Bavarian Alps – Berchtesgaden

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Finally, away from this place! Admittedly a beautiful spot, and now I’m away from the Kein Trinkwasser and my ass is settling down, I feel a lot better.

These were my feelings after five days in the Bavarian mountains. I think I’d tried to test myself, and failed. You see, after a relaxing sojourn in southern France with my mates, it was time to get serious. Well, after a beer with Craig in Munich maybe. The skies weren’t exactly inviting.

I eventually sauntered off, catching a train to Salzburg, then a make-it-up-as-you-go connecting train to a small village just south and closer to the mountains, Hallein. I awkwardly navigated up to the higher side of the town, climbing through a short section of forest below a retaining wall on a road in evening dusk, right before it started pouring rain. That put a bit of a spanner in the works. Sticking my pack under the road I wondered if it was possible to make a lean to here, in the wet grass and the mud. Hmm, maybe not.

The village of Hallein

I walked up the road, thankfully the rain shower started to ease. But now it was completely dark. At the next side road I dropped the pack, and started to look for my headlamp. A minute or so later, with half of my pack spread out on this single lane road, a car pulls up behind me. I think I managed a weak smile towards the bright headlights, but it just stayed there. Yes it’s probably fair for him to wander what I’m doing here – but I still can’t find my headlamp! And aren’t Germans used to people being strange? Eventually I realise that he probably can’t get past, so I scrape my gear towards the side, he passes, and I find my headlamp and continue up the hill, on a walking track this time. The forest isn’t too bad, now the rain has stopped, and I find a nice little flat spot to set up the tent fly.

Through the leafy foliage I can see lights of the village below. It’s quite a good spot here, as long as the rain holds off! Getting comfortable I crack open a Weissbier, a little luxury that I’d dragged up the hill from the nearest supermarket. It tastes good, quenching my thirst like water never could. Just as I’d predicted, a few minutes later I accidentally knock it off it’s mossy rock, and that’s the end of that – time for sleep.

The Alps CAMP #1!

1 July: Hallein (Austria) to Purtschellerhaus to Carlstahlhaus (Germany)

The next day it was a rather long walk uphill. Being a developed country, this is sometimes a humiliating proposition – the first part of the walk was on sealed road, passing several bus stops, I then walked up through a ski field, then a long traverse along muddy cow paddocks, and then back to a sealed road. But finally I left tarmac for the last time and climbed up to the Purtscheller Haus (a serviced alpine hut) for hot lunch.

... I have mixed feelings about cows being allowed to roam the Alps...

Above the hut was a nice steep grassy slope, and the breeze was coming up perfectly. It had remained fully overcast and things seemed quite settled, although there were some showers in the distance to the west. Apprehensive only about losing all my hard earned height, I took off. To my left was an enormous lump of limestone, the Hoher Goell, and I was very relieved to find myself soaring up the side of it in gentle and widespread lift. Soon enough I was high enough to cross the saddle and knock off some distance, cruising along in buoyant air with the massive glacial valley of the Konigsee on my right, and walls of limestone reaching up into the clouds on my left.

As some light showers started to approach, I began to think about landing, but with no slope landings possible I had to press on a little further, eyeing a green grassy perch a few kilometers ahead. A little sooner than I’d anticipated, I hit showers – large snowflakes in fact – and decided that it was indeed time to land. Lining up my approach, I was suddenly in white out, and all of a sudden a very pleasant flight had turned into a nightmare.

Things aren't looking so good anymore

Watching the GPS I pulled big ears and pushed bar to get away from the terrain before pulling a B-line to get out of the cloud, leaving my spirals until I had visibility of the ground. Unfortunately I never really regained control of the situation though and drifting over the back of a spur I crash landed. This was the most dangerous event of the entire Europe trip and somehow I was unhurt. Sheepishly dragging my soaked gear with me I walked five minutes to the Carl Stahlhaus, where I wound down for a bit. Sleet, whiteout, and chilly winds – it was a rather miserable afternoon for the first day of summer. They call this place the Hagengebirge (hail mountains)!

2 july: Carlstahlhaus to Gotzenalm

Carl Stahlhaus with the bulk of Hoher Goell behind

Carrying a wet wing, the weather wasn’t offering me a chance of drying it any time soon. I followed the alpine track up past the snow line. It was rather horrid conditions for this time of year but in fact it was a nice walk.

Summer continues in Bavaria...

