Based on my general interest in science, I am curious what will happen when inviting a Flachlandtiroler (hiking rookie from low-level-areas) to a hiking tour in the Alps. At the edge of the Alps, to be more precise.
My favourite hiking book “Zeit zum Wandern – Chiemgau” offers a blue tour with a real summit and wide views towards the main Alps. Viola is all up for it and we buzz with anticipation, hardly able to wait until sunrise to jump in the car and get going.
We start easy on forest roads, passing by several pastures, all beneath one of those skies that exist only in the short transition from summer to autumn. The surrounding is charming and we appreciate the clear air and the pure feeling of being here.
We forget about time and place, yet it must have been merely an hour until we reach the Kranzhorn-Alm. We are just in time to jump out of the way as the delivery truck arrives, carrying the alp’s staff to their working place and fresh victuals to the kitchen. Generously, we grant them some time to prepare their hospitality and continue towards the summit.
The last section of the tour is a bit more challenging, at least with wet and slippery grounds added by stormy wind, blowing us apart (or trying to). But then it is great, leaning against the squalls and dancing with the storm or the cross or both.
Coming back to the scientific test of foreign visitors and how they react on height and rocks, it is stunning to witness the development. From the Westerwald to the Alps, all you need is something to hold on to. Then, all of a sudden, joy and lightness set in.
Having the peak all for ourselves, we enjoy the view as long as we bare the storm. The morning mist still covers the valleys while the alpine glaciers shimmer in the distance. It certainly differs from hiking routines in Pfalz, Taunus or Westerwald.
Eventually, we call it coffee time and get served with wonderful delicacies at the Kranzhorn-Alm.
By the time when dozens of families + umpteen hikers shuffle in, we are already on our feet, ready for the descent.
This has been the most charming of the blue tours I have done lately and it is best to start it way ahead of regular hiking crowds.
Mid October, muddy and slippery grounds, unmarked paths and climbing elements. Sounds like a good way to spend a Sunday morning!
Around 9:00 a.m., I start fresh and relaxed at Hintergschwendt. The appearance of the area suits the sound of “Hintergschwendt“: rural, with jingling cows and autumn leaves.
Only a minor part of the ascent is easy and stable, most of it is either muddy-slippery or steep-stony-slippery. With the route sometimes hard to find, and, once found, hard to remain upright, it is perfect to leave work and daily life behind. What I need for the next hours is concentration, tracking instincts and top-of-the-hill hiking boots (check, check and check).
The weather is indecisive today, meandering between clouds, fog and sun. The tour via North/East to Gedererwand is not frequented, but creates an almost mystic atmosphere. The rough surfaces of the rocks along the way, the dark green and light brown of the autumn forest, it all fits perfectly in the scenery.
The pictures show the rocks when standing right in front. Yes, it is about getting up there in the most vertical way.
When I approach the announced climbing passage (easy, category I-II), it is interesting, but not difficult. All along the ascent, there are quite some sections where the hands may support the feet – reassuring me that such a black tour is exactly what I like best. Even more with dry grounds beneath and bright skies above, yet best practice beats best conditions.
After 2,5 hours I make it to the summit of Gedererwand and – having outperformed a mid-sized hikers’ group – find the cross all deserted, waiting for the peak queen of the day.
I use the privacy for a change into a dry t-shirt and patiently wait for my photographers to arrive.
A pause of 25 minutes is enough for Gipfelsemmel-Vesper, chats among hikers and for the sun to make it through the clouds. Right in front, the Kampenwand unveils with it’s famous silhouette. I can tell by the umpteen people I will pass by during my descent that it must be overcrowded despite the snow and the cold.
The ascent has taken slightly more time than planned, mostly due to the rough terrain. Now, the further I get on my descent, the more I can accelerate. The ways are harmless and in less then 1,5 hours, I am back at my starting point and wonder about the almost infinite rows of parked cars. Lucky me that I have such a propensity for interesting tours, sorting out the sneaker-strollers and lowland tourists along my way.
Another Sunday enfolds with rays of sun and distant mountain silhouettes. Being blessed with quite some hike-able friends, all I have to do is place my cup of coffee in Sabine’s car and get moved towards Benediktbeuern.
Destination of the day is the Rabenkopf, situated at the edge of the Bavarian Alps, 1.555m high. Forest roads ease the start into the tour, but not before long we follow others onto a shortcut, leading us on rough grounds and steep gradient. Consequently, it does not take long until we reach the Orterer Alm. The alp might offer refreshments throughout summer, while in October all it presents is rural atmosphere and some benches.
