The History of the Wolfklamm
„The most beautiful gorge in Tyrol”, is how it is described in tourist board brochures. Wolfsklamm Gorge is undoubtedly one of the most impressive natural wonders of our country.
The name may stem from a time when wild animals such as lynx, bear and wolf were still roaming our forests. Perhaps the gorge, at a time when these animals were increasingly hunted down by man and driven to seek shelter, proved to be a sanctuary for the last wolves in the country, in the same way that last Tyrolean bear was shot near the gorge in 1898.
Wolfsklamm Gorge was sculpted by forces of nature over millions of years. The wild waters of the Stallenbach, Gamsbach and Georgenbergerbach mountain rivers carved increasingly deeper inroads into the limestone of the Karwendel Mountains, forming this extraordinary gorge. Thousands of visitors marvel at its rugged beauty every single year. Over 65,000 visited in 2016 alone.
But that has not always been the case. The name “Wolfsklamm” represented something not only terrifying and forbidding to people in earlier times. They feared, above all, the destructive force of the floodwaters, which shot out of the narrow ravine time and again after severe storms in the Stallental Valley, causing immense damage to the village below.
The Kneipp Health Spa first began in the Wolfsklamm
With the onset of tourism in around 1900, a special enthusiasm and affinity for nature developed amongst visitors from the cities seeking rest and relaxation. The opening of the first Kneipp Health Spa of the country in our village (1890) - the most important healing method recommended by Pastor Kneipp was fresh air and cold water - encouraged interest in the Wolfsklamm. The journey to what it is today, however, has a very chequered history.
The “Tiroler Bote - Tyrolean Messenger” reported of a way through the Wolfsklamm Gorge in 1895. This “way” was most likely the so-called, "Leo-Steig", which skirted the actual ravine along to the west and was named after a Benedictine Padre from Fiecht, Leo Bechler, who advocated development of the Wolfsklamm and encouraged construction of wooden walkways.
The First Footpath
The footpath was created in the gorge in 1901. It was not possible, however, to walk through the entire gorge at that time. The two high waterfalls marked the end of the line for the enthusiastic visitors.
The village history book account: ”The opening of the first path into the gorge took place on 11th August 1901. Many invited guests, led by the Town Band, walked to the gorge, where knaves dressed in full gala uniform awaited the illustrious guests and a foreman spoke the welcoming address. The mining galleries were decorated and illuminated with torches. The stone tunnels were open for inspection and refreshments could be enjoyed in a “wine canteen”. All participants walked through the 300 metre long gorge, along bridges with galleries, rock paths and makeshift footbridges, secured by railings and wire cables. The works cost around 1,200 Gulden. The gorge was secured by a door, for which the keys were deposited for collection in the taverns of Stans, the last house before the gorge and at St. Georgenberg. The admission price to the gorge was 40 and 20 Heller per person.
Devastating effects of the flood in 1912
The joy and enthusiasm for the developments made to the gorge came, however, to an abrupt end, when a terrible flood destroyed this unique attraction in July 1912. Huge water masses destroyed the trails and flooded the village and fields, right up to the railway station. Railway services were disrupted for a lengthy period, due to water destabilising the tracks.
During the First World War and the years thereafter, neither the workers nor financial resources were available to reconstruct the trail through the gorge. It was to be another two decades before people dared to attempt making a new path. The owner of the "Tirolerheim" tavern and board member of the “Stans Beautification Association”, Karl Prinz, worked tirelessly for the re-opening of the gorge.
Festive Re-Opening in 1936
The festive re-opening of the new path took place on 4th October 1936, next to the grotto at the entrance to the gorge. Visitors could now walk through the entire gorge along this extremely bold and spectacularly designed trail. In addition to the two centuries-old pilgrimage routes to St. Georgenberg via Wenf or Maria Tax and the Kirchfahrterweg Trail, a new and particularly attractive path now led up to Tyrol’s most important place of pilgrimage. Prinz himself described the new route as follows: ”Stans, a splendid summer vacation destination with magnificent excursion opportunities to Tratzberg Castle, St. Georgenberg and Stanser Joch with a wonderful, panoramic view far into the Alps, is home to the pearl of the whole village, with its Wolfsklamm. Stans Beautification Association has made it accessible to the public. A well-marked trail leads via the new Church- Neuwirt-Tirolerheim to the most magnificently scenic spot in Kreuzbühel. Continue along a beautiful forest path to the entrance to the gorge, through which the Stallenbach Brook flows and lively trout play in the sunshine. The trail now leads over a wooden footbridge, alongside the rushing waters of the brook and on to the actual entrance to Wolfsklamm Gorge. Veritable Gates of Hell. After passing these you reach three wooden footbridges along a trail hewn from rock and two large caves. In the nadirs of the emerald green or deep blue waters, with rocks as high as castles to the left and right, mined galleries with springs and tuff formations, all picturesquely framed by shrubs and mosses. We continue along a bridge and up two stone paths to the first great waterfall, whose waters swirl and thunder over rocks and an old beech trunk, before spuming into the depths below. Along a steeper rocky trail and over daringly constructed paths and bridges, you cross the wildest section of the tempestuous Sturzbach Brook. What you see there will exceed even your wildest imagination. It is the kind of nature whose diversity is not easy to find. The powerful impressions of this natural spectacle increases during the final 50 metre ascent alongside these thunderous water masses. Now we head through a beautiful forest, past the idyllic wood mill and on to St. Georgenberg.“
Ten years later, however, the forces of nature struck mercilessly all over again.
