German Road Trip #3: Engeratsgund See
-- If you're here for a breakdown on how to reach the Engeratsgund See - skip ahead to here.
The ~official~ Alpen Strasse calls for a visit to Bad Hindelang, which we did not do. Instead, we drove an hour to our guesthouse in Rettenberg, Ferienwohnung Prokop. While we were surrounded by mountains and trails, my heart was set on only one hike. A hike to this beautiful Alpen lake (Engeratsgund See) with clear blue water and great Instagram photo potential. According to my phone, one could drive to a hut and hike two hours to reach the lake. Seemed easy enough, which is why we only booked one night and began our journey promptly at 1 PM (I mean, you might as well eat lunch first).
My largest error was putting all my trust in Google Maps. I should have known better, as Siri has led me astray before. Most of the time she's fine, but sometimes she likes to remind me who's in control (her). Maybe it's a weird turn down a gravel road at midnight, or a sudden detour across country borders, or the long abandoned shopping complex which used to be the Kmart you're looking for. But UGH researching before a hike is so tedious. I get so bored. And maybe if I had researched this hike beforehand, I would have said 'forget it' and spent the next two days relaxed in a biergarten somewhere. But no, we drove to the hut.
At least, we tried to drive to the hut. Once we reached the tiny town of Hinterstein we came to a point where the buildings ended and the road changed to one lane. Yes, Siri, there technically is a road which leads to our destination, but if one is caught driving on it, it is a 400 euro fine. We had reached the outer limits of some nature preserve area (I think) and our day just got a lot more complicated.
As you can see from the map below, our car was stuck at the top blue flag icon, while the huts we planned to drive to (green markers) and the lake (blue square marker) were wayyyy south.
I was going to have to work for these Instagram photos, but not today. We found a different hike posted at the bus stop -- A short(ish) loop from where we stood to the Zipfelsbach Waterfalls. Luckily, dirt hiking trails are shown on Google Maps and we didn't have too much trouble finding the trailhead (see this blog and komoot for details). The hike was pretty easy and a good warm up for the next day.
One thing which I had forgotten, is that MANY hiking trails in the Alps take you directly through cow pastures. There's no way around it. It's cute until we Googled it, and discovered that a handful of hikers are trampled to death each year. The cows are used to people for the most part, but there are things one can do to stay safe: Stay on the trail, do not linger or stop, and do not make eye contact. Sometimes the cows stand directly on the trail, and you just have to go around them. Of course we didn't Google this til after our hike (sorry mom), but now we know. (Here is a good article with more info)
The loop took us back to Hinterstein, and we found dinner at the Bergsteiger-Hotel "Grüner Hut". The waiter was able to give us some more information about the hike we wanted to do the following day. Knowing all that was ahead of us, and that we only had one day to do it, we called it a night.
[Skip to below to continue reading my non-logistical commentary]
How to reach Engeratsgund See: (Komoot page)
~ Come prepared with snacks, water, some sandwiches, and proper shoes. Hiking poles are VERY useful as this is a difficult and rocky trail.~
1. Drive to Hinterstein and park at "Parkplatz "Auf der Höh"" We got there at 10 AM on a Wednesday and it was almost filled to capacity, so try to get there early.
2. Pay for parking with Euro coins only. There are 2 ticket machines near the road. We were able to get change from the bus driver but I wouldn't count on that.
3. Catch the shuttle bus to the Giebelhaus. The timetables are posted at the bus stop near the Bergsteiger Hotel, or you can see them on this website under "Scheduled traffic Hinterstein-Giebelhaus". The shuttle, however, picks you up at the little cul-de-sac near the parking lot, not near the Bergsteiger. When we were there in September, the shuttle ran once an hour. The last shuttle leaving the Giebelhaus back to Hinterstein at 6:30 PM. The Giebelhaus was closed on Wednesdays (of course the day we were there).
4. Pay cash for the shuttle (maybe 5 euro per person round trip?). This shuttle is allowed to go on the forbidden Alpen Road which leads into the mountains. It's about a 20 minute ride to the Giebelhaus.
5. From the Gielbelhaus, follow signs for the Schwarzenberghütte , it's about an hour uphill.
6. Stop at the Schwarzenberghuette, as it is actually open on Wednesdays and the only place with a bathroom for miles.
7. Use your Google Maps if you are a fellow technology-dependent millennial and follow the trail to the See. It's pretty straight forward but there are a couple forks in the road to be aware of. I believe this is the exact route we took, called the "Blick nach Hinterstein – Schwarzenberghütte Loop from Nordpol". It took like 3 hours to reach the lake, but we stopped a lot for photos.
