30 Miles Across The Karwendel

Our hut to hut trip (see all the pictures in our gallery) began in Innsbruck, Austria – which at the time was full of EURO 2008 football fans. On Wednesday morning we took a train from Innsbruck to the small mountain town of Scharnitz on the border of Austria and Germany. Crossing into Germany we started our hike by taking a wrong turn – which I assured Jenny would lead us to the right trail. Two hours and 2300 vertical feet later the hut was in sight and only 600 meters away according to the GPS. Unfortunately there was an impassible ravine between us and the hut. Jenny finally convinced me that we should turn back and go find the right trail (I can be a bit stubborn sometimes). So we made a good decision and headed back down. Upon reaching the place where we made a wrong turn we decided to start over. From now on I would not be stubborn and listen to my cute wife. The rest of the trip was more delightful. 🙂

We found the right trail which seemed like a highway compared to what I had earlier called a “trail”. There were also signs guiding us to our first hut – the Brunnsteinhutte. We followed the signs for about an hour and half up another 2300 vertical feet – all the way to the hut. The Brunnsteinhutte (5117 feet) was perched on the side of a mountain with spectacular views of the Alps. There were a few other people up at the hut, mostly people who were just there for dinner or a beer. One family was especially helpful in translating the German menu for us. We enjoyed some beer which we didn’t need translation for. At every hut we went to all I’d have to order was a “bier” and I’d get a cool, delightful beer.  You could also order a “Weizenbier” to get a wheat / Hefeweizen style beer or a “Radler” to get a beer mixed with Sprite. The food at the Brunnsteinhutte was all locally grown / raised and was very yummy. Having hiked double what we should have and since there were only a few others in the communal bunk room we slept pretty well at the Brunnsteinhutte.

Thursday morning we had the usual bread, jam, cheese, and ham breakfast and took off on our second day of hiking. The hike went to the top of a small peak, the Linderspitz, then descended to the top of the Karwendelbahn – a cable car which brings tourists from Mittenwald down in the valley up to the tall peaks. There was a nice restaurant at the top of the Karwendelbahn that we had lunch at. We then took the easy route through a long, cold, drippy tunnel instead of going over another peak. The tunnel lead us to a giant snow field which allegedly is a ski run in the winter – one which I’m not sure Jenny or I would be brave enough to ski down. We slowly descended the snow field, then traversed the snow field, then traversed a skree (little sliding rocks on a steep slope) field, and finally ascended a short slope to the Predigstuhl (6298 feet). From the Predigstuhl we could see our next stop, the Hochlandhutte (5346 feet). To get to the hut we had to traverse some steep snow fields and were lucky that it had been warm and sunny which makes the snow soft so you can create foot holds. We didn’t have our crampons or ice axes so this was a bit scary. A fall would have launched us off a thousand foot cliff. We were glad to make it to the other side of the snow fields and easily descend down some cabled rock and snow sections followed by scree and then an easy traverse to the hut. The Hochlandhutte was a quiet and quaint hut with a friendly warden. That night there was only one other couple at the hut and we enjoyed some yummy Bergsteigeressen – “Mountain climber’s food” – a starchy and filling yet flavorful meal.

Friday we had the usual breakfast and set off on what would be the hardest day of the trip. The route ascends up to the Wornersattel (6524 feet) and then traverses below sheer cliffs before ascending the Barnalpl pass back into Austria. The traverse was like our traverses the day before except the snow was not yet soft and the slopes were steeper. This was a bad combination. We pulled the baskets off our poles to create some form of an ice axe in case we needed to do a self arrest on the snow (which I actually did have to use after loosing my footing and falling). There were a few places where the snow was piled up next to the sheer cliffs and the safest route was to climb between a small gap in the snow and the cliff then shimmy to the other side. This quickly became cold, dark, and dangerous. At times we had to remove our packs and pass them through the small gaps in these snow tunnels. Emerging on the other side of one of these snow tunnels we were a bit disoriented and were not sure if the trail was below us or above us. Luckily a group coming from the other direction confirmed that the trail was below us. We carefully descended down the hard snow field (probably around 40 to 45 degrees – very steep!) to scree. A few more scary traverses, another shimmy between the snow field and the cliff, a steep ascent up cabled rock, and we were very relieved to make it to the Barnalpl which seemed to be a purgatory between the hell now behind us and the heaven (hut) ahead of us. From there it was a few hours across a root covered trail – but luckily there were no more snow fields.

