Gone Hiking: The Allgäuer Alps

Summer has been a long time coming in Germany this year, which means that there haven’t been a lot of good weekends to head for the mountains. Add to that a trip to America, many other busy weekends, and the result is that the first real hiking trip of the year had to wait until July. This is going to get a bit long (but lots of pictures!) so click on….


Waiting until July for the first hike had a few disadvantages, mainly:

Number one: I was in no way physically prepared for a real hike. Last summer I worked out a lot as I had the fear of a bathing suit in my future. This year has been a bit too busy to get in any decent routine. This is not good, and something that I seriously need to change!

Number two: As we decided we wanted to go “serious” hiking, and not just a day trip (the original plan), we had a LOT of trouble finding a place to go. July isn’t holiday time in Bavaria yet, but it is holiday time for a few of the other German states. So of course, the mountains are a popular destination, and space is limited. We called the Hütte (shelter), that we planned on overnighting in, and they were completely full. So were the next twenty that we called. Lesson learned… next time don’t wait until Friday night to try to find a place for Saturday! Finally we found a house in the Allgäuer Alps that responded positively, the Kemptner Hütte. Although they didn’t have a place in the house (despite having room for 290), they had room in their “emergency room.” We wrote back saying that we’d take it, and set off.

Besides my visits to Neuschwanstein, I haven’t spent much time in the Allgäu. I have a few students who are from the area originally, and I’ve heard a lot of good things, so I was excited to see more. 

Turns out, the good things I heard were absolutely right. The Allgäu makes up the most south-west corner of Bavaria (and sneaks into Baden-Württemberg a little bit), which makes it the exact opposite of my other Bavarian love, Berchtesgaden in the south-east corner. It was absolutely gorgeous, thankfully erasing the memory of the giant traffic jams we sat in to get there. 

Our plan was to park our car in Oberstdorf, where we would hop a bus to take us to the starting point of our hike in Spielmannsau. But first we were in dire need of lunch. We followed some signs to the lovely restaurant Karatsbichl. There was a bit of a walk (pre-hike warm up) from the parking place to the restaurant. On the way we passed this little guy having his lunch too…

At the restaurant, I thought it would be a good idea to get some protein, so I ordered what I thought was a savory pancake with egg and ham. This is what I got…

I’m not sure if the photo can give you a true impression of how big that thing was, and this was not even half of it. It was enormous, thick, and so good. But it utterly defeated me, as I think I ate about a quarter to a third of it. Luckily, BV is basically a walking stomach despite his skinniness, and he finished it off. After he had already eaten a big plate of pasta with ham. I don’t know where it goes and this disturbs me greatly. 

As the drive and lunch took longer than we thought, we were pretty behind schedule at this point. As I said above, we had planned on taking the bus but he times were not very convenient at this point and we didn’t know where the station was, so we decided to just drive to Spielmannsau and see if we could find a place to park there.  

Guess what? Turns out you can’t drive there unless you live there.  

We drove about halfway there, but when our next turn on the navigation wanted to send us down a road we couldn’t drive on, we had to turn around. Luckily for us, the road was at an intersection that was full of Drindl und Lederhosen. Yep, it was fest time, which meant all kinds of cars were already parked along the roads. There was also a bus stop right there, so we were back to the bus plan. We had just enough time to park, grab our stuff, duck into the fest to watch children dancing in their costumes, grab an ice cream, and get to the bus. 

The short bus (sorry, van), pulled up, and we were off. Up up up we went, along a very narrow road to Spielmannsau. I wouldn’t call that a village so much as four hotels/guesthouses and an Alm crowded around a bus stop. An Alm is essentially a dairy in the mountains, and you often find them along hiking trails. They usually have small things to eat for Brotzeit. You’ll find bread, sausages, and naturally lots of cheeses and butter. Oh, and beer. But that’s a given in Germany, right? We didn’t stop on the way up since we had just eaten, but I was already looking forward to a beer at the bottom the next day!

The path to the Kemptner Hütte starts of innocuously enough. I posted a picture the other day, but here’s another one.

