Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Karwendel Klettersteig ridge walk

The Mittenwalder Klettersteig Ridge Walk on the German / Austrian Border
Operating HF Ham Radio for Summits On The Air
Westlich Karwendelspitze DL/KW-008 & OE/TI-293  (Deleted March 2016)
Sulzleklammspitze DL/KW-004 & OE/TI-628 (Deleted March 2016)
(Local times quoted)
Wanderkarte Hiking Map used on this walk for this journey
Seefeld bus to Mittenwald > Karwendelbahn Cable Car >
Summit Westlich Karwendelspitze then traverse of the Karwendel Klettersteig >
Summit Sulzleklammspitze > Kirchspitze > Brunnsteinanger >
Brunnsteinhutte > Materialsbahn bottom station > Taxi Seefeld 
I left Seefeld on the 08.50am bus to Mittenwald. The bus route crosses into Germany at Scharnitz which meant my Austrian Guest Card bus pass (€12 and valid for the length of my stay) had to be topped up to the tune of €1.90. 

The River Isel at Mittenwald - with the Wetterstein mountain range in the background
at this point the base of the valley is 933m above sea level
A 1 Km walk from the bus/railway station took me to the Karwendelbahn Cable Car which whisked me to the top of the Alpine Karwendel Mountain Range at 2244m.  The one way trip cost €13.50. My plan from there was to climb a further 150m to the summit cross on Westlich Karwendelspitze at 2385m.  I was to activate the summit  from the German side and then from the Austrian side of the border, claiming double points, before tackling the Klettersteig mountain ridge walk to Sulzleklammspitze where I would  activate  for SOTA on both sides of the border there. 

If my attempt was successful I could claim 40 points towards the Mountain Goat Award which I have been working towards since 2005. This was to turn into an epic walk in which I intended to celebrate 10 years of SOTA, even though it was only 7 years since I got involved in the scheme. 
Top Station of the Karwendelbahn 150m below the summit of DL/KW-008 & OE/TI-293
Cafe - viewing platform - and exhibition centre
The weather at the top station at 10.00am was fine, sunny and dry, temperature 4c. Some sporadic but patchy mist came in towards the end of the morning, but the mist soon burnt this off as it became hot.

DL/G4OBK/P - A 5m long travel whip and link dipole was used for the 30m/20m/17m band 
The signposted climb to the first summit was straightforward with some easy scrambling up broken rocks. There were some wire rope sections in a few places secured to the mountain side to hang on to when needed.  

The summit top was busy due to its easy accessibility - a young boy signs the visitors book
The small summit top was never free of people for the time that I was there, however I was able to set up my station on the other side of the cross where I could be seen by the public who were coming up to the summit to sign the visitors book.  This is a kept in a watertight metal box fastened to the cross, just the same as I had found on the Reither Spitze. 

The ice covered tin bath on edge of ledge
A shallow metal bath filled with water was sited where I was operating my station.  This had a film of ice around 1cm thick on it, even though it was the middle of summer.  I commenced operating at 10.45am on 10.118 MHz, which is known as the 30m band. This was after phoning my friend Roy G4SSH in Scarborough Yorkshire, who alerts the SOTA chaser enthusiasts on my behalf to my presence on our SOTAWatch website, needless to say Morse Code specialist G4SSH was the first callsign entered in my log, which I followed with 33 others in Morse and Voice over a 55 minute period. 

What I had to do now was identify the Austrian side of the summit and this was impossible to do where I was situated by the cross.

My view across to the German side of DL/KW-008 from Austria OE/TI-293
To be sure I was on the Austrian side of the summit I had no alternative but to pack up my equipment and drop down around 15m to cross a short col and set up my station above the col on the knarled crags which were definitely on the Austrian side: 

 Translation of sign: 
Only for experienced
Climbing Equipment Essential
Committed at your own risk

Exit point from the Karwendel Klettersteig

A climber passes my operating position on OE/TI-293
note the safety wires and drop to the left - commonplace throughout the Klettersteig route
The view into Austria from my perch on OE/TI-293
Martin DD0RM with DL/KW-008 behind

I set my station up at the exit point on the Klettersteig (Climbing route) and it was only a matter of minutes before the first (well equipped) climbers started appearing from above me, however fortunately for me for the hour or so I was there, only three groups of 2-3 people came across.  

As I apologised profusely  in my non-existent German, they all managed to negotiate me, my station and my antenna. 

Once I had packed up and was just ready to leave the last climber stopped for a chat. He was another radio ham - Martin DD0RM and we had a chat about SOTA before he joined his friends on the German side by the cross.  

Activity from the Austrian side produced a tally over an hour of 64 contacts on the 10, 14 and 18 MHz bands. 
Plaques on the Klettersteig
The quality of the map I was using was poor when compared to what the British Ordnance Survey produce but I'm glad I had it. I had also pre-programmed into my GPS the coordinates of the two summits.  

My next border SOTA summit along the ridge was the Sulzleklammspitze, shown to be less than 1.5 Km south of Westlich Karwendelspitze on path number 277.  What I was to encounter though was a far from straightforward route. All the people I had seen using the Klettersteig were well equipped with climbing harnesses, belays, clips and gloves and most were wearing helmets. I had a decent pair of Altberg boots and that was it. I was also carrying a heavy pack containing my radio gear, aerial and the usual hiking necessities.  

