Wild Tyrolean Valley After Severe Winter


Musau, Austria, May 19, 2019

In April 2019 there were many fears in Central Europe that 2019 would repeat its extreme weather patterns with a drought in many parts of Germany. Luckily, in May 2019 weather turned back to normal patterns with rain and colder temperatures. Unlike other areas, there had been a lot of precipitation in the Alps during winter 2018/2019. In some places, there were tons of snow. Devastating avalanches threatened some alpine valleys. There had also been some storms which did severe damage in the mountain forest.

A trip into the Alps in May is a fascinating thing. Particularly after a period with the above-mentioned weather extremes. In the higher regions, a hike can begin in “summer” with green meadows and warm temperatures but winter isn’t very far. It is also a chance to see the power of nature. It is the time of devastating thaws when the huge mass of snow melts quickly. And there are many traces of this last winter: Nature is recovering from avalanches and in the mountain forest we see the destructive force of severe storms.

Spring happens late in the mountains. It is a short time span when life returns to the frozen world. It is time to experience both the destructive power of the elements and its incredible beauty.

The Rein valley near Musau in Tyrol offers it all. It is perfect for a trip and is easily accessible. It is one of the most impressive valleys in the Northern Alps. Steep Rock faces, a raging river, a very natural forest and high peaks of the “Allgäuer Berge” makes it an unparalleled experience.

In Musau there is both a train station but also a parking spot, “Bärenfalle” at the beginning of the hike. The first half hour of the walk is in the forest and a steep ascent. After a while, the trail reaches the first vantage points. The peaks of the mountains become visible.

Sunday, May 19, started as a sunny and slightly cloudy day. However, there was a severe weather warning in place. It was said that thunderstorms would already occur before noon. The good weather lasted longer as expected.

Majestic Mountains in the background.
Mountain Forest In The Rein Valley

The trail is also a forest road which connects the village with the Musauer Alm and the Cabins, the Otto Mayr Hütte and the Füssener Hütte.

Road In The Rein Valley
Spring Flowers

After approximately one and a half hour of walking the cosy Musauer Alm comes into sight. It is the perfect opportunity for a stop and getting some good food in a very friendly atmosphere. After the stop which was in the middle of the day, the weather still looked fine. It seemed that the weather forecast wasn’t right. But in the mountains, you need to be very attentive and conditions can change very quickly.

Musauer Alm

Behind the Musauer Alm, the trail leads higher up into the valley. Here the image changed completely. Instead of the romantic green valley, it looked more and more like a battlefield of the forces of nature. Overturned trees, the remains of an avalanche and huge fields of snow left a deep impression. One could see what the severe winter in the alps did. In some places, it changed the face of the landscape.

After the severe winter
Avalanche
There is still a lot of snow.

Then it happened. It wasn’t too long and early afternoon when the weather changed completely. Rain and thunderstorm clouds appeared quickly from the east. It was time to turn around and head back down into the valley.

Arrival Of A Thunderstorm In The Mountains.

Faster than expected the sun appeared again after a heavy rain shower and some thunder in the clouds. It was then when there was a special magic in the landscape.

Winter And Summer At The Same Time

It was also an opportunity to study the work of erosion near the river. Rain and tough conditions led to mudslides and other destruction.

Massive Destruction

Erosion near the “Saba Bach”

Later in the afternoon, the sky was overcast. After the rain mist ascended from the forest. It was a completely different, more mystical air. It proved again that rainy weather is often the most interesting weather condition for dramatic pictures in the mountains.

Rain Clouds and The Green Trees

The wet weather attracted also a special animal, which is rare to see. The black salamander.

Salamander

The spectacular valley and the Musauer Alm is not far from the famous town of Füssen (with the prominent Neuschwanstein castle). On the Austrian side, Reutte and the “Lechtal-Region isn’t far. The Lechtal with the river Lech is one of Europe’s last river wilderness regions. It contains different types of forest, rich animal life and more spectacular mountain sceneries.

In some places, there was indeed severe weather on May 19. In East-Germany flooding was reported and there were heavy thunderstorms. It was also the beginning of a long rainy period with some flooding in Southern Germany. This is not unusual for May. In 1999 and 2005 there were floods which led to a lot of destruction. The events of 1999 gave reason to improve precautions against flooding for example in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Upper Bavaria.

Panoramic Viewpoint: Hilltop Near Wessobrunn, Upper Bavaria

In Upper Bavaria, you can find an endless number of panoramic viewpoints. Thus the choice might appear a bit arbitrary. There will be certainly more places to be portrayed in the future but recently I discovered a viewpoint I particularly liked because of the extraordinary setting. There is a village nearby, meadows and woods and there is a free sight of the whole chain of mountains in the south.

It is easily accessible because it is close to the famous Wessobrunn monastery, where there is also a parking space, approximately one kilometre from the viewpoint which is basically a small road and a hilltop leading towards Diessen am Ammersee.

