After coming down from the Grossglockner Hauptalpenstrasse (in more ways than one), and leaving Austria’s Hohe Tauern national park, we took a smaller highway toward Innsbruck, where we have a reservation. It was already midafternoon, but there was something else we want to see on these northern slopes of the Alps: the Krimml Wasserfall, the highest waterfalls in Europe, at 380 metres.
Along the way, we encountered something truly universal: construction delays on the highway. It’s hard to fault them, though, as Austria’s highways are so beautifully smooth and even, and the construction zones that constrict the highway are quite short, at least compared to Canada’s.
We arrived at the town of Krimml in about an hour, just after the official closing time. I parked in one of the farther parking lots to avoid paying charges, but I needn’t have bothered: the staff had gone. That’s one aspect about Austria that I have noticed in a lot of places: it has a lot of rules, and puts up signs about them, but as long as you’re not bothering anyone or breaking anything, it seems the Austrians don’t enforce them very strictly. They’re so gracious!
You can see the falling water from a long distance, a twisting, foaming, writhing white ribbon down the mountain. The park around the waterfall has a large, family-oriented “Water Wonderworld” interpretive centre. We didn’t bother—we wanted to see the falls themselves. There is an excellent hiking trail all along the way, past Water Wonderworld and several viewing points. There are kitschy stump-carvings, signs explaining the history of the trail, the hydrology of the waterfall and some associated legends, and of course souvenir shops, which were in the process of closing when we got there.
We climbed to the second viewing point that brings you close to the falling water itself. Now, this is no Niagara—it’s a narrow river, but it’s falling from an immense height. The trail will take you right up to the water. The roar washes away the possibility of conversation, and the spray soaks you. I was a little worried about my camera getting wet, so I only took a few pictures, then tucked it under my rain-jacket.
The sight is spectacular, especially from the bottom of one of the major cataracts—it’s really something special to see the water coming down, almost on top of you, from so high.
Nicolas, of course, climbed the rocks until he was almost taking a shower in the waterfall. I climbed only until I could get good pictures. Then I saw the first bit of litter I had seen in all of Austria to that point: a wet, torn paper wrapper from some treat. Again, it was hard to blame anyone for not picking up one bit of dropped paper on the slippery rocks above the rushing water.
Wet and happy, we retreated down the hiking trail as the sun went down behind the Alps. I paused on the way back at some of the signs to read about the legends that surround the waterfall. My favourite was the one about the hunter a couple of centuries back who was poaching in the Hohe Tauern (it seems the park goes way back). He was being pursued by the most relentless park warden I have ever heard of, but the hunter kept the rifle strapped to his back and the dead deer over his shoulders as he ran from mountain to valley, clear from one end of this huge park to the other.
Finally, just as the warden was about to catch up, the hunter arrived at the Krimml waterfall. He leaped into the curtain of falling water and disappeared, and no one ever found him or even his body.
We were fairly dry by the time we walked back to the town of Krimml and had pizza for supper in one of the smaller restaurants in town. We didn’t want to linger, but somehow we ended up ordering three large pizzas! It was way too much for us, so we managed to take away our leftovers.
The road out of Krimml toward Innsbruck led up more spectacular switchbacks. I got this one last look at the waterfall as the full moon rose.
Next post: a nerve-wracking mountainous drive in the dark, and our arrival in Innsbruck, the “city in the mountains.”