We continue and join the Girgl-Fischer-Weg, all through idyllic forests. The ways may not be spectacular, but relaxed and nice enough.
Within less than two hours, we reach the cross that marks the Pessenbacher Joch. Some other hikers are around, but by no means is it crowded or dense. Nature, meditational trails and more nature frame our passages.
Summit crosses attract me like athletic men or good food: I can hardly pass them by without getting close. Even more, peak crosses motivate me to take at least half a dozen of pictures, sparkling with joy about the successful ascent, based on nothing but strong will and muscle power.
For the next 20 minutes, we go separate ways. I choose the trail to the right with more altitude-difference than distance. Furthermore, it comes with some almost-climbing-parts to intensify the mountain experience.
Looking down to Orterer Alm
Being all concentrated and focused on the trail’s pitfalls, I forget to take pictures of the via ferrata-like iron steps that mark the last meters below the peak… Still, it is great as the destination finally comes in sight and I hurry up to reach the Rabenkopf summit before further crowds appear.
Free space is limited and quite some hikers gather around the cross. There is an alternative way coming up from Jachenau, and it seems to be more famous than our route. However, we sit comfortably distanced among others, join some chats and enjoy being here.
Our descent includes a coffee stop at the Staffel-Alm. Again, we find ourselves in the good company of all kinds of outdoor people who soak in the mild temperatures, sun and deserted meadows.
After six hours (including Gipfelsemmel and coffee break), we are back down and happy with the tour, adding 2 more crosses to my list. The extra cross of Pessenbacher Joch is the bonus that equals the missed (blocked) one from last week’s hike on Wendelstein.
Rain and cold frame the last September weekend, but still Sunday enfolds with blue skies and sun – at least close to the Alps. Consequently, I have chosen another peak for today. With only 2°C and the utmost flexibility, I skip the foreseen trail from the North side and instead approach the Wendelstein from the South.
The way up starts relaxed and picturesque and if not for the drop in temperature, it could be taken for a bright summer morning.
Apart from faint church bells and the cattle around, I am alone and enjoy all kinds of paths. I pass by the most inviting mountain guesthouse and make a mental note to myself to stop for coffee and cake along the descent. Isn’t it great to make plans these days?
Gaining height by the minute, the landscape starts to change. The first spots of fresh snow almost look romantic. Yet, the trail is easy enough and I continue with the routine of an experienced hiker (image! it is all about image!!).
I am about half way up when two hiker ladies with more speed then youth pass me by. Not before long I will appreciate them for smoothing the paths ahead of me…
Meanwhile, I congratulate myself for having tucked the hiking sticks in my backpack. I will definitely need them on my way down, with all the fresh snow that starts to thaw in the September sun. Fortunately, the disreputable silhouette of the Wendelstein summit seems already close, so (of course) it is not preferable to give up just because of 5 or 10 or 30 cm of snow.
Eventually, the snow gets deeper. The peak remains at unchanged distance, though. The hiking ladies in front discuss whether they turn around or continue. I am grateful for the sole hiker that has paved the slightest hint of a trail earlier today (I will meet him later and thank him – cool guy).
When looking back, the strangest sensation happens: after some acres of snowy fields, the eye falls on green grass and summer scenes. It all looks like fake news from a photoshop-mistake.
Every now and then and every more often, one of the footsteps drowns deep in cold snow, making me sink up to the mid of my thighs. It is one of those moments that I re-adjust my plans from “sunny café” via “hiking sticks” to the final decision “cableway”.
Who would have thought that Grödel (crampons) would be needed by the end of September already? However, the snow transforms a formerly simple hike into an expedition. If not for the trees, it would even match the high pass in the Himalaya!
With the Wendelsteinhaus already in sight, the last half hour puts me to the test. Steep, very steep terrain, topped by 30cm of fresh snow, meet the silly pride that prevents me from taking out my hiking sticks.
The first time I slip and fall back is funny. The second time still makes me laugh out loud. The third is okay, while the fourth (and every further) makes me clench my teeth and murmur something like “I will NOT turn around at this point, certainly not!”
And then, three hours after I have started down in the spring-area, I am there: on the peak (more true: the sub-peak platform), ahead of disdainful cableway tourists, among all the concrete and antennas that the Wendelstein is infamous for. The very last section is closed because of ice and snow, which is sad, like in the song “no cross today, my love has gone away, lalala-lalalah…”.
