Our reporter took the premium winter hiking trail near Reit im Winkl from the “Hindenburghütte” to the Hemmersuppenalm under his boots. Conclusion: It’s best at an arctic minus 20 degrees.
Text and photos: Norbert Eisele-Hein
Winter hiking in Chiemgau
It’s freezing cold this early in the morning. Mercury persists at minus 20 degrees. The snow under our hiking boots crunches almost metallically. On the haystacks, the white splendour forms fairytale cotton wool balls. Where the wind was allowed to sculpt a little, veritable Elvis troughs of pure white powder formed. The deep snow-covered firs with their spreading branches look like Michelin men in winter coats.
A relaxed start at 50 metres in altitude
Only a few minutes takes the ascent from the “Hindenburghütte” at an altitude of 1,200 metres through dense forest. Soon the first rays of sunlight wander through the thicket, drawing wild shadows on the glittering snow. 50 metres later we reach the light plateau and at the same time push out of the sea of clouds.
The inversion makes it possible. The picturesque Chiemgau lies at our feet, seemingly completely wrapped in cotton wool. In no time at all, the temperatures rise. The clouds we breathe literally explode in the sun's rays as they fight their way over the Fellhorn and the Eggenalm.
3D winter fairy tale
The bumps of the Hemmersuppenalm were artfully modelled by the wind. Terrain edges decorated with playful cornices as if by a confectioner’s hand. Huge snow crystals sparkle against the light. There’s no sign of the underlying “Hemmersuppe” landscape, just a three-dimensional winter fairy tale lies before us.
Winter hiking in the kingdom of the White Germer
“Yes, what a Hemmersuppe,” the farmers from the valley used to say mockingly at the sight of the extensive alpine pasture high above Reit im Winkl. The Hemmer, also known as Veratrum album, is a nasty weed: barely knee-high, Veratrum album is inedible even for a tolerant cow’s stomach.
After heavy rainfall, large puddles form in the many hollows of the gently undulating high alpine pastures, which in Bavaria are often referred to as “A so a Supp’n” (what a soup). In the past, the daily toil of the alpine farmers rarely allowed for a rapturous view of the paradisiacal landscape and so mockery became the name giver.
The six-kilometre panoramic loop around the Hemmersuppenalm bears the seal of “Germany’s first premium winter hiking trail”. After just a few turns, it becomes clear what premium means. The ever-curving path does not cut up the panorama, but reveals it very carefully. The majestic landscape and the surrounding peaks of the Bavarian Alps do not feel conquered, but flattered. It has earned the golden crown on the trail plaques.
Powder alarm in Bavarian Siberia
What makes a winter hiking trail a premium winter hiking trail in the eyes of the German Hiking Institute? The certification is based on a comprehensive catalogue of criteria. “Trail format, user-friendly signposting, landscape, rustic inns, culturally interesting things to do, right up to possible noise emissions, everything comes under scrutiny,” knows Florian Weindl, head of the local tourism office.
Reit im Winkl is an officially certified snow hole anyway. In meteorological jargon: “The phenomenon of cold air lakes” causes increased snowfall. The Maserer Pass often forms the border in winter. On this side, green dominates, on the other side in the microclimate of Bavarian Siberia, winter sports enthusiasts have to put on snow chains for the last 10 kilometres and there is often a powder alarm.
Ever since Rosi Mittermaier won a great deal of medals at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, the Winklmoosalm and Reit im Winkl have been a household name in winter sports.
In general, the tranquil village seems to be a good breeding ground for top sporting performances. Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, who won Olympic gold in the cross-country team sprint in Vancouver, is also a child of Reit im Winkl.
Rolled for comfortable winter hiking
The trail is rolled daily with a snow groomer. With sturdy shoes and a pair of hiking poles, the loop can be mastered without any problems even after massive fresh snowfalls. Along the route, mountain pine bushes rise out of the snow. Wind, snow and frost demonstrate on them how creative they are.
Hallelujah, what a panorama!
At St. Anna’s Chapel we are almost halfway through. The pretty little church was built in 1905 by alpine farmers and is enthroned almost cheesily on a promontory. A small snack on the wooden bench in front of it replenishes the battery not only physically. Up there, an overwhelming panorama reveals itself.
A powerful argument at the Hiking Oscar awards ceremony
In the foreground we look at the Winklmoosalm, the Sonntagshorn (at 1,961 metres the highest peak in the Chiemgau Alps) and the Schumacherkreuz, with the who’s who of the Berchtesgaden Alps building up directly behind. First and foremost the top dogs Watzmann, Hochkalter and Reiter Alm. Visual balm for the soul, a wonderful deceleration programme runs automatically under the woolly hat.
The trail hugs smaller steep patches of forest and offers families with children a few more sledding hills. Back at the “Hindenburghütte”, the smell of fresh roast meat draws us into the rustic parlour. At the latest after the delicious milk cream strudel, which the kitchen team bakes fresh daily in the wood-fired oven, it becomes clear that this hut was a powerful argument at the Hiking Oscar awards.
Germany’s longest toboggan run
Hut host Günter Dirnhofer, a rather burly man, takes care of the preparation of the premium trail every day. In between, he shuttles the guests with his four-wheel drive bus from Reit im Winkl directly up to the premium trail. At the same time, the track becomes Germany’s longest toboggan run every 30 minutes.
Once a month, at the time of the full moon, Günter also organises a torchlight hike followed by a hut party. This also deserves the premium seal: Günter with his Bergfex’n and an alphorn trio often heat up the guests until dawn. But that no longer has anything to do with deceleration.
Info on winter hiking in Reit im Winkel: reitimwinkl.de
Winter hiking in the nature park video
Nature park ranger Dr. Melanie Chisté knows about the attraction of nature. With a view to the animals living there, her most important tip is: Please stay on the marked paths. This way you can easily reach the most beautiful places and protect fauna and flora.