Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 11
Starting point: Gmünd, Austria
Ending point: Seeboden, Austria
Stage distance: 16.34 km / 10.15 mi
Total distance: 161.53 km / 100.36 mi
Stage time: 3 hours, 57 minutes
Average pace: 14:34 min / km
You can read all the guidebooks and blog posts in the world. You can talk to all the people who have walked before you. But you can never truly know what a day on the trail will be like until you do it yourself.
Some days, you can feel every single little rock beneath your boot soles. On other days, you can practically skip right up the side of a mountain without breaking a sweat.
There are a few set “rules” when it comes to hiking — general common sense guidelines people tend to follow — like letting people coming uphill have the right-of-way.
But I think the most important rule is this: Hike your own hike.
Only you know what your body feels like, and only you know what the right pace and footfall is at any given moment. Cory and I often hike side-by-side, sometimes chatting or observing our surroundings together. But sometimes he goes a bit faster, or I go a bit faster. We both have “on” days, and we both have more difficult days. But we always reach the same point eventually.
I’ve been thinking about the “hike your own hike” rule a bit these last few days because we’ve encountered quite a few day hikers. Regardless of where you are in the world, day hikers seem to share a couple common characteristics: Some are always grossly underprepared, and where there are day hikers there is always more garbage along the trails. (Come on, people, stop dropping dirty tissues on the ground!)
But in order to get the most enjoyment out of a hike in the safest way possible, each and every one of them would be wise to hike their own hike.
During stage 11, we moved from Gmünd to Seeboden, a lakeside holiday destination of sorts. The day was lovely — a high sun, nice forest paths, and some road walking with good views — and we moved quickly because it was so flat. We made the most of our day, stopping to wander through a bonsai garden in Treffling. And we scarfed down another delicious plate for French fries from a café in an old castle with a stellar view of the Millstätter See. We ended the day in Seeboden basking in the sun and sipping aperol spritzes on a patio.
In many ways, we played “tourist” during stage 11. There is no right or wrong way to do this trip — hike your own hike — and our indulgences during stage 11 were exactly what we needed.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 12
Starting point: Seeboden, Austria
Ending point: Alexanderhütte, Austria
Stage distance: 21.12 km / 13.12 mi
Total distance: 182.65 km / 113.48 mi
Stage time: 6 hours, 51 minutes
Average pace: 19:29 min / km
I suppose we were gearing up for stage 12, which was a beast, climbing 1200 meters out of the valley to a little mountain hut overlooking the Millstätter See from 1800 meters.
Here’s the thing about the Alpe-Adria Trail: The point, as I mentioned several days ago, is not just to reach the end, but to explore and enjoy the journey along the way. It’s about 10 kilometers along the lake to get from Seeboden to Döbriach (the end point for stage 13); they sit at opposite sides of the lake. But we hiked more than 20 kilometers to reach Alexanderhütte during stage 12 to fully appreciate the journey and view, and then we hiked nearly 25 kilometers down the other side into Döbriach.
I struggled to get my feet under me all day on stage 12, and we encountered day hikers throughout most of the day, both of which frustrated me at times. From the highest peaks of the day (at nearly 2100 meters at one point), we could see mountain peaks in nearly every direction. And we walked for several miles along ridge line during both stage 12 and 13, which is a different, windswept terrain with different wildflowers than we’ve encountered thus far. In this kind of environment, walking above the tree line, I often feel like the tallest thing on the planet.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 13
Starting point: Alexanderhütte, Austria
Ending point: Döbriach, Austria
Stage distance: 24.97 km / 15.51 mi
Total distance: 207.62 km / 128.99 mi
Stage time: 7 hours, 14 minutes
Average pace: 17:24 min / km
For several miles on our walk back down the mountain from Alexanderhütte to Döbriach during stage 13, we encountered day hikers again. This is a popular area because it includes the Garnet Gate, which marks the end of “the walk of love,” where loads of locals hike. Garnet was heavily mined in this area, and this big metal gate at the top of a hill is supposed to bring about love if you carry a piece of garnet through it.
With so many people milling around, we quickly moved on (no need for either of us to worry too much about finding someone to love). Stage 13 was a treat with lots of truly stunning views of both the lake and the surrounding valleys, plus the skies were clear though it was a bit humid.
Unfortunately, the end of stage 13 was unnecessarily long and several kilometers could have been shaved off by simply dropping us down a more direct trail. The vast majority of the day really was wonderful, though we were hot, exhausted, and ready to be done by the time we finally found our accommodations in Döbriach.
Though some days I think we’re a bit crazy for deciding to hike this much 22 days in a row, one thing I do appreciate is that every day is a new day. Truly. We wake up at the same time every morning, ready to embrace whatever the new day brings. Some days our bags feel heavier than others. Some mornings we feel more refreshed. But every single day is a new opportunity to have our best day of hiking yet.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 14
Starting point: Döbriach, Austria
Ending point: Langalmtal, Austria
Stage distance: 17.41 km / 10.81 mi
Total distance: 225.03 km / 139.8 mi
Stage time: 5 hours, 8 minutes
Average pace: 17:43 min / km
Stage 14 felt like a wonderful redemption after our frustrating end to stage 13. The weather was fickle — was it going to rain or not? — but we got moving at a good pace and enjoyed several miles of walking next to streams and lakes both in and out of towns throughout the day. We both agree that walking next to water makes a big difference; there’s always something interesting to look at.
