Königssee, Obersee, Hochgschirr, Königsbachalm Loop

This article was added to the site in February 2021 and dated back to the day when the photos were actually made, on a loop hike that I did while visiting Germany back in October 2019.

It had rained again overnight and snowed higher up, with more precipitation in the forecast, so I didn’t have any concrete plans for my day in Berchtesgaden. I packed my backpack “as if” I’d be going on a long day hike but remained skeptical that the weather would actually allow for it.

After a big and hearty breakfast at the hotel (I’d like to add that even the most average hotel in Germany will probably serve a breakfast that is 1000x better than the typical “continental breakfast” nonsense in America) I grabbed my things and walked over to my car… to be greeted by a magnificent view of Mount Watzmann.

I’ve shown this photo before because on the previous day in the afternoon, I had tried to get something like this in a photo after a good “workout hike” to Kneiffelspitze, to no avail — and here it was right in front of me, from the hotel’s parking lot!

I drove to Königssee with the intention of getting onto a boat that would take me across the lake all the way back to Salet and, depending on what the weather would do, ponder my options from there.

Coming from the secluded Reiter Alpe with its relative solitude (see previous entries: Grosser Weitschartenkopf, Rain, Forest Impressions, First Snow), the place is a shock of course: an enormous parking lot and even in this mixed weather, a lot of people. I wasn’t out there early enough either and the first boat had already left and the second one filled up entirely before I could get on. I had to wait in a trove of yet more people for the next one to arrive (they’ve got plenty — Königssee is a tourist magnet).

The boat makes its “mandatory” stop on the water, where a rock wall drops vertically into the lake. The guide who explains the features of the surrounding landscape pulls out a horn and plays some simple melody fragments. It’s just a couple of notes and even if he’s not the most skilled player (most of these guides aren’t primarily musicians, obviously!), this is always a magical moment, and one of the reasons why I wanted to take the boat ride again.

There’s always a little bit of chatter at first, but as soon as the echo of the first melody fragment bounces back from the rock wall after a second, everyone on the boat just falls silent. The sounds of the horn and their echo seem like an amplifier, and everyone is touched and awed by the stillness (all the boats are electric, and have been for a very long time) and beauty of nature and landscape in the fjord-like setting of Königssee that surrounds them. It’s a moment that makes everyone more aware, and brings them closer to this wonderful place.

After a couple of minutes it’s over and passengers tip the guide who played the horn by passing his hat around. He shares the tip with the captain and they assured everyone that they’ll only spend it on the finest beers. The boat continues its course across the lake and soon, the peninsula of Sankt Bartholomä (Saint Bartholomew) comes into view.

The boat lands at the peninsula and some people are getting off here before the ride continues to Salet, at the far end of the lake. That’s where I’m going and once we arrive and are off the boat and pier, there’s a “people jam” on the very first bit of trail. There’s a herd of cows, and people just stop in the middle of the trail to get selfies. This is annoying and I want to get away as quickly as possible.

I continue towards the more secluded Obersee but on the short connector trail there’s of course plenty of people as well. Most of them typically walk to the near end of Obersee lake and the little boathouse (where I made my photo “Princess“, many years ago). Indeed, that spot is busy with people too.

There’s no point in trying to make a photo of the boat house at this hour, so I just keep on walking. On the trail along the south-western side of Obersee it’s getting better. Less people, at last. The trail gains some elevation and then loses it again towards the far end of the lake. I have to make a photo of Fischunkelalm:

This is for fun and documentary purposes of course, to repeat a similar image that I made in May 2010 with Shuwen, “Fischunkelalm” (I think the older one is better). I’d also like to get a photo near Fischunkelalm, looking back across Obersee towards Mount Watzmann, but yes… there’s more people at Fischunkelalm too, of course. I scratch that idea as well and continue on the trail, towards Röthbachfall.

This is the highest waterfall in Germany and the idea was that, if the weather would look bad there then I’d go back the way I came, take the boat to St. Bartholomä, have lunch there (fresh caught & smoked fish, the so-called “Schwarzreiter”, together with a beer perhaps), then wander around the peninsula a little bit, and go home.

