Bugwoman on Location – The Konigstal

The start of the path along the Konigstal

The start of the path along the Konigstal

Dear Readers, today we decided to tackle the Konigstal, the fourth of the local valleys that reach out like fingers from Obergurgl. Unlike the other valleys, which involve a climb and then a nice gentle stroll, the Konigstal involves climbing and climbing and climbing. It’s about 600 metres from where we start to where we finish, which doesn’t sound much, but doesn’t account for all the scree and snow and streams that are involved in getting to the little hut where we always collapse in a heap.

Snow lasts for a long time in the Konigstal

Snow lasts for a long time in the Konigstal

IMG_3477I haven’t seen many bumblebees since I arrived in the Alps, but today there was a little group of three  who seemed to prefer to crawl over the flowers rather than fly – at this altitude I imagine that they want to save as much energy as possible. This species is, I believe, Bombus mendax, a purely Alpine species which has a conservation status of  Near Threatened, what with climate change and the fragmentation of Alpine habitats.

IMG_3482Up and up we trudge. The mountains surround us as if we were specimen at the bottom of a bowl.

IMG_3489Can you see that tiny speck on the horizon? That’s where we’re going…

Funny how it never seems to get any nearer.

IMG_3495And the nearest place for a coffee is up there, at the Top Mountain Star cafe, a mere 3084 metres above sea level….

IMG_3494So we traverse some snow, scramble up some scree and all of a sudden it all seems doable.

IMG_3496And then, after a final push, we arrive.

IMG_3497This used to be the old customs hut, for people bringing goods from Italy into Austria. Whole herds of sheep, sometimes with whiskey bottles strapped to their tummies, apparently sneaked past this hut at dead of night without the customs officer waking up. I rather suspect that some of the whiskey found its way into the customs officer’s tummy.

And look at this view back down.

IMG_3501Glory hallelujah.

The flowers up here are the high altitude species that don’t thrive anywhere else.

Bavarian Gentian (Gentiana bavarica)

Bavarian Gentian (Gentiana bavarica)

And I was especially pleased to find these little beauties – they are Glacier Crowfoot, and can grow up to 4200 metres, so are some of the highest altitude plants in the Alps.

IMG_3509

Glacier Crowfoot (Ranunculus glacialis)

And so, it’s time to head back down. All those hard-earned metres melt away as we skip like mountain goats back down the path (or, to be more accurate, plod down with an occasional heart-felt groan). When we get down a little lower, armies of Spiniest Thistle appear, waving their ‘arms’ like miniature triffids.

Our old friends, Spiniest Thistle. En masse.

Our old friends, Spiniest Thistle. En masse.

And then, suddenly, we’re back on the main drag, walking back towards the Hochgurgl lift which will take us down for an Apfelsaft and a tea. We pass a small family group, who are conferring in German over a map. We manage to help them work out where all the paths go, but one woman holds back.

“Is it all like that?” she asks, gesturing at the path.

I realise that it probably does look rather daunting, as these things often do before you actually do them.

“About twenty-five percent of it is a little bit scary”, says my husband, “but the rest is fine”.

“It’s very beautiful”, I say.

“But I’m very scared”, she says.

And what can anyone say to that?

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I understand”.

And we turn away, to let them make their own decision. When we look back, it seems as if the father and one of the children has gone down, and the mother and another child, who is complaining bitterly, is heading back to the lift.

It’s so hard to beat our fears, sometimes. There are walks here that I certainly wouldn’t do – walks that are too exposed would not work for me. We all have our particular red lines, and this poor woman must have reached hers. Maybe she will gain in confidence over her holiday, but today this was just a step too far.

As we cross the last meadow, I notice a butterfly, and realise that it’s that great traveller, the Painted Lady. It’s already crossed the Atlas Mountains, and now it’s giving the Alps a go. How can such a fragile creature be so resilient, and so determined?

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The underside of the wings is almost as beautiful as the top.

The underside of the wings is almost as beautiful as the top.

And as we reach the lift, we pass a very interesting character.

The scariest water trough in the valley

The scariest water trough in the valley

The Tyroleans have a very singular sense of humour that often falls over into kitsch. But there is often a dark side too – I have seen several water troughs carved into faces, and the people here seem to love witches on broomsticks, dwarves, gnomes, and other such folk. This chap looks rather menacing to me, with his staring eyes and gaping mouth.  I think I might wait till later to get some water, thank you.

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