Majestic Mountains And An Enchanted Forest – The Schwarzwasser Valley, Austria

by Peter Engelmann, July 28. 2022

The famous Kleinwalsertal is a popular tourist destination in winter and summer. It belongs to the province of Vorarlberg. The Kleinwalsertal belongs to Austria, but you get only there from Germany. It is an Austrian enclave. The name Walser refers to history: First Settlement came from the South, from Switzerland. The valley with many scenic places begins near Oberstdorf. The main villages in the high mountain area are Mittelberg, Hirscheeg and Riezlern. At the end of the head of the valley is Baad. From the Kleinwalsertal, many trails lead into beautiful and spectacular high valleys with mountain pastures. One of them is the Schwarzwasser Valley. This fantastic valley offers many excellent motives for photographers and videographers. It’s a must-see for anybody interested in nature due to its outstanding geological formations and rich flora. There is a peat bog on the way to the Melköde Alm.

Wilderness Around The Ifen

A good starting point for a trip into the Scharzwasser Valley is the parking spot near the Ifen ropeway and the Auenhütte. A mountain road connects the bottom station of the Ifenbahn, Hirschegg and Riezlern. There is an excellent public transportation system in Kleinwalsertal. Buses come often, and there is a bus connection to Oberstdorf in Germany. A good alternative if you don’t want to use the car. The trail starts at the end of the parking space on the left side of the station. It leads to a lake. That lake is a reservoir for the snow-making facilities in winter. This lake shimmers in magical green and blue colours.

Near the trail between the lake and the mountain pasture Melköde (where you can eat and drink during the summer) lies a mountain forest. It’s an impressive pristine mountain forest on the left side of the trail. In some places, massive rocks look like ancient relics. Even though it is very comfortable to walk there – and of course, there are often many hikers here – it is a feeling of entering the wilderness.

The intimidating Hoher Ifen is towering above the valley. This mountain is another great sight and a very interesting geological phenomenon. The mountain is more than 2200 metres high. The rough table-mountain form is quite unusual for the alps. It is a spectacular sight with its wild and unruly rock face. It is easy to imagine that our ancestors might have seen it as a holy mountain or a ritual place. It is an option to go there, when there is not a blue sky but some clouds and mist. When shrouds of mist climb up the mountains or clouds play around, the wild nature of the Ifen region comes even more to light.

Hoher Ifen Plateau

The Pastures

The trail slowly ascends. If you are interested in taking pictures of the mountain-forest, there are many motives along the trail. At one point, a small path to the left leads to a sort of column with an icon. It’s worth taking a minute and getting there. The column is on a little hill in the mountain overlooking a wild area with some further great sighs.

Some minutes later, back on the main hike the landscape opens up. If you come here on a day when the last rain clouds disappear and there is an interplay of sunlight and clouds this is like a scene from “The Lord Of The Rings”. The waterfall behind the pasture adds to the impression. These mountain pastures are unique since they belong partly to the peat bog. Cultivation and farming goes on on here for a very long time. The Melköde mountain farm goes back to 1566. It has a long history, and there were also catastrophic events. Avalanches destroyed buildings a couple of times. On one occasion, 20 people died. The wilderness is always close, and one must respect nature all the time.

Alpine Meadow Near Melköde, Schwarzwasser Valley, Kleinwalsertal

The pastures are on a plateau within the Schwarzwasser Valley at an altitude of 1350 metres above sea level. That allows special light conditions and intense colours. The meadows are great motives.

Hiking towards the Schwarzwasserhütte

After a stop at the Melköde farming house and inn, the trail enters a more steep terrain. It’s not difficult to go further, but it is now a different type of trail and demands some endurance. The trail is in excellent shape, and one can only praise the fantastic work of the people caring for this great path into the mountains. But keep in mind it’s alpine terrain and not any longer a driveway. There are some sections where attention is necessary. When it is raining, this trail is slippery.

