John Gillham

Award-winning travel/outdoor writer, illustrator and photographer

Ellmau and the Wilder Kaiser Mountains

Nicola and I spent our first foreign holiday together in Going, a small Tyrolean village set beneath the magnificent rock spires that form the Wilder Kaiser (the wild emperor) mountains. In July this year we went back; this time to the slightly larger next-door village of Ellmau. Ellmau was hot - 33 degrees centigrade and it would rarely go below 27 all week.  

Our first foray would be a gentle one - up to the Hartkaiser using the little train. This side of the valley is full of ski ironmongery, most of it dormant for the summer. However easy gradients and the occasional forest for shade make the ‘ridge-walk’ pleasant. Across the valley the Wilder Kaiser look fantastic. Snow patches spread across scree slopes beneath the jagged temples of limestone.

Later in the week we decided to walk to the Gruttenhutte, which lies on a craggy knoll beneath the crags of Ellmauer Halt, the highest peak of the range. Initially the walk was easy, in the cool of beautiful woodland. The path steepened as it prepared to leave the woodland and soon we were trudging up open slopes of sun-baked white limestone. The route zig-zagged up the Gruttenkopf. Two pints of perspiration later we could see it - the hut - perched on a crag ahead. By now mist and low cloud were swirling around the crags, which came in and out of view. Many walkers go onwards through the pass known as Ellmauer Tor, a route that is punctuated by via ferrata (iron ladders). We headed back down on stony tracks that zig-zagged down through forest and cow pastures. Our hotel served coffee and cake at 4:30 and Nicola doesn’t like to miss such treats.

The wonderful city of Salzburg is within easy reach and well worth seeing for its Mozart connections, its wonderful narrow streets and its formidable fortress on a rock. On a smaller scale but still fascinating there’s the Inn valley fortress town of Kufstein and Hitler’s favoured resort Berchtesgaden. Bus travel along the valley from Soll to Going is free with a hotel guestcard. This even gets you to the beautiful Hintersteiner See (lake), where you can chill out or start a walk onto the Wilder Kaiser.

We stayed in the Hochfilzer Hotel in the centre of Ellmau and I cannot praise them enough. The room had a lovely view, the food was excellent - they even threw in a packed lunch for the price - and the staff were so helpful, always with smiles on their faces.

Photos: Above right: Ellmau church backed up  by the Wilder kaiser Mountains

Below right: the Gruttenhutte

Click here for Hotel Hochfilzer’s

Wilder Kaiser  website