I left the summit the way I came up later than intended, at around 1.00pm  and took a path to a signpost at a point elevated to the Bergbahn and to the south of it.  Although it measured out at a mere 1.5 Km on the map the course of the Klettersteig used all manner of fixtures and fittings  to enable someone with basic climbing experience (and equipment - if required) to negotiate it. It was slow going as I now encountered a Via Ferretta of iron ladders, steel cables, wooden platforms, bolt fixtures into rock. a 3 feet wide chimney, loose scree and a cabin shelter perched at 2188m on top of a huge drop on my way over to Sulzleklammspitze.  

Here are a series of pictures of the ridge route to the SOTA summit of Sulzleklammspitze:

An early test of nerve on the Karwendel Klettersteig
Looking back to the route taken - hard to imagine I had traversed it
You cannot see the other ladders above these pictured
I should have taken the photo from further back as the shot does not do the height 
climbed by other ladders justice
Looking back down the ladders - the lower ones cannot be seen
One of several minor summits traversed on the way to Sulzleklammspitze

Sulzleklammspitze ahead - the route takes you around the left side to the bothy hut
Camel like rock formations above one of the cols
Scrap metal generated from repairs to the Klettersteig - turn left for the bothy - about 300m

Emergency bothy shelter before final ascent up to Sulzleklammspitze

The "Chimney" below Sulzleklammspitze
On my way across the ridge I passed some German climbers, a father getting his 11 year old son across - character building and finally two Scotsmen.  The distance of 1.5 Km was obviously far greater with descent and reascent of other minor summits along the way, and it took me around two hours to reach my target. I never felt unsafe, but then I have no fear of heights. Some would think I was foolish I suppose. The Germans and Austrians are very safety concious.  After the bothy cabin which is shown on the map as Notunterstand (2188m) the climb became easier as I climbed over alpine meadow up to the top of the Sulzklammspitze at 2319m. The two country summit here had only been previously activated once, in 2007. This was understandable owing to the difficulty in reaching it. The activator previously was Luk DD1LD.  I'd met Luk at Ham Radio Friedrichshafen  in June 2009 -  he's been a Mountain Goat for some time and he is still activating. 

The third & fourth dual summit on the German / Austrian Border - note the alloy pole antenna support
The nameplate fixed to the pole confirmed I was where I intended to be. I was grateful to the mountaineering club or tourist board or whoever, had fixed a length of aluminium pipe into the rocks on the summit that was a perfect support for my 5m fishing pole! 

OE/TI-628 Osterreich left and DL/KW-004 Deutschland right
As well as the aluminium antenna mount I was also grateful to find a border stone a few metres from my antenna which enabled me to be sure where I was sitting for each dual country radio activation. 

My seated operating position on a ledge on the German side of Sulzleklammspitze DL/KW-004 - some drop
The time was now 4.15pm as I started my activation of DL/KW-004 and I was concerned about how much time I ought to spend before starting my ascent down to either Scharnitz or Mittenwald. In the event I came down mid way between the two towns, and I would make the decision on my chosen route when I reached the col 300m below me at 7.00pm.  

The conditions were good and on the 30m and 20m bands I completed 49 contacts from each country in 80 minutes. Time was now short and I decided to omit 17m band operation so I could leave the summit by 6.00pm.  Whilst operating from the Austrian side I made contact with ZL2IFB (Gary) in New Zealand on 20m CW on the long path. I was running 60 watts from my last of three LiPo batteries. 

I started my descent and thought my climbing was finished - but I was wrong. I had to go over KIrchlspitze:

It always looks worse than it is in reality.....I had now to climb Kirchlspitze 2301m
There was always something to get hold off however.....and I felt quite safe
The route becomes easier as I pass several boundary markers ...and I see my first ever Chamois >>>>>>
I watched the beautiful creature for a minute, it watched me, barked, and then legged it....
none of these are resident in the wild in the UK
Another Chamois was seen some distance ahead of me as I dropped down to a col shown on the map as Brunnsteinanger:

Brunnsteinspize in mist - what a path - Brunnsteinanger Col is below me out of sight.
I wanted to tackle that path and go over the summit to Scharnitz but I was out of water and time
I continued down to the Col.   It was now 7.00pm and I studied this signpost at Brunnsteinager which did help me make a decision:

I now had 2:30 hours of daylight left and I was still at 2095m. To reach public transport I needed to get down to the valley which was at 933m - quite a descent with the time available before dark in unknown territory. To reach Scarnitz I would need to pass over Brunnsteinspitze, over the switchback in the photo 3:25, so I would get benighted if I went that way. So I opted to go west on path 291 down to Mittenwald with the advantage that after 1:15 I would reach the Brunnsteinhutte. Having survived on 1 litre of liquid all day, not having seen a drop of water anywhere, a drink was much needed right now.  The maps may not be as good as the ones we are accustomed to in the UK but the signage is brilliant.