The quality of this valley is also because of the climate and weather conditions. The temperature is moderate in summer. There is a lot of rain in the summer and snow in the winter. These are good conditions for unique vegetation with a variety of plants. It’s still a reservoir of many protected plants.

Schwarzwasserhütte, Alpine Lodge

The trail opens up again, and the rustically Schwarzwasserhütte comes into sight. That is a great place to take more pictures with fantastic views. On the left side, there are impressive grass mountains and on the other side, there is again the Ifen plateau. The Schwarzwasserhütte goes back to 1914. The German Alpenverein Sektion Schwaben runs this cosy alpine lodge. The Schwarzwasserhütte is a starting point for hikes toward the mountain peaks. Bear in mind that this is high alpine terrain and for trips to the Hoher Ifen sure-footedness is a must. But even a few metres from the alpine lodge, there are great opportunities to take pictures or videos. The alpine lodge is open in winter, too. There is accommodation too and a nice and competent team. Reservations are necessary.

But even if it is only a short stay there is enough time to take in that heavenly scenery. This is both a landscape of eternal beauty and the roughness of the wilderness.

Grassy Mountain

The Kleinwalsertal has a lot to offer. More spectacular destinations are the Breitenbachklamm on the German side and the Gottesackerplateau. This plateau, a geological formation is on the other side of the Hoher Ifen. Note: There is also a hike called “Schwarzwassertal” which leads down from the Auenhütte to Mittelberg in some guides. This is interesting too and is another gorge.

MAGIC ATMOSPHERE ABOVE THE CLOUDS: HIGH-FOG IN THE ALPS

Ideas for landscape photography in the colder season

Autumn is just around the corner. This means the days are getting shorter. The colours change. In some regions like the Alps there is more often high fog, a weather pattern where hills and peaks sometimes are above the clouds.

Fog is interesting for photographers in many ways. It adds mood and atmosphere to the pictures. Fog is useful in landscape pictures to add structure. Of course if the fog is very strong and there is nothing but a white wall it is an obstacle.

Misty days occur mostly in autumn, spring and winter. The change of temperature and moisture creates fog. There are a lot of interesting phenomena connected with fog. Sometimes it is a thin veil above a meadow. On other occasions there are thick layers of fog and the fog lasts the whole days. Sometime the fog is moving, sometimes not. In time-lapse videos the movement of fog is somehow similar to water. The shrouds of mists “float” along mountain peaks.

Since misty air is colder the fog can “fall” like a water-fall for example when fog floats over a ridge into a valley. Fog begins to form often before sunset and lasts in the morning hours. When the sun shines the mist often disappears during the day. However in river valleys like the Danube valley the mist can last much longer. It is often significantly colder in these day.

Fog is more often in regions with wetter soil like bog or wet meadows. It happens in summer too. Shrouds of mist appear after hail showers or after thunderstorms too. In July the first mornings with fog are early harbingers of the changing season. As the days become shorter and the nights getting colder misty mornings happen more often.

Its often hard to say if the fog lifts or disappears during the day. There are many different weather conditions. Fog can be also dangerous when it suddenly forms and the visibility turns to near zero. Drivers are surprised and can’t see a thing. Since conditions on a foggy day can always change quickly it is good for drivers to slow down particularly on motorways and highways when a layer of fog appears.

If the weather is cold fog can lead to hoar frost. Ice crystals form and surround twigs and trees. This a particularly interesting phenomenon.

There is one form of fog which is great for photographers if they are in a regions with hills or mountains. Mostly in autumn there are days with high fog. This happens when a thermal inversion occurs. This means you have low ground temperatures and a layer of higher temperatures above that prevent the convection currents. These convection currents usually mix in the atmosphere. You can think of a thermal inversion like a saucepan lid. It keeps the colder moist air layer with fog from rising. This happens a lot in basins and during periods of high pressure weather when there is not much wind.

