the vassal of the Tauern Queen
It was one of those fresh summer days that suddenly appear after a long period of bad weather. The weather is just right, and there is nothing to keep you tied to your desk. So where to go if you have a few days to spare, you want to keep the car in the garage but nevertheless want to see a few mountain glaciers?
“Perhaps onto the Hochalmspitze [Hochalm peak]? It's not so far off. Simply drive on the Tauern motorway and then up the valley to Malta“, says someone who knows. But anyone can do that, I think to myself, there must be other options. Why not try something quite different for a change, for example from the other side, over a series of saddle-backs?
The railway line over the Tauern is very practical, Every two hours the Intercity stops in Mallnitz, discharging urban mountain fans into the Hohe Tauern National Park. After a short stroll through the town there is a leisurely walk into the Seebachtal, at the beginning proceeding directly towards the Ankogel, which fills out the background of the valley with its flanks shining in the snow. The forest quickly slopes away into the depths, the “Pleschischg“, a broad, high alpine pasture, opens up. From here it's not far to the Celler lodge. As described in the guide, it really is a carefully maintained “self-catering accommodation“ inviting you for a comfortable night's sleep, The next morning is ice-cold – no wonder after a clear night at an altitude of over 2200 m. Today will be more of a challenge: the Lassach Winkelscharte [pass] is waiting to be climbed, a rock-hard firn field has to be crossed. A good job that we have an ice pick in the rucksack! The first rays of sunshine at last come out in the notch, so you can warm up here and blink down to the Gießen lodge, coming up from the Gößkar to greet us. In the distance you can just make out the deep incision of the Maltatal. But first we have to reach the top of the Tauernkönigin mountain. In brilliant sunshine, the not too difficult Detmold ridge is a pure joy. After an hour the narrow peak edge of the Hochalmspitze has been reached. Here the distinctive ridges come together to which this mountain owes its regular shape.
A short descent via the southeastern ridge and then I cross to the Hochalmkees [Hochalm glacier], which is criss-crossed with deep crevices, and which seems to stretch endlessly on all sides. The fresh snow of recent days is blinding, the sun is burning and the Villach lodge, the next stage, does not seem to be getting any closer. I have had more than enough of stamping in the snow, We eventually reach the mouth of the glacier, and soon after the dear alpine grass mats, in which the soon powerfully swelling Hochalm stream gathers together its tributaries and sends them rushing and fizzing into the steep flanks of the Maltatal. If you go down slightly lower, you are abruptly caught up in an almost unnatural silence – as if the water has been swallowed by the earth. A latticework of powerful steel bars blocks the path of mountain debris, and only allows the stream in, which now reports for duty to generate electricity. It flows through a kilometre-long system of tunnels to the most powerful artificial mountain lake in the eastern Alps, the Kölnbrein reservoir. As I learn later, its power station generators are sufficient to provide a city the size of Innsbruck with electricity.
I continue descending along the now dry stream bed, deep in thought. Has a valley been sacrificed here ,for the sake of the convenience and comfort of all of us? And what a stroke of luck that 20 years ago the Alpine Association was able to purchase the “high alps Hochalmer“ and the adjacent areas with the help of a generous patron, so at least the glacier ski area planned back then has remained a castle in the air and the “Königin“ has remained unspoilt and commanding respect.
Once arrived in the village, such thoughts quickly evaporate. The small settlement lies like an island in the green meadows at the foot of the Maltaberg. Portly houses are gathered around the Mariahilf parish church. The inn and a tiny general goods store are also still there, and from the quiet village cemetery the gaze wanders up to the Tandelspitze, which dominates the valley as the powerful cornerstone of the Reißeck range.