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4-day hiking in the Brandenberg Alps, Tyrol, Austria

It’s only 45 minutes from the airport in Innsbruck to Kramsach, but the taxi driver is scaring me with a recent story about a hiker who’s been gored to death by a cow in this region.

Now I’ve always believed, that despite their bulk, cows present no threat to the walker, but apparently this one was guarding her calves when the woman’s dog started harrying them. I’m thinking I’d better watch my step on this hike.

The small town of Kramsach nestles in the valley beside the Inn River and is dominated by the mountains rising up above it. I leave my heavy luggage at the hotel, just taking a small rucksack with my essentials. The first day is classed as “moderate” with only 10km to hike and it’s a pleasant morning as I walk along the road, cross the river and take the path signed to Brandenberg.

I climb upwards through the forest, and it’s steep in parts, before reaching 1509m, marked by a summit cross. It’s very hot but fortunately the trees provide essential cover from the sun. The weather is hazy so the views are not great but still, I can see Kramsach and the river running the length of the valley. From here it’s downhill on a 4×4 track but there are pleasant interludes through the forest before I reach the tiny village of Brandenburg at 900m.

I wake up to rain which looks set for the day and I’ve got 19 km to complete. Nothing for it but to don my wet weather gear and grin and bear it. I take the road out of the village to the hamlet of Winkl. There the road winds steeply upwards but I take a forest track which crosses it sporadically. So far the rain has been constant and I’m feeling very wet. But, as I climb higher and rise above the cloud, the weather begins to ease.

I reach the 1786m Kienberg, the day’s highest point, and I can just about glimpse the villages below through the mist. A narrow path leads steeply downhill and I surprise the occasional Chamois which bounds off in the distance before I can reach for my camera. The day is slowly improving and I take an asphalt road before the final descent to the tiny village of Pinegg. Although I’m feeling dry outside, my rucksack is soaked, together with all its contents. My room turns into a giant airing cupboard.

Next day there’s early morning mist in the valley but the sun arrives to disperse the clouds. The rain has cleared the air and, as I climb upwards, I reach the high alp, home to a smattering of timbered farm houses. Normally I’d expect to see cows grazing here, but there’s only the sound of their bells, from the barns. Perhaps the earlier unfortunate accident means they’re not allowed to roam.

The path climbs steadily to a saddle and I divert to climb the 1940m Rosskogel and enjoy the panorama as I tuck into my lunch. From here I start to descend to the Zireiner See, apparently the most beautiful mountain lake in the Tyrol and I can’t disagree. It’s getting hot so, when I reach the water’s edge, I lower myself in and soak away my aches and pains. It’s really too shallow to swim, but not cold at all.

I lounge in the sun and climb away from the lake before reaching another saddle and then I’m on the home stretch to the Bayreuther Hütte. Now this is not a hotel but a mountain refuge with no Wi-Fi, or showers. Fortunately I’m assigned a room to myself and sit outside and watch the sun setting as I tuck into my Wiener Schnitzel. For the first time, I see cows grazing outside and have the best night’s sleep of the whole trip.

The last day of the tour is a short two hour downhill stroll but the weather is good and I can’t resist a full day in the mountains. I climb up to the 2224m Sonnwendjoch, then follow the ridge to the slightly higher Sagzahn. The path then tracks round the summit, with a vertiginous drop on one side, although there are cables to hang onto. I’m not feeling particularly brave, so retrace my steps before reaching Rofanspitze at 2259m, my third summit of the day.

It’s a long way back to Kramsach but I’ve only myself to blame. If I’d followed the course of the four day itinerary, I’d be back in time to transfer to Innsbruck and catch a flight home. The tour represents very good value, the hiking is reasonably gentle, the food good and accommodation comfortable. It makes an excellent introduction to the joys of the Tirol.

Rupert Parker
The Travel Magazine