instead of just a beer and a snack. We grabbed the last available table at the shelter, flagged down one of the incredibly busy waiters, and ordered ourselves beers and some Käsespätzle. It was delicious, but rather than taking pictures of that (boring), I give you….
I do have a love for the slightly stereotypical and sometimes cheesy Bavarian-style decor, but that toilet lid really takes it to a whole new level.
Since I can’t close this post with a picture of toilet lid (I have some standards. Not many, but some.), I’ll leave you instead with some mountain flora and fauna. Because flowers are always a good idea.
And Untersberg? Don’t you worry… we will regroup, maybe plan slightly better, and we shall be back. Rumor has it that you’re magical, and we didn’t see nearly enough.
Have you been to the Untersberg?