8. When we reached the See, we had a choice. Spend a few hours going back to Giebelhaus and potentially miss the last shuttle back (leaving us miles from the car at dusk) OR just hike back to the car. We chose to hike back to the Hinterstein from there, which was a nice change of scenery and made me feel better overall. It took about 3 hours. Note: We did have to go through two cow pastures on this route. One of them, you have to physically unhook/unclasp the electric fence-rope to enter. I was an idiot and slid underneath. You can just unlatch it because you are a human with thumbs and not a cow. There were no open huts (that we saw) on the hike back to town.
At our guesthouse, the breakfast delivered to our room was HUGE. We had more than enough bread, meats, and cheeses to create several to-go sandwiches and pack them away for later. I just love when that happens.
Upon returning to Hinterstein that morning, we followed the necessary steps and made it to the trailhead! The shuttle was about 70% full, but once we reached the drop-off point, everyone dispersed and we walked alone to the Schwarzenberg Hut. The road was paved yet very steep, and once we reached the hut an hour later we were thankful for the rest.
From here the trail only became more difficult and rocky. Within an hour my hiking boots began to fall apart and my body protested the exertion. We enjoy hiking, but as it is probably obvious, we are not hikers. I envied the few people we did see, who seemed unaffected by both the terrain and the altitude. Just casually hiking 15 miles alone on a Wednesday -- sure, why not? In contrast, the last time I sweat this much was when I dragged my luggage around Ibiza for an hour looking for my hotel. And that was over a year ago.
What did not totally help, was the weight of knowing this was the eve of my 29th birthday. In the past, I have not been fond of birthdays. I partially blame John Mellencamp for this. In the 1992 hit, "Jack and Diane" he sings the line "Holdin' on to sixteen as long as you can/ Change is coming 'round real soon/ Make us women and men". For some reason, this song had a profound impact on me. "Once I turn seventeen," I thought to myself, "It's all over."
Thirteen years later, here I stand. Unable to stop the movement of time, I'm panting next to an Alpen trail, my eyes focused on the beauty around me. I'm so small here. It's quiet except for the occasional breeze or the chirping of a groundhog (or me complaining). Despite my physical discomfort, I am actually quite content. Everything I have done between sixteen and now has brought me here, to this moment.
Shifting my mindset from morbid to thankful when it comes to birthdays will be something I work on yearly. I feel progress as I approach the ridge, see the lake for the first time, and think "Wow, I have survived 29 whole years to see this" and quietly thank my body for not absolutely falling apart during the final climb upward.
We approached the water and saw several groups of people relaxing on its banks. We meant to walk around the entire thing and find a nice spot to eat, but quickly stumbled upon a couple who were sunning themselves completely naked. Surely, this was one of the most European things I have ever seen. What would other Germans do? Just keep walking? Say hello?
We awkwardly stopped a few yards away to discuss what should be done before doubling back to sit near a woman with a nice dog. I took off my shoes to inspect the damage, and Will was hellbent on swimming. I considered the idea until I actually felt the water, which was easily sub zero. After informing Will that I would not be saving him if he decided to drown, I sat down to enjoy my sandwich. I figured that if anything happened, the dog could be the hero of the day. Or the skinny dippers, which would be an excellent story.
After about an hour we packed up and began the three hour hike to the car. The trail down was pretty treacherous -- the large gravel rocks had ankle-breaking potential. I thought that if I did break my ankle, a helicopter could come save me and I wouldn't have to hike all the way back. Or at least someone on a four-wheeler. Nothing of the sort happened, but we swore we'd buy hiking poles for next time. Let's be real, that is not going to happen.
As the parking lot was full that morning, we had to ~create~ our own spot along with some other late-morning arrivals. Now, our car sat stupidly in the middle of an empty lot making it very obvious we were dirt bags. Resourceful dirt bags. We found no ticket on the windshield so really, no harm no foul. Unfortunately the restaurant we ate at the day earlier was booked, so we ate snacks and changed shoes to begin our journey to eastward.
Normally, the drive to Garmisch is 1.5 hours if you cut through Austria. At this point in our lockdown, we were not allowed to leave Bavaria. So, we took a longer route to stay inside Germany which was not so bad. Twenty minutes outside of town, we called in a pizza to pick up before arriving at our hotel. This would be our first stay at Edelweiss Lodge & Resort -- more on that, next time!