I make it to the viewing platform before it gets entirely overcrowded and picture the scenery. The cliché of winterly mountains alternate with unexpected green meadows, blanketed from the distant rows of Alpine summits, all white and icy.
The gastronomic side of Wendelstein reflects the landscape with ups (friendly cook, highest prices) and downs (general atmosphere, mood of most staff members). However, none of it matters given the endorphins that buzz in my veins. I love challenging ways, at least those I win.
Neither the upper part of the peak nor the church are accessible thanks to the spontaneous onset of winter. It is a bit of a pity as I prefer touristic method acting at such a hotspot and now feel terribly limited in my role. Still, I am fine when hovering down in the gondola around noon, happy with the 10th mountain tour of the year.
Oh tempting are the mountains… Another bright-sun-on-a-weekend occasion comes along, and not before long I find myself (again) heading towards the Alps. Barbara joins me today and brings in a charming tour, a chamois in disguise and good mood.
Region of the day is Karwendel with the typical rough and rocky appearance. I suspect that each cow, marmot and flower is part of an overall touristic campaign, aiming to balance the smooth and the rough.
Having arrived at the Torscharte in time and well in shape, we decide to continue towards the Torkopf summit. From here, ways get interesting and steep, elevating venturing hikers in fast-forward-mode.
Hiking sticks are the ultimate upgrade in this part of the track as we continue steady, but cautiously uphill.
A single 2m–rock marks the key point, sorting the wheat from the chaff. Once passed, the last section is almost harmless, especially when finding the right turn. But even when half walking, half climbing between rock and grass, you might make it to the peak.
Eventually, we make it to the summit that appears rather a ridge than a peak.
We enjoy some Gipfelsemmeln, sun and outlook. We are close to the most crowded spot around, given the view to the Karwendelspitze with its majestic flanks and impressive size. Easily reached with the Karwendelbahn, it is a famous place for lazy tourists – and thanks to our northern position, we hardly see any of them.
For today, we have reached the highest point, elevated well above the intermediate Torscharte, and search for further action. Some exercise might be good, making us look slim and slender even besides the tiny summit cross.
After a while, we decide to call it a quit and appreciate gravity on our sides for the way down. With a slight sigh, we leave the typical rock-and-green-grass landscape behind, immersing in forest paths and in the devouring shade of the Karwendel-flanks. 7,5 hours (including pause on top) are fine for today, proved by the sunburn I will detect tomorrow.
Outtakes:The real climbing rock of the tour, trifling disillusioning.
Why do I get up at 4:30 a.m. on a free Saturday? Because serious mountain tours might need a buffer for the unforeseen.
Together with experienced hiking buddy Gunther, we start at 7:45 at the Plansee and make our way towards the Geierköpfe. The tour description says something about 1.240m altitude difference spread over 10,8km. So much for the theory of it.
The trail is multifaceted, sometimes mellifluous and sometimes rough, and we gain height rapidly. Almost right from the start, we are rewarded with beautiful views over the Plansee and the Ammergauer Alpen.
Having learnt from my previous hike, I assert slow but steady speed and within less than 3 hours, we arrive at the Western summit of the Geierköpfe-triptyche.
Despite the early hour, quite some hikers gather up here. I am motivated as a chamois, all fit and enchanted by our surrounding. From the Westgipfel, a trail follows the ridge towards the main summit. Of course, we will continue to the next level, no doubt about our peak performance!
Every here and there, the flanks of the ridge leave only inches for a small trail, but most of the way is wide enough for comfortable footsteps.
After all, this is exactly the setting that I prefer for a serious mountain tour. I like the sensation of a spectacular surrounding and enjoy every minute up here.
The final sprint to the main peak is seriously uphill on dry gravel and brings us to a halt on 2.161m above sea level.
The cross comes with a rough DIY charm, but just like us: at least it made it up here! Thin air and chats with other hikers pave the way for the decision of the day: Come on, it is all so great, let’s continue to the third of the 3 peaks!
That being said, we put on our helmets (decent detail when climbing in crumbly rock) and off we go.
The description from here on is vague, but mentions something about “free climbing level 2” – something I have not experienced yet and hence do not worry too much.
The trail becomes more and more interesting. Intense, even. It certainly is not a bad idea to remain concentrated, especially when seeking the best route down the climbing passages that enrich the way between main peak and Eastern peak.