Alm resident

 
The first part takes you through this nice, flat, field of cows. All that butter at the Alm has to come from somewhere, right? But I knew the flatness was not to last… the Kemptner Hütte  is at 1846 meters, and a sign in Spielmannsau informed us that we were at just over 1000 meters. We had a long way to go.

At the end of the pasture, the path started to go up and split. Our path went to the right, and we started to climb, following a crystal-clear mountain river that rushed past us on the right. Across the river valley, we heard more cow bells and spotted flashes of brown and white as cows grazed on the hills. 

See the cows?

Last year when we hiked to the Blaueishütte, we had a pretty smooth path, minus the last 30 minutes of stairs. It was steep, but the path was a supply road, so it was very well-groomed. This path? Not so much. Supplies reach the Kemptner Hütte via cable car, and the cable car starts down at the back of the cow pasture. This path was rough, rocky, slippery, and oh-so-gorgeous. I’m all about the photo/catch your breath break. 

The trail took a little more than three hours to go up, landing us at the shelter a mere ten minutes before they stopped serving dinner. I’ll spare you details of how humid it was, how many times I thought I was going to die, and how many times I cursed not having hiking sticks. Instead, I’ll tell you about how we followed the river along the valley, before crossing a bridge and turning left into another valley. The path started to climb more steadily at that point, as we wound our way across the valley again and again. Going down occasionally was a nice relief, but since you just knew you were going to have to go back up again, it was a little rough. 

I lost count of how many times we crossed water, and towards the end of the valley we were walking through it almost steadily as it poured down the rocks onto us. It was mountain cold, and felt fantastic. We passed remaining drifts of snow that were made into caves as the water rushed through. Saturday was a bit hazy, so the pictures make it look darker than it actually was, but you can get the idea…

Snow caves
Snow on the right, our path on the left.
Can you spot BV digging for stones?

Pardon my sweatiness

This felt amazing beyond words.


At the end of the valley, the terrain evened out a bit, and we found ourselves in what shall henceforth be known as The Most Perfect Valley Ever. The entire route was green and full of flowers, but photos can’t even do this place justice. It was so covered in flora and fauna it was as if the mountains were exploding. After a few more minutes of hiking, we came around and got our first glimpse of the shelter. The last push was steep again, but it was all worth it at the top…

See the house?


We added our hiking shoes to the neat rows in the enormous Schuhraum, and ran up to the restaurant. The nice gentleman who was busily washing out beer mugs told us to grab a seat as we only had a few minutes left to order dinner; they would find us a spot to sleep later. No arguments with that, as the enormous egg ham thing was several thousand calories down the mountain. 

Inside was packed, so we ended up out on the deck. This gave us a great, albeit chilly spot to enjoy our pasta, beer, and schnapps, while we watched the mountains turn their tops to gold. 

At this point in the evening, it was time to die, so we made our way to our accommodations for the night. Remember when I said they only had space available in their emergency room? 

Welcome to the Notlager, or as I dubbed it, the MausHaus. Yep, we slept in a barn. But you know what? No problem. Well, no problem for me. Apparently BV was freezing all night, despite our sleep sacks and the two shelter-provided blankets. I heard nary a mouse peep, but I assume they were scared away by the truly impressive snoring from the grandpa on my right. We had to go up to the main house (up 10 very steep stairs), to get to the bathroom, but that was manageable. In my opinion, this was actually better because the entire house was chock-full of people. Whereas the MausHaus had room for about 40, but only 15 or so were there that night. I’m okay with some buffer room between myself and the snoring Opa. Oh, and his granddaughters, one of which was making a very strange whistling snoring noise. 

Sunday morning we were awakened by a helicopter at some ungodly hour. Or… between six and eight. That’s breakfast time in the mountains, which we totally missed because BV was dead. The chopper was brought in because someone was trying to reach a nearby summit and ran out of steam… good to know. 

By the time BV finally rose from the dead, we were the last people left in the MausHaus. This made us the laziest people on the mountain, but at least the bathroom line was much shorter. Not to mention, it was a piece of cake to find our shoes with the Schuhraum nearly empty. I was very sad to see that no one had forgotten their walking sticks, which thwarted my evil plan to steal some. Mostly kidding there… mostly. 

