Stage 12 - The Maximilianweg, the E4 through Bavaria

At Bregenz, at the eastern end of Lake Constance and a day into Austria, the E4 splits.  There are two options, the Nordalpenweg 01 and the Nordalpenweg 04.  Both head east and both finish in Vienna.    I was keen to save time so decided to get through Austria by combining the routes, travelling firstly along the 04 and then, in eastern Austria, crossing over to the 01.  This approached saved me about 10 days.

Part of the saving results from the fact that the 04 is an easier walk than the 01.  It's still Alpine but involves less climbing and you cover more distance each day.  After a couple of days in Austria it crosses into Bavaria and, until you get to Salzburg, involves walking along a route called the Maximiliansweg following a journey undertaken in 1858 by King Maximilian II the then king of Bavaria.  The 04 is an Austrian long distance footpath which, for much its route, takes you into Germany.

When Maximilian undertook the trip he was visiting some of the most beautiful locations in the Bavarian Alps. Starting at Lindau (not on the E4), the route visits Bregenz, Fussen (where his son Ludwig II built the Neuschwanstein Castle), Linderhof (site of another amazing palace built by his son) and Bertesgaden. For much of the time you're walking along or close to the very northern edge of the alps with long views down into Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle

I had walked in Austria before but not Germany, and to be honest in this part of the world it's hard to spot the difference. One thing that did surprise me, given Germany's reputation for efficiency, was the poor quality of the waymarking.  I'm not sure how the German footpath system works - whether or not the Maximilianweg is a national trail - but the waymarking along this route is hard to find.

Accommodation in Germany/Austria is good, cheaper than Switzerland and better.  You're often walking through ski resorts so it's plentiful and in the summer good value, even for the British suffering currency devaluation.  The mountain huts, are excellent, not always comfortable but usually in fabulous locations and full of people sharing the experience of the mountains.  I have mixed feelings about the food, love the strudel and the cakes, but get bored with the sausages.  It's nice to drink the beer high in the mountains but I was surprised by the lack of variety.  I was told by locals that multinational brewers dominate.
I didn't have to use my GPS trail in Switzerland because the waymarks were so good but in Austria and Germany I didn't have a choice, I didn't have a trail.  Had a German language guide, the equivalent of the French topoguide, which had distances and accommodation but the maps in it were very poor (they are good in the topoguides) and for the first time I started buying local maps.  These are OK but the routes are still sometimes hard to find, there are often just so many of them.

After relatively good weather in Switzerland the weather was poor in Austria.  A pattern set in, three days fine weather followed by three days of rain.  I was told that the weather was exceptionally bad and this was one of the wettest summers locals can remember.  I was also told that Bavaria is a wet part of the Alps, that it is usually wetter on the northern side of the Alps than it is on the southern side, that August is a often a wet month and that the weather doesn't settle down until September.  Will definitely be coming back so will I'll test out all of these theories.

Crossing the border into Austria marked the beginning of a wet cycle, really wet.  The walk is not particularly pleasant taking you over various versions of the Rhine (a sort of Rhine Lake Constance delta) and through the suburbs of Bregenz.  Music festivals seem to feature everywhere in Austria and there was a big one in Bregenz when I was there (it has a huge open air opera house famous for gigantic stage sets) and finding accommodation was not that easy (although I didn't try the youth hostal).

Lechtal Alps
The rain stopped next day and once I had negotiated the suburbs of Bregenz things started to pick up.  Climbing once more up to about 1,000 metres you got glimpses of the views back to Lake Constance.  After a wet forest walk you drop down to the pretty and prosperous town of Albershwende (lots of places to stay) before a very gentle walk to Muselbuch and Lingenau.  I stayed at the Gasthof Walderhof just outside the village which was excellent.

Along the ridge to Sonthofen
The walk next day was excellent with a big climb at the end.  It meanders up a ridge and through trees from Lingenau to Hittisau (another pretty village), up the Lecknerta Valley and then the big climb up to the Staufnerhaus (crossing the border into Germany on the way).  The Staufnerhaus refuge is in a brilliant location on top of a ridge with huge views north into Germany.  I was staying there on a Friday and it was full of hikers getting ready for the weekend.  Not a lot of sleep but good fun.

