Berchtesgadener Alps……the final day

So here we were, sitting in the Riemannhaus hut in the middle of a very bleak looking Stony Sea in the Berchtesgadener Alps, with rain lashing against the windows. We had a choice now of going out to trek for three to four hours up a snowy gully to reach another hut (the Ingolstaedterhaus), or staying put, getting warm and dry, and staying the night where we were.

After debating for a while, we decided that going on was really the only choice. We were there after all, and you have to make the most of it, come what may! After donning some rather damp waterproofs and braving the teeth of the wind, we started out on our way. I am not sure if there was anyone else out there at all, but we perservered, and were so glad that we did.

Shortly into the walk it began to snow, which was not quite what we had expected for July, but we were up at about 2,400m, and the clouds were very low. We decided that we would just have fun on the way instead – we were not going to be able to climb anything, it would have been too dangerous.

Having a bit of a lark around as the snows came down….

And Anna putting on a very brave and happy face as we headed off up on one of so many snowfields.

After a couple of hours of walking, the clouds began to suddenly lift, which was as unexpected as it was welcome. The temperature began to rise and we could actually see ahead of us for a change. It made a big difference to the progress we were able to make.

The mood lifts along with the clouds…..

One of the surprising things about this whole trek was just how much snow there was still around. Most of our walking was at between 2,000 and 2,400m, and the snow looked to be a good two metres deep in places.

Another snowfield to cross…..the landscape of the Stony Sea finally visible in the background.

Eventually the waterproofs came off altogether, and we were able to walk at a much better pace.

And finally the Ingolstaedterhaus (centre of picture) comes into view in the distance.

The Ingolstaedterhaus seemed to take forever to reach, but was a very welcome sight at what had been along days walking. Had the weather been kinder I would have loved to have climbed up the peak behind the hut, but even though the clouds had lifted by now it was probably a bit of a gamble still, so we got booked into the hut and got our wet stuff off finally.

The Ingolstaedterhaus looms ever closer…..

…and finally we are there ūüôā

The views from the hut were quite stunning now that there was some visibility, and we even managed a beer on the terrace outside – well it would have been rude not to really!

Westerly view over Austria from the terrace at the Ingolstaedterhaus

After some very suitable Austrian food (Schnitzel followed by Kaiserschmarm, what else?) and a few beers and a glass of wine or three, the end of the evening came rather quickly. The Ingolstaedterhaus was pretty full, and a great place to stop and stay if you are ever in the vicinity.

The next morning we had an early start, as we had a lot of miles to cover. It was our final day in the mountains and had to get back to Munich that night for an early flight back to the UK the day after. The trek back to the Funtensee was around three hours, and then another three back down to the K√∂nigsee in what was one of the heaviest downpours you will ever see. It was a great walk though, and the rain didn’t bother us in the slightest, it was just great to be there.
All in all, this (despite the mostly shocking weather) was just a great trip. The Bertchesgadener Alps are a stunning location, with a great deal to offer from a trekking and also a climbing perspective, and the Stony Sea is almost like no place I have ever been to. Many of the routes that we passed were graded black and required technical via ferrata equipment, so there is something to offer everyone. With great huts and fine Austrian hospitality, I’d thoroughly recommend the area, and would love to go back there sometime.

Berchtesgadener Alps, continued…

So Thursday night of the 12th July saw Anna and I making a rapid ascent up from the Königsee towards the Funtensee, a lake perched at about 1,700m in the Berchtesgadener Alps, right on the border of Germany and Austria. Our planned destination was the Karlingerhaus, a mountain hut where we had planned to spend the night.

Having set out late at almost 5pm for what was signposted as a 5hr journey, we wondered whether we would make it, especially at it was raining hard. This made conditions underfoot, on what was a very steep ascent, harder going, and also meant the light was fading quickly.

In the end we needn’t have worried, as we made the climb to the hut in exactly three hours, arriving a little before 8pm. The hut was a very welcome sight nonetheless, and it was nice to hang up wet waterproofs, get the boots off, and step into what proved to be a very cosy and welcoming hut.