In the afternoon the sun made a brief appearance and we enjoyed a few welcome views.

A rather tame Steinbock (ibex)

The Alps being Europe’s playground, many folks come up for a weekend, a good walk around and a beer in the afternoon sun – so when I arrived at the Gotzenalm with a gigantic pack it was rather impossible to fit in. Germans being a likeable and upfront bunch, one asked in jest “where are you going? The Watzmann??”. This, the third highest peak in the country, was in view across the valley, rising steeply from the Konigsee.

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The sun didn't last for long! Taken from the Gotzenalm

Since my bedsheets (the glider) were still soaking wet there was no question of sleeping out the night so I settled down for a hearty dinner. Unfortunately later that night I made a dash for the washroom sinks and filled them with the half digested vomit. Not happy – I’d regrettably made the mistake of drinking mountain water during the day. As another straight speaking German informed me later on, if you drink water here, you have problems!

3 july: Gotzenalm to Wasseralm

Is this some kind of practical joke? W’ly winds, 8 8ths cloud, and it just started snowing!! Does it get worse before it gets better or is this good for Salzburg? 🙂

I was going to send this to Craig P regarding his weather forecast!

Um, is this "good weather"??

After 4 hours of waiting in the cold I had a 7 min soaring flight to test the air. Face landed 50 vertical metres below and things died for a bit. Then more showers across the valley. Finally with cloud base lowering down the Watzmann I took the next wind up the face to launch intending to sled ride under cliffs on the track to Wasseralm. Got a bit of lift though and flew for 40 min extra. Wind got strong up high and I’d go back and forth with penetration on trim. Hard to avoid a rolling motion on big ears and bar. Considered landing on high grassy slopes but wind evident on trees changed my mind about that! Pushed forward gaining height and considered flying downwind over pass to Austria. But definitely not enough wiggle room for my liking. Broad high country on north side and pass to south side of valley blocked by 4m sink, as with attempting to glide to Wasseralm (even though hut in calm air).
So I landed in original sled ride spot!! Just after packing up showers came followed by a strong associated downdraught.
This sure does give you an appreciation for the xalps. In particular how it must be hard to get high but be too chicken to push on! More rain this evening at least makes me feel better about using the day – it worked out quite well. I’m not about to chase road miles so it’s fine to stay in the national park. And to stay alive!!

The Watzmann rising out of the Konigsee, from my slope landing spot

Needless to say that on reaching the next hut, the Wasseralm, it started pouring and continued for the rest of the afternoon. I would again have no difficulties making the decision to spend the night in.

4 july: Wasseralm to Riemannhaus

By now I was feeling the effects of a loose bowel and the dismal weather. In a rather cruel blow, the weather today was actually brilliant, but I was too shattered and poorly positioned to benefit.

The rocks in this area eat the plants

First I climbed through fields of limestone. Then I walked over fields of limestone. After passing a fields of limestone pass I descended the other side and walked through fields of limestone. While I did have a rather silly flight, I didn’t have enough height over the fields of limestone to avoid landing anywhere but a few hundred meters away, in the fields of limestone. I packed up and continued walking through fields of limestone, exhausted and thirsty in the hot sun, and only encouraged to keep moving because of my rather urgent need to get to a toilet.

Steinernes Meer, sea of stones

I reached the Riemannhaus hut in the evening, perched on the edge of the plateau I’d spent the day wandering. This place is aptly named – Steinernes Meer, the sea of stones.

While the evening sun was very warm I hardly had enough energy to eat dinner – flying would wait until tomorrow.

5 july: Riemannhaus and out

Fooled by the forecast, I woke expecting to fly but in fact the place had clouded up. I passed the time by climbing a nearby peak, impressive dropoffs on each side disappearing into the murk. 

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Watching the clouds from near where I launched

I then descended down the Austrian side and decided to wait by a rare patch of grass to see if it would clear. After a couple of hours it did – well, not really – but it was good enough to get off, and I landed in a Austrian village not far from the popular tourist town of Zell Am See.

Goodbye Steinernes Meer and Hagengebirge!

I decided that a hot shower was in order, and this did not disappoint. My confidence completely crippled, I cautiously I asked whether you could drink the tap water. I got an incredulous response – “of course, you can drink the water from the lake!”

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About sharemyjoys

Nick Neynens
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One Response to Bavarian Alps – Berchtesgaden

  1. Pingback: Austria | Put on your boots and go!

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