Berchtesgadener Alps – Day one, or part of it….

Having been back from the Karwendel Alps for about four days, I was already missing the mountains. The Karwendel having been my first trip of the year, and my big trip in December (Aconcagua) being seemingly so far away still, it was nice to carry on thinking about them and plotting potential new adventures too. And so I found myself talking to my good friend Anna, with whom I regularly cycle, over dinner, and telling her about my most recent adventures.

It became clear about half way through dinner (or maybe it was after about 20 seconds, my memory fails me :)), that Anna was not just interested in hearing about the mountains, but that she (can I use the word desperately?) wanted to go too. To cut a long story short, before the main course was over, we had not only decided to go together, but it also clear that the only weekend available to both of us was the very next one, and so, with my trekking gear not even unpacked from my previous trip, I found myself back on the way to Heathrow to fly back to the Alps. Oh well, go on then, twist my arm!!

The trip 10 days before had initially involved a choice of destinations, and one of the potential options then had been the Berchtesgadener Alps. We instead went to the Karwendel, but having been to the town of Berchestgaden some 20 or so years before, I was very keen to go back, the area being outstandingly beautiful, and steeped in somewhat notorious history.

Berchtesgaden with the Watzmann in the background

The Berchestgadener Alps are in the Northern Limestone Alps, and straddle the south eastern corner of Germany and part of northern Austria close to Salzburg. The mountains lay host to a number of notable peaks, the Höchkönig, at 2,941m (9,650ft) being the highest, and the Watzmann, (2,713m, 8,901ft) Germany’s third highest, being the most famous. The notoriety in the area comes from the area the other side of Berchtesgaden itself, known as the Obersalzburg. It was here during WW2 that Hitler had his mountain retreat, known as the Eagle’s Nest, reportedly also the last place to be liberated in the war, and then home to caches of Nazi Party stolen art and other treasure hordes.

Our trip would see us drive from Munich to Berchtesgaden, and the Königsee, a beautiful lake just south of the town. We would then trek up to a place called the Funtensee, and stay the night in a hut called the Karlingerhaus, before heading further into the mountains.

The Karlingerhaus, by the Funtensee

The Königsee is one of the deepest in Germany and certainly one of the most beautiful. It is flanked by the Watzmann mountain and is like a fjord, having precipitous cliffs on all sides. It is also reputedly the cleanest lake in the country (and that is clean, believe me), and so only electric boats are allowed to travel upon it.

Arriving at the Königsee at about 4pm, having hurriedly armed ourselves with a sandwich, a map, and some water for our Camelbacks from nearby Berchtesgaden, we trekked down to the lake for our departure by boat. I had found out literally only that morning from Verena (who I had been with to the Karwendel) that we must cross the lake by boat to begin our trek. How exciting! Verena was fantastically helpful in terms of getting me last minute information for this trip and so I must thank her publically here for all she did.

Our boat arrives on the Konigsee to take us to St Bartholoma

The lake really is stunningly beautiful, with water a beautiful aqua green, and yet crystal clear with it. The electric boat would take us to a settlement called St. Bartholema, from where we would begin the climb up to the Funtensee. Stepping off the boat after about 45 minutes we got our rucksacks adjusted and ready for the off. The boat had stopped half way along the lake on the way so that the driver could play a flugelhorn at the cliffs and the passengers could listen to the echoes (reputedly up to seven!). This might have been quite nice if we had been tourists, but we just wanted to get up the mountains behind.

On our way down the lake on the boat, St Bartholoma in the distance.

As we started our trek, I looked at the first signpost, which said “Karlingerhaus 5 hrs”. This was immediately quite daunting, and I wondered if we should start walking at all. It would be dark by 9, and by then we would be high in the mountains, and it may well be dangerous to do the walk finishing in the dark. I therefore rang ahead to the hut, and told them that we were just leaving the lake. The helpful man who answered (him talking in German, me in English) managed to let me know that we could get there in 3 and a half to four hours, and so we decided to go for it.

Having walked no more than about five minutes, we came across a German guy coming down. He asked us if we were headed up to the Karlingerhaus, to which we said yes. The guy stopped and just said “Kompliment!”. He looked more than surprised, looked at his watch, said a few things in German which I half understood (i.e. I half didn’t) and was on his way. This made us a bit nervous, as clearly he was intimating that people who started up a five hour walk at 5pm were a bit nuts.

This only though served to spur us on. We knew that the hut was at about 1700m, and my watch showed that we were starting from about 630m, so we had a fair bit of ascent to do. It was basically therefore heads down from that point on.

Looking back down at our initial path up into the mountains

As the path began to steepen up between a series of rock faces, it began to rain fairly heavily, and it would not stop again that night. We were in for a tough ascent, and I began to have doubts as to whether we were doing the right thing going up so late onto a path we had not seen before. Time would tell whether we would get up there or not, and I made a note to have a cut off time whereby we would have to turn back……
{to be continued……….}

Karwendel Alps Day One

Today is a landmark day. I write that immediately after the end of the day itself, particularly as it has been so wonderful. It is the first day of a five day trip to the Karwendel Alps in the Austrian Tyrol. (As I post this online however it is six days later – the date was the 28th June 2012). It is my first trip to the region, and I have been looking forward to it for so long.

It started so early, with a 5am alarm call, and then a car ride to Heathrow airport which got me there before 7am. But despite tiredness early on, the day just got better and better.

A plane ride to Munich got me into Germany before lunchtime, where I met up with Verena and her friend Susanne, whom I was meeting for the first time. We had only loosely planned the day beforehand, and so upon arrival they suggested that we go and drive to a place called Achensee, where we would stay the night, before heading into the higher mountains the next morning. This was totally fine with me, and so off we went.

The car journey took us almost due South into Austria, and within about an hour and a half we were at a place called Maurach on the edge of the Achensee. I can only describe it as outstandingly beautiful.

Above the Achensee, Austria.

After finding ourselves a place to stay for the evening we then duly plotted the following three days’ events. Verena had been really thorough and bought local maps and pinpointed all of the places we would go to in the mountains.  We planned to head the following morning to Absam (on the outskirts of Innsbruck), then hike up to the Bettelwurfehutte, and then summit the Grosser Bettelwurf (2,726m) the same afternoon. This sounded fantastic, and with everything sorted, we just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Verena and Susanne in front of our hotel in Maurach,

Maurach is at 931m and is characterised by a beautiful lake (the Achensee) which is a stunning shade of green. The temperature being so warm (around 27 degrees C or so) it just seemed entirely appropriate to go and join the locals and swim in the lake, so we did just that. It was wonderful, and the water was actually not as cold as I had expected it to be.

In the evening we went in search of both food and also football! It was the evening of the Euro 2012 football finals, and Germany were playing Italy (who had just conquered England four days before on penalties in the quarter final). After straying into a very fancy looking hotel where I am not sure if they have ever even heard of Euro 2012, we found (of all things) an Italian Bar!

The hospitality (especially considering Verena was fervently and excitedly shouting for Germany) was wonderful. Susanne is not as much of a football fan, but still obviously wanted them to win. After a great meal and a few Aperol Spritzers we settled down to the game, which unfortunately Germany lost 2-1. It made still for an exciting first night in the mountains, and Achensee made for a great base. We resolved at the end of the night to return on our way back on Sunday night.

So with the build up complete, and a long day over, in the morning we would head out to the Karwandel Alps, only about 30 minutes or so away. It was going to be fantastic. Sleep would come so ridiculously easily…..