This was the day we left Mittenwald (in Germany) for Zell am see (in Austria). En route, I had planned a walk through the Leutaschklamm, a gorge that was carved by the erosion of the Limestone Alps by the Leutascher Ache river, and had an entertaining spirit and goblins story to spruce it up.
We knew this gorge was just on the way out of Mittenwald, so we set off in the car with Leutasch gorge keyed into Google maps. The signpost for the gorge and Maps took us on a narrow steep road ascending the mountain. The road continued steeply higher and higher and got narrower and narrower. I was surprised as none of the blogs mentioned such a steep road. Bang in the middle of the road, Maps showed “destination reached”. Surprised, we drove on, thinking the parking must be ahead. Suddenly, the front panel of the car showed “Welcome to Austria”. Huge alarm bells went off in my head. We weren’t supposed to drive into Austria before the gorge and not without a toll sticker. It was compulsory in Austria to have a small red toll sticker (vignette) to drive on any of the highways. If you didn’t have the sticker, the police could fine you up to 200 Euro. Scary price to pay for a 9 euro sticker.
So we promptly took a U-turn and stared at the sign for Leutasch, wondering how to reach there. I desperately searched on Google trying to find a route, but it either routed us back the same way, or into Austria (the other route into Leutasch was from Austria). I was almost frantic now. Suddenly, I googled Leutaschklamm, the German term for Leutasch gorge and it showed a route very near where we were. We drove a kilometre ahead, hunting for boards, when I saw a tiny sign labelled Leutasch. “Just double park, I’ll check this out,” I said, while Google was trying to take us into a residential colony instead. I walked backwards to the sign board, crossing over a beautiful turquoise coloured stream coming from between the tall mountains we’d driven up. “This is it,” I thought excitedly.
At the sign, I could only see a narrow path running parallel to the stream with a large board that read Leutaschklamm and Wasserfall. Thrilled at the discovery, I hurried back to the car to deal with the “bigger problem”, that of where to park.
I saw a parking space nearby on the road itself, but there was no meter so I was confused. Just then, an old German lady walked by. I desperately asked her where to park. She didn’t know a word of English, I didn’t know a word of German. Oh! I should have listened to Yogesh when he told me repeatedly to learn basic German. With gestures, we tried to communicate. I gestured to the car and the parking spot and kept saying, “Park, park.” She just grabbed my arm and marched me across the road to the sign board. I was too stunned to react or pull away. She spurted a stream of words in German and kept holding up four fingers. She was shooting German off at such a rate that I couldn’t cope even if I’d known any German. Suddenly, I realised what she was saying. This was one of those free parking zones where you could use a parking disc up to 4 hours. I thanked her with the only German I knew, Danke and she hugged me tight and went off!
I told the hubby the happy news and we parked, when suddenly the kid grabbed my arm and whispered softly, “Mum don’t do this again, I was very scared that she was going to kidnap you.” As I controlled my laughter, I asked her what she did about the fear. “Oh I told Dad,” was the prompt reply, “But he said not to worry. Anyone who kidnaps mum will return her immediately!”
We walked down the narrow road by the side of the gurgling stream. I told the hubby that I wasn’t sure where we’d land up but this looked like a nice walk. On one side was the pretty stream, on the other, the tall mountain whose side we’d driven up before turning back.
On the other side of the stream were the prettiest houses one could imagine, small wooden chalet-like homes with gardens with beautiful flowers. They all had lovely wood carvings outside them. “What a place to live!” exclaimed the hubby.
Small bridges crossed over the stream at regular intervals. Ducks quacked lazily in the teal blue waters. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. It was as if this place was only for us. A little ahead, the stream moved away and a large meadow took its place. The bright green grass with little yellow and white wild flowers with the snow-capped mountains in the background made the grass-hating-me want to rush into the meadow and lay down in it.
So totally a scene from the movie “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.” We ambled along, enjoying the atmosphere and it took a good 20 min to reach the start of the gorge from the main road. There was still no signboard, only a small hut selling snacks and drinks and a manned stile marking the entrance to the Wasserfallsteig (or waterfall), a small route that goes through the gorge up to a waterfall.
This is the only paid part of the route. We must have walked three minutes beyond the stile and the whole atmosphere changed. We left behind the bright sun and the distant snow-covered mountains and entered a new land.
Large cliffs loomed up vertically beside us. We were walking on a very narrow wooden path fixed to the cliff with a small railing to hold on to. Just below gushed the river that continued as the peaceful stream we had walked along.
As we walked in deeper, the cliffs grew closer, the light lesser, the water wilder. Here, it was a wild, gushing, foaming mass of water, beautiful but wild. It crashed in the gorge, the foam rising up to wet us gently. It was a lovely sight, beautiful enough to distract me from the fear of walking on a pathway supported by screws drilled into the mountain.
As we moved in deeper, a roaring sound could be heard. The spray of water was getting more powerful now. Our wooden pathway ended in a platform just in front of a roaring huge waterfall, drenching us and making us squeal with delight.
The only pictures taken here were from the hubby’s waterproof phone!
We had a blast in the gorge and left only because we got so wet. Once out, we met an adorable dog Flint, with a black patch covering half of his white face and played merrily with him. Then we surveyed the various routes available to hike the gorge from an elevation.