I discovered this viewpoint when I did part of the “King Ludwig 2 Trail” between Diessen am Ammersee and Wessobrunn. The viewpoint is certainly the highlight of this section of the trail. It is possible to do this (not recommended if it gets too warm) but there is no restaurant or such thing between Diessen and Wessobrunn. Due to the length of this part, it might be most suitable for a bicycle tour.

Sunday, March 11, was the first really warm day (17 Celsius) after the period of the arctic cold (“Beast From The East”) in Southern Bavaria. This was mostly due to the Foehn-Effect, which happens often during the wintertime. Foehn leads to an unusual rise in the temperature. The air becomes very clear and there is a clear sight of the mountains with many details. This day, however, there was also a special phenomenon, the so-called “Föhnkante”. This is a distinct border between clouds and the clearer part of the sky. It appears when the Foehn-Effect starts to break down. Subsequently, the following days were much colder and more winter-like.

In March there is little green and if the sun is behind higher-clouds colour in the landscape isn’t much appealing. But this time of the year between winter and spring could be interesting to capture structures in photography. After some time where I played a bit around with the pictures, I decided to present it in black and white. Black and white is often an interesting option and could reveal much of the special atmosphere of a place. The trick is not just to switch to black and white but trying different things with the software. There are also very good black and white filters in the NIK-collection software.

The viewpoint can be reached easily: you can use the parking space at the “Tassiloweg” behind the monastery. From there a steep path leads to the “Schloßbergstr.” The “Schloßbergstraße” leads to a settlement called “Haid” but do not walk towards the settlement but straight. The street becomes a small single road (better not go by car there because it is really very narrow and there is no parking space). It is great for a walk. There is also a seat there near the viewpoint and its fantastic for a rest – and of course to take pictures.

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The viewpoint is also not so far from the Hohen Peissenberg. Both places are very suitable for weather-photography. The place near Wessobrunn could be also of particular interest for sunsets or sunrise. It presents a very typical Upper Bavaria landscape setting.

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The most dominant mountain in the silhouette in the south is the Zugspitze. Seen from the viewpoint near Wessobrunn you have the Hohen Peissenberg with the big antenna in the foreground before the Zugspitze. It is good to choose a day like this one with the Foehn-Effect or come very early to capture the whole dimension of the view. The lower hills and the bigger mountains in the background add to the depth of the scenery.

The picture above is taken from the viewpoint and shows the whole Hohen Peissenberg. In the middle, there is a church. On the right side, there is a small tower, which is part of the weather station of Deutsche Wetterdienst. On the left side and also in the picture below is the big antenna.

March 3, 2018: Partnach Gorge

When the “Beast From The East”, the arctic cold in the second half of February 2018, loosened its grip on middle Europe I immediately thought of realizing a plan I had already the previous year: visiting the Partnach Gorge near Garmisch Partenkirchen. The famous gorge is a great destination in winter-time because of the fantastic world of ice with frozen waterfalls and curtains of ice. It is a natural monument since 1912 and is visited by many guests every year.

Last year the gorge was closed when I was there because when temperatures rise huge chunks of ice come down and it is too dangerous to let visitors walk through the 700 meters long gorge. An owner of a restaurant close to the gorge told me when the giant icicles are thundering down and fall into the canyon everything is shaking in the house when they hit the rocky bottom. It must feel like an earthquake. Sometimes the trail needs a lot of repairs. There are unimaginable forces at work and in former times this was a feared place. The gorge is a monument of untamed nature and demands respect. Very close to the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen wilderness begins.

This year I was lucky and the cold temperatures had done a great job. The gorge was a palace of ice. It was one of the more positive sides of the arctic cold.

I knew I had to act fast or I would have to wait for the next winter. After the extreme cold, temperatures on Saturday were rising in Southern-Germany, since there was an inflow of warm air from Northern-Spain. The direction of the wind was changing.

 

The gorge is a 25minutes walk from the Olympic Skiing Stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. As soon as you enter this wonder of nature it is like being in some Tolkien-setting from “The Lord Of The Rings”.
 

Stock photography by Peter Engelmann at AlamyStock photography by Peter Engelmann at Alamy

Words fail to describe the fantastic experience. Like the Breitach Gorge, there is a trail allowing visitors experience the dramatic atmosphere of the raging river and the close wet rock faces.
Mountain Warehouse

But the ice curtains, the interplay of frozen water and snow make it a unique experience during the winter time.

Particularly on the first 100 and 200 meters of the walk, there were some impressive sights. The trail is close to the river Partnach and there is a chance to study the ice-sculptures.

 

For most of the year, everybody gets wet when walking through the gorge, because there are springs everywhere and there is always water coming down. Thus you can see these fantastic curtains of ice when the water, which normally rains down is freezing.

 

The Partnach Gorge is offering a huge variety of great motives for pictures. There are not only the big panoramas but also many details in this “palace of ice”. Of course, sometimes you have to share the trail with many other photographers. Thus it is good to start not too late in the morning.

