The Karwendel Höhenweg: Long-distance hiking amongst giants
This summer sees the addition of a really special hiking attraction in the Karwendel mountains: the Karwendel Höhenweg (the Karwendel High Route). Six days of hut-to-hut walking in the Karwendel mountains offer unique vistas of the impressive peaks, experiences of real mountain hut atmosphere and the chance to taste the best Tyrolean delicacies. The article from zeit.los magazine allows you to discover what makes the new long-distance trail so “wonderfully walkable”:
The Karwendel is a mountain range unlike any other. You can catch a glimpse of two completely different worlds on the Nordkette ridge bordering the Karwendel to the south.
Below one side of the ridge is the densely-populated Inn valley with its constant activity. On the other is the idyllic mountain solitude of the Naturpark Karwendel, many parts of which allow little human influence. Large areas of the Karwendel are practically free of people. The mountains are an ideal retreat for that reason, a place to switch off and rediscover yourself. To climb in order to descend once more.
Get high on walking
Walking affects our brain activity as well as the metabolism, the central nervous system and brainwave potential. Structures where the reward system is located are stimulated when walking. Dopamine levels rise. Neurotransmitters regulate signal transmission in the brain and they are produced in this so-called black substance, the substantia nigra. It all works as the body’s own kind of drug that triggers feelings of happiness. To put it a little more casually, hiking gets you high. A natural high. These transmissions also improve memory. That’s why you remember great experiences for a long time. We experience a feeling of lightness when this inconspicuous molecule dopamine occurs in the right dosage – for example, when we walk. But that’s enough brain chemistry.
Variety in an idyllic location
The Karwendel Höhenweg, which starts and finishes in the Olympiaregion Seefeld, offers plenty of variety in idyllic surroundings. The trail covers the southern part of the Karwendel mountains and invites walkers to discover the valleys and peaks of the biggest and most beautiful Nature Park in Austria as part of a multi-day hike – to be more precise, in six days. The Karwendel mountains offer the variety of clear alpine streams, steep rock walls and deep gorges along with moors and gentle meadows. The start and finish points of this long-distance walk can easily be reached by public transport, which keeps the ecological impact to a minimum and avoids the irritating hunt for a car parking space.
The Karwendel Höhenweg requires a certain level of fitness and surefootedness, although relatively experienced mountain hikers should find it easy to cover the 60 kilometres in six day walks. At the end of each stage, five wonderful mountain huts offer the perfect chance to lay your weary head and refresh your body.
A long-distance hike in six stages
The first stage of the Höhenweg starts at the railway station in Reith bei Seefeld and covers 6.5km and 1159m in altitude until it reaches the Nördlingerhütte at 2239m. Along the way hikers pass the Schartlehnerhaus and then take a climb through the mountain pine-covered ridges of the so-called “Schoaßgrat” to the first overnight stay.
On the second stage you really plunge into the Karwendel and leave “civilization” behind you. Refreshed, you start from the Nördlinger Hütte towards the Urspungsattel (2087 m). From there the trail leads to the Breite Sattel (1794 m) and then to the Eppzirler Scharte. A path crosses the limestone scree of the Höllkar and then slightly up and down to the Solsteinhaus, the second stage destination. If you feel at home in alpine terrain, are absolutely sure-footed and free from vertigo, you can alternatively hike from the original saddle along the Freiunger Höhenweg to the Eppzirler Scharte. The rock sections are secured with cables and it is advisable to take a via ferrata set with you.
The third day is the longest stage of the Karwendel Höhenweg. It is best to head off at the first rays of the sun from the Solsteinhaus. Head downhill in the direction of the Möslalm and, at the turn-off in “Wilden Iss”, follow the Gipfelstürmerweg past the hunting lodge. Over switchbacks and a ridge overgrown with trees and mountain pines climb to the so-called “Hippen”. A short descent, then very steeply up to the Frau-Hitt saddle, which is located west of the Frau Hitt – a prominent rock spire. Descend from the saddle via the Schmidhubersteig to the Seegrube, from where you can enjoy a wonderful view over Innsbruck. Then up to the Hafelekarhaus, where you turn onto the Goetheweg and follow it to the Pfeishütte. On the Goetheweg, two worlds meet: the rugged Karwendel mountains and the Inn valley. If you don’t want the steep climb from the Seegrube up to the Hafelekar, you have the option of taking the Hafelekarbahn.
The fourth day begins where the third ended, at the cosy Pfeishütte. From there it goes over the Stempeljoch and the Lafatscher Joch to the Bettelwurfhütte. After leaving the Stempeljoch behind you, you reach the so-called Wilde Bande Steig, which is named after the mountaineering society of the same name, founded in 1878.
The fifth day consists of a relatively leisurely walk to the Hallerangerhaus. From the Bettelwurfhütte, the eagle’s nest of the Karwendel, return to the Lafatscher Joch and from there between Lafatscher, Roßkopf and Speckkarspitze downhill to the Hallerangerhaus.
The last stage from Hallerangerhaus to Scharnitz runs through the Hinterautal along the Isar and after the more strenuous stages really allows you to relax and recharge your batteries along the shimmering turquoise blue river and let the experiences of the last few days run through your mind.
Of course, this high-level tour can also be done in the opposite direction, but this variant is definitely recommended.
It’s not only hard to study on an empty stomach, it is also difficult to walk. And luckily the Karwendel Höhenweg has plenty of culinary options along the way. All the huts have joined the Alpine Club initiative “This is what the mountains taste like” and pledged to use mostly regional products in their kitchens. That also helps to preserve the alpine culture and landscape which has been created by hard-working mountain farmers.
Packing tips for the Karwendel Höhenweg
A rucksack that is too heavy is not easy to carry and is also not very good for balance on tricky sections. So here are some helpful suggestions.
Experienced mountaineers use the multi-layer principle when it comes to clothing, which means that several thin layers are better than a single thick layer. Since the weather can be unpredictable, especially in the high mountains, you should expect and be prepared for changes in the weather. In general, the basic rule when packing a backpack is that you should take as much as necessary and as little as possible with you.
- Walking boots (ankle height)
- Breathable underwear
- Breathable shirt or top
- Fleece pullover or jacket
- Weatherproof jacket with hood (wind and water resistant)
- Long walking pants
- Walking socks
- Hat and gloves
- Change of clothing
- Rucksack (35 – 45 litres) with rain protection
- Walking maps and guide
- Sun protection (sun cream, sunglasses, head protection)
- Water flask (min. 1.5 litres)
- Emergency provisions (muesli bars, glucose tablets,…)
- First aid kit
- Mobile phone
- Spikes (simple crampons for boots)
- Telescopic walking poles
- Bivouac sack
- Hut sleeping bag and slippers
- Wash kit and hand towel
- Karwendel Höhenweg Starter Kit
Tips for long distance hiking
Physical fitness, general conditioning and sure-footedness are the basics that will determine your route. Before you go you should study the trail carefully: Where are the refreshment points, huts (check opening hours and sleeping places) and possible emergency accommodation? Are there passages that should be avoided? And if so, how? Is special equipment required (climbing harness, helmet, crampons etc.)? Is the selected route freely passable everywhere? Check the weather forecast before the tour!
Please make a note!
Alpine emergency number: 140
European emergency number: 112
More information about the Karwendel Höhenweg:
Fotos: Hansi Heckmair, Heinz Zak, Stefan Wolf, Stefan Hagenlocher, Tirol Werbung (Holger Gassler, Jens Schwarz, Peter Sandbichler, Hans Herbig)