Karnischer Höhenweg - revisited (again)

I'm writing a guide for the Karnischer Höhenweg for Cicerone. Although I've walked it twice before there were still some gaps in my knowledge so this August I went back in Austria to walk it for a third time. It's a great walk. It's very popular with Germans and Austrians although without an English language guide, yet to be discovered by the Anglo-Saxon world. The walk, which takes about 9 days, follows the Italian/Austrian border through the Carnic Alps from Sillian in the west through to Arnoldstein, and the border with Slovenia, in the east.
Day 1 Karnischer Höhenweg

The Carnic Alps are a fabulous range of mountains providing, in a relatively small area, a range of different walking experiences. High and narrow they provide the perfect platform for views north into the Hohe Tauern and south into the Dolomites. Although much of the journey from west to east is spent following a ridge there are several beautiful limestone summits to climb and a chance for the more adventurous to try their hand at via ferrata.
Day 2 Karnischer Höhenweg
The via ferrata, climbs supported by fixed steel cables, date back to the First World War when Italians and the Austro-Hungarians fought each other in the Dolomites and the Carnic Alps for mountain supremacy. The legacy was a huge infrastructure of mountain walkways and climbs that, in the early post-war years and starting in the Carnic Alps, formed the basis for a new sport, a particularly accessible type of climbing, that is still going strong today.

The First World War front line went from one end of the Carnic Alps to the other and reminders of the conflict are everywhere. Whether it's the trenches along the ridge tops, the tunnels into the mountainside, or just heaps of rusty barbed wire the war has left a seemingly indelible mark on the landscape.
Day 3 Karnischer Höhenweg

The importance of the Carnic Alps as a walking destination has resulted in a dense network of trails and a superb walking infrastructure. Every type of long distance walk features here. The Europe-wide network is represented in the form of the E10; the transalpine Via Alpina (the yellow trail) also goes from one end to the other as does 03, one of Austria's national trails. Even the Karnischer Höhenweg developed on the Austrian side of the border has an Italian equivalent, the Travasata Carnica. With lots of mountain huts and other types of accommodation, it is possible to put together itineraries to meet a huge range of walking requirements. The Carnic Alps really are a walkers paradise.

We had a week and walked the whole of the route apart from the last 2 days. The first day was cold and we had some snow, but after that, we enjoyed great weather and filled in all key gaps in terms of my research. We learnt some important lessons as well.

Perhaps the most interesting one is how different things are between Austria and Italy. The Karnischer Höhenweg is an Austrian walk and Austrians tend to stick to the northern side of the border despite the fact that it remains completely open. Exploring the Italian side, particularly around the famous Monte Coglians added a whole new dimension to our trip. Travel just a few hundred metres across the border felt like entering a different world and great fun.

We also tried to experience the different types of accommodation and as well as the excellent mountain huts stayed in some farmhouse accommodation. Again, this added another dimension to the trip, enabled us to enjoy some really fabulous food, and is something I definitely want to do more of in the future.
Day 4 Karnischer Höhenweg

To enjoy the best of the Italian walking involved a particularly steep ascent along a route known as the Sentorio Riccardo Spinotti. It includes a cable-assisted climb of about 200m and when I did it last year I was very pleased with myself but was just a little concerned that most people would find it a little intimidating. Although I'm not sure if my wife Christine qualifies as 'most people' but she loved it and on a busy sunny bank holiday weekend the range of different walkers making the ascent and descent was really impressive. As well as great fun, it means that you can stay at the Refugio Marinelli, which based on my not inconsiderable exposure to mountain huts is the best one in the Alps - absolutely wonderful.
Day 5 Karnischer Höhenweg
Walking from the Italian side, we also spent time in the Open Air War Museum near the Plöckenpass. The whole of the Karnischer Höhenweg (part of which is also known as the Peace Way) is like an like an open air museum, but the trench works and other remains are particularly dense around the Kliener Pal and the Freikofel. It was also tough walking and after 10 hours 30 minutes, I had to accept that my plans for that day had been just a little on the ambitious side.
Day 6 Karnischer Höhenweg

I'm afraid the guide to the Karnischer Höhenweg won't be ready until 2018 but please get in touch in the meantime if you have any questions. My itinerary this year was as follows.

Day 1 - after arriving from London the previous day, staying at San Candido we got a bus to Sexton, took the lift up to the ridge and walked to Obstansersee Hütte.  An amazing ridge walk, atmospheric in the clouds amongst the trenches - the walk took about 7 hours.

Day 2 - from the Obstansersee Hütte we returned to the ridge and climbed Pfannspitze (2678 metres), the highest 'compulsory' summit on the Karnischer Höhenweg. After having lunch at the tiny Standschützen Hütte we walked to the Porzehütte - this walk took about 7 hours.

Day 3 - perhaps the best walk on the whole Karnischer Höhenweg, this perfect ridge walk takes nearly 9 hours and finishes at the Hochweißsteinhaus.

Day 4 - here we left the 'Austrian' itinerary and crossed the border to the south of the Wolayseehütte, did the big climb up the Riccardo Spinotti and finished about 8 hours later at the Refugio Marinelli.

Day 5 - the big 10 hour plus day where we went through the Open Air War museum and finished at the Casera Pramosio. There are lots of walking options around here and a more sensible itinerary would have involved one of them and split the day with a stop at the auberge at the Plöckenpass.

Day 6 - I made a slightly hairy climb over the Hohen Trieb and Christine, knackered from the previous day took a lower level option. We stayed at the Straniger Alm farmhouse accommodation with great food - the walk took about 7 hours
Day 7 Karnischer Höhenweg

Day 7 - an easy 6 hour walk almost to Nassfeld which includes the lovely walk along the south flank of the Trogkofel. Instead of making the knee crunching descent to the pass we took the lift all the way down to valley and caught a train to Villach returning to London next day.

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