The floods of July 27th 1946 destroyed large parts of the trail facility, after which the flood of the century exactly four years later in 1950, took the rest. The village history book account: ”A terrible thunderstorm with hail passed over the eastern Karwendel Mountains on St. Anna’s Day in 1950. The otherwise so peaceful village stream swelled to rushing, wild waters, which overflowed their banks in the lower section and flooded the adjacent land. All bridges and paths in close vicinity of the stream disappeared and 4-5 metre high pile of scree developed just below the weir at “Forcheter“. Many houses had to be evacuated.
The waters fumed like a witch’s cauldron in the narrow ravine. Mighty trees whirled like matchsticks through the gorge and air. Paths and bridges were torn down, the river banks slipped away, the valley floor strewn with rubble, trees and timber. It was possible to access the area afterwards by making detours and climbing sections. Helpers were presented with a wire mast and torn cables, where the large power station had been only the day before. The ruined turbine shaft and paddle wheel were left to jut from the debris there for many years to come. Only next door in the Lourdes Grotto, however, the picture of the Virgin Mary remained unscathed.
Avalanches and Rockfalls
Der Hochwasserkatastrophe nicht genug, donnerte im darauffolgenden Winter die Jahrhundertlawine (21.1.1951) vom Stanserjoch auch in die Klamm und vernichtete neben Unmengen von Bäumen auch den oberen Bereich des Klammweges.
Fünf Jahre nach diesen zerstörerischen Naturkatastrophen ging man nun ein drittes Mal daran, die Klamm wieder begehbar zu machen. Diesmal wurde bei der Anlage des neuen Weges auf mehr Sicherheit und größeren Abstand zum Wasser Bedacht genommen. Man wählte auch an manchen Stellen eine andere Trassenführung und setzte besondere technische Maßnahmen (Felssprengungen, Schrämm- und Bohrarbeiten, Ausbruch eines Tunnels).
Die Wiedereröffnung erfolgte am 26. Juni 1957.
Seither kann der Weg durch die Klamm vom Frühjahr bis in den späten Herbst (während des Winters ist die Klamm gesperrt) durchgehend begangen werden.
Selbst die große Lawine vom 21. März 1967, die den oberen Teil der Klamm verschüttete, brachte dank eines enormen Arbeitseinsatzes lediglich einen etwas verspäteten Öffnungstermin in jenem Jahr.
Auch die Schäden durch einen Felssturz 1986 beim Knappenloch sowie zwei große Felsabbrüche 1999 und 2014 am oberen Klammende, welche in den Wintermonaten die beiden längsten Brücken zerstörten, konnten zum jeweiligen Saisonsbeginn wieder behoben werden.
Für eine zusätzliche Erhöhung der Sicherheit wurde 2005 der Steig im gesamten Schluchtbereich bergseits mit einem Drahtseil versehen.
Es ist zu wünschen und zu hoffen, dass in Zukunft die Natur die Wolfsklamm vor größeren Zerstörungen verschont, keine Wanderer durch unvorhersehbare Ereignisse zu Schaden kommen und sich die Menschen weiterhin an diesem Naturjuwel erfreuen und begeistern können.
The gorge - a medieval mining area
Every attentive gorge visitor will notice a deep hole in the rock at the beginning of the gorge, from where a natural spring flows. Few people realise that this hole is in fact an old mining tunnel.
Former national geologist, Dr. Peter Gstrein, researched and documented the tunnel in 1999. The tunnel dates back to 1400 - 1440 and was hewn by hand using the traditional chisel and hammer technique of that period. It was created most probably by mountain miners from Schwaz, who settled in the village during that period and searched the area for galena, a mineral necessary for melting silver (Saiger process). Dr. Gstrein, however, could not establish any presence of this mineral during his investigations. And with that, this “gorge mine” remained a mere test tunnel for evermore.
The gorge - a refuge for rare plant and animal species
The Wolfsklamm represents a special biotope with its own microclimate and therefore offers a special habitat for extraordinary flora and fauna.
Here, you will find Austria’s largest orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, and the rare Turk Cap’s Lily. Varicoloured Auilegia, Lily of the Valley, wild roses and much more flourish along the waysides, and Dianthus Alpinus, Primula Auricula and even Alpine Roses sprout from the rocky outcrops.
The stream and its embankment offer the perfect habitat for certain animals, such as brook trout, wagtails and dippers.
The gorge - an important recreational area
...and an attractive day trip destination in Tyrol - Karwendel Nature Park
Many Kneipp spa guests took advantage of the healthy, fresh air of Wolfsklamm Gorge over 100 years ago. They used the cold water for their Kneipp treatments, whilst drinking in the fabulous scenery and unique natural landscape.
Today’s visitors are keen to seek solace and peace, well away from the stresses of everyday life.
After the last houses of the village an entrance to the gorge opens up, revealing an entirely different world. The hectic hustle and bustle of the Inn Valley suddenly gives way to the soothing babble of the brook. Fresh, clean air and nature in all its beauty invigorate body and mind.
Due to their easy accessibility, the Wolfsklamm and St. Georgenberg Monastery are two of the most popular day trip destinations in the Silver Region and Karwendel Nature Park.
The series by Austrian broadcasters ORF, “Die 3 schönsten Plätze des Landes” nominated the Wolfksklamm as on the the 3 most beautiful places in the country.