The Kitzbühel Alpen Trail (KAT Walk) – A mountain a day.

The Kitzbühel Alpen Trail or KAT Walk is a 108km trail through the Kitzbühel Alps in Austria, starting in Hopfgarten and finishing in Fieberbrunn. With more than 6500m of altitude gain and loss over 6 stages, each day involves a hike up from one valley to a summit or high alpine pass before a descent down into the next valley. A hike with plenty of variety, the KAT Walk takes you through pastures, forests, high alpine meadows, past typical Austrian farmhouses and provides plenty of panoramic Alpine views.

Highlights: Centuries old traditional farmhouses; the alpine roses and flowers of the Hintenkarscharte on day 3; the descent off the Kitzbühel Horn on day 5; and the alpine pastures of the karst plateau on day 6.

Organisation: We booked a half board and luggage transport package through the Kitzbühel Alpen tourism organisation: Kitzbuhel Tourism. We booked a package mainly because the cost at 424 Euro per person for 7 nights (July 2015) was very reasonable and we took the view that we couldn’t have done any better if we had organised it ourselves.

Getting there and away: Both Hopfgarten and Fieberbrunn are on train lines. We travelled to Hopfgarten from Innsbruck and continued on our journey from Fieberbrunn by taking a train to Salzburg.

Food and water while walking: There were various options for food and water (or other beverages, of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety) on days 3, 4 and 5. On day 6 we reached a hut after several hours of hiking but were dismayed to find that, as it was a Monday, it was closed (many mountain huts in Austria are closed on Mondays).

Accommodation: The accommodation was of a mixed standard, but all were comfortable and clean. The accommodation provided at the Sport Hotel Reisch in Kitzbuhel was of a very high standard. At the other end, our accommodation in Aschau was a fairly basic pension and the hotel in St Johann was packed with English holidaymakers attempting to make the most of their all inclusive dinner drinks package.

Ski lifts: Much of the trail passes through ski resort areas. As a consequence, for those who are so inclined there are options to shorten the day’s walk on days 4 and 5 by using some of the ski lifts. There is, of course, an additional cost for the lift tickets.

Maps/Track Notes/Signage: The trail is generally well signposted, either with a KAT Walk sticker on a sign or with red and white blazes on rocks and other features. In addition, as part of the package we were provided with a map and a set of detailed trail notes for each day. The resolution of the map was not great and was only really useful to get a feel for the general direction of the trail. The trail notes were useful, but occasionally there were translation issues which resulted in left/right and up/down being confused. Where that occurred it was usually an obvious error and, when in doubt, we simply followed the red and white blazes.

Signage, KAT Walk
Signage, KAT Walk

Day 1: Hopfgarten to Kelchsau (17.5km, ascent 800m, descent 650m).

We arrived in Hopfgarten, a 650 year old Austrian market town, the afternoon before our walk was to start, in hot and humid conditions. At 37C I would ordinarily be sitting in a pool or enjoying some air-conditioning, not planning to embark on a hike. Thankfully, however, when we woke the next day the weather had broken, a brief thunderstorm bringing the temperature for the day down to the high 20s.

The start of the walk was uphill through forests and meadows to the farming area of Innerpenningburg. My “guten morgan” to an elderly women leaning on the balcony of a traditional farmhouse watching our progress was obviously misleading. A stream of German in response led to Rob and the woman having a fairly halting conversation. I suspect it was about the weather, but given that my German is limited to a few greetings and phrases for ordering beer and icecream (ie life’s essentials), it could have been about anything.

A relatively flat section ensued before we once again ascended up along old forestry roads and onto some ski fields to reach the highest point of the day at 1338m above sea level. From there it was about an hour and half descent down a winding forestry road to the village of Kelschau and our accommodation for the night at a traditional inn, Gasthof Fuchswirt.

Traditional farmhouse, KAT Walk
Traditional farmhouse, KAT Walk

Day 2: Kelchsau to Steinberghaus (15.5km, ascent 1200m, descent 1000m).

We woke early the next morning thanks to a rooster crowing from the traditional 600 year old farmhouse opposite the Gasthof. A quick pack and continental breakfast of rolls, ham and cheese and we were on our way. The day’s walk began with an ascent along a quiet winding road which ended at a few farm buildings. At this point we headed up a fairly steep and at times indistinct path through the forest until we emerged out onto another dirt forest road. We followed that road up around several bends until the trail markers indicated we were to leave the road and head through a brief bit of forest and onto some pasture. From here the path up to the summit was steep and we had to take care not to head off on the numerous cattle paths unrelated to the trail we were supposed to be on.  Eventually we reached the Lodron summit and after some quick snaps of the cows basking beneath the summit cross, we started our descent. Unlike the ascent, the descent was nearly all on intermediate mountain trails. We did pass some farmhouses and our notes indicated that one of them was the home of a mountain dialect poet, Seppo Kahn, who was usually happy to chat to hikers. This information, however, is undoubtedly more useful to people whose German language skills are up to conversations about poetry. Our accommodation for the night was the Gasthof Steinberg.