The Leutascher Geisterklamm is a free walking trail, with impressive views from high up on metal walkways built above the gorge, a project costing 1.4 million euros. There are 2 trails here, a smaller blue trail and a very long red trail that heads into Austria.
No prizes for guessing which one we took. We asked the man at the café how to start the blue trail and he advised us to go to the right, climb up till the elevated walkways, cross the panorama bridge and come down through the forest (anticlockwise in the above map).
The smarter kid noticed that all the people were taking the route in a clockwise fashion and that we were the only ones on this route, but I persisted with it because it looked shorter on the map.
The trek started out innocuously enough, in a deeply forested area, and we walked along quite peacefully for 5 minutes. And then began a series of steep switchbacks, going higher and higher, very rapidly.
In retrospect, we realised that we hadn’t accounted for the map being a 2-dimensional structure, and we saw the map with the height elevation later on during the hike. The short appearing curves were the steep switchbacks actually.
We huffed and puffed our way up. The climb was never-ending. There were no railings or steps to make it easier, only a few benches for exhausted people to sit on and some entertaining stories about goblins and spirits and how the mountains, continents and the gorge were formed.
The infinitely smarter kid kept insisting that we should head back down and take the route that the rest of the world was on. But it seemed to be even tougher to climb back down those steep slopes than up, so we persisted.
To make it more fun for her (and because he likes living dangerously at times) the hubby made her scramble up rough paths to the next level instead of walking up the gravel one. By now we were so high up that the snow-covered mountains in the distance appeared to be at our level, but I was too exhausted to even click photographs.
But now the path had started levelling out. We could hear the sound of water so we understood that we were nearing the gorge. Suddenly, the kid perked up and cheerfully moved ahead, like a different person. The hubby ran to keep up with her. The clumsy, out-of-breath-me simply plodded on, unable to run, when she ran back, face all flushed, shouting excitedly, “Come fast mum, it’s amazing.”
We were at the top of a metal staircase that ended in a bridge to the opposite side. It was truly a wondrous sight. I climbed down cautiously and stared in amazement, while my nimble mountain goat swiftly clambered down and rushed over the bridge to the opposite side.
“Don’t panic,” I told myself, “Breathe, you will get across.” I am petrified of heights. The wire mesh grate below our feet didn’t help matters. But this trip was about facing my fears and this fear I had to.
“Come on, cross the panorama bridge, it’s awesome,” hollered the hubby as he merrily hopped on to the bridge. My knuckles white as I gripped the railings, I slowly and cautiously walked towards the bridge that crossed from one cliff-face to the other.
“Face your fears. You are not scared. You are not going to fall. This structure is not going to crash,” I kept saying this to myself as I tottered over the panorama bridge. “Look down,” urged the hubby. Face-your-fears urged me as I looked down and promptly felt everything sway.
I rushed back to my side of the cliff and started walking on the metal walkways ahead, trying not to look down at all, just straight ahead.
I grew a bit bolder as I walked along and could actually take pictures of the bridge that was now at the same level as me.
Meanwhile the fearless duo on the bridge had a blast clicking the river and the waterfall below.
The walkway I was standing on was drilled into the limestone cliffs 75 meters above the level of the waters, but it seemed even higher when I was on it.
What a marvel of engineering! The bridges and the large walkways had to be dropped here by helicopter, but I am still amazed by how they drilled those metal walkways into the cliff. This path extends further into Austria for another kilometer. I would have continued on it when the hubby and kid who’d already crossed over yelled out a happy “Bye” and disappeared out of sight. I gathered my wits and almost ran across the bridge out of fear of being left alone, pausing once to take this picture.
I did it! I faced my fears! I looked down and crossed the bridge all by myself!
Once we were all on more stable land, we continued on the longer route through the forest that I was sure would be less steep. The kid, however, wanted a crane to rescue her! As we walked on, we met Flint again.
Now that we knew we’d reach down soon, we moved on faster. The route was through very dense forest area and a little scary too as there was no one to be seen here.
Every now and then, some board about the spirits would pop up, else the well-worn path was the only indicator that we were on the right path. Shortly, we came upon these two poles, marking the boundary between Austrian territory (yellow and red) and German land (blue and white).
Suddenly we came out of the covered area into bright sunshine and saw a stunning view indeed and a restaurant. “Finally we have come upon civilisation ,” I thought.
The sunlight (and civilisation) didn’t last for long though. We promptly entered another deeply forested area with a gentle but very rocky path, that I struggled walking over despite my hiking shoes.
Finally, we got off the trail and were back out of the gorge area. It had been a wonderful albeit scary walk and I felt very proud of myself. I walked happily back to the car, a new spring in my step.
We drove towards Austria, my obsession with the toll sticker reaching a peak. I was desperate for a gas station before we entered Austria. “Relax, we’ll get it at the border,” said the hubby. “There’s no border,” I said, googling gas stations desperately now. But there was no need. Less than 100 meters ahead was a gas station with a big board advertising the vignette. Vignette obtained, we drove on and found ourselves in Austria (no border) and said a temporary Auf Wiedersehen to Germany.