Sometimes, I just feel a need to get high… up in the mountains.
The Ötztal Glacier Trailrun (link to official site, in German) is one of the events in the Alps that offer a great opportunity for that; it’s course lies between 2000-3000 m in elevation.
The sun is strong at that altitude, and the spot at my collarbones that the Adidas Terrex TR Pro shirt leaves exposed and that I, unaware of that, didn’t treat with sunscreen is still rough from the burn that caused, weeks later.
The run was amazing, anyways.
Basics of the Run
Climbing from Obergurgl at the end of the Ötztal to several of the mountain slopes, crossing valleys and ridges, the run goes to several of the major areas, huts, and sights.
The marathon distance, in particular, covers a nice amount of ground – and with nearly 3000 m of ascent and descent, includes quite some climbing – without being outright extreme.
Of course, that’s very much my view of it; your experience with it may differ.
In fact, the Ötztal Glacier Trailrun in its 42k distance went very surprisingly for me.
My Best Run in a While
I haven’t been training nearly as well as I would like to.
Uphills and downhills, in particular, are hard to come by where I spend most of my time – and my ordinary runs haven’t been easy enough when they should have been, hard runs… well, I haven’t really done sufficiently hard runs at all.
Consequently, when I decided to go for the 42 km distance, I wondered if I would even manage that, within the time limits allowed. I did, of course, end up one of the slowest runners to come and finish.
Finish I did, though – and as hard as the climbs and downhills were, this time I did not seriously have to stop and sit dejectedly.
Rather, I continued without ever getting cramps, finished and could still walk back to my accommodation.
It pays to go slow and enjoy, I guess.
There was a lot to enjoy here.
Starting into Sunshine
The sun rose before we even started, before I even went out of the pension I stayed in.
Only the runners of the ultramarathon distance, with a start at 2 a.m., experience sunrise up in the mountains.
Obergurgl is still in shadow at the beginning of the run, though. On the first climb to the Soomsee, we marathon-distance runners got into the sun that would accompany us the whole day.
This year’s event got about as lucky as it could possibly get.
It was pretty much only a lull in the numbers of coronavirus infections that made it possible that it took place at all.
In more normal concerns, the day before the start was relatively cold and somewhat cloudy; the day after the race started with quite strong rain and chances of more precipitation all through the clearer day.
On the day of the race, though, there was only some stronger wind in places, there were some clouds hanging around some peaks somewhat menacingly – but it was and remained one of the nicest days of the summer.
The ötztal Glacier TrailRun’s Route
From the Soomsee, the trail mainly followed along the mountain slope for kilometers, past the Küppelehütte, on single trail.
The view opened up towards the glaciers in front and across the valley – and then up to the Ramolhaus, into a major cllimb to the highest point of the whole course, at just over 3000 m elevation.
On rocky paths, this was a climb that meant suffering, given my lack of uphill training.
It does not help that the race course continues back along the same way, so that runners who already reached that turning point are already coming back down again. And, this is also the course for the 21 km run, so there are even more and faster runners here, pushing their way up and racing back down.
It didn’t matter.
I just wanted to go on, record enough of it to deliver nice impressions on video, and finish. The time limit was comfortably long away, so everything that mattered was good. And they had some strong, warm soup to offer.
Soup’s not often something you can find at aid stations, but it really should be. I find it to be a secret weapon that seems to work wonders for spirit and muscles.
The view around was amazing, and the downhill to the next interesting spot was beckoning: the Piccardbrücke bridge.
Now it was my turn to race downhill and encounter others still struggling to make their way up.
First the loose rocky trail already covered, then the rocky trail that is more of a hiking path on mountain slopes, and on, turning off from the path climbed up, onto a grassy-rocky trail.
From the start, by the way, there were creeks to cross.
The Right Choice of Gear
This area is rich in water, flowing straight down the mountains.
I often had slight issues finding the way when it went across, and sometimes even seemingly along, quite a bit of water.
And I had made the right choice in taking the Terrex Agravic Tech Pro as my shoes of choice.
These shoes are advertised and look more like shoes for winter running, but really were in their element here, as well.
The construction that makes them look like a boot is only an integrated gaiter that continues up from the shoe, but it was water-resistant enough that I had fun splashing through the creeks; the soles are grippy enough for jumping from stone to stone.
Technicalities before the Bridge
Further down the trail, getting to the Piccardbrücke, things get considerably more technical.
The stones are relatively steep and slick; one wet patch had me stumble and take a slight fall. Most of the time, the technicality means that there are steel ropes and steps to get down safely.
I did not notice the bridge from afar, coming down the path. Maybe it was for the better.
On the last part of the path there, coming from the side, the bridge was already impressive enough.
Walking onto it, its span and height above ground really become clear, and I much preferred to just walk straight across it, look ahead fixedly, focus on keeping my camera running.
It was my 360-degree camera, anyways, so I could still set it for the look down and around later!
Ups and Downs
Up and down and along the trail continues, first over the Schwärzenkamm ridge to the Langtalereckhütte, then on trails and rocky roads to the Schönwieshütte.
Coming there, I already feared that the next steep ascent was right up ahead, as runners were visible there. And storm clouds were hanging above the mountains farther up ahead.
Rotmoostal & HOHE MUT ALM
Up ahead we had to go; it was only the shorter run that climbed to the Hohe Mut Alm immediately.
Our course still went up the Rotmoostal valley, a wide glacial valley, along the water coming down from the glacier up far ahead.
A long time in, our turn up onto the ridge and to the Hohe Mut Alm came, with the last section there being a back-and-forth, passing runners already past that spot, then becoming one of those myself.
Last Ridges and Valleys
Down a slope again, into the Gaisbergtal valley, past another glacial creek and on similar-but-different trails again. Sometimes the usual, sometimes very wet, with outright stepping stones, towards the end.
A turn, and up along the Festkogl, on nice single trails, past ski lifts and construction sites for the same.
I became so focused on a final downhill coming soon, I wanted to turn left and down at a spot where the trail was – as usual – bearing the hot pink markings for this run…
Fortunately, noticing the route on my watch(es), I turned back to check… and continue up as the route actually went.
Two more ups and downs, crossing over the creek in the Verwalltal valley, then turning at the one in Königstal (the King’s Valley).
And then, finally, into forested sections on the final downhill, back into Obergurgl – where I almost ran left on the main road which actually went right, back to the conference center Carat where we had started.
Those views, that run – I had not planned on doing any races, only runs and hikes of my own, this year but I am very happy I participated.
It was great fun!