Standing on a remote mountain peak, alone amongst the rocky slopes but for the birds sailing on the wind ahead – this is the dream for many mountaineers. Walking the Kreuzeck Trail brings you one step closer to this dream. This hike takes you from east to west across the Kreuzeck mountains, a mountain range in the Central Eastern Alps in Austria. Only a few hikers venture to this region, so you can often enjoy the paths and the occasional rustic mountain hut to yourself.
In 37 miles (60 km) split into five stages, you will explore the main ridge of the Kreuzeck range with one day to ascend and one to descend. Between climbing up several peaks and ridges, you can explore untouched alpine landscapes. The middle of the hike is marked by the highest point of your adventure – the Hochkreuz’s summit at 8,890 feet (2,709 m). For most of the hike, you walk between 6,560 and 8,200 feet (2,000 and 2,500 m) above the treeline.
Panoramic views accompany you as you hike with deep valleys stretching into the horizon. To the north, you can see as far as the High Tauern glaciers along the Austrian-Italian border. To the west, you can spot the snowy peaks of the Lienz Dolomites.
The terrain here is high alpine so the route is only possible from July to September when the huts along the trail are also open. Make sure you book your stay in a hut in advance and be aware of the opening times. The huts here have no more than 50 beds and some have less than 30. I recommend packing plenty of snacks for your trip as you won’t find somewhere to stop for lunch en route, except on the first day.
At first glance, the stages may seem quite easy. The distances and altitudes are relatively gentle and don’t require tip-top fitness. However, the trails are not always simple and you’ll sometimes hike over loose rock and narrow exposed paths. Although ropes will help you along the difficult sections, the second and third stages are still demanding. Exercise caution if you are hiking the route after rain or if there is still snow. However, with steady feet, a head for heights, and a good sense of direction, you’ll spend five wonderful days exploring the alpine heights of the Kreuzeck mountains.
The start and endpoints of this adventure are both easy to reach with public transport: Kolbnitz has good bus and train connections and you can catch a bus to the nearest train station from Winklern. Spittal-Millstätter See, Mallnitz, and Lienz have national and international train links. All that is left, is to spend an exciting and relaxing week hiking in the Alps.
A tour start with many options - you can adapt the first stage of the Kreuzeck-Höhenweg well to your wishes: Either you just walk in comfortably or you start with a sporting challenge. The path leads through shady forest, over picturesque alpine landscapes and to a rocky summit. So the first stage prepares you well for the coming days in alpine heights.The hike starts in Unterkolbnitz. Here you have the choice of whether you want to cover the first 600 vertical meters with the Kreuzeckbahn cable car or whether you want to hike from the foot of the mountain. The second option takes you through the forest on leisurely farm tracks until you get to the mountain station. From here you continue to ascend and reach the Mernikalm after 200 meters of altitude, where you reach the first stop of the day between peaceful grazing cows. The second is a little further on the Mühldorfer Alm.Now you dive into the forest again, where it goes uphill again. Soon you will reach the tree line, where you will reach the Salzkofelhütte on relatively flat paths on the southern slope. If you still have time and desire here, you can climb the Großer Salzkofel in a northerly direction. You will then return on the same path to spend your night at the hut.Alternatively, you can turn a little earlier on the way to the Großer Salzkofel. On the Rosseben saddle, you turn right towards Koppen. Here a beautiful path leads over the ridge first to the Little Salzkofel and then over the south side to the Great Salzkofel. On its south side you then descend to the Salzkofelhütte.
Today you leave the trees behind. From now on you will move on grass, scree and rock between wide alpine meadows and high peaks until the last stage of the Kreuzeck-Höhenweg. The route becomes more demanding with the terrain. Exposed areas are often secured with ropes. Now and then you need a helping hand on the rock.From the hut you follow the Heinrich-Hecht-Weg to the west. At first it is very flat and tame, but soon it will be really steep. In tight bends it leads you up to the Goldgrabenenscharte. Here you can expect an exposed but secured crossing under the Little Cross Corner. Pay close attention to where you put your feet.During the next passage you can take a breath. On the southern slopes you only have a few meters to climb. The next steep climb takes you up to Annaruhe. The summit is a lovely grass dome with a beautiful view. Here you can make yourself comfortable and unpack your snack, because you have already completed the strenuous parts of today's stage.From Annaruhe it goes relatively steadily downhill to the west. You descend from the rocky terrain and soon reach gentler alpine meadows. Only at the very end a short ascent awaits you in front of the Feldnerhütte. The Glanzsee is right next to your stage destination. Here your feet will surely look forward to a refreshing bath.
