Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 6
Starting point: Flattach, Austria
Ending point: Mallnitz, Austria
Stage distance: 16.73 km / 10.39 mi
Total distance: 92.95 km / 57.75 mi
Stage time: 6 hours, 18 minutes
Average pace: 22:38 min / km
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 7
Starting point: Mallnitz, Austria
Ending point: Obervellach, Austria
Stage distance: 17.7 km / 10.99 mi
Total distance: 110.65 km / 68.75 mi
Stage time: 6 hours, 46 minutes
Average pace: 22:55 min / km
The truth is, some days on the trail are difficult.
Stage five was long, arduous, quite technical, and (unfortunately for us) damp. We both found stage six to be difficult for another reason: It was, quite simply, boring.
Though the 22 days we’ll spend hiking are about the journey and not any particular destination, some days you just have to get from Point A to Point B. That seems to be the point of stage six.
While climbing long, slow switchbacks and then strolling down a forest road yesterday, there just wasn’t anything interesting about it. The road ahead was boring; the landscape on both sides was boring. Plus, we were climbing, and that wasn’t a whole lot of fun either.
After climbing the first 8km of stage six, we reached a guesthouse and restaurant called Himmelbauer, which is well known in this area. We found a table outside overlooking the valley and ordered two sodas and a plate of French fries. When that generous, delicious plate of fries appeared, we were ecstatic. Never before have fries tasted so good.
We savored our mid-day snack and sipped our sodas and appreciated the view (that had finally appeared) for about an hour. It was absolutely the highlight of the day.
The French fries really did taste that good. But what made them taste even better is the fact we earned them … every single one of them.
Like I said, Himmelbauer is very well known in this area, and you can drive right up to it. And had we driven up, I’m sure we would have enjoyed ourselves and the food we ordered. But how we arrived at this point added increased significance to the moment.
One thing I’ve always said about travel, though, is that I appreciate it more when I’ve earned whatever is at the end.
This is something I wrestle with a lot, especially when considering the need to protect natural places. When you can walk 50m from the parking lot to the edge of the Grand Canyon, can it really ever mesmerize the way it would if you had to hike half a day to see it?
A good portion of the Alpe-Adria Trail can be easily reached by vehicle or public transportation. It wouldn’t be that hard to recreate a vast majority of our route by a means other than hiking. But I find great pleasure and take great pride in the fact we’re earning every single awesome view and moment during our journey.
Stage six was a tough one, but after a deep, sound sleep, I awoke to stage seven with a lot of energy and ready to hit the trail again.
And stage seven did not disappoint. In fact, it may have been our favorite day yet.
The day’s route was relatively flat, which was a welcome break after the previous two days. And it incorporated a number of trails people enjoy for day hikes, so we encountered far more people today than we have on any other day except during stage one.
We first wandered out of Mallnitz toward Stappitzersee, a beautiful little lake tucked into the valley. With trail pass cards in hand, we hopped a cable car for a quick side journey up the mountain for a bird’s-eye view of Mallnitz, and while lots of locals headed off for day hikes in the mountains, we snapped a few photos then took the next cable car back down.
The Alpe-Adria Trail was recently extended to include this side trip to Stappitzersee, but then it veers back past Mallnitz and toward the first of two gorges headed toward Obervellach.
We ate lunch by the first of the two gorges (Rabischschlucht), which was especially impressive since the sluices were open.
After wandering along the raging river through the gorge, we could have stopped there and been completely satisfied with the day, but stage seven had more in store.
The grand finale of the day was dipping down into the Groppensteinschlucht, a truly jaw-dropping gorge with an even more impressive walkway somehow built right onto the side of a sheer cliff face. Everything about this gorge is impressive: the walkway that passes alongside it, the powerful river, the two massive waterfalls (one 20m and one 55m), the vegetation clinging to the sides of the damp cliff wall, the seeps and smaller waterfalls dumping into the river.
In all the places I’ve traveled and hiked, I have never seen anything like it.
And we earned every single moment of the experience.
There will be difficult days and even boring moments of this trek; how can there not be when you’re walking hundreds of miles? But then you come across days like stage seven, and you remember why you took the very first step.