Opposite Hallstatt: The Easy Sarstein Crossing, Less Simple

On the Eastern shore of the Hallstatt lake, north of the Dachstein massif, lies a mountain that often goes overlooked, the Sarstein.

It does not have the height of the Dachstein, not the direct connection to Hallstatt of the Plassen, but it does offer another interesting approach to Hallstatt, if that is the topic one wants to explore – as I have done repeatedly, if in wintery conditions.

The view from the peak goes to all the mountains around, east into Styria, west into Upper Austria, on a path completely crossing this mountain’s stock. It is a hike that is exhausting, but easy.

The Ascent

From Obertraun, one basically just needs to cross the road from the railway station towards the mountain to start getting to the ascent.

The mountain’s forested southern slope leads steeply and steadily upwards, rarely but regularly offering views down, especially when one gets to the Hallstattblick view.

The weather, which I thought would hold when I had been at the Plassen (which I crossed going to Hallstatt before immediately taking the road along the lake to Obertraun and continuing) changed during this ascent; it turned towards the slightly worse.

In the regular drizzle, I expected worse things to come, my real problem with water was that I had not filled my water bottles down at the lake, though… for whatever strange reason I had given myself.

Had I just not wanted to stop? Anyways, the effort of this climb, quickly after another, was quite high – and the water soon gone.

Of course, that made the way up all the longer.

The way up is an interesting experience. It would be hard to get lost here; it is very easy to find. Climbing steadily through forest, it is always similar. Only a few rockier passages are different from the rest.

It still isn’t boring – and I find this easiness of it meditative.

Top Experiences

Then suddenly, you find yourself walking, no longer under tall trees, but between dwarf pines. As if in a bowl in the ground (which is really a lower section of the mountain slope), the Sarstein hut suddenly appears.

A little up the mountain, but lower down, lies a pond which looks like it might collect wastewater; the hut is locked for all but those who got the key beforehand – but its side has a rainwater barrel.

With sawdust from the wood piled up against the wall there, too. And with fly cadavers floating on the water’s surface. But at least it’s water.

No matter what, I had to fetch some of it. Pushing my water bottle underneath the surface, I just tried to avoid the worst of it. And I swore to myself that next time, I would have a water bottle with a filter again. (My favorite like that was still in China…)

There was also a true treasure chest there, affixed on the hut’s wall: with soft drinks and beer; to pay on honor principle,  just throwing the requisite amount into the lockbox that’s also there.

Nobody dare say anything against sugary soft drinks. Then and there, they were a true pleasure!

Strengthened like that, I continued on my path – all the faster as it continues already high up, with not so much more ascent to get to the peak.

As usual in these mountains, the path up top is very different from what it was like before. It continues between dwarf pines, across low grass, with wide views around and up to the peak.

The only problem: How fast would I reach the peak? Would the sunset come first? And where should I sleep?

There was not much time left to the sunset – but not so little that I shouldn’t reach the top sooner. With the clouds all around, with the drizzle of rain before, it could be uncomfortable to bivouac up on the mountain’s highest reaches. Or it could be fine, but putting up the bivy in an exposed location, an hour before sunset, didn’t feel right.

Pondering that, I went on, hardly believing the time to the peak (which my Suunto watch showed as the time to the next waypoint) would really be so short…

And then I was further up, further along, and suddenly up on the ridge, snow field on the right, close to the cross at the peak.

With sheep bleating on the grass near it. Baaaahhh!

Descending to Sleep

The descent is a different kind of path, again, with many more stones than on the other trails.

Past the Sarsteinalm, where there is a hut again (which is only for the farmhands working there, I think) – but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the clear water of the creek bubbling merrily down, which finally let me fill my water bottles with clean(-looking) water.

Good places for the bivy were hard to find, which meant continuing on the path down – soon after the meadow and the creek, back in tall forest – rather far. Finally, in darkness, there was a relatively flat spot on the side, in the leaf litter, which fortunately did not hide a puddle (which could well have been the case).

Out with the bivy and in with the sleeping gear, and Good Night for a short sleep.

Onwards in the Morning

Up early the next morning, everything packed away. Look back, and there are no traces of my overnight stay, just as there should (not) be – and onwards.

These are trails that have become familiar from my previous attempts at crossing the Sarstein (in winter). Trails where all the online planning always shows a path. In the winter, it kept looking like maybe there was, and then it just becomes hidden in snow. Now, in summer, it was abundantly clear that there really is no path there.

Down – along the real trail – past the lookout that had become my sleeping spot before… where the shoes I had taken off and left outside the bivy had frozen solid over night.

Down to the mountain pass road, along a better way further down into the village (not just on the side of the large road), through the village to the train station, for once without getting sidetracked – and once again, not going straight home but stopping in Bad Ischl for breakfast at the Café Zauner…

Civilized breakfast

This is a peculiar way to do such outdoors adventures, but one I particulalry enjoy: Hard on the edge, playing with thirst that could turn problematic on an otherwise easy trail, for once. That makes it very apparent how little we need to survive, and how important that little is.

And then, to a little luxury that serves as a good reminder of the nice progress that civilization entails.

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