Trekking in Karwendel: Over the Birkkarspitze
This is Day 2 of my 3 Day Tour into the Karwendel Nature park. It was a tough one walking from Karwendelhaus to Hallerangerhaus, passing Birkkarspitze – the highest peak in the Karwendel Mountains.
Briefly About Karwendel Nature Park
The Karwendel mountain range is the largest in the Northern Limestone Alps. Most of it is in Tyrol Austria – conveniently just north of Innsbruck. The northern parts of the mountain range are in Bavaria, Germany – south
Karwendel Nature Park is one of the oldest nature reserves in Europe, having been preserved since 1928. It covers almost the entire Karwendel mountains range and is 727 square kilometers (~280 square miles) in area. It is beautiful, wild and has an amazingly remote feeling to it despite being right in the middle of civilization.
The area is rich in everything you would expect to find on a good hike or a longer trek. This includes rare animal and plant species, beautiful and remote places and mountain huts where to stay when you explore.
Getting to Karwendel
The Karwendel Nature Park is basically surrounded by civilization which makes it easy to get to by trains and other means of transport. Main points of entry would be Innsbruck, the Seefeld Olympic region to the west, and the Achensee region to the East. All accessible by public transport.
Read the first part of this story for more info on Karwendel and how to get there. For airports suggestions read the 5 Best Airports to Reach the Alps and why I think Munich is a great airport to reach Tyrol (and Karwendel), especially if flying in overseas.
Day 2: Karwendehaus to Hallerangerhaus
Morning at Karwendelhaus
After an exceptionally beautiful sunset and an evening of fun on the outdoors terrace of Karwendelhaus, we woke up to the typical hustle and bustle of a mountain hut dormitory.
The morning brought along more sunshine. We were looking forward to a tough but enjoyable day first climbing up to Birkkarspitze, the highest peak in the Karwendel mountain range. From Birkkarspitze the trail would take us down to Hinterautal and then back up the ither side of the valley to Hallerangerhaus. We enjoyed a very typical hut breakfast and bought some lunch-to-go from the hut.
As always, the morning in a mountain hut was a hassle with everybody trying to be quickly on their way. Everybody at the same time, of course. After breakfast and gathering up our gear we filled our water bottles double checked our belonging and were on our way.
Up to Birkkarspitze on the Eagle Walk
We began our climb on path number 225 which leads over the Birkkarspitze. This trail is a part of both the Via-Alpina Red Trail (or a variant of it) and the Tyrolean Eagle Walk.
The ascent is almost a full kilometer (> 3000 feet) and the trail is narrow, exposed and in places steep. However, it was not more difficult than a typical “black” trail in the Alps.
The climb to Birkkarspitze is brutal since it doesn’t really flatten out at any point and especially when approaching the top, it goes through fields of loose rocks. It just keeps going up and you need to just keep on scrambling until you eventually reach the top. The beginning part is secured by cables and is very steep.
Since the weather and visibility was good, we could observe groups of people going up before us. Some were visibly struggling and along the way up we passed quite a few.
We, too, needed to take frequent breaks. I couldn’t help thinking the last drink on the terrace the night before might have been unnecessary. A lot of water was consumed and I’m sure my body was cleansed with all the sweating… Nevertheless, we were in high spirits – this was what we had come here for!
Karwendel is known for its plentiful flora an fauna and sure enough – we got to see a few Ibex on the way up! Too bad I didn’t have a proper zoom lens on my camera and was only able to capture the animals running away from us.
Once on top, we had some lunch. The view was spectacular to both sides of the mountain – it is one of the highest peaks in the area, after all. The actual peak of Birkkarspitze is a little to the side from the trail. When we got close, it was packed full of people.
Since we had spent more time than expected ascending, we decided to just continue down south towards Hinterautal.
Down to Hinterautal
Hinterautal is where the river Isar begins. The Isar flows down through the valleys and gains more water until it eventually reaches Munich and then later ends up feeding into the Danube, one of Europe’s major rivers.
The vertical ascent from Karwendelhaus to Birkkarspitze was just shy of a full kilometer. The descent down to Hinterautal is about 1,4 kilometers. That’s a big drop. Climbing up was brutal but going down the full length was even more so.