Looking for the announced climbing section and having no clue of what that might look like, we come to a halt at a dead-end rock. The only way further is either via (under) overhanging rocks or down a vertical crag. Hm…
Even I have some doubts if this is the right way and/or if it suits our abilities. Lucky us that 4 youngsters come their way with one of them having experienced the route some years ago. He confirms that the climbing of this tour is much more harmless than the walls beneath our feet. Light-hearted, we follow the know-how-guys to the 3rd peak and find it all easy enough.
What comes next is learning: It slowly dawns on me that the 1.240m altitude difference include only the Western peak with the same being true for the expected total of 6 hours. As of now, we enjoyed our hike for full 5 hours and now have to figure out how to get back and down. Option A: Straight back on the same route, including climbing and ridge and quite some loss-and-regain of altitude meters. At this point, it seems that option B is the more reasonable one: Cross-country straight down until we reach a horizontal (or so it seems) path, accept a bit of a opposing climb and then, finally, get down.
We go for B and I find myself swearing and grumbling. The mountain pines jump in my way, the so-called horizontal trail is an up-and-down rollercoaster and the entire distance more than I have asked for. Still, I would not trade our tour for any lazy hour on the couch. It takes some effort to be here, but I am willing to appreciate the sweat and the muscle soreness!
The last third of our descent tempts us to a half-knowledge decision: A short note in the tour description recommends a sideway via Schönjöchl – it just forgets to mention that it includes passing by a forth peak and adds about 150m altitude difference! Half way to it, we perceive the hard facts and turn around, finally taking the original way down. Around 6:00 p.m. we are back and safe at the Plansee, greedy for a portion of French fries and yearning for laziness on the sofa.
With all sidesteps, trials and detections, we had been en route for full 10 hours, walked up and down roughly 1.700m on a track of ca. 15km. Hard to imagine anyone better for such a tour than hiking bro Gunther – thanks for company, planning and fantastic pictures. The greatest mountain tour I ever experienced – all great!
Hector is happy again, and when Hector is happy, I am happy.
Together, we combine a working day at Augsburg, a camping stop-over at Lechbruck and a challenging tour around the Kenzenhütte. At least, that is the plan on Thursday. Even though I work for some hours when sitting on Hector’s couch, the overall situation feels like a micro-holiday.
Based on Hector’s feel-good qualities, I sleep like a baby and wake up around 5 a.m. on a beautiful Friday morning. Under an incredible sunrise-sky and over a cup of coffee, I check the weather apps, the tour description and the various variables of today’s schedule. Then I start to think: Isn’t it all about a good work-hike-balance?
Question of the day is, if I will I find the right paths without mistakes or doubts (meaning: loss of time). Will I successfully transcend two summits before the predicted, dramatic weather front strikes? Will I catch the rare hiking busses in time – and what about alternatives to the foreseen setting?
The alternative turns out to be preferable, and an hour later, Hector rolls towards Linderhof, one of Ludwig II’s famous castles. Just a few kilometres next to it is a neat little trail up to the Scheinbergspitze. The altitude difference is fine (900Hm), the expected length (4 – 4,5 hours) smoothly fits into the weather development and the region (Ammergauer Alpen) is just fine.
The perfect preparation for another tour and another weekend is: failure. Near-miss, to be more precise. Two hours after the start of the ascent, I stagger towards the cross. Exhausted, out of breath and sweating like hell, it is embarrassing for a trail flagged blue = easy. Besides daily fitness, an exaggerated start and the aim to accelerate my uphill velocity almost disabled me reaching the top. I am stunned how hard this tour feels, and I lack the trekking poles that are stored in Hector’s bathroom (“A blue tour with less than 1.000 Hm? I will surely not need them!”). Yet, the harder achieved, the more rewarding is a challenge fulfilled.
I spend quite some time on the Scheinbergspitze, soaking in the 360° view. Eventually I hop down, clenching my teeth when slipping and sliding on the steep gravel paths. At late noon-time, when Hector turns North towards home, I remark the darkened skies in the rear mirrors, confirming today’s choice. Given my disrupted speed performance and the witnessed weather change, the work-hike-balance is proved to be a clear match by the end of August. Even more as it might have built an almost ideal base for more challenging goals – but that is another story for another day…
Today’s hike has the aim to enable more hiking. I hope for splendid September weekends, black tours and appropriate companions, with “black” meaning more interesting in the sense of difficulty or vertigo aspects.
