Hiking Across the Sarstein

Right opposite Hallstatt lies the Sarstein, one of the mountains I have gone to repeatedly, which is an easy approach to (or away from) Hallstatt – or a completely different experience.

Up the Sarstein from Obertraun

First off, just from the railway station Obertraun through a small part of the village, then onto a dirt road, and up – literally, as the ascent immediately starts – forest trails.

These trails climb up through the woods at the southern slope of the Sarstein pretty rapidly. And continously. With little interruption. But, with a great view down to the Hallstatt lake – at least that once.

I would not call that climb monotonous, it has its constant switchbacks in the route and differences in the surface – but it is not the most excitingly diverse.

It is a trail that would be great for running, if you are a strong-enough runner, even for a small, rather intimate, FKT (fastest known time) for the whole crossing.

It is easy enough a climb for a relaxed hike or a meditative mountain walk – but not to be underestimated, the way it just climbs and climbs.

Up at the Sarsteinhütte, Out of Water

When the trail comes out of the forest, off the worst of the ascent, it is relatively sudden. It couldn’t come soon enough for me, as I had not refilled water down in Obertraun, and was therefore running extremely low on hydration (and all that, after I had gone from Gosau to Hallstatt via the Hoher Plassen, and marched over to Obertraun).

I knew to expect the Sarsteinhütte (the mountain hut up there) soon, from the sign that pointed there and from previous experiences with this trail. Come out onto the dwarf pine-surrounded trails, and pretty soon, the hut suddenly appears, ducked into a little depression in the mountain’s slope.

The only water I could find was either in the pond there (which might well catch waste water) or a barrel filling with rainwater – and sawdust from the firewood stacked next to the hut. And fly cadavers.

I still had to fetch a bit of that water, at least trying to get it from further below the surface, where it was cleaner – and it was clear that my intended series of articles on water (and water filters) would definitely be a go this year. (It’s starting soon.)

The hut also had a chest there, of beer and some soft drinks, to be paid by putting the asked-for amount of money into the box they have there, for that.

I had known that would probably come – and become necessary for me – thus I’d brought money (and not just a big bill for emergencies). That was a good investment, and never has some nicely sugary soda pop tasted so good!

The face of a man who’s somewhere between a sugar high and the shame of still never carrying enough water…

The Trail Up Top

Once out of the forest and on these trails between dwarf pines, the trail is much more alpine and much less steep – or certainly, it feels that way.

It is also more exposed, even this hot summer with a last remaining patch of snow. Being exposed, it also gives unobstructed views to the mountains around.

Often enough, the views go all around.

Sarstein Peak Views

This is one of the characteristics that make the Sarstein a very nice mountain to hike across: It forms the border between Upper Austria and Styria, offering views into both provinces. And to the south, at one’s back (moving the way I did, this time) lies the Dachstein massif.

Located on the border between Upper Austria and Styria as well, the main peak of the Hoher Dachstein is the highest peak of those provinces, as well as the second-highest peak in the Northern Limestone Alps it belongs to.

(The highest peak of this area of the Alps is the Parseierspitze in Tyrol, the only one of those mountains reaching above 3000 m. The Zugspitze at the border of Austria and Germany, which is the highest peak of Germany, also belongs to this part of the Alps.)

The Hoher Dachstein peak is at 2995 m; the high slopes are covered by the Dachstein glacier… There’s a lot around there, of touristy attractions and sports possibilities.

They are so manifold and well-known, I should portray them – but it also goes to the point where the Dachstein is so well-known, mountains like the Sarstein fall under the radar. (And it’s difficult to avoid all the touristy things on the Dachstein that require an entrance fee.)

Down to Steeg-Gosau

From the Sarstein peak – which funnily has a summer use as a sheep pasture – the path goes down towards Steeg-Gosau again.

This descent is first very rocky, although much of it feels almost walkway-like to me. Then it turns down an alpine meadow (the main pasture there). There is a hut at that place, too, and at times like when I came past, creeks were coming down there – with rather cleaner water than I had had before.

After this Sarsteinalm, it’s back in the forest, back on typical forest trails. Some parts still go over rocks, but many are much more comfortable, softer, forest ground – with some danger from roots to trip on.

Sleeping Rough

I slept somewhere off the path, on quite the cover of leaf litter on the ground, on one of the few relatively flat spots I could find. There was just too much light while I was getting to the peak, even as that was close to sunset, so I had rather gone on.

Actually, for a bivouac, I had been right below the peak of the Sarstein before, and exposed as it is, it works rather well. (Between rain clouds having moved around and my desire to get back home the next day sooner rather than later, the decision was not to stay up top -and I’m not sure that was the best decision.)

Morning Light

Anyways, the way I had gone, I was back up and out very early the next morning, moving on the paths where I had made it – more or less well – on some winter attempts at the Sarstein crossing in the other direction.

It was very nice to be on the move with the day just brightening, the birds chirping… and going past the spot where, once again, the route I was trying to follow shows a path going down the mountain slope earlier, but there clearly is no path.

I had struggled up that way through the snow before, when it looked slightly more like there might be a trail there.

The light and uncovered ground made it abundantly clear that no, that is not really a trail – and on I went, once again, on the trail that does go down.

First, it goes to the mountain pass road on the northern slope of the Sarstein, then – this time, on some better paths, not just on the side of that road – down into Steeg-Gosau and to the railway station there.

And Back to Civilization

A wipedown on the train and a change into normal clothes later, it was another quick stop in Bad Ischl for a breakfast visit to the Konditorei Zauner, with coffee and cake (and something to bring back home) and off into “normal” life.

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