As going up, the trail down was difficult with lots of loose rocks and steep portions. The upper part is partially secured by cables to help with some of the steepest parts. This is not something you would need Via Ferrata gear for but in some spots, it was good to be able to get some additional support.
Below the cabled portions came a huge, steep area of loose rocks. I would have been in trouble without my hiking poles to take some of the load off my knees. They also helped with balance with the loose rocks crumbling away under my soles.
Once past the rocky terrain and lower down the slope, we started eventually encountering some vegetation. The trail became less steep and easier to follow. Eventually we were walking within a forest.
After the difficult parts, the distance to the valley was still considerable. Even though it was easier to proceed, it still took a long time to get all the way down. After the 1,4 kilometers (or roughly 4,500 feet) of descent, our feet had taken a beating.
Break at Kastenalm
Down in the valley it was nice and calm – and flat, for a change. After the huge descent walking on flat ground felt strange. We needed a break.
We encountered the road that goes the entire length of Hinterautal, all the way down to Scharnitz. It was like the one that we walked up to Karwendelhaus the day before. A little bit down the road is the Isar Source, where the Isar river begins.
We followed the road east to Kastenalm for a deserved break and some lunch.
At Kastenalm we encountered plenty of cows, fellow hikers and mountain bikers. Like Karwendelhaus, Kastenalm also seems to be a popular destination for mountain bikers. I guess you could do a day trip there and back from Scharnitz easily.
Lunch was just cold cuts and cold drinks. Apparently, there are no restaurant facilities which is understandable: the place is very remote, tucked away at the end of the valley and it is not open in the winter.
After our break we started walking uphill again towards Hallerangerhaus.
Up to Hallerangerhaus
It was another 548 meters of vertical to get to the Hallerangerhaus. This is an easy walk, mostly on a gravel road. The road immediately starts going up and we were surely huffing and puffing as we went.
We saw some farmhouses, animals and generally beautiful mountains along the way. The walking was mostly uphill but there was nothing difficult. It was certainly an intense fat burning exercise. We could definitely feel the up and down on the Birkkarspitze in our legs.
Once at Hallerangerhaus, we treated ourselves to cold beer and good food. We were lucky again with the weather: it was fairly warm, and we got to see another beautiful sunset.
After showering, eating and drinking we slept again in a typical mountain hut dormitory style room. People snored, we snored and in the middle of the night we were awakened by a thunderstorm and heavy rain.
Summing it Up & Recommendations
What a day it was!
The Eagle Walk website says this walk take 8,5 hours but I think we spent closer to 10. I don’t think we slacked off at any point and all the breaks we took were needed. This really was a tough day and I would not recommend it unless you are experienced with black rated Alpine trails.
In my opinion there was nothing out of the ordinary, not any exceptionally difficult parts – for a black trail. However, this really was long and strenuous, at least for my condition that day.
I would be cautious going on this trail in bad weather or poor visibility. I would also recommend making sure you have plenty of water with you and enough to eat. It’s a long way before you reach Kastenalm. If you’re going the other way, it’s a long way to Karwendelhaus.
What You Need for this Trip
- Read The Ultimate Packing Guide for the Alps for advice on what gear I think you should bring.
- Read What You Need to Know about Staying in Mountain Huts
- Sign up for the Gohikelps.com newsletter to get my printable packing checklist.
- Get a map. Here is the Kompass Karwendelgebirge 1:50000 which I used for the entire 3 days. It covers the entire area.
Map & Altitude Profile
Karwendel is Impressive
I was a little unsure what to expect from Karwendel before I went. I’m not used to something so spectacular, wild and remote being right next to a major city like Innsbruck. I have to say, I was very impressed.
Considering the ease of getting there, I’m most likely going to go there again. Next time, I envision doing another few days’ tour around the eastern parts of it. Or perhaps going around the lake Achensee area.
If you find these posts useful, please sign up to the Gohikealps.com Newsletter to get informed when new content is available. Also, please share these posts with anyone you think might find them useful.
To cover the costs of running this site, Gohikealps is affiliated with Amazon, Booking.com and some others. Should you click on any of the links on this site leading to them, Gohikealps may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Thanks for reading and Happy Hiking!