Top top walk next day.  Perfect weather, absolutely amazing 360 degree views, high up all the time, simply fantastic.  I was anticipating a ridge walk but it was much tougher and involved a series of minipeaks (Hochgrat, Hittisau, Rindalphorn, Buralkopf, Stuibern, and Steineberg), all around 1750 metres and quite hard work.  You need a bit of head for heights for the last stretch and there is an alternative low level option but if the weather is good it would be a great shame to miss the views.  I walked all the way down to Sonthofen which was a mistake; if you're not rushed staying at Gunzesried is a much better option.

Staying in Sonthofen meant a short walk to Unterjoch the next day which was just as well as the route was poorly defined high up and the weather got worse.  It  would have been a nice walk in the sun but as it was I was lucky to get to the hotel at Unterjoch just before the heavens opened.  The Gasthof am Buchl is about a kilometre from Unterjoch but on the way in. There are lots of choices in the village itself although the Gasthof was excellent.

Next day's walk to Fussen was a good one.  It starts with a gentle walk up out of Unterjoch, follows the River Vils down along a gorge,  takes you across a slightly suburban valley before climbing up to the castle at Falkenstein.  After Falkenstein, where I joined up with some friends, you follow the ridge through trees (crossing the border between Germany and Austria several times) before dropping down into the historic town of Fussen.

Fussen is a lovely town full of famous gothic buildings, in particular the Hohes Schloss, the castle on the hill in the middle.  The Neuschwanstein Castle, just outside the town is perhaps its most famous landmark, but the setting with the Ammergauer Alps providing a dramatic backdrop is also brilliant. Steve McQueen's motorcycle stunts and many other Great Escape scenes were shot around the town.

The weather was OK for my day off in Fussen but bad again the next day.  I climbed up for about 1,000 metres to the Tegelberghaus (which was shut) but decided that only mad people would go up higher to the Hochplatte on such a bad day so took the low level route to the wonderful Kenzenhutte.  We got our own rooms and enjoyed good food out of the rain.

Great walk next day, good weather in the morning but rain again in the afternoon.  Again a high level and low level option.  The high level option takes you along the ridge above Linderhof whereas the low level option takes you down to the town and its famous palace.  We took the low level option which meant of lot of tree walking.  After Linderhof you climb up to the ridge and the August-Schuster-Haus, another hut in an amazing location and then down through a wonderful open valley.  After a gorge you cross a wider valley, go through the village of Unterammergau before climbing up to the Hornlehutte.  This was a very basic hut but as I had it completely to myself it didn't matter.

The walk the next day was in three parts with a long flat valley crossing in the middle.  The first part from Hornlehutte was high up with great views but it wasn't long before you had the knee crunching 1,000 metre descent down to Grafenschau.  It's then 8 kilometres of road walking across the flat valley bottom to Eschenlohe.  I went wrong at this point with my route following the river Eschenlaine all the way to Walchensee instead of climbing up over the Ohlstadter Alm - nice walk all the same.  I stayed at the excellent Gasthof Edeltrout

With good weather the walk next day would have been brilliant.  High up, but with a good mix of woodland and open walking, there should have been views to the lakes in the west.  As it was it rained all day, we got lost several times (a party of four at this point) and we didn't make the target Brauneck-Gipfelhaus but stopped instead at Tutzinger Hutte.  Lots of fun in the hut but on a Saturday it was crowded.

Next day was the only day of the whole walk when I had to bale out.  Two of the party were leaving but I was meeting a cousin at Schliersee.  Getting there involved a big walk and we were already a couple of hours behind schedule after the previous day.  The weather was awful and the huge descent down to Lenggries seemed a bit masochistic.  Did the two hours to Brauneck-Gipfelhaus and then got the chair lift down the mountain and a train to Schliersee (met my cousin on the train).