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A cold bath in the glossy lake is ideal for morning washing. Because today it is important that you are really awake. The third stage is the most demanding day on the Kreuzeck-Höhenweg. Lots of rocks, loose ground and exposed paths await you. With the Hochkreuz you climb the highlight of your hut hike today.From the Hugo-Gerbers-Hütte you start past the Glanzsee to the west. Here it is important to tackle the first ascent to Glenktörl. Then you walk north past the Rothorn. A kettle opens up to your left, in which many small mountain lakes shimmer.On the following descending paths with a beautiful view, you will once again gather strength to climb the Hochkreuz, which at 2,709 meters is one of the highest peaks in the entire mountain group. It goes up steeply over the Kirschtörl. The summit is the highest point of the hike and marks almost exactly half of the total route. Well, if that's not a reason for a proper break. The legs can also rest a little, because it continues on rocky paths with the crossing of the Schwarzwandkopf.Then the path becomes more comfortable. You stay on the ridge in a westerly direction until you bypass Kreuzlhöhe on the right. It is only slightly uphill and downhill. At the end of this stage you hike down into a cauldron and from there along the slope to the Hugo-Gerbers hut, which welcomes you with a warm dinner.
On the fourth stage of the Kreuzeck-Höhenweg, classic uphill and downhill is on the program. The altitude is kept within limits and you can relax and enjoy the view. Immediately after breakfast you climb back up to the west. This is where the hike begins with a wide view of the mountain range that you are walking through today. So you already know roughly what's coming - that increases anticipation.At the beginning the path is rather narrow. As the day progresses, it becomes wider and more comfortable. Until then, you hike past a chain of three peaks on the left: the Taubichl, the Wallischalmkopf and the Moritzhorn. South of the latter you pass a saddle and then stay on the ridge, which now leads up to the Sandfeldkopf.Behind you descend to the right on the edge of a cauldron and under the bowling cone. At the Wildsee you hike through the Törl and on the other side start the climb to the Damerkopf. From this summit, you no longer just follow the crest of the Kreuzeck group, but also the border between Carinthia and Tyrol.Now turn towards the northwest and always stay at the top up to the head of the tenant. The descent begins slowly here. About half a kilometer behind the Happlköfel you leave the crest and descend to the left. On this part of the way you also pass the tree line again - a sign that your hike is coming to an end.Through the trees you will soon find the Anna refuge with its beautiful panoramic terrace. Here is your bed for the night and is waiting for you. Do you have time and strength for a last summit? The Ederplan with its impressive cross is located directly above the hut. Doesn't look far at all? Right, you really climbed this summit very quickly.
With the fifth stage you say goodbye to the Kreuzeck-Höhenweg. Today it goes downhill by more than 1,000 meters. From the Ederplan you walk northwest to the Zwischenberger Sattel. Enjoy the springy ground again on the narrow forest path.Then you follow the course of the high valley to the northeast. The trees will soon clear up and you will meet the first buildings along the way. From here you continue on a comfortable road through idyllic alpine meadows. Together with the road, you then dive back into the forest and hike down the hill to Winklern.At the end of your hike, it is worth taking a walk through the town before you head home. The bus station is located in the center of Winklern on the Kulturlandschaftsweg between the main street and Mölltal Straße. Here you can either get on a bus on line 5108 and take it to Mallnitz / Obervellach station (from there there are connections to Spittal an der Drau, but also to the north), or you can take bus 942 to Lienz station in East Tyrol. You can find the departure times and more detailed information at oebb.at.Would you prefer to go straight to East Tyrol right away? Then you can choose an alternative descent from the Anna refuge. This leads west via Stronach down to Dölsach, which is right next to Lienz. There is also a train station on the banks of the Drau.