After texting my brother in law back in Seefeld to say "don't expect me for dinner I am still at 2100m" I made tracks on a steep gravel switch back path amongst conifer shrubbery to reach the hutte at 8.00pm for a pint of cola, or at least the nearest thing they had to Cola, which was black but tasted like orange juice.  Pure nectar to me....

There must have been at least twenty people drinking beer and staying the night. This was the  Austrian / German equivalent of a British Youth Hostel, 1523m up the side of a mountain, with the nearest road 2 Km away and more than 500m below where I was stood.

Huge Wood Burner in the Brunsteinhutte
It seems walkers and climbers travel from hutte to hutte - this sounds very adventurous to me and something I would like to do if I ever got the opportunity. 

The verandah of the Brunsteinhutte 1560m ASL 8.00pm on 23 July 2012
I leave the hutte at 8.15pm for my taxi rendezvous at 9.30pm
After my drink and short break I was asked if I intended to stay overnight in the hutte. I told the young lady who asked me the question that I needed to get back to my hotel in Seefeld before dark and that the bus was no longer an option as the last one went at 5.00pm so I would need to catch a train from Mittenwald or Scharnitz which lies on the Munich to Innsbruck railway line to return me to Seefeld. The timetable in my rucksack confirmed that there was such a train.  At this point the hutte manager, who appeared to be the girls father, intervened and suggested that I may prefer to take a taxi, and he could telephone a local firm who would pick me up from the bottom station of the Materialsbahn (the cableway which brings up supplies to the hutte).  I accepted his offer. He arranged for the driver to pick me up at 9.30pm from the bottom station of the Materialsbahn. I set off on the well established path.

Sunset over the Wettestein as I descend through the woodland to the Materialsbahn bottom station
A reassuring sign is passed as darkness falls on the woodland path
I was underway again, refreshed and with a strong downhill pace on an easy gravel path in woodland. This brought me to the meeting point at exactly 9.28pm, just as the taxi driver was arriving up the rough track.

The taxi arrives to collect me from the Brunsteinhutte Materialsbahn bottom station
The €28 taxi ride was worth every cent and I was back in Seefeld by 9.45pm which was far too late to have my dinner in the hotel.  After a  shower I went into the town where enjoyed a large pasta meal and some beers and I felt literally "on top of the world", completely exhilarated after what to me was an epic adventure taking me 40 points closer to my SOTA Mountain Goat Award.  

Radio Equipment carried:

Yaesu FT-857 HF/VHF Transceiver with standard microphone (Power used 50-80 watts)
2 x 5000 mA LiPO batteries (14.4v)
1 X 4000mA LiPO battery (11.1v)
Coax fed Link dipole 17m/20m/30m
5m Fishing Pole
Guy ropes, bungees, tiewraps, tools, terminal blocks, tape, cord, logbook, pencils
Palm Paddle Morse Key

Also in the sack:

Camera, GPS, Compass, Map & Whistle
Small first aid kit, suntan lotion, painkillers
2 Mobile phones
500ml water + 500ml Coca Cola
Sandwiches, fruit and energy bar
Lightweight fleece
Lightweight waterproof
Pair of walking poles
Foam sit mat

Carried in Berghaus 35+8 Rucksack total weight: 13 Kilos

Two further expeditions were pencilled in for later in the week, a two summit day on the German side from Mittenwald and a single summit day on the Austrian side from Geisenbach. 

When I spoke to my special advisor (the  hotel receptionist!) the day after I completed this walk and asked him about the wearing of safety equipment on the Klettersteig he said that the usual problem is that walkers tackle the route and sometimes their arms tire mid way across.  This means they cannot hold on and so they get stuck. They can't continue and they can't turn back through fatigue and so the rescue services then have to get them off.  I'm glad this didn't happen to me.....I guess you make your own luck.  
I thought this was a story worth telling. It's a day which I will never forget....


  1. Superb account Phil. I'm not ready for Via Ferrata but would like to try some more of the routes in 'Walking in the Bavarain Alps' by Cicerone Press. Thomas and I had a great adventure doing DL/MF-070 Breitenstein using a walk from this book. As you say walking from Alm to Alm for overnight stays would be excellent.
    I love the no cycling sign on the bothy door!
    73 es sd
    David M0YDH

  2. HI Dai

    I'll never forget this walk - the via ferrata was something I hadn't bargained for when I set out. I can't imagine I will undertake anything like it ever again with safety equipment, but I would like to. I was lucky to have just the right conditions on the day.

    The Cicerone Books are excellent - a Scottish chap I met on the Klettersteig walk told me he had used one of the Cicerone books in the Dolomites to good effect.

    I'd like to go back on holiday again with Judy (XYL) to stay in Mittenwald. There are great mountain walks in the Karwendel. On this holiday I was with Judy plus other family members so I hadn't the freedom to fit in more than I did, which I would have liked to.

    73 and hope to meet up one day,

    Phil G4OBK

  3. Update to this blog:

    With effect from March 2016 the summits of OE/TI-293 and OE/TI-628 are no longer valid SOTA Summits due to an update to the SOTA Rules which on review, dissallow dual border summits.