It was a huge introductory walk for my cousin the next day but at least it had stopped raining.  It started with a gentle ascent through trees over a ridge before dropping down to village of Fischbachau.  1,000 metres of climb later and at we were at the top of Wendelstien (1800 metres), a big tourist attraction with huge views.  We resisted the temptation to catch the mountain train and instead descended 1,400 metres down to Nusdorf am Inn.  A horrible 5 kilometre road walk at the end forced an interim beer stop.

Cousins on Wendlestein

It was a much easier walk to Hohenaschau next day.  20 kilometres and about 1,000 metres of climb with a nice hut at the top, the Hochrieshaus, where we stopped for lunch. Hohenaschau is a very pretty village,  built around an imposing medieval castle.

Another 20 kilometre day but with a bit more climb through the Chiemgau Alps.  The highlight is a scramble to the top of Grosjoch which is the high point on a ridge of mountains called the Kampenwand.  A head for heights is definitely needed particularly for the descent which involves quiet a lot of work on fixed ropes.  A long pleasant walk down to Marquartstein which has plenty of accommodation.  We had chosen a hotel on the northern edge, which was fine but added a couple of kilometres of road walking to the route.

 Up and down Kampenwand

No ropes next day but a bigger walk to Ruhpolding, 1800 metres of climb and 34 kilometres.  Two peaks to climb, Hochgern and Hochfelln and I must admit I was glad to have someone with me as visibility was very bad and there was some difficult walking at the top - another day when bad weather spoilt the views. Having completed the big climbs it was also a long walk down to Ruhpolding, a town with lots of accommodation.

Which way?
The walk to Bad Reichenhall was longer and more challenging that I had anticipated with optimism getting the better of common sense.  Easy walk from Ruhpolding to Inzell followed by a 7 kilometre and 1,000 metre climb up to Kohleralm.  The walking was good with some great views.  The next 3 kilometres is along a path, aften narrow, running along the side of a cliff to the Zweiselhaus.  There are  several ways down to Bad Reichenhall, including a route over the top.  I think we took the middle option which seemed to be the same path we had been on and continued to contour around Zwieselalm before a long descent down to the town.  The weather had deteriorated again and I was glad to get off the mountain.  Bad Reichenhall is a big place with lots of accommodation.

The grande finale for the Maxmiliansweg is a climb up to the Berchtesgadner Hochtron (1972 metres).  Had originally planned to do this and stay at Zeppezaurhaus.  In the event the weather next day was so bad that the low level option involving a walk to Salzburg made more sense.  We made it through the rain to the City boundary and then caught the bus.

Although the NordAlpenweg 04 is definitely easier than the 01 (I walked the first 10 days of the eastern end in 2010) it's still Alpine walking and perhaps a bit tougher than I was expecting.  I was definitely unlucky with the weather but of course if it hadn't been for the rain there would have been even more climbing and it would have been a tougher route.  Have found a picture of the Berchtesgadner Hochtron just to show myself what I missed on the last day.
Berchtesgadner Hochtron

If you want to read what the walk felt like at the time than please go the walk diaries.  The links are below:

Wednesday July 13th Rhieneck to Bregenz
Thursday 14th July Bregenz to Lingenau
Friday 15th of July Lingenau to Staufnerhaus
Saturday 16th of July Staufnerhaus to Sonthofen
Sunday 17th of July Sonthofen to Unterjoch
Monday 18th July Unterjoch to Fussen
Wednesday 20th July Fussen to Kenzenhutte
Thursday 21st July Kenzenhutte to Hornlehutte
Friday 22nd July Hornlehutte to Walchensee.
Saturday 23rd of July Walchensee to Tutzinger Hutte
Sunday 24th July Tutzinger to Schliersee
Monday 25th of July Staffelalm to Nusdorf am Inn
Tuesday 26th July Nusdorf am Inn to Hohenaschau
Wednesday 27th of July Hohenaschau to Marquartstein
Thursday 28th July Marquartstein to Ruