Good things come to those who wait: snowshoeing in Kleinwalsertal

Snowshoe hikers in the Wildental

Making our way through free terrain in Wildental

Planning my first self-guided snowshoeing trip took quite some time. There were at least a dozen trips in the running. Juggling route planning, avalanche risk assessment and snow conditions wasn’t straight forward. At the last minute we decided to go to Kleinwalsertal. Although the weather was grim to start with, going to Kleinwalsertal paid off with amazing sunshine on Sunday afternoon.

In January I did a DAV snowshoeing course. We learnt a lot about planning trips in winter, avalanches and spent four days in beautiful winter landscape. After the course I wanted to try out what I learnt and do a snowshoeing trip, but this time without a guide.

Trip planning

I found planning the trip quite difficult. I looked for trips with per se low avalanche risk. That in itself wasn’t easy and then it turned out that most of them were in Südtirol, which had hardly any snow at all. On top of that how could we decide upfront, if we didn’t know what the weather and snow conditions would be?

And so there was a long list of all sorts of possible trips, but no decision. On Monday before the designated weekend, Tanja, Kasia (half of my co-snowshoe hikers) and I met to decide on a route. The result was a shortlist of three trips in areas with snow, but moderate avalanche risk that wasn’t expecting a sever storm at the weekend. On Tuesday it turned out that all of the associated huts were booked out.

In a frenetic search through alpenvereinaktiv.com, I found a few snowshoeing trips around the Schwarzwasserhütte in Kleinwalsertal. The hut was also booked out, but Kasia managed to find accommodation in the valley. We were finally set.

Saturday: Wildental

It was time to go snowshoeing! We all met in Mittelberg in Kleinwalsertal just after 10 o’clock and after a coffee set-off looking for the trail head of our first hike. Although Constantin and I hiked from the very same trailhead in the summer, it was a bit of mission to find.

Among the five of us only Tanja and I had previous experience of snowshoeing. Kasia, Constantin and Clemens thought it was a riot putting all the gear on.

five hikers about to head off for a snowshoeing trip

We are ready to leave the Schwendle parking lot

The plan for Saturday was to do a simple short hike in the Wildental, where we could all get used to the snowshoes and where we could learn and practice how to work with the avalanche search and rescue gear we had with us.

Practicing how to look for an avalanche victim also turned out to be a riot. We dug in a lunch box with one avalanche transceiver in it, but couldn’t quite identify the precise position with the probe. As much as we poked, it never felt like plastic and we kept on pulling out brown dirt.

After everyone’s had a go we took our best guess and started digging. This is what came out: a shattered lunchbox lid, an avalanche transceiver, a pierced-through lunch box, a half peeled egg, a torn pepper and a shredded chocolate bar!

In stitches, we marched on past the Innere Wisalpe to Fluchtalpe. By now it was snowing really hard. Large snowflakes were falling down like a thick curtain. We hid under the roof and had a snack at Fluchtalpe (1,390 m).

Refreshed we now set off on the return journey testing our snowshoes on a route off any marked trails. Just a few steps past the Fluchtalpe we heard a roaring, rustling, deep sound above us. It sounded a little bit like a plane. It was an avalanche on the other side of the narrow valley.

It wasn’t dangerous as it was high up in a very steep and rocky section of the mountain where no human being could have walked or skied and it was by no means strong enough to do any damage to the forest between the steep section and the flat valley. It was still scary though.

snowshoe hikers at Fluchtalpe

Watching an avalanche rolling down the hill on the other side of the valley. Scary!

We recovered from the shock by crossing a stream, skirting along the edge of a forest and running down a small hill. It stopped snowing. We decided to practice some more avalanche rescue techniques. As soon as we finished burying a backpack about a meter deep in the snow, it started raining.

There was no alternative now other than to quickly dig out the backpack. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Innere Wisalpe, completely drenched. After a break there, we continued through more rain back to our cars.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the end of hiking in the rain yet. The B&B we were staying at in Baad wasn’t accessible by car. It took another 20 minutes through pouring rain to get too. Luckily enough, the food there was great.

Sunday: Schwarzwasserhütte 1,621 m

Thanks to all the rain on Saturday, the avalanche risk had gone up from moderate to considerable. We were hesitant at first, whether we should go at all, but after speaking to the B&B owner and calling the Schwarzwasserhütte (the destination of our day 2 trip), we decided the route through Schwarzwassertal was sufficiently safe for us to go.

Same as on Saturday we started off by struggling to find the trailhead, which resulted into us having to cross a rather wide stream right at the beginning of the hike. We all made it across dry and could carry on along the stream through beautiful winter landscape.

After some time we arrived at the next stream, which however proved significantly more difficult to cross. It took us a while until we found a spot where we could pass. By then we were clearly heading for the forest path to the hut.

On the map, I thought that path looked possibly more secure than the main trail. The slopes to the side seemed to be less steep, but it turned out that there were a couple of sections on the trail itself that where uncomfortably steep. We even passed underneath one avalanche that had gone off earlier in the morning.

hiking to the Schwarzwasserhütte

Arriving at the Schwarzwasserhütte

After nearly three hours we safely arrived at the Schwarzwasserhütte. While we munched on our lunch in the hut (including a huge Kaiserschmarn), the gray clouds that hung over the valley on our way up dissipated. After lunch we stepped into a sunny afternoon.

Schwarzwasserhütte on a sunny afternoon in winter

Good things come to those who wait: a sunny afternoon at the Schwarzwasserhütte

We descended along the main trail, which we learnt at the hut is safer than the route through the forest. All of the steep slopes, with the exception of the very first section (at ascent), turned out to be rocky and too steep for snow to actually cling on to them at all. So much for my map reading!

Shortly before the hut at Melköde there was an amazing waterfall. Following all the rain the day before, water was gushing down over its boulders, with the spray visible from several hundred meters away.

This time we were successful at navigating the marshy section around Melköde, crossed all of its streams without difficulty and made it back to our cars in less than two hours.

I was relieved to be back at the car. On the trail I constantly worried about avalanches. I kept on looking out for signs of danger, but with my limited experience, wasn’t quite sure whether I was looking out for the right things. Having said that doing the trip was a great experience and the best opportunity to learn more about hiking in winter.

Trip summary:

Saturday:

Schwendle (Moser Wirt, 1,220 m) – Fluchtalpe (1,390 m) and back

Sunday:

Ifen ski lift (1,271 m) – Schwarzwasserhütte (1,621 m)

  • elevation difference 350 m
  • distance 9.4 km
  • walking time: ascent 2.5 hrs; descent 1.5 hrs

Travel from Munich: 2.5 hrs drive via Kempten or direct train to Oberstdorf (2.5 hrs) and then bus to Mittelberg.

PS: Many thanks to Tanja, Kasia and Clemens for their photos!

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