The Karlingerhaus, by the Funtensee, Bavaria

The lake by the Karlingerhaus, the Funtensee, has a particular record attached to it. It has recorded Germany’s lowest ever temperature, at a staggering -46.9 degrees C, just ten years ago. Caused by its North Easterly position in the mountains, it gets practically no sun for six months of the year, and it also sits in a depression. Due then to the fact that cold air is heavier than warm, when the cold air comes down from the mountains above, it has nowhere to go, and just sits there.

There was however no cold to be seen this night, despite the rain, as the hut was packed with people, and each of the dining rooms (three rooms in total) was full of revelry. In fact it was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think! I have never been in a hut and seen so much alcohol consumed! Having eaten some delicious potato soup with sausages, and had a couple of very welcome German beers, we ended up sat in the middle of what became a schnapps-fuelled signing contest between German and Dutch climbers. We ended up having two choices – which was to sit in a corner and watch, or to join in, so we chose the latter. It was about as raucous a night as you will see or hear in a typical rugby club on a Saturday night post-match – awesome entertainment is all I’ll say!
Waking the next morning with a fuzzy head was soon eclipsed by the feeling of waking up in the mountains. There is something so absolutely wonderful about it for me. It is the antithesis of any time you wake up on a normal Monday morning and think “oh bugger I have to go to work today”, and such a tonic. Even when I stay in the highest alpine huts and have to get up at 5am it is still that same “let me get at it” sort of feeling.

So today’s trek would take us from the Karlingerhaus into Austria (the border is within a mile of the Karlingerhaus) across the so called Steinernes Meer, which translates as ‘stony sea’. It is a vast expanse of ‘karst’ type geology – here is a link to it for more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steinernes_Meer

The bleak landscape of the stony sea was exacerbated even more by the weather that faced us. It started with rain, and then just basically got wetter.

Setting out from the Karlingerhaus before the weather got bad….

but entering the Stony Sea it sooned turned cold and wet.

The Stony Sea was hard work in the weather. The rain lashed down, visibility was low, and the wind blew hard. I hadn’t expected to be decked out in full waterproofs, including gloves, and still be cold, in July, but that’s the mountains for you, and shows you that you always need to be prepared.

Some of the paths were still covered in deep snow, and with the cold and wet air it made some of the conditions underfoot a bit heart in mouth at times.

Heading up a snowy gully in the Steinernes Meer

We had originally hoped that once in the Snowy Sea area that we would be able to do a couple of the peaks that are around there. There are around 50 peaks with a prominence (i.e. above the base of the area, which all sits at over 2,000m) of over 50 metres within the area, and a total of around 20 above 2,500m. Two of the best known are the Breithorn and the Sch√∂nfeldspitze, both around 2,600m. Sadly we couldn’t even see them due to the conditions, and so we ended up just heads down and heading for some cover at the next destination, the Reimannhaus hut.

The walk up to the Riemannhaus (2,177m) ultimately took about three hours from the Funtensee, and we were very glad to just arrive. Here is a picture of it in sunnier times below:

The Riemannhaus in sunnier times, not quite the view that we got.

I did not even get my camera out so hard was the wind and rain as we approached. I also ended up with the contents of my rucksack soaked through, as the wind had (unbeknown to me at the time) ripped off my rucksack raincover somewhere on the way there. I have almost never been so glad to get inside a building as at that time.

The hospitality in the hut, once we had squeezed the water out of gloves and my rucksack contents, was wonderful. We also had what I can only describe as the best Goulash that I have ever had. It was absolutely delicious, and washed down with a steaming mug of black tea it made for one of the most memorable meals I have ever had.

We sat in the Riemannhaus for probably an hour and a half, dried out, drank more black tea, and contemplated next steps. Our proposed destination that night was another hut called the Ingolstaedterhaus, which would involve another three or four hour climb through the wet and wind, and on snowy ground. Alternatively we could stay where we were, in the warm, and be safe. It was not an easy decision…………