Sometimes, you just have to go through hell… or cross its peaks, when the hell you are talking about are the “hell mountains,” the Höllengebirge of Upper Austria.
Located between the Attersee and Traunsee lakes, this mountain range extends for some 15 kilometers and rises to just over 1800 meters above sea level.
As the first higher mountain range after the lone guardian of the Traunstein at the northeastern edge of the Traunsee, it is a popular place for short hikes. It is also somewhat underutilized as a place for outdoors adventuring…
Most of the time, people will either hike up the first peaks – Mahdgupf, Dachsteinblick, Brennerin – at the Attersee. Or they take the hiking trail or cable car up the Feuerkogel on the eastern, Traunsee, side (which is also a small skiing area).
The whole crossing is somehow both popular among and well-known to locals, and somewhat unusual an undertaking.
Having gone up the Feuerkogel repeatedly, on to the Höllkogel sometimes, seen the rest of the mountains from the air, it seemed high time…
Weissenbach am Attersee, the village closest to the trails entering/exiting the Höllengebirge on that western side, is only reachable by car or, publicly, by bus.
For me, that meant that I would choose that as my starting point and hike east, towards familiar terrain and the railway station at Ebensee.
Knowing that I’d want to go slow and over night, I packed my bivy and other sleeping gear.
Otherwise, only the standard outdoors/mountain equipment is needed: sensible shoes for the mountains, clothing to protect should it start raining or get colder, etc.
Some food is good, of course; water is perhaps the biggest issue:being carbonate rock, these mountains are not exactly rich in water. It all just drains away into clefts and caves.
Of course, a high-enough level of fitness is required, especially as the tour gets pretty lonely.
Part of why I wanted to go out and there when I did was that it was the height of the Perseid meteor shower. I did not end up seeing any of those, but the skies in the middle of these mountains do get nice and dark.
That alone is something to cherish, in these times of artificial light all around, making the night skies much brighter than they should be.
The trails here are quite well visible and nicely marked, especially when one also has a GPS track for guidance.
They often go between dwarf conifers, rarely over alpine meadows or exposed ridges.
The rock offers great examples of the working of glaciers during the ice ages and wind and water in more recent times… which is to also say that the rocks one walks over are all kinds of eroded.
Sometimes, that means walking over loose, bigger or more gravelly, rocks. Sometimes it means polished rock, even more often, clefted rocks that have many a rough edge.
It is all quite good to walk, but also quite dangerous; one definitely needs to pay attention.
Being between conifers so often, scrambling up and down a lot, has both advantages and disadvantages:
When one gets onto a peak or on the edges of the mountain range, there are pretty fantastic views.
At first, the trail remains in sight of the Attersee lake. (For a long time, actually.)
Later, the Dachstein and all the rest of the Upper Austrian Alps become regularly visible from the peaks.
One also gets views towards the Traunstein and the Traunsee lake, where the trail will end.
In the valleys and troughs of the mountains, however, one is enclosed by mountains. Often, surrounded by dwarf trees as well.
This gives both a sense (and some reality) of being protected. You don’t get as exposed as on many other mountains.
The downside to this, though, is that summer heat can get trapped quite well, and then the lack of springs really becomes noticeable…
Depending on how much of a mountain trail runner versus hiker you are, this mountain crossing is nice for a FKT (fastest known time) attempt well within a day – or for an overnight trip that is much more relaxed.
I ended up hiking for a little less than 8 hours on my first day, then bivouacked at a spot I found good for that, then went on for another 4-ish hours the next day to finish the tour.
Taking no detours to some of the peaks along the path would make it even easier and shorter than I did it; I just couldn’t resist going over to the Brennerin, Brunnkogel, and Höllkogel, though.
And, as I said, I wanted to and did spend a night outdoors. There were no meteors to be seen (although I was out when the Perseids had their maximum).
The experience of stars coming out in a dark night, temperatures going down quite a bit, a decent spot needing to be found – it was all, as always, a nice little adventuring.
Time and Opportunity
There are some snowshoe trails up in the Höllengebirge, the summer heat can get stifling, but this is one tour I would very much recommend for the warmer parts of the year.
Things could easily get dicey in the cold. And the summer warmth makes for a good reason to finish that tour in one of the lakes at either ends – or in the river flowing into the Traunsee, which is where I ended it…
The tour data can be found at www.timeandtours.com