by Bethany Lloyd
I’ve visited Austria a few times now and each spell has been unfortunately brief. I’ve had just enough time on each of my visits to make me want to come back for more.
I’ve dipped in and out of Innsbruck once or twice during my time in the South Tyrol but it was only ever long enough to spy the Olympic ski jump and colourful buildings.
The first time I visited Austria properly I was on a mission. It was late in the spring when my flight landed in Munich and I lugged my bag to my airport pick up point. A small group of us clustered together and shuffled onto the minibus that would take us across the border to Austria and up to Hintertux. The hotel was right next to the lift at the nape of rising valley walls that led up to the glacier above. Each day I pulled on my ski gear, climbed on the lift, skied for as long as possible and got the last lift back down again. In the evenings I enjoyed a hearty dinner and early bedtime.
I was on a ski instructor course, a retake to be precise. Just five months before I had been in Zermatt doing the same thing day in day out but unfortunately I came away without the result I had hoped for. So in Hintertux my week was dominated by a very fierce pressure to do better. Despite on skis, on snow, in the mountains, my favourite environment I was gripped each morning and night by an unrelenting anxiety and during the days a tireless concentration. As a result this is one of the few times I’ve been in the mountains and not taken hundreds photographs! I have a few blurry camera phone shots from the first day the cloud cleared–it was hard to resist but apart from that Hintertux goes largely undocumented. The only proof I have of me being there is my pass certificate. Which is more than enough.
The Hohe Tauern
The next visit to Austria was an all the more relaxed affair. At the start of the summer, whilst working as a blogger and photographer for the company Colletts Mountain Holidays I visited the Hohe Tauern.
The Hohe Tauern spans three federal states across Austria (Carinthia, Salzburg and Tyrol) it is the largest nature reserve in central Europe covering over 1800km². With over 300 mountain peaks over 3000m and around 300 glaciers to match over 10% of the park is still covered by ice. Not only can it boast Austria’s biggest single glacier, the Pasterz glacier (9km long and 19km² in total) but also Austria’s highest mountain the Grossglockner (3798m). The Grossvenediger (3657m) is also Austria’s fourth highest peak and part of the largest connected glacial area in the eastern Alps. It is also home to 100,000 species of animal including the rare lammergeier, ibex, marmots and golden eagles.
To put it simply there is no shortage of subjects for the keen photographer. Even if it rains persistently for the duration of your stay like it did for me. On the bright side the moody clouds and higher dustings of snow proved to be pretty dramatic to photograph and the peaks moved in and out of the clouds long enough to snap. One of the locations we visited was pretty dependant on being wet so the showery weather wasn’t a problem. The Krimml falls are 380m in total, scattering rainbow light through heavy spray (take a waterproof). The greatest measured flow at Krimml was on 25 August 1987 when almost 160 million gallons passed through per hour. The day we were there intermittent bouts of sun sent rainbows bouncing off in every direction. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity as a photographer–although I did have to keep darting in and out of the spray to clear my lens. I enjoyed playing about with shutter speeds with the fast moving water. By choosing a fast speed I could start to isolate the water droplets a little more, made better still by the rainbow light.
There is also a lot of history in the area with some of the oldest farming settlements in Europe. They made an interesting day trip and good subjects in amongst the rolling glacial valleys.
By the time I had to leave I really felt an affinity with the place and I’d love to make another visit one day.
Ehrwald and the Zugspitze Arena
A few months later I was travelling across Europe by train once again on my way to Ehrwald in the Zugspitze arena. I passed through Eddie the Eagle’s stomping ground Garmisch Partenkirchen on my way in and another one of Europe’s impressive Olympic ski jumps.
The Zugspitze is serviced by a great network of cable cars and chair lifts that swoop walkers up high away from the valley floor into the true Alpine heart of the area. Cosy huts serve traditional food and drink all day long, cow bells provide the soundtrack and the walking paths are well marked making this area an ideal location for Alpine walking. On the way back down from certain walks there’s even an opportunity to hire a mountain cart or scooter to make the descent and toboggan runs wind their way back through the fields, providing a popular alternative. It feels much more organised and dare I say it touristy in comparison to the Hohe Tauern but I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for in a location. I love the wilderness, something which I think can be quite hard to find in some of the more developed Alpine areas. The traditional farming villages, faded walking trails and lack of transport can be a better opportunity to experience the ‘real’ Alps. If it’s cow bells and schnapps you want though get on that cable car and go get it!
I grew to love Ehrwald as my week there went on. I began to forgive the busier footpaths and well kept walking trails. We walked up the highest peak in Germany, the Zugspitze (2,962m) with a bit of help from a cable car for the last bit to the top, played on toboggan runs, saw marmots, swam in crystal clear mountain lakes and had lunch in little wooden mountain huts. The lakes were a great chance to get some lovely reflections and often the water was so still and clean that it would have been possible to turn the images upside-down without the viewer knowing!
The weather was beautiful and I even got my weekly adrenaline fix by trying out on of the local Klettersteigs (Austria’s answer to Via Ferrata). That was a great chance to get some shots from high up, especially as the wire followed a waterfall up the rock and then crossed is at its mouth. The camera went in the bag for that bit!
We were graced with a couple of lovely sunsets that turned the mountains iron red and some impressive lightning storms in the late afternoons which ricocheted around us.
These two summer trips allowed me to see Austria at two extremes. The Hohe Tauern was barely touched, peaceful and unspoilt. I write about it hear almost reluctantly because the longer it remains unknown the longer it’ll stay that way. That said give it ten years or so and I think the coach companies will catch on, so get there before then! The Zugspitze arena and Ehrwald were polished and popular and yes tourist central, but when the mountain purist in me gave in I enjoyed a great week of classic Alpine tourism. Easy access, great facilities and well documented mountain trails made it a great way to experience the Alps as we all imagine them.
About the Author
Bethany Lloyd is an outdoor enthusiast who takes her photography with her into the mountains. Winter or summer, feet on the ground or seat in a harness she endeavours to find her view from a new angle.