The video below was taken in the morning of February 28, 2021 with a Canon 5d Mark2. The time-lapse shows the movement of the shrouds of mist above the hillside between the Hohen Peissenberg and the peaks of the Bavarian mountains. There is a quick change in visibility and a change in lighting condition. For video it is good to go into manual mode and fix aperture before shooting.

At the border between the layer of cold air and the warm air on top the cold air layer there are very interesting effects which are useful for pictures and videos. The challenge is to predict where that border is: Where does the blue sky break through the thick layer of mist? And when does it happen? Actually this is a lot of try and error.

Knowing some good places is “money in the bank”. You might want to get to a hill or mountain which is easily accessible and high enough that you can get above the cold air layer with mist. In Germany, Bavaria the Hohen Peissenberg with its famous old weather observatory is a good spot. Mostly because there is a road to the top of this mountain. The top of the Hohen Peissenberg has an elevation of 987 metres. However on some days the layer of mist will be above your heads and you need to find a higher mountain.

The pictures were taken on a spring day in 2021. That day there was a typical thermal inversion. In the morning the Hohen Peissenberg mountain was in the middle of a thick layer of high fog. But in the following hours the sun broke through and there was a very interesting scenery with fast changing moods and impressions.

The Forest between mist and light

Hoar Frost after a cold night in the mist. When the mist disappears the whitened trees create a unique scenery
Looking towards the Allgäu Mountains

The wilderness near the top of the Hohenpeissenberg Mountain. The fog creates an otherworldly atmosphere.

Landscape photography in spring: Many shades of green

The end of winter and the beginning of spring is always a special time. Nature awakes. It’s a great time for photographers too. After a long time where we see mostly brown and grey in the landscape, there is an explosion of green and yellow. However, you have to act fast to capture the many shades of green.

The beginning of spring is not the same every year. Sometimes it happens earlier but in some years when it’s cold and there is still snow spring comes late. Usually, you see the first plants already in February on the Northern Hemisphere: Snowdrop plants and later on cowslips appear even there is still snow. The Yellow forsythia is a herald of spring. But it’s still a long way. However often in April, everything happens very fast. Meadows become green and yellow again. In some areas, the Meadows turn into an intense yellow when the dandelion is blooming.

The motives are easy to capture. You don’t need expensive gear. However, it is great if you have a camera which shoots in raw mode. There are much more opportunities to play around with the shades of green later in post-production.

The different phases of the spring season

The most interesting part happens when the trees are sprouting. Only for a short time, we see what is called the “fresh green” in nature. It’s the time and weeks after spring awakening. Later in May, we see mostly a darker green in gardens and forests. The foliage doesn’t show so many different shades of green then. Thus, landscape photographers have to be quick and be ready when the right moment comes.

Cowlips are among the plants which appear early in spring.
Fruit tree blossom in April. The most trees are still without leaves.
The nights are still cold. It looks like spring is still far away but within days there will be graduated shades of radiant yeallow and green. Spring awakening is already in full progress.

In the Northern Hemisphere the growing season begins in the South as Italy or Greece and arrives later in Northern countries. Farmers know a lot about the dynamics in nature and there are scientific parameters too. The most important parameter is the grassland temperature sum (GTM). The sum is based on an equation. If the sum is 200 Celsius the farm work begins.

If you want to learn about the beginning of the growing season check with your local weather services website. There is often information about the progress of spring there. If you are used to read weather data there are also specialized weather websites for farmers etc, for example https://www.agweb.com/weather in the US.

Weather, of course, plays a crucial role. You will see fast changes in nature after a period of rain in the spring. These are often the best moments to shoot pictures.

Sunlight is good to capture the many shades of green in Spring. However, a rainy day can be very interesting too since there are a lot of different moods. Morning time and the time before sunset is often the best time for shooting pictures of blooming trees.

The graduated shades of radiant green

Pictures of fresh green mostly don’t need a lot of post-production. However, some filters and development can help to create stronger differences between the shades of green.

End of April: Often the best time to capture the graduated shades of green. Use the luminance panel in photoshop or lightroom to add details to the many shades of green. Be careful with saturation because the colours are already very strong.
Colors of foliage change very quickly in spring. The “fresh green” lasts only for a short ime.

