The Pfunderer Höhenweg / Alta Via di Fundres
Late in the fall of 2008, we found ourselves looking at one of the best ridgeline trails we had ever seen. We were trail running in the Zillertal Alpen above Bruneck and wanted to see a summit we know locals frequent for post work exercise, the Sambock. Once on top, the trail dropping off the north side of the summit came into view and for as far as our eye could see, stayed right on the high ridgeline until it disappeared into some higher mountains.
“What is this trail?” Maps would need consulting. The trail is the Pfunderer Hohenweg (Alta Via di Fundres in Italian) and stretches from Sterzing (Vipiteno in Italian) to Bruneck (Brunico). While traditionally done as a 5-6 day trek with huts available each night, we decided to see if the whole trail was as good as the first section for running. In June 2009 we set out with our friend Andreas Irsara to run its approximate 75 kilometer distance – but in 3 days.
Starting in Bruneck, we once again climbed to the summit of the Sambock where the trail becomes mostly runnable for the entire first day. Sticking to the same ridgeline we had seen the year before, the trails goes up and over numerous peaks all while providing unobscured views south to the Dolomites and the high alpine, glacier covered Zillertal Alpen peaks to the north. The trail continues like this for several kilometers before climbing a small pass, La Portella, and then a drop to the Teifrastenhutte (Rifugio Lago della Pausa). This would traditionally be a stopping point and for us it was, but only for a pasta, we would continue on to the Edelrauthutte.
This section of trail gets into some higher elevation and we discovered that the reason we were seeing no one on the trail was because much of it in the coming day would be snow covered. The winter of 2009 was a massive one and all the passes from here forward were still buried. But there are advantages to this – direct lines and fast descents. Cold, soaked feet seem a small price to pay.
Once at the Edelrauthutte we were greeted by Anton Weissteiner, quite possibly the kindest hut warden we ever had the pleasure of meeting. We were his guests for the night, and having been open only one day, we were able to take advantage of his early season enthusiasm. A four course meal satisfied our 33 kilometer effort. Seeing how disgustingly full we were, Anton saw fit to provide us with multiple glasses of grappa to aid in digestion, it did little for our stuffed guts but we did sleep well.
The next morning we set out on a modified route. Anton warned us of too much snow to cross a pass where ladders must be climbed. But a variation to the trail was no problem and we were on our way to the Bodenalm Hut and a quick late morning strudel before once again entering the high snow covered alpine areas. For us the second day was both roaring hot and ice cold. Dropping down low above the Pfundertal had us on south facing slopes and sweating. From here we climbed and climbed until we were on north facing slopes to climb the pass below the Punta Riva. In a completely white world we began questioning why we were doing this, in running shoes and lycra. Soaked and a bit frozen, we reached the col and were rewarded with a direct, snow covered line to the Brixner Hut 400 meters below. Minutes later, we were drying out and drinking coffee.
So far the trail, the terrain and the huts had been perfect. One day remained for our itinerary and it looked to be a different kind of terrain as we would be lower in elevation before dropping to Sterzing. But first more snow covered passes, the Rauhtaljoch is the morning’s climb to 2800 meters, and here we were once again in a white world all the way down to the Lago Selvaggio which was still frozen solid. Luckily all the snow was hard enough for us to stay on top of which actually made for faster speeds. Yet another pass above the lake before an enormous drop to the Simile Mahdalm, a small farmers home which looks deceptively like a hut but is in fact a working farm. And here the Pfunderer Hohenweg began to fall apart. Until this point the trail, while even snow covered, was very obvious. But now the trail became a faint goat path and climbed as steep as any trail I have ever seen. Vertical dirt is not easy to run. But we gained elevation quickly like this and soon were on top of the final pass, the Passo di Trens (Trenserjoch).
Overall the Pfunderer Hohenweg gets a B. For running it is perhaps a bit steep in places, but overall very runnable and high quality. For hiking, it is beautiful although there are many other trails a bit more interesting. The area around the Edelrauthutte is the best in terms of mountain environment while the rest of the trail is very indicative of the the lower Zillertal Alpen Group. One thing I realized after doing this trail was that I had seen the region, from the lower slopes with goat and cow farms to high rocky ridges and alpine terrain. The huts were superb, the food fantastic and being a point to point, a rewarding journey. The Pfunderer Hohenweg is recommended.