Here it is, our traditional Kreuzalm week, spent high above Garmisch. Days are filled with umpteen runs down the Kandahar slope while the evenings come with good food, a bit of wine and tough scrabble games. So much for the plan of it.
Obviously, this year is different. Still, we manage to realize the main components with the utmost flexibility.
It starts with snow in Frankfurt. Excited, we witness the change in sound and landscape. The waste collection car sounds like a snowcat and the jogging course is as cold and deserted as the Hausberg-slope at 8:00 a.m.
The silhouettes around are different, though. Instead of Kramer, Alpspitze and Waxenstein, we face the “Mainhattan” skyline.
Another tradition is the combination of Garmisch-days with other preferred ski areas. Consequently, I follow the cold and head South. I approach the Sudelfeld slopes just in time to enjoy fresh snow and a tour with one of my preferred ski buddies.
I may lag behind during the uphill part of the tour, but as an experienced sports pro I appreciate every minute of the exercise. I am well aware that the tough ones only endure long-lasting exertion.
On the last 50m, the route gets narrow and one of us shortly stops for changing the ski setting. I take my chance, pass by in the most nonchalant way (“Ich bin schon da!”, sagte der Igel) and reach the highest point with a lead of ½ second.
The downhill part starts with a shift in perspective (not so much of a real handstand today) and with the joy of seeking untouched white powder, at least a few inches of it.
The last chapter of today’s experience contains a stubborn car, an uncharged key and the constant noise of the alarm system. But that is another story…
Days get blurry and it is hard to tell what distinguished Monday from Tuesday. At least, I know how to create an outstanding Saturday and throw my touring skis into the car.
Apart from zoom meetings, online yoga and virtual ukulele sessions, it is fantastic to feel real snow flakes on my face. Who cares about sunny days as long as winterwonderland offers snow-covered forests and cold fingertips?!
The Kolbensattel offers a levelled ski slope to pros who are willing to pay 15,-€ parking fee. It is a good deal, given the minimized avalanche risk and the joy of winter action. Just like last weekend, I recognize smiling faces and good mood all around me – everybody here is happy to do outdoor sports, and it is done best far away from crowded hotspots.
The tour is an easy one and leads up to the Kolbensattelhütte, now closed of course. I remove the skins from my skis, turn the binding a 180° and put on my helmet. Not that a light-blue slope with a handful of people requires full safety equipment, but it is comfortable and warm and looks utterly professional.
I am thrilled to try out my touring skis in the powder. This is exactly what they are made for! The same is true for me, by the way. Someday I will hop down in un-touched, fresh snow, but as of now, I take whatever the slopes offer.
Winter hike season is here! Martina + Michael are the perfect match for today’s tour up to the Hirschhörnlkopf, a peak as charming as un-pronounceable for anyone from abroad (outside Bavaria).
The hazy weather enfolds an almost mystic atmosphere in the forest. Great to be out here, despite the cold! Lucky may be those that get heated up along the way…
The view into the Alps might be worth a look, but not today. Instead, we listen to the sound of snow crunching under our feet.
We approach the cross just in time to witness the clouds clear up for about 30 seconds.
There is hardly enough time for pictures, Gipfelsemmel and a glance on distant peaks before the clouds settle in again and leave us cold-handed.
Michael detects a romantic = deserted path down, leading us through frozen air and fresh snow. Along the way, we find out how to solve bad hair days: it only takes some white frost to present a splendid hairstyle.
The descent via Kotalm (who invents those crazy names??) turns our hike into a circuit and invites us to a second pause with tea and sweets.
And: with the first handstand trial since… since March 2020! Despite the lack of training, I manage to hold the pose for a full second, proudly presenting my Grödel (crampons).
Further down, we cross several streams and icy paths. The picture below shows the latter – did I mention the useful crampons? Natural born chamois might do without, but I only started hiking in my late youth (13 years ago) and appreciate the perfect grip on snow and ice.
