Hiking Tour - A Secret Trail from Scharnitz
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
Now that I am back home in Munich, I decided to focus again on some local adventures in the surrounding mountains. And to create some more interest for my blogs, I have decided to focus a little more on some lesser-known routes. And boy do I have a banger to start it off.
First of all the route I am about to tell you is not even marked on many maps, and even on Komoot, there is no highlight marked here. The condition I found the trail in would lead me to believe that I am one of the only hikers to use it during this entire summer. And that is exceptionally outstanding if you consider its location. Leading from the town of Scharnitz to the Mittenwalder Höhenweg, two of the most frequented hiking destinations in the Karwendel region. On my descent, down a more commonly known route, I probably met close to a hundred other hikers. On my ascent, not a single one. So with that already in the backs of our heads, let me give you:
Four reasons to do this tour
An unusual route, connecting points you are probably already familiar with, allowing you to experience these familiar places from a new perspective.
A great view of the Karwendel National Park.
A lack of hikers on the trail leads to more wildlife to be discovered.
And it is an exciting technical challenge, in regards to its steepness, as well as the navigational challenges, allowing even relatively experienced hikers to test themselves.
Starting out in Scharnitz, you can either arrive there by train directly from Munich or by car. Although on the weekend I would even recommend you take the train. Roads and parking lots are overcrowded most of the times, and since there is a train going from Munich directly to the start and finish point of the hiking tour, every hour, there is really no excuse not to choose the environmentally friendly way. From Scharnitz you first start to ascend via the Plattsteig, an easy hiking trail through the mountainous forests. Always selecting the leftmost option at any intersection will lead you to the first viewpoint, a little bench at about 1120 m of elevation, allowing you to look back towards the village below. From here on it is only a short walk to the Birzelkapelle (1126 m). Shortly after passing this small mountain chapel, it is time, to turn left on a small, unassuming and unmarked path.
After a few meters on thick leaves, you will be able to spot the first red dots on stones and trees. Those are used all over the alps to mark hiking trails and mark this particular trail as well. However, they are probably not maintained on this specific route, as more than once during my ascent, I had to search quite extensively until I found the next one. The path is, at least in the lower sections always recognizable as such so it is easy to follow, even if you can not spot the next marking.
Also, quite suddenly, the path gets a lot steeper. At times you now have the cross gravel fields, which is at this steepness quite a challenge. Also, the landscape turns. Through the trees, you can see the sheer stone walls of the Brunnsteinkopf, and all around you, the trees get thinner, and smaller until they suddenly reveal the first genuinely great view in an easterly direction. Now you can see the Isar and Karwendelbach beneath, as well as many peaks of the Karwendel Mountain Range. At around 1300 m of elevation, the slope of the mountain is now so steep, and the surface so rocky that trees will no longer grow here, even if you are well below the actual tree-border. Even mountain pines, usually abundant on the slopes of the Karwendel are sparse here and confined to the somewhat less steep sections of the wall.
This also means that from now on, there is no protection from the sun. And you are standing on the eastern slope of the mountain, with no protection against the rising sun. Therefore, I would recommend bringing enough sunscreen. The character of the path also changes. It now feels like climbing a steep staircase, from rock to rock to rock. It never gets steep enough to necessitate the usage of your hands, however to some, it might be uncomfortably close to that point. And, with some short exceptions, the grade never really lets off. So you should have the sure-footedness and un-afraidness of heights required to master this section on two legs, or else you will be crawling for a very long time. Time and time again, small fields of gravel need to be traversed, and especially on those, it can turn to quite a challenge to find the next red dot. Although I was always successful at all times, even if it might have taken me a few minutes.
However, I would also need to advise you to only attempt this route in clear weather, with a favourable forecast. I imagine climbing this route in foggy condition would be some kind of nightmare scenario, as it is pretty much impossible to differentiate the trail from the surrounding mountain without the red markings. And on many occasions, those are placed far enough apart to be lost in the fog. Also, from the moment of crossing the treeline, you are entirely exposed to the elements. If a thunderstorm alone does not sound scary enough while standing wholly exposed in a nine-hundred meters high mountainside, you should also consider that those weather conditions also lead to plenty of rockfalls, especially with the soft chalk-rock the Karwendel is built out of. So to reiterate: Only during clear weather and under favourable forecast. Also aborting the ascent is no option in my opinion, as the path is so steep that walking downhill is a rather dangerous proposition, that should only be considered for true emergencies.
But enough on that, let me return to the tour, where I found a nice resting spot about halfway through the ascent. At 1860 m of elevation, the path got flattened for a few moments and was suddenly surrounded by some grassy areas. Her you can sit down, enjoy the view and have an envious look at the chamois climbing the mountainside like it is nothing. As I have mentioned previously, I saw plenty of wildlife on my climb. I met multiple groups of chamois, of course, hawks and mountain ravens, of course, but also some mice, and on the grassier sections at the top even two rabbits. And a lot of these sightings are probably owing to the unpopularity of the trail, as these animals are not usually close by the frequently used paths.
As the path gets higher and higher, it gets even worse do discern, and once you reach the grassy top of the mountain, it actually is no longer possible to identify one at all. From here on out, you can only follow along the ridge until you meet up with the next path at some small huts. Here you also have the chance to turn left and ascent either the Rotwandspitze (2192 m) or Brunnsteinspitze (2180 m), however, I passed on that opportunity since I felt my effort to be close enough already. Also, I did not want to take away from the circle-like character of the tour, since ascending either of those would have meant to take the same path twice. Instead, I went directly for the Brunnsteinanger (2095 m). Here I started my descent via the Brunnsteinsteig. This would lead me, past some great views of the Wetterstein Mountain Range, and the Isar Valley towards the Brunnsteinhütte (1510 m) which I can recommend as a break spot with great food, however, I passed on it, since it was getting a little crowded already. This is probably a good a spot as any to mention that all hikers I met that day, I encountered on the descent between the Brunnsteinanger and Scharnitz. And the vast majority of those only below the Brunnsteinhütte.
The descent is long, although in my opinion not spectacular enough to warrant a detailed description. It is a very well maintained hiking trail, and plenty of this type exist in the Karwendel region, but we after all just discovered one of the hidden gems, so it rightfully feels a little underwhelming. Only at one point during the descent, at about 1190 m of elevation, there is another point of interest. Here the so-called Leitersteig connects to the trail, and while following it would lead us entirely in the wrong direction I recommend to take the detour the bridge over the Sulziklamm. This spectacular suspension bridge is only a few meters away from the intersection.
After this point, the trail also turns to a forest road, and after reaching the floor of the valley, there are actually just a few more kilometres in the flat to hike over until we reach our destination in Scharnitz. Here is also the most unpleasant section of the entire hike, as for a few meters you have to walk next to the state road, which is quite busy with cars.
After reaching the parking lot, you can congratulate yourself to the completion of this exceptional tour, and maybe even reward yourself by shopping some great Tiroler Bauernspeck, while passing through Scharnitz.
Anyways, this was all for this tour, but if you liked it, there are plenty more blogs coming on some underappreciated hiking and biking tours in the vicinity of Munich. If you are interested in this, you could do me a solid, if you could subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of this page.