The weather doesn’t look too bad though, and the sheer amount of people at the waterfall just makes me want to flee. The trail continues into the forested section of Röthwand. I know it will be steep, and I know the sneaker-selfie tourist fraction won’t go there. I get the trekking poles from my backpack, extend them, and up I go.

It was the best decision. Hiking uphill is slow and contemplative. Soon there are some open spots that allow a look back down to Fischunkel (perhaps you can make out the tiny people), Obersee, and Watzmann beyond it all.

The trail gets a bit hairy here and there, bare rock that is slippery from last night’s rain, and water running everywhere over the bare rock right in those spots where one has to climb up. Some exposed spots have metal bars and steel rope to hold onto. A couple of hikers are coming down that way and I do not envy them for having to go that section of trail downhill.

A little further up, I get a good view of Röthbachfall — there’s not that much water flow at this time of the year (compared to spring and summer when the snow melts) but the weather is actually improving, and I’m treated to a moment where the light illuminates the trees at the waterfall’s jumpoff:

I reach the forested section above Röthwand, where the trail gets more level again. Here come some young Americans, easily recognizable not just by their language and the volume of their conversation :P but also by their inadequate clothing: t-shirt, shorts, sneakers, and no trekking poles (I think there’s not a single hiker in the alps and Germany that doesn’t use them — why so many Americans still consider poles “something for old people” is completely beyond me and I wrote about this before).

They only had small daypacks so undoubtedly, this group stayed over night unexpectedly at Gotzenalm, perhaps seeking refuge from the weather yesterday. Now they are on what seemed to them like the shortest way back: to the boat dock at Salet. I wish them a good day… and in my head, also best of luck for the exposed and wet sections of trail pretty much directly ahead of them.

At the very least, their feet won’t stay dry and if they make it over the steep sections with bare wet rock without falling and hurting themselves, they’ll laugh about their “adventure” later. I couldn’t help but think: this is why there are dozens of rescues on rather harmless hikes here in San Diego’s back country, every year. These people are not just unprepared, they’re clueless! They have no idea where they’re going and what lies ahead of them. Oh well.

In the forest, I reach the trail junction where one has a choice to either turn south onto the section named Röthsteig that leads to Wasseralm, or north onto Landtalsteig that leads to Landtalgraben (and in extension, either to Hochgschirr saddle or Gotzenalm). I want to make it a loop back to my car at the Königssee parking lot obviously so I turn north. I climbed about 600m (2000 feet) now so I find myself a spot to sit, relax and eat some Kaminwurzen (dried smoked sausage) and Schüttelbrot (dried bread) — it’s great hiking fuel and doesn’t spoil easily. I’ve had it in my backpack for a couple of days at this point already. :)

After also having an apple and some chocolate I continue my hike, further uphill through the quiet forested section, briefly along a nice little creek. It’s quiet now and there are no other people — what a treat. I reach the ruins of Landtalalm and it’s sunny here but looking south, the clouds are getting thicker over the mountains already. I hope this weather will take its time moving north…

Along those parts of the trail that were in the open I had already seen quite a number of Aconitum flowers (Wolf’s Bane, German Eisenhut “iron hat”) and up here they’re even bigger and more beautiful than further down near the waterfall. It’s okay how this photo turned out but later, back home, I realized that I made this photo with my 24-120mm lens while I also had the 70-300mm in my backpack. Duh!

Near the bottom of Landtalgraben is the trail junction to Gotzenalm. I ponder whether I should go there and have some hearty warm food (and then continuing via Unterer Hirschenlauf, instead of Hochgschirr), but it’s slightly longer, and considering the time and the weather that’s approaching, I rather push further uphill to Hochgschirr.

Landtalgraben is an absolutely incredible, glacier-formed trough. The forces that carved it are hard to imagine — and at the bottom of it all lies Fischunkel with the Röthbach waterfall, very small in the photo below. And above it, unfortunately, also some severe clouds, moving in over the mountains…

A group of young guys is coming downhill as I move uphill. I expect that they’re descending to Salet, the way I came, but they tell me that they’re going to Wasseralm instead to stay there overnight. I don’t ask where they intend to go from there because considering the weather, that doesn’t make any sense at all anyway — it’s going to rain for sure and up here it’ll be snow — but they are properly dressed so I think, to each his own. I have no doubt that they’ll hike down to Salet tomorrow, in rain and snow. :P

I reach Hochgschirr saddle and this is the highest point of my hike, at about 1950m/6400 feet. I climbed about 1300m/4300 feet now so I treat myself to a handful or two of trail mix, and also share some with another hiker who’s going in the other direction (always, always carry extra food that you think you won’t need when you hike).

