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 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:
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.
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.
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 Schönfeldspitze, 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:
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…………