Lodron Summit, KAT Walk
Lodron Summit, KAT Walk

Day 3: Steinberghaus to Aschau (19km, ascent 1050m, descent 900m).

The day began with the usual pattern – a long ascent up winding dirt forestry roads which gradually increased in steepness, until we reached the end of the road, this time at Scheibenschlag Niederalm (1,446m, about 1 and half hours from Steinberghaus). From here we headed up a steep mountain track to the alpine pass at Hintenkarscharte, one of my favourite sections of the KAT Walk. The area was covered in alpine roses and other small flowers and the view from Hintenkarscharte across a small tarn was stunning.

A steep descent down through pastures eventually brought us out onto a forestry road. A mix of forestry roads and walking tracks followed until we reached Labalm where we stopped for an excellent schnitzel and beer. Lunch was followed by an easy walk along the valley floor to our overnight accommodation in Aschau.

Hintenkarscharte, KAT Walk.
Hintenkarscharte, KAT Walk.

Day 4: Aschau to Kitzbuhel (16.5km, ascent 1000m, descent 1250m).

Notwithstanding the efforts of the previous day we were not destined to have a sleep in – this time the morning wake up call was not a rooster, but church bells which were about 20m from our room. We headed off early for the morning’s ascent, but this time there was no gentle introduction of forestry roads. Instead, we were straight onto a steep walking path zig zagging through forest and over pastures until, after about 2 and a half hours we reached the mountain ridge. We followed the ridge to the  day’s first ski lift mountain station and from here it was ski lift stations and ski fields a go go. The number of people out walking also increased significantly (obviously most people had sensibly decided to take a ski lift up and then walk along the tracks and enjoy the views at the top of the mountain). After a lunch break we walked along the track to the Hahnenkamm, from where it was either a short ski lift journey or longer 2 hour walk along the “Streef” ski slope down to Kitzbuhel, a very pretty medieval and now obviously upmarket ski town. As I was not particularly interested in ski fields (famous black runs or otherwise) we opted to save the knees and took the lift.

Descent off Kitzbuhel Horn
Descent off Kitzbuhel Horn

Day 5: Kitzbuhel to St Johann in Tyrol (17km, 1250m ascent, 1300m descent).

The morning of day 5 followed the usual pattern – 3 or so hours of uphill grunt. It was, however, all worth it once the Kitzbuhel Horn was reached as the hour’s descent off the northwest side of the Horn is the spectacular section of the KAT Walk (and its most popular as it is accessible from 2 ski lift stations). The Horn descent section is a narrow trail and has a few steep drop off sections so may not be ideal for those with a paralysing fear of heights. Where the steep drop offs occurred there were steel cables to aid our descent and I felt relatively comfortable (although I did make full use of the cables, which most other people ignored). Once the descent off the Horn was completed we had the option of taking a ski lift the rest of the way, but instead we kept on our fairly leisurely descent, stopping at a couple of huts for coffee, before we arrived at St Johann.

Stage 6: St Johann in Tyrol (21.5 km, ascent 1200m, descent 1000m).

Perhaps it was the accumulation of kilometres and ups and downs of the previous days, but I found the last day to be the most tiring. It was also my favourite day’s walk as it had the most variety – walking tracks up through forest onto a plateau of karst formation and alpine meadows. The notes for the walk accurately described it in these terms: “Alpine Pasture Spectacle – cows, cheese and culture – mountain pines, diverse mixed forests and continuous panoramic views.”

The day was made even more entertaining by a couple of encounters. The first occurred on our ascent just before we reached the plateau. We had sat down to have a break and were passed by a cow herder in gumboots and with a very old school leather day pack. We finished our snack and continued our hike up the hill, soon coming to a clearing where the cow herder was hollering some form of repetitive yodel. Apparently the cows in the hills above us knew what it meant as they came galloping out of the forest, stamping on the brakes as they passed us and sliding to a halt just before the herder who then led them to a hut just to the side of the clearing.

Our second encounter was just as we started our descent from the high point of the day – we were surprised by a very high pitched loud screech. Not 10m away was a marmot who apparently wasn’t very happy to see us. He kept his head popped up long enough for me to get my camera out of the bag, but not long enough to get a shot. A couple of hours later and we were in Fieberbrunn – the end of a long and satisfying walk.

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