Day 34 (July 16, 2018 – Val Gardena, Italy: “Hohe Tauern Captivation”
It was about 5am when I awoke. Julie awoke another half-hour after that.
The big concern with today was the weather, and from looking outside, the weather looked tame so far though there were definitely clouds hanging over the familiar mountains seen from our apartment. According to the forecast, it would benefit us greatly if we could do the waterfall excursion at Umbaltal before the onset of thunderstorms and showers, which was predicted to occur around 11am.
It took some time to get ready as usual, but eventually by 7:25am the apartment was left clean, and we loaded up the car and took off.
The drive went pretty smoothly as we went back through the familiar wide sweeping valley going from Zell am See to Mittersill. Then, we turned and headed south after the roundabout at the pissing statues before going back down the familiar B108 route south towards the Felbertauern Tunnel, which were a pair a very long tunnels with a toll booth in between.
After paying the 11 euro toll, instead of just passing through like we did before (on the day we drove into Zell am See from Lienz), we actually made a stop at a giant unpaved pullout at a hairpin turn right next to the Rasthaus Hohe Tauern at 8:10am. There, we actually took the time to get out of the car and actually enjoy the beautiful scenery that was all around us.
Indeed, in this scene, we could now clearly see that there were three major waterfalls all spilling into a village below. One of the waterfalls looked like it was at the end of some kind of glacial cirque. While lots of cars were whizzing by on the hairpin turn that we stopped at, Julie and I were chilling out at the abandoned rasthaus trying to take in the panorama as best we could.
We really couldn’t get enough of this place, and the beautiful weather in the morning with some clouds to add a little mood mixed in with the morning sun definitely made things interesting. Indeed, it wouldn’t be until 8:30am until we got back in the car again, but then we were compelled to drive down to the village to see if we could improve our views of at least 2 of the 3 waterfalls here.
So by 8:35am, we made it down to the village down below, and it turned out that it wasn’t all that great though we did manage to get more frontal views of the middle waterfall. It appeared that there were hiking opportunities as well as some kind of road with a boom that might be only available to buses or some kind of shuttle to get deep into the Hohe Tauern for some more hiking.
In any case, we moved on and then resumed the scenic drive as we approached Matrei in Osttirol, where we then turned right and headed deeper into the Umbaltal Valley along the Isel River. Eventually, we’d make it to the village of Stroden and pay 6 euros to park at the trailhead for the Umbal Waterfalls at 9:25am.
There was a view of a tall and attractive waterfall in the distance from the first car park near where we paid the lady collecting money, and we assumed that it must be the Umbal Waterfalls. So we were under the impression that it would be a pretty quick walk to take it in, then move on towards the Dolomites, which was where we were to spend the next couple of nights.
However, we saw people were still driving so we got back into the car and repositioned it to see how far we could drive. Well, we didn’t get very far but we did find some shady spots to keep our cool things cool in the car a little while longer before the sun would get beyond the cliffs and trees and really heat things up for good.
I went ahead and got started with the hike and let Julie and Tahia figure out if they wanted to make the hike or stay in the car.
I didn’t bring water since I thought it would be short. And so I went into the fairly warm weather morning as the head of the valley was a scenic blend of rolling pastures flanked by giant cliffs, and the trail quickly started going uphill as it entered the ravine caused by the River Isel.
After going past some lower cascades (there was a spur trail that went closer to it that I decided I’d punt that for later), the trail continued its climb as I’d eventually get to some hamlet near the tall waterfall that we had seen from the car park earlier on.
It turned out that that waterfall was a side waterfall on the Kleinbach Stream though it was compelling enough to make me think that it was the Umbal Waterfalls. However, after getting past the village, I saw that the trail kept going and the signs now pointed further upstream on another climb along the River Isel. Plus, I could see parts of a crashing cascade that I figured must be the Umbal Waterfalls, and now I could see why the signs at the trailhead suggested the hike was 30 minutes (though I swore it seemed longer than that).
Next, I’d continue that uphill hike along with many groups of other Austrian visitors who passed me as I was taking my time taking photos and videos of the beautiful scenery around me. Even along the way, there was a bridge over another stream with a waterfall in plain sight that was signed Grossbachfall. That one was a multi-tiered twisting waterfall that just made it seem like the hits kept coming.
Eventually, I’d stop at the three viewpoints for the Umbalfalle, though after getting up to the third viewpoint overhanging the waterfall, I then decided to turn back as it seemed like the waterfalls started to flatten out further upstream from there. Most of the other hikers kept going, and it made me wonder if I’d miss out on something, but in any case, I targeted this waterfall, and I made my decision to head back down.
Ultimately at around 11am, I was back at the village where I saw Julie and Tahia already waiting to order an early lunch at the cafe along the trail. Julie liked the scenery enough here, and just wanted to bask in the moment for a bit.
After I wrapped up capturing more of that side waterfall on the Klenbach Stream, I then joined them for a course of a juicy wurst with sauerkraut as well as a fitness salad of a delicious grilled chicken that Tahia actually liked!
Ultimately when we had our fill of the food, we paid the rechnung (check), and then we headed back downhill towards the car. By this time, the clouds had definitely taken over, and I knew that it would probably just be a matter of time before this part of the valley would start getting rained on.
After I made a brief detour to check out the lower cascades (which turned out to not be that great), we were finally back at the car at around 12:25pm. Indeed, the takeaway from this excursion that the Umbalfalle experience was really more about the quality side waterfalls in addition to the crashing waterfalls on the River Isel. And taken together with the scenery, it was that combination that made this place memorable and a pleasant way to spend the morning.
But now, it was time to drive to the Dolomites as we’d briefly leave Austria and check out Northern Italy for the remainder of today and all day tomorrow before returning to Austria as we’d pretty much be going back on the beaten path and resume the “Rick Steves Trail” as the places we were hitting were covered in his guidebooks so we knew that there’d be a bit more foreign tourists than what we had been experiencing for about the past week in mostly Carinthia, parts of Styria, and the eastern parts of Tirol…