It’s pretty cold up here and a bit windy too — my soft shell jacket is still in Munich of course, at my sister’s wardrobe, where I forgot it! :P The combination of pullover for warmth and rain coat as a wind breaker works well here too though, and I take a couple of minutes to enjoy the views at the saddle, which are limited to the north and south. To the west, another trail continues to Kahlersberg and to the east, and unofficial use trail connects Hochgschirr with Gotzentauern.

Here’s another look back to where I came from. Luckily, the clouds that looked so gloomy and low over the mountains already had lifted, and revealed the awe-inspiring eastern part of Steinernes Meer (“sea of rock”) and Funtenseetauern (to the right).

To the north, the weather still looks much nicer, thankfully. What kills me is that I did not only frame the photo below almost identically to an older one, but also chose the same wide crop again later! Surreal. Perhaps I programmed myself to see it again this way? Here’s the older photo: North View from Hochgschirr — I prefer the late summer colors over the thin frosting of snow…

Hiking down from Hochgschirr I’m thinking, maybe I can make it in time to catch the cable car for a quick and comfortable ride downhill, shaving off some time from the descend while also staying dry (this would turn out to be wishful thinking). Still above the pines and firs though, a beautiful solitary larch wanted to have its picture taken, of course:

The following part of my hike is the same as the “Kleine Reib’m” hike: I turn west into Stiergraben (“Steer Trench”) and the trail is a bit ugly — it’s always rather narrow and rocky, dirt covering the oddly shaped karst rocks, but after the rain and snow, it’s also muddy of course…

The nice thing is: there’s no one here. Absolutely no one. I hike in solitude, once more. It’s oh-so beautifully quiet, it’s still not raining, and another beautiful tree demands my attention:

It’s getting warmer as I lose elevation and I take off both the rain coat and the pullover. The trail eventually leaves Stiergraben and I emerge from the trees onto the pastures of Priesbergalm, where the trail levels out. The rustic Priesbergalm hut is closed — there goes another idea to have some hearty food. I briefly pause there nevertheless, wash my hands and face at their trough, and have a snack. I have no idea when the last cable car will go downhill. The trail becomes a wide, gravelly road. One more beautiful tree!

Along the road lies the hut of the Grassl Enzian distillery and people have a tasting of their spirits there. I ask them what time the last cable car leaves. They say 5 o’clock. I say shit because it’s 4:40, and they laugh knowingly, of course. I’m not going to make it to the cable car in time. Oh well.

So instead of taking the trail to the cable car, I continue downhill towards the pastures and huts of Königsbachalm and past it, as soon as I enter the sheltering canopy of the deciduous autumnal forest, it begins to rain. At least that part of my timing worked out! I get the rain coat from my backpack again and continue in fast strides down the wide forest road and then trail. At some point, I cross the cable car’s corridor through the trees and it’s still running, of course…

The trail is now called Hochbahnweg and soon turns into paved Hochbahnstraße. After 15 or so more minutes I reach the huge parking lot and all that’s left is find my car… and then get out of these hiking boots! It’s raining steadily now and I’m back at the hotel as it’s getting dark. After a wonderful hot shower I walk to the nearest restaurant… and order the largest plate of Bavarian specialties that they have! :)

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6 thoughts on “Königssee, Obersee, Hochgschirr, Königsbachalm Loop”

    • Thanks a lot, Gary! Not as remote as the Sierra for sure, but the network of trails and the refuges were one can find shelter and a warm meal are really great for hikers, of course.

  1. It sounds like paradise to me, Alex. The photos are really beautiful and I enjoyed reading about your day up there. The mountains are so rugged and wild, yet there are amenities, like the huts and cable cars. No wonder you dealt with crowds, but you got away from them. :-)


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