At certain points of the trail, the Partnach Gorge reminds me also of the famous ice-caves in Austria like the “Eisriesenwelt”. When walking through the narrow parts of the gorge there is only little light. If you want to take pictures a tripod is now extremely helpful.

The special experience of the Partnach Gorge is created through the change of very narrow parts and the parts where it is widening.

There is a special magic of these curtains of frozen water. In some places, it seems there would be a green glow on the ice adding to the otherworldliness of this special atmosphere inside the gorge.




Getting closer to the end of the gorge, there was sunlight coming in. This created another kind of experience and an even more enchanted situation.

The Partnach Gorge can be reached easily from Garmisch Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany. From the train station, there is a city bus going to the Olympic Skiing Stadium. There are also horse coaches. There was also an announcement that there are guided night-tours with torches.

The gorge is also a starting point for many hiking tours into the highest mountains of Germany. Alpine cabins and farmed alps are not far.

As said before sometimes the Partnach Gorge needs to be closed when the ice is melting. Thus it is always good to check before (partnachklamm.eu).

At any time of the year, it’s very important to have sturdy shoes and sturdy clothes. The trail is in very good shape but of course, such places can be always slippery or muddy. If you plan to do pictures it is good to have enough time since the trail is a narrow path. Often there are many hikers and tourists walking through the gorge in both directions and you need to wait for a quiet moment to set up equipment.

Furthermore, think of not only some rain-clothes but also about some water-protection for the camera particularly in summer.

During winter sunlight is limited inside the gorge since it is a deep canyon. When I was there, 10.00-11.00 seemed a good time for some sunlight in the last section of the gorge.

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Cliffs In The Harz Mountains

The Harz Mountains in the middle of Germany are one of the oldest mountains regions in Europe. Unlike the Alps, these mountains had been their best times a long time ago. Today we see mostly the remnants of the mountains. Constant weathering has taken its toll.

Visitors can see impressing results of weathering and how nature is constantly changing over the years.

In the Harz Mountains, there are steep valleys but no peaks. The highest mountain, the Brocken, is a plateau rather than a typical mountain peak.

The most prominent thing among the endless forests and the alpine valleys like the Bode valley are the rock formations:

In the higher regions of the Harz Mountains, there are cliffs. The cliffs are famous rock formations. Some of them are hidden in the forest. Others are visible landmarks.

 

In some places, they indeed create an alpine character of the landscape like the cliffs near the Bodetal and the Okertal.

The cliffs are often popular among climbers. They offer challenges and should not be underestimated. Often there is a trail or ladders leading to the top of some of the cliffs.

For safety reasons, there is often a railing. However, its good to be better, not afraid of heights. The view from the top of the cliffs is often fantastic but sometimes it is a surprise if you see look down since the Harz Mountains are often more gentle mountains.

Mountain Warehouse

I remember a trip to the “Ottofelsen” which is absolutely great but looking down was suddenly a challenge. The “Ottofelsen” is a prominent cliff not far from Wernigerode on the North-East-Side of the Brocken Mountain.

Spectacular cliffs are both on the west-side and on the east-side of the Harz Mountains.

They inspired romantic painters as writers like Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe who spent a lot of time in the Harz Mountains. He was very interested in science and studied the rock formations.

The rock formations always triggered the imagination a lot. In former times they were also ritual sites and places where the witches met. A popular place above the “Okertal” is the “Hexenküche” (Witches Kitchen).

Stories and old legends made the rock formations famous. Sometimes they are intimidating, sometimes it is awesome or bizarre. The rock formations often look like the work of a giant sculptor.

“The Hexenküche” is not far from the “Kästeklippe”, one of the most prominent view-points where you can find also a restaurant.

Some rock formation can be only reached by foot, where others like the “Rabenklippe” are easily accessible with the bus. The “Rabenklippe” is not far from Bad Harzburg and very frequented during summer time.

I remember the “Scharfenstein Klippe” as an extraordinary and very impressing place. The “Scharfensteinklippe” is not far from the former inner-german border. On top the cliff there is an impressing view. You look down in an endless green forest, see the huge Brocken-Mountain-massive on one side and the “Eckertal-Stausee”, a reservoir, on the other side.

The “Feuersteinklippen” near Schierke is another prominent rock-formation. They rise majestically in the forest and look very mysterious. There are always interesting geological discoveries to be made. Near Schierke there are also the so-called “Schnarcherklippen”. This is a cliff where sometimes the wind makes a special noise, and it sounds like somebody is snoring. Here there is also the “Wollsack-Verwitterung”, a special phenomenon called concentric weathering.




The cliffs in the Harz Mountains are interesting at any time of the year. They are a good opportunity for a rest during hiking trips. It is important to have appropriate shoes since the cliffs can be slippery particularly after rain. They should be avoided during a thunderstorm.

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