One thing I’ve really appreciated about walking this trail is that it’s led us to places we would never consider visiting otherwise. During stage 14, that place was the Granatium, a multi-faceted museum experience about this area’s mining history, particularly of garnets. It had a multi-lingual museum with interesting displays then visitors actually walk through an old garnet cave. Finally, we had a chance to mine our own garnets on the backside of the cave, where there are millions of garnets embedded in the rocks. I’ve seen these “mine your own” experiences as we criss-crossed the Great Plains when I was a kid, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually done it myself. It was so much fun — and I successfully extracted my own tiny garnet!
Even as the weather oscillated between rain and sunshine, we carried on up a river where several old mills continue to operate and into a valley with more exposed rock than we’ve seen. It was a quiet afternoon, and it was nice to let thoughts come and go as we walked. I love spotting the creatively carved wood sculptures made out of tree stumps on the side of the road and in people’s gardens. I like the fresh smell of the different environments we walk through after it rains or heats up in the sun. I continue to be impressed by the colorful arrangements in people’s flower boxes.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 15
Starting point: Langalmtal, Austria
Ending point: Falkerthus, Austria
Stage distance: 14.34 km / 8.91 mi
Total distance: 239.37 km / 148.71 mi
Stage time: 6 hours, 11 minutes
Average pace: 25:53 min / km
The Alpe-Adria Trail is sprinkled with peaks to climb and summits from which to check out the view. However, it wasn’t until stage 15 when it really felt like we were doing some serious mountain trekking. By far the most similar day to hiking through the Sierra Nevada, the day’s hike was a series of three ascents and descents.
The landscape was littered with exposed rock, alpine-like lakes, scrubby juniper bushes, slick boulders, and even a marmot hidden somewhere beyond eyesight.
It was a day of tense body movement, each step requiring balance, coordination, and care. After a day like stage 15, my calves ache and feet cramp from so mindfully taking each and every step. Exhausted, we fell asleep in a mountain hut far from anywhere, a rainstorm pounding on the roof.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 16
Starting point: Falkerthus, Austria
Ending point: Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria
Stage distance: 16.17 km / 10.04 mi
Total distance: 255.54 km / 158.75 mi
Stage time: 5 hours, 48 minutes
Average pace: 21:32 min / km
By morning, the rain had stopped. But with a long, tough day up in the mountains ahead of us and a threatening sky overhead, we moved quickly. Admittedly, our goal was to reach Bad Kleinkirchheim at a reasonable time so we could soak our tired bodies in the thermal baths the town is know for.
So, even though we moved fast, we actually experienced — and enjoyed — more than an hour’s worth of fascinating terrain. To cut a couple kilometers off of our hike, we left the marked Alpe-Adria Trail and headed across a completely exposed ridge line with mossy, uneven patches of grass, the wind whipping wildly. It’s the first time on this trek I’ve worn my gloves.
For more than an hour, we walked on this ridge line, and it was incredibly beautiful. We didn’t meet any people or cows. It was just us, making our way across the mountains before dropping off the edge of the world into the forest.
It was a weird day. Strange weather. Initially uninspiring route. But ultimately, surprisingly interesting and pleasant.
Plus … bonus thermal pools. Needless to say, after 16 straight days of hiking, our muscles thanked us.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 17
Starting point: Bad Kleinkirchheim, Austria
Ending point: Arriach, Austria
Stage distance: 21.43 km / 13.31 mi
Total distance: 276.97 km / 172.06 mi
Stage time: 7 hours, 38 minutes
Average pace: 21:23 min / km
Why do we hike?
Lots of people have asked us over the years why we do things like walk the Alpe-Adria Trail. Trust me, we’ve asked ourselves several times on this trip.
Our accommodations in Bad Kleinkirchheim were located right next to a cable car station. Ten kilometers into our daily walk, we reached the terminal station for those cable cars on top of the mountain.
That’s right: We literally hiked uphill for several long hours when we could have just as easily hopped on the cable car and reached the same place in 10 minutes.
So, why do we hike? To make memories and spend time together. To appreciate the details. For the exercise. Because we have the time and interest. To experience a place in a different way.
It hurts and is uncomfortable. We sweat something terrible. We often don’t love it.
But it’s who we are.
And what do you do once you reach the top of the mountain? Why, you walk down the other side, of course. And so we did.
Alpe-Adria Trail Stage 18
Starting point: Arriach, Austria
Ending point: Gerlitzen Alpe, Austria
Stage distance: 16.18 km / 10.05 mi
Total distance: 293.15 km / 182.11 mi
Stage time: 4 hours, 38 minutes
Average pace: 17:12 min / km
After 18 days, things start to blend together.
We have a routine: We wake up, we eat breakfast, we walk, we stop for a break mid-day for a light lunch, we walk some more, we reach our destination, we shower, we do laundry in the sink if necessary, we eat dinner, we read/write/work, and we collapse in complete exhaustion. And then we do it all over again.
But some days, like the first time you can clearly see your final destination — the Julian Alps in Slovenia — you remember.
These peaks have been teasing us for some time, with hints of them showing up here and there in the distance. But from Gerlitzen Alpe, 180-degree views offered a new perspective of where we’ve been and where we’re going. In fact, we could see both Grossglockner, the mountain at which we started our hike, and the place where we’ll cross into Slovenia from our accommodations at stage 18.
It was a surreal moment, watching the sun set on top of the last mountain we’ll really be traversing this summer. It’s been a long 18 days, and we’re both ready to welcome and complete these final four.
Some days inevitably come easier than others, and some are more memorable or interesting. Though we greatly the guidebook and app we’re using to find our way, no day is ever predictable. There are so many variables when we set out each day, and even between the two of us, there are differences from day to day.
The best way to fully embrace and relish each one is to embrace it as an individual. Or, to live by the most important hiking rule: Hike your own hike.