The Karwendelhaus (5809 feet) was visible in the distance and the wild flowers covering the ground all around us helped to lift our spirits. We reached the Karwendelhaus and enjoyed some beer and soup. Andreas, a server at the Karwendelhaus, helped us to forget about the treachery earlier that day as we talked about the ease of tomorrow’s hike. He assured us that the rest of our route would be much safer and easier. That evening we met a group of people who were Young Life leaders around Europe but all from the States. We enjoyed talking with them about people we all knew and our journey through the Alps.

The view from the Karwendelhaus was great and many people came to enjoy it for the weekend. There were many mountain bikers and people on short weekend hikes. We paid a bit extra for a smaller room which we only had to share with two others. That should have allowed us a great night’s sleep but for some reason we both slept pretty bad (maybe we were reliving the hellacious parts of Friday’s hike in our dreams). We slept in seemingly to live up to the “Lazy Americans” title. The Young Life crew and us were the last ones to leave the hut – at around 9:30 (there were already mountain bikers arriving and having their morning beers when we departed for a small peak nearby. We left our gear at Karwendelhaus and did the 1000 vertical foot ascent in under an hour, took some pictures, returned to the hut, grabbed our gear, and headed out for the day’s hike.

Saturday’s hike was pretty uneventful. We hiked down a beautiful valley full of flowers to a grassy field surrounded by mountains then up to the Falkenhutte (6088 feet). There were many mountian bikers making the same journey, even passing us on the up-hill portions which made us wish we could have rented bikes for the day. The Falkenhutte was packed with day hikers and people staying for the night. We were pretty exhausted from the hike the day before, the bad sleep on Friday night, and the hot sun from the day’s hike. But we were determined to stay up for the “Sonnwend” – a mid-summer celebration traditionally involving creating fires on the peaks. Since we were in a fairly remote part of the Alps there were not any fires on the peaks but one of the kids of the hut staff created a bonfire for the guests to enjoy. We enjoyed listening to the locals play guitar and sing American songs around the fire. That night we slept well despite being crammed into the crowded communal bunk beds.

Sunday we had the usual breakfast and headed out at our regular time (9:30) well after most of the locals. We headed towards the Lamsenjoch Hutte (6406 feet) – over a flower covered pass, down to the small town of Eng, and then up to the hut. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Eng where we ate cheese made from the many dairy cows on the outskirts of town. As we descended to Eng we could hear the clanging of cow bells long before we saw any cows. It’s a delightful – almost musical – sound that fills many of the valleys we passed through. The locals used to put bells on the cows so that they could easily find them if they got lost however now it’s done more for nostalgia than necessity. We made our final ascent of the trip up to the Lamsenjoch Hutte in the hot afternoon sun. When we got to the hut we were refreshed by polishing off a few Radlers (beer and Sprite). The hut was fairly busy but thankfully not as crowded as the huts were on the weekend nights. Other than a thunderstorm in the middle of the night we both slept well and were ready in the morning to begin the long descent (over 4000 feet) back to the valley.

Jenny and I were both ready to return to civilization. I was badly in need of a shower (Jenny had taken one at Karwendelhaus) and we looked forward to something out-of-the-ordinary to eat. We travelled by train back to Innsbruck and made it back to our hotel where I was able to clean up before we went out for some Thai food. It was excellent food and a nice change from the brats, potatoes, sauerkraut, bread, and pasta.

We are now on a train to Zurich where tomorrow I speak at a conference for work. On Thursday we head to Wengen, Switzerland (near Grindelwald and the Eiger) for two days of spa relaxation and day hikes. Then to Chamonix! We hope you all are well and wish that you could be enjoying the Alps with us.

2 thoughts on “30 Miles Across The Karwendel

  1. Daddyo

    Snow and altitude sound refreshing to me after spending six days last week in 112degree heat of SunCityWest! But, no crampons or ice axes?! Watthaheck?! Yikes – where was your glacier gear? Glad all is well. I really enjoy following along with your journey despite the nailbiter parts. Beer and Sprite? Hummm? Is it best with pilsner,or lager??or? Have to give it try – what’s the ratio? 50/50? Do they do Montana style ‘red beers’ (beer mixed with clamato juice) in Austria? Happy 4th – had a nice exchange via email with Laurel today/last night for her b-day. Seems all is well in SriLanka. All is well in fly-over Iowaland. Look forward to your next installment. Blessings and good travels- love, Dad


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