Hiking in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps

As winter approaches, we think of the Alps because of snow and skiing, but in summer it’s another world all together. A world of meadows, flowers and cows with bells, like a scene out of Heidi or The Sound of Music. One of my biggest wishes when moving to Europe was to go hiking in the Alps, and in my fifth summer here we finally made it there in summer. (Fifth summer! I had to count this on my fingers a few times. Has the time really disappeared so quickly?).

We went with a friend to Bavaria in the late days of spring heading towards summer, for four days of hiking in the Alps. The weather was great, four days of sun. We stayed in a little town called Aschau, near the Austrian border. There are hikes leaving directly from the town and many more accessible nearby, especially if you cross the border into Austria.

Kampfenwand

On our first day we started with a hike leaving directly from Aschau, to the famous Kampfenwand, which one of the girls on our trip was very keen to do because of its fun scrambling sections. She is wild about via ferrata and climbing. I love scrambling too but am more cautious by nature, so via ferrata isn’t really for me unless it’s very simple. Kampfenwand was perfect for me because the one or two sections with chains were quite doable, and there were lots of nice big rocks to climb over.

We headed through the town and then up through the forest. Coming from flat Berlin, it always takes a while to adjust to hills. Our legs don’t see so many hills. We passed by some cows with bells, lying in the flowers. After some uphill through the woods, we emerged at an Alm. In the Alps there are many Alms, basically wooden buildings where you can get something to eat and drink, and sometimes stay overnight. A popular drink is “Johannisbeerenschorle”, sparkling blackcurrant juice, or Apfelschorle, sparkling apple juice. Sweet treats to eat include Apfelstrudel, Germknödel, plum or cherry crumbles and cheesecake.

After a refreshment we headed on our way, passing another few Alms before reaching the start of the scrambling section. As usual the rocks started off small and became bigger. Near the top it was a fantastic kingdom of rocks.

After a chain section we reached the top..success! We then decided to do a traverse rather than go back down. Another short bit of slightly more challenging scrambling and we got to the path we were looking for.

The path led us down the slopes, through forests. We passed lots of edible wild plants: Bärlauch (wild garlic), blueberries (not in fruit, too early), mint, sage…It was a nice and varied path. You realize how far you’ve walked up once the downhill part takes hours too. We didn’t end up back where we started, so our friend got a lift back to Aschau and then came to pick us up.

 

Wilde Kaiser

Each day started with a great breakfast buffet in our apartment (German style with bread, cheese, cold meats, yoghurt, fruit etc) followed by spreading the map out over the table and sitting with guidebooks to plan the day’s route. As mentioned, the one girl was very keen to do via ferrata. Our hostess found a route that had via ferrata with the possibility to walk around, and so I decided it wasn’t worth lugging around the equipment the whole day and would just walk around. The hike would be in Austria this time, next to the famous mountain Wilde Kaiser.

I enjoyed the ride in the car through the mountains before getting down to the business of hard hiking. The green, flower-filled meadows and wooden chalets on the hillsides were straight out of a postcard of the Alps.

My first impression when arriving at Wilde Kaiser was how very green it looked, almost like we were in a tropical jungle in Thailand rather than in Europe. Some cows were there to welcome us near the parking lot.

It was a hot day and the first part of the hike was straight up. After doing a very long hike the day before, my legs did feel a bit tired. My feet also started cramping but it went away after a while – eating some magnesium-rich almonds helped.

We had amazing views of the Wilde Kaiser and I took endless photos. As we got higher there were even some snowy patches to cross, similar to when we’d hiked in Georgia – but this time I didn’t have snow hiking shoes. Luckily it wasn’t too long and borrowing a pole helped. I have to say that after a few days of hiking in the Alps I could totally understand why everyone gets the poles. Apart from snow, sometimes there are steep downhill sections where the path surface is a bit loose, and the sticks give a lot of stability.

After a long, hot, steep uphill we made it to the Alm. We refreshed ourselves with Johannisbeerenschorle and some food, then headed for the next section, which would lead us to the beginning of the via ferrata.

At the start of the via ferrata, I left the others and took the Panorama route around. Even here there were some metal staples to climb, which was not so easy as I’d agreed to carry someone’s poles for her while she was doing the via ferrata. At least they were useful for some other parts of my walk around. I got to the top way before them and sat and watched the view until eventually they appeared over the top of the cliff.

Our route was not yet done after the via ferrata section, and we are not at the too yet either as we were headed for another peak. The next section of the route had quite a lot of scree and also some snow. Eventually as we got higher it just got steep. Around every corner was another uphill – it seemed endless to get to the top. Even when we reached a grassy meadow and thought that was the top, there was still another top.

We did it eventually though – we reached the top. And once again we realized how far we’d come on the endless downhill. It took us over meadow and through forest. Eventually we got to the bottom, feeling as if we were on a multi-day hike because of hiking two long days in a row. Time to drive back to Aschau and have dinner. When you hike you work up such an appetite that everything you eat tastes absolutely amazing, and it was no exception with our home-cooked dinner that night.

