Hiking trails in the Carnic Alps – Karnische Höhenweg
On the Trail of History
The „Karnische Höhenweg“ is a long distance hiking trail. It starts at the Tyrolian town of Sillian and leads 150 kilometers along the border between Austria and Italy, through the Karnian alps, all the way to Villach. Beautiful nature and mountain tops, many of which are more than 3000 meters high, guarantee for astonishing views. The trail itself is at an altitude between 1800 and 2200 meters above sea level. To complete the whole trail, you should plan about 7-10 days, depending on your fitness level. However, there are some possibilities to leave the trail earlier.
First, you need to consider, whether you want to spend your nights outside or in mountain huts. If you decide to stay in huts and also eat there, you basically don’t need much. Hiking clothes, shoes, rain jacket and pants, a light sleeping bag for the hut, water bottles which can hold at least 3 liters in total, some snacks for the go and finally a backpack to put all the stuff. If you plan to stay outside, expand these essentials with a cooker, warm sleeping bag, tent or bivibag and other items you personally need.
The town of Sillian, our starting point, can easily be reached by train. You can check tickets and further information on connections on the website of the Austrian Federal Railway Service, www.oebb.at. I would recommend getting a map of the are in advance to check out the route and plan ahead. You might find some peaks you want to climb. The tour starts right out of the Station in Sillian. After hiking about 1 Kilometer along a paved road, the climb of roughly 1400 vertical meters up to the first hut, Sillianer Hütter, starts. There you can take a rest or even spend the night. After completing this first steep climb we are on top of the Karnian Alps. Basically, an enormous ridge with peaks all along representing the border between Austria and Italy. Huts are all along the way. There are usually 10-15 kilometers in between. The longest section between two huts is 20 kilometers. So you can always find food and shelter in a hut. Basically, you can do the whole hike by just jumping from one hut to the next.
About War and Bloodshed
This trail leads along the border between Austria and Italy, which used to be the front line in World War 1. On the ridges, the soldiers dug numerous trenches to take cover from enemy fire. The attackers always waited for favoring conditions. Usually, they would start an attack at nightfall, when those hiding in the bunkers could not see them coming. Another tactic was to attack during days of dense fog. When you can barely see your hand in front of your face, suddenly, an attacker would step out of the white wall and open fire. There was intense fighting going on between 1915 and 1918. The much-battled frontline between Austria-Hungary and Italy used to lead right along where this marvelous hiking path leads today. The trenches and bunker complexes from World War 1 are still intact and can be visited as well as numerous memorials. It is advised to not leave the path since there might be some collapsed bunkers which cannot be seen from the surface. There have been cases of people falling into deep holes of former bunkers.
Lakes along the way
Alpine lakes are among the most beautiful bodies of water you can find around the globe. At least if you are a mountain person. Along the trail of “Karnischer Höhenweg” there are some amazing examples of these. The first one is “Obstanser See”. A beautiful lake right next to two peaks, “Roßkopf” and “Pfannspitze”. A little hut right invites to take a break and enjoy lunch or even spend the night. “Wolayersee” is another lake along the way. At the bottom of a huge wall, this lake offers everything an outdoor junkie needs. Next to it, there even is a huge snowfield, which expands over a length of about 700 meters. Even during the warm summer months. In the “Wolayerseehütte”, the dining area is built so that you can enjoy the view over the like while having delicious local food such as “Kässpätzle” or “Kaiserschmarren”.
Where to sleep
There are numerous huts all along the way which offer great hospitality. Apart from sleeping places those huts always offer great homemade meals as well as a great company of fellow hikers. An evening there never gets boring. Spending time over some Austrian beers, sharing stories about previous adventures makes hiking such routes what they are. The longest distance between huts is approximately 20 kilometers. Springs all along the way provide fresh mountain water.
If you prefer a more adventurous hiking experience, you could also carry a bivy bag or a tent. In Austria, it is more or less allowed to camp above the tree line. Nothing beats going to sleep under thousand stars and waking up with the first rays of the sun tickling your nose. Sunset and sunrise are spectacular up in the High Alps. However, make sure to leave any play just like you found it. Take all your waste with you and keep the mountains clean. They are a precious piece of nature we need to preserve.
Never alone up there
The path leads nice and smoothly through the landscape. Sometimes the calmness of nature is interrupted by the noise of a marmot warning its friends of the approaching humans. Those little mammals can be heard over long distances when they are whistling their warning. Take your time and follow the sound. You might find them sitting on top of a boulder, standing on their back feet checking out the area. These mountains are home to numerous Chamois and Capricorn. Watch out, they might be around the corner right on the track.
Get your gear and friends together and explore beautiful nature and history in the High Alps! Experience Austria and Italy from their best sides!