This trek seems unknown in the UK – it (or the region itself) does not seem to feature in any guidebooks written in English. We had a few days to fill before setting off to the Dolomites so it was ideal for our purpose. As it turned out, I was really taken with the wildness and savage beauty of this area and it proved to be the highlight of the entire trip for me. I would jump at the opportunity to go back to explore more and/or complete the whole route.
The route starts from Mittenwald just over the German border and is easily reached from Innsbruck by bus or train. We joined a very long queue for the Karwendelbahn cable car (making our ascent easy!) to start the three hour walk to our first overnight stop at the Hochlandhutte. The whole area at the cable car top station was very busy with day trippers enjoying the superb views into the valley over Mittenwald and across the whole range of the Karwendel. We spent a hour or so climbing up to the Westlichen Karwendelspitz to enjoy the same views. It was a bit galling to discover a good, but very straight forward, Via Ferrata route across the three peaks which we could have done had we brought our kit (left in Innsbruck ready for our Dolomites route later in the trip!)
We now rejoined the others and started the route – which initially involves going through a tunnel to access the Dammkar Scharte – a dramatic steep and loose scree descent to the Dammkarhutte. From here there was a pleasant ascent up through forest providing welcome shade from the late afternoon sunshine – to arrive at the Hochlandhutte (1623m) for our overnight stop.
Next day was flagged as a 5-6 hour route – our destination being the Karwendelhaus (1771m). This was to turn into a fine, challenging mountain walk. Quickly, but easily, rising to the pass – the Wornersattel 1939m, where we stopped to enjoy the views and a snack. The next section of the route took us along an exciting path which hugged the foot of the Hochkarspitz – travelling over several steep scree slopes.
Eventually we reached a pass and came out into totally different scenery. After the harshness of the scree we now found ourselves in typical lush Alpine meadows – the Baralpl. Next followed one of those ordeals where you can see your destination, (in this case, Karwendelhaus), but one where it never seems to get any nearer. On the map the route from here looked innocuous enough, unfortunately on the ground it was tough – constant undulating over a rocky, root strewn and overgrown trail. Eventually, two hours later we arrived at the hutte for a welcome beer (or two).
Day Three’s destination would be the Hallenragerhaus (1768m) on a route taking 7-8 hours. This was truly a great day – one of those I will always remember. The route begins with a long, but steady ascent to the Schlaunchkar Sattel – fantastic views all the way back over yesterday’s route.
From here it is possible to make the short climb to the summit of Birkkarspitz (2749m). Now followed a long and rough descent into a beautiful valley.
Again, fantastic views, but it was necessary to give maximum concentration to the ground underfoot – the path here was cabled in places – many of which had slipped away – probably during the previous winter. Good opportunities for scree running in places on this descent! Finally reaching the valley floor we now had a long walk along an unmade road, slowly ascending to reach the hutte late afternoon.
Day Four – the settled sunny weather continued. Today we needed to reach the Pfeishutte (1992m) – my German guidebook claimed this would take us 3.5 hours – an easy day! To make it longer and more interesting I had decided to include an ascent of the Spekkarspitz (2571m) – this was easily achieved from a path leading off the main route. The map showed it was then possible to return by another route to re-join the route, but as things turned out we ended retracing our steps.
What a good choice – fantastic route up, some scrambling and superlative views from the summit.
Our final day of walking this route would take us along the Herman Buhl Weg – a fantastic balcony path overlooking Innsbruck. The view would have been spectacular – but today had seen a change in the weather. We were lucky it was not raining (yet) and the clouds in the valley billowing up onto the tops made an appropriate atmosphere. Arriving at Seegrube we then caught the cable car down to Hungerburg (when the heavens opened) – and then into Innsbruck. If we had extra time we would have continued this day walking from Seegrube onto the Solsteinhaus (1808m) – an 8 hour walk in total – across what looked like on the map to be an exciting route. This would then take you onto the final day of the trail – to the Nordlinger Hutte (4 to 5 hours) – and from there an extra hour to the Harmelekopfbahn lift down into Seefeld.
Maps required: Alpenvereinskarte 1:25000 5/1 and 5/2
View all the photographs of the trip – click here