Wildseelodersee and the Blumenweg

For day 3, we found another route in Austria, which also included a via ferrata section. It also meant taking a cable car to start off high in the mountains. Once we got up there, we spent some time watching a paraglider preparing for a flight and finally taking off. It was fascinating to watch how he caught the thermals and floated up higher than the mountains.

After that we headed off to the walk to Wildseelodersee. There were some lovely flowers in different colours along the way, as it was spring. It wasn’t a long walk but did go uphill and my legs were complaining a bit after the previous two days. However it was not too long before we got to the Wildseelodersee, a beautiful lake in the mountains. To our surprise, it was frozen! At the height we were at, there was still some snow around. The Via Ferrata route the others had wanted to do was closed because of too much snow.

We took a break in the Alm next to the lake and then wandered around the lake for nice views before returning to walk the Blumenweg (Flower way). The path leading up from the Alm was covered in snow in one section, with a steep slope running down next to it leading down towards the frozen lake. While having something to drink at the Alm, we’d watched others gingerly walking across this section, and I dreaded it. If you would slip, you would slide all the way down the snowy hill to the frozen lake. In fact, this section was quite scary, because it was hard to walk in the snow – it was both deep and a bit slippery. I was very relieved to get across.

After this the trail continued upwards to the Blumenweg. It was not the height of the flower season at the time we were there, but the route still had great views, as it traversed around the mountain. In parts the path was quite narrow, but the views were amazing.

After some ups and downs, we ended up at a ski lift station (closed for the summer). Instead of skiing down the piste, we would be walking down. The funny is that there was still snow on one part of the slope. We all started walking slowly down – the snow was quite slippery. I stepped forward very carefully, trying to place my feet into the footprints  of the people before – but then, being a klutz, I somehow slipped, ended on my backside, and went whizzing off down the hill. It was impossible to stop, the snow was too slippery. I screamed at first, then realized there was nothing to fear because at the end of the hill it was just flat ground (no cliff edges, just a meadow), and I’d stop anyway. Not to mention that it was much faster and less painstaking than walking down the snowy slope like the others. So then I started laughing, all the way down. The only part that was a bit uncomfortable was that my backside was very, very cold and wet! As the slope evened out and i came to a stop, I couldn’t help just laughing hysterically, and my husband was laughing hysterically too; the others had also cracked up. I really wish we had this on video!

Adventures over, we continued on our way down the mountain. It was a lovely walk. We missed the last cable car down, so we had to walk, but it was a beautiful route, with abundant green meadows and flowers, and views of the other mountains – the storybook alpine scenery.

After getting back to Aschau, we had time to try the “Kneippen” spring. “Kneippen” is a tradition in the area of walking through icy cold mountain water after your hike to refresh your feet (and other parts of your body if you wish). There was a small pool with instructions: you should get in, walk around once, then get out and let your feet warm up, then get back in again, three times in total. The water was icy but it was great for tired feet! The slightly painful part was when getting out of the cold water as they warmed up, but I didn’t experience it as painfully as my husband for some reason. They also had another place with running water you could hold your arms under. Afterwards my feet felt very refreshed – I’d happily do it after every hike!

Wandberg

We had to drive back to Berlin in the evening, so we chose a relatively short route for the last day which would give us enough time to go for a swim before the long drive back. Short and steep, however – we gained altitude quite quickly! The hike we decided to do was on the Wandberg, a hike through alpine meadows that would lead us to a dairy selling cheese (Kaeserei in German – basically a Cheesery!). It started off in a forest and we actually crossed the Austrian-German border in the woods.

The hike just went straight up at first, through the woods and then up a hill. We arrived at an Alm surrounded by meadows of cows, and a horse who wanted to go in the gate of the Alm. We stopped for some refreshments and apfelstrudel or cheesecake. After that break, we said hello to the cows and horse and continue uphill for a bit, across meadows and through a bit more forest. Past some more meadows, we reached a grassy peak where we relaxed for a bit before heading down to the cheese farm. The cheese was very tasty Mountain cheese, and we all bought some. My husband and another in our group also had big glasses of fresh milk, while I had another one of my beloved blackcurrant Schorle’s. After this it was a fairly relaxed walk back to the car – there were a few ups and downs but not too bad.

We’d though about going to Chiemsee for a swim (it was a very hot day), but we didn’t really have time so instead we went to a local swamp pool in Aschau. It was our first swim of the season! The water was icy but very refreshing, and it was nice to relax and also eat some ice-creams, feeling nostalgic that it was our last day in Bavaria. Afterwards we had to head to the car and back to Berlin, leaving the beautiful Alps behind. I swore I would go back again in summer, but the year just escaped us. I hope next year we will go again – the Alps are truly one of my favourite places in Europe.

 

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