We spent some time walking around the house and a bit further up, as I thought it was a good idea to let the sun reach the valley and hopefully dry some places out before we started to head down. As I mentioned, the way up was very steep, rocky, and slippery, and I was pretty worried about how the trip down would go. But we needed to spend some time at the top anyway, as it was empty of people, and breathtakingly beautiful. Have you ever seen each blade of grass lit up like it has its own personal lighting director? Because I have. Welcome to paradise….

    
After a good wander and a granola bar breakfast, we decided to start our trip back. I was walking ahead of BV when I rounded a corner to see something brown and furry scurry off the path and up the hill ahead of me. 

Yep, Murmeltier, aka marmots. We stood and watched them for awhile, as there were quite a few young ones that were hanging out close to the path. They seemed fairly unfazed by our presence, and were pretty funny to watch. Plus then we got to quote this for awhile afterwards…

Love those guys. 

So we said goodbye to the shelter, and started the long walk back down….

All that white on the right? Flowers.

Sunday was really a perfect day. The way down was a bit slippery, but it was so gorgeous and sunny that it was totally worth it. Plus this time we got to be the people who weren’t sweating as much, as we passed all the hikers heading up the valley. 

The way down didn’t take as long as the trip up, but it still took just under three hours. We did take a few good breaks to dig mud out of our shoes and have a snack. But as anyone who has gone downhill for a long time knows, that works a totally different part of the leg as going up, so it’s still pretty exhausting. The sun was glorious but HOT, and at the bottom we had one thing on our mind. After crossing streams more times than I could count, and following the river back down the valley, we were getting in some water. Immediately. 

At the end of the cow pasture there were a few spots that were just perfect for that purpose so before you could say “sweaty socks,” they were off and feet were in the water.

It was ice cold and fantastic. I gave myself a rinse, and sat on a rock with my feet in a pool until I couldn’t feel my toes. In true mountain man fashion, BV stripped down (undies stayed on thankfully), and jumped in. This was all fun and games until we were joined by some visitors….

Backpacks are not cow snacks.


Two of these cows joined us for a drink, and yes, I do have an incredibly hilarious picture of BV in his skivvies standing next to them. However, I value my life so that’s not going on here. 

Once we felt properly refreshed and slightly cleaner, it was time for some real liquid refreshment…. We also figured it was a good idea to get going before the rest of the herd came and trapped us in the river. So we headed back through the pasture towards the Alm.

I went straight for the beer menu, but BV was intrigued by this…

Yep, that’s a milk menu. So I drank some beer, he had some milk, and we shared a plate of delicious homemade bread, cheese, and hams while we rested our aching legs. 

Afterwards it was quick short bus ride back to the car, and a long drive back home. 

Overall, it was a great trip, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it without being in halfway decent shape. It was pretty rough in a few parts, and my short-legged self needed some help, especially on the way down. If you go, definitely have a good pair of hiking shoes because sneakers won’t cut it. I’d also strongly suggest the walking sticks… I’m bringing them on the next trip for sure. But it was unbelievably beautiful, and I’m looking forward to exploring some more parts of the Allgäuer Alps on future trips!

More info on the Kemptner Hütte can be found (all in German): 

Kemptner Hütte Homepage   


*Most photos in this post are courtesy of BV, because his camera is better than my iPhone. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Gone Hiking: The Allgäuer Alps

  1. Bavaria really is pretty! But I know that trips like this can be very exhausting. I have done a similar thing without being in shape and it really was a struggle. But thanks for sharing all the beautiful pictures!

  2. This post was awesome! I had to take off my regular jealousy hat and replace with with the SUPREME MANTEL OF JEALOUSY that I save for special occasions when you do something particularly epic. Well done.

    Isn't this a great comment? I just wanted to comment, in comment form, about the comment-worthiness of your blog post. I feel that commenting, particularly when using a commenty-comment fashion, is the appropriate response when comments are required. Sort of like being ROYAL AND GREY when being such is required. Commenty-comment comment. Comment, comment, comment.

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