Hiking in the Lüsenstal

The Lüsenstal, a valley in Tirol, Austria, is one of the most majestic places I have ever beheld. For comparison, it is as elegant as two locations in America’s National Parks: the inspiring Yosemite Valley and the grand Kings Canyon.

The ride into the valley treated everyone in the car to vistas of mountains wrapped in green forests, streams that danced downhill and the occasional cow that munched on the abundant green grass.

The Lüsenstal is a great depression in the earth; like a child at the beach who scoops out a long channel of sand with her hand the Lüsenstal has a similar pattern, but on an immense scale like a great hand has dug into the Alps and pulled back the terrain creating a u-shaped channel that rises nearly a thousand meters on either side.

One feels small in this place, yet part of something more.

We arrived at a farm and guest house located on the valley floor and parked the car. We looked around a few minutes and were awed by the scale of the valley.

Several kilometers away, at the ‘back’ of the valley, the flat land ends and becomes almost perpendicular, climbing hundreds of meters high. At the lip of this wall, the rock appears to be slick with water. Looking through binoculars you can see channels of water emerging from the bright white surface at the very edge of the mountain. This is a glacier. The local Tirolean on our hike remarked that when she was a girl the glacier ice was visible a quarter of the way down the mountain. Several interpretive displays (written in German and English) along with a section of the trailing document the retreat of the glacier over the past century.

Our hike was steep but relaxing. We crossed streams, past open fields and woodlands. Wild blueberries grew along the trail and we ate our fill.

At the top of a distant mountain, I saw microscopic dots of snow that appeared to be moving! I looked closer, the dots jumped and moved in all directions along the edge. These tiny dots were actually sheep.

The trail meandered into the Lüsenstal and gently curved up a side valley allowing us glorious views of the valley below and we could see a little more of the glacier in the distance. More dots moved slowly on the valley floor, the more colorful dots were people and the slighter larger brown dots were grazing cows.

The view into the side valley was a jumble of boulders and stones. No trees grew in this place. The trail snaked jaggedly among the boulders and along the hillside to a building in the distance. This was another all, it did not look far, but it was still an hour or more away.

Instead, we meandered along the trail to a stream and crossed several footbridges.

Just beyond was a seasonal cabin. A gang of yearling cows stood nearby and deemed it important to search any and all hikers who passed. One cow was especially gentle and let us scratch behind her ears and pet her soft fur. This cow liked to lick people, hands, and backpacks.

The cow followed us to the cabin. Outside the cabin was a family of German hikers eating lunch. The cow took an immediate interest. A woman in the group thought the cow joining their picnic was great fun until the yearling, with bullet-like speed, stepped into the middle of their food and licked her sandwich. The woman squawked at the intrusion. The cow licked again. This time a man in the group clapped his hands and pushed the cow back a short way. The cow’s tongue, like an uncoiling rope, now reached for the morsel, but it was not able to reach the sandwich a third time. By now two others had joined the man and the invading cow was pushed out of the picnic.

It was great entertainment to see.

We walked down the rough mountainside and into the trees again. The sun now illuminated the opposite of the valley and I was astounded to see a great waterfall tumbling forth. It was hidden from view in the shade. It was still several kilometers away.

Stepping off the steep mountain and onto the green flat land of the valley I could appreciate just how deep the valley was and how high the glacier was above me. If I was the size of an ant looking up at a house, the edge of the glacier would be at the roof line.

We found a good spot to rest in an open field, next to a stream and enjoyed our sandwiches. We even soaked our feet in the stream, but only for a minute for the water was not just mountain water, it was glacial meltwater – and frigid!

Afterward, we walked quietly back to the car and enjoyed the complex simplicity of the valley. We even spied another tall waterfall in the distance.

The valley was intensely beautiful and worthy of our last day – on this trip – to Tirol. But, this a great place to explore, I will be back.

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