After 4,5 hours we get back to the parking at Jachenau and congratulate ourselves to this wonderful winter tour. Next weekend might be best for a ski tour, yet today’s hike was as charming as a winter day can be.
Winterwonderland is just around the corner! Other than last time (Sep.-Wendelstein-tour), the fresh snow comes with the right quantity. Meadows and rocks are covered with a fluffy layer of sparkling white powder, but with no risk of sinking in thigh-deep. Hence, it is the ideal setting for a relaxed winter hike.
Sabine joins me with thorough preparation: gloves, sticks and serious mountain boots found the base of today’s hike. The fairy atmosphere in the lower part of the tour is only slightly disturbed by the low humming of the snow machines of Sudelfeld ski area (making me hum with anticipation).
It takes less than 500m to skip the idea of a defined road map and rather follow the most traceable way. Easy enough, knowing that the Wildalpjoch is one of the most attractive (and frequented) peaks close to the Wendelstein.
During ascent and descent, the paths are slippery when wet. Or frozen. Or muddy. Or all three. But thanks to hiking sticks and dancing skills, we get along pretty well and make it to the peak with no severe difficulty.
Despite Sabines firm intension to avoid snow-related mountain action, the two of us enjoy the winterly scenery and the endless views above the clouds.
After 4 hours (including peak snack), we get back down in almost the same state as started. Just happier.
Months of the strangest year did not stop my yearning for travels. Real travels, with different places to go und foreign people to meet. Yet, I am lucky to live in a region that attracts tourists for one or another reason, and I take advantage of it as much as possible.
Of course, you could take this as travel inspiration: Any of the mountain tours shown here may tempt you to spend precious holiday time between Munich and the Alps. Me, instead, I have to deal with an insulted van (with only 3 nights out, Hector feels entirely left behind), but at least I can look back on 13 hikes from July to October.
Having crossed off most of the tours of my hiking books, I will look for online inspiration and continue with outdoor action throughout the winter.
For today, I happily present a quick glance on tours No. 1-13, also known as my holiday-substitute 2020.
The list of all Hiking-the-Alps tours is presented here => Overview.
2020 modern times come with neither party nor concert, no random encounter nor further excitement – hence, best practice is to find attractive destinations during weekends. With the warm sun laughing at November bias, today’s target is the Brünnstein.
Barbara joins and proudly presents her brand new via ferrata equipment: harness, loops, carbines and helmet. It will turn out that we are entirely over-equipped, but at least we look adventureous like hell.
The route is a wonderful mixture of steep paths, relaxed forest roads and green meadows. And not all of it is muddy.
Despite the early snow we had a couple of weeks ago, November starts with short-sleeve temperatures. Just like the fixed-rope sets, the downy jackets serve our fitness as we carry them up and down in our backpacks.
For whatever which reason it takes longer than expected to reach the Brünnsteinhaus. We pause for a moment and gain back some of the burnt calories when plundering our backpacks. The regular restaurant service is closed (Covid19 rules), but the sunny terrace offers tables and chairs and even beer or juice thanks to the installed beverage dispenser.
Ahead of the lodge, the “Dr. Julius Mayr” via ferrata leads to the summit. It is a charming trail as it includes iron steps, climbing passages and cavity. All easy enough, but fun nonetheless.
What I like best are the exposed paths that make you feel lightweight and offer wide horizons from a bird’s eye perspective.
The Brünnstein peak is in reach for hikers free from giddiness, meaning: us. And about a dozen more…
I can hardly imagine how crowded this spot must be in high season. At least you will always find a good photographer for splendid summit portraits!
Eventually, we start our descent with some steel ropes on the steep upper part of the trail. The more height we lose, the more we witness a change in scenery: Climbing rocks give way to lush pastures and forests. The setting is very rural as for the entire route the only prominent signs of civilization are some alpine shacks.
Along the way we detect quite some road signs that mark further tempting destinations. Looks like we might come back for more someday…
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.