One week later there is a different shade of green
It’t the first days when trees are spouting you see these radiant colors.
Birch trees have very distinct colors.
A rainy day can very interesting for landscape photography
First Week Of May: Colors are darker now. It still looks great but its already a completely different mood.

Where to shoot

It’s good to know where you can find the “many shades of green” in Spring. The best thing is to have a plan where to go long before the season begins. Generally, you might want to look for a forest with a huge variety of trees, a mixed forest. If you don’t have nature reserves or these type of forest around you can do also great pictures in landscape gardens, English-style. Mountain forests with many fir trees can also be interesting but there is, of course, less variety of colours there. Look also for meadows which are very natural and where there is a variety of flowers and plants. The pictures above were taken in Germany, Upper Bavaria between the river Lech and the lake Ammersee.

Peter Engelmann, May 8, 2020

https://stormypictures.de/peter-engelmann/

The Magic Pools Of Oberstaufen: Buchenegger Wasserfälle

In the South-West of Bavaria is one of the most spectacular places of the Northern Alps located: The Buchenegger Wasserfälle with two huge turquoise pools of water and a strong waterfall of crystal clear water. It is really an impressing sight and an unforgettable experience.

The Buchenegger Waterfall is a wonderful motive for any photographer. Of course, on weekends during summer there are a lot of people around. This is because it’s not only something to watch but there is a five-meters deep pool where people can swim. Most of them, however, leave quickly since even in July and August the water is pretty cold. Furthermore, there are courageous young people who do a 30metre high jump from above the waterfall. It is a bit like Acapulco.

The Buchenegger Wasserfälle is part of an impressing canyon of the river Weissach. The Weissach river is coming from the Hochgrat-Mountain and cascades between two villages Buchenegg and Steibis. Further down the river reaches Oberstaufen, which is a famous and excellent tourist location. There are many hotels and attractions there. The landscape isn’t usually as dramatic as in other parts of the Bavarian Alps. Therefore the canyon of the Weissach and the Buchenegger Wasserfälle is an extreme contrast adding to an unforgettable experience.

Oberstaufen can be reached by train or by car. The trains commute frequently. Oberstaufen is located in the West of the Allgäu not far from Kempten and the Bodensee. It is also close to the Austrian border.




There are two paths leading to the Buchenegger Wasserfälle. One path begins near the parking-space in Buchenegg (a very narrow mountain road is leading there and it is crowded on some days – thus it is not recommended particularly for drivers who are not experienced to drive in mountain areas. Better use the parking spots in Steibis on the other side). There is another reason for this particularly for people who are not experienced hikers. The path is in very good shape but it is very steep. If you are afraid of heights or don’t feel safe walking in such rocky areas use the path coming from Steibis. This is much shorter and is most of the time an easy walk.

You can also use the bus from Oberstaufen to Steibis. The path begins near the stop “Berggaststätte Hirsch”. Before the path enters the canyon, there are two lovely farmed alps. One of them is the Alm Neugreuth, the other is the Alpe Neugschwend. These are very good places to rest and grab some tasty food before hiking down the canyon.

 


Entering the canyon is deeply impressing from the first moment. It is not only the white waters, the cliffs and the waterfall: There is a primaeval forest growing inside the canyon with a huge variety of trees and plants. This adds to the scenery and offers much more attractive motives.

The best time for catching the fantastic atmosphere is during summer even there are a lot of people around. The morning hours are a convenient time to do pictures because it isn’t so much crowded early in the day.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you want to do pictures of the waterfall and the pool: Your camera will often pointing southwards. Thus, in the middle of the day there is backlighting and strong contrast. Furthermore if you get closer to the waterfall or the wind gets stronger there is a misty spray of the waterfall. It happens easily that there are tiny droplets on the lens. Therefore it is good to always check the camera and clean the lens. Of course be careful because the terrain can be slippery.