Destination of the day is the Hirschberg, with 1.670m and full view over Tegernsee one of those tourist attractions that makes you wonder. How has that group of foreigners made it up here, in those shoes?? Ah, they have come from the other side where I will find the most harmless hiking ways = forest roads. Lucky me that my tour starts at another point and runs straight up on the ski slopes, with muddy ground, few people and a more charming ascent.
In the upper part of the tour, the surrounding is as adorable as a cliché, yet a good one. Mountain pastures, happy cows and light clouds filtering the sun make me wander with a broad smile, leading to friendly chats when coming across other hikers.
Only next weekend I will question the Hirschberg route marked red in the tour description = demanding. In contrast, other mountains offer rolling stones of scree on steep paths that might accelerate your downhill experience significantly but are flagged blue = easy. However, here and now I feel well-trained and sporty on my way up, mostly due to the flattened area as approaching the summit.
Once on top, it is nice and relaxed. The lookout towards the lake is just as promised while the mixed-up weather disables a deeper view into the Alps.
Not before long, groups of hikers and tourists arrive at the Hirschberg’s cross and I turn around to start my way down.
Checking out the offers of Berggasthaus Hirschberg, I can confirm that it is all easy here. Rural, even. Friendly people fulfil basic needs with the view towards the cross from the terrasse tables. I congratulate myself for the early bird hike, witnessing now more and more hikers on their way to the top.
Eventually, I can cross the Hirschberg off my list. Been there, done that. Perhaps autumn will take me higher… These nice-to-have hikes are perfect for physical fitness, but do not fulfill my longing for sensational adventures.
High season, rising heat and me aiming for touristic highlights like mountains and castles – all solved with shortened nights and lack of sleep! It is a Saturday in mid August around 6:00 a.m., when I turn towards the Chiemgau (once more), getting me on today’s hiking route by 7 o’clock.
Heavy rain has wrecked quite some tracks and I am lucky that all of my route is still there – although parts of the paths look more of a creek these days.
Today’s tour is perfect for a 30°C day, as I walk most of the time in shady forests. Obviously, higher powers are busy tidying up the woods, even though they still have quite a lot to do around here.
I pass by some mountain pastures in the first half of the hike, but miss the opportunity for a pause at the peak as there is none. Guess that is what the book means by offering a circular trip around the Schwarzenberg…
The only significant view is towards the Chiemsee, blurred by a bit of haze, and up to the Gedererwand that will become a wonderful peak destination one fine day.
Having passed some lonesome hours in pure nature (= the Saturday hike), Sunday comes with the most touristic destination around: Disney’s Neuschwanstein! Founded by famous Ludwig Zwo (Ludwig II), a man of taste and beauty, just like Elvis Presley. Both have been addicted to sugar or similar white substance, grown up turning from a handsome young man to a heavier personality, inventing art of such a genius and beauty that it inspires generations long after. Neither modern rockabilly music would exist nor the worldwide brand of Disney World without these great men.
Based on profound knowledge of historic facts, Sabine and me are on our way to THE CASTLE on a wonderful morning in August.
Before the flat viewing of royal apartment rooms, we make our way up to the Marienbrücke. Although we have to share the tiny construction with a handful of foreigners, it is fantastic to be here early enough to spend hours and hours on the perfect picture before the regular masses of visitors make it out of their beds.
The bridge crosses the Pöllatschlucht, a narrow gorge carved out of the rock. It would be a touristic highlight if not competing with Neuschwanstein, with Hohenschwangau castle and with the Alpsee right around the corner. Given the surrounding, it is like “See? Yes, check! Come on further.”
Finally, it is our turn to take a look at the artistically decorated rooms of castle Neuschwanstein. In former times, every five minutes a group of 60 (sixty!) persons had been guided up the stairs, through maids’ room, master bedroom, living room, up another set of stairs and into the singers’ hall. Most of the 25 minutes you probably had to wait for some overweight tourist from abroad to get his quantity up and going. Now, thanks to hygiene rules, we are a relaxed group of 10 with a charming young guide, leading us gently through the floors.
In the end, one of us considers the decorative swans, the gothic carvings, the myth and opera paintings and the design of the throne room exaggerated, deciding against the castle as a possible retreat for our pensioner community (an era expected for the distant future). At least, we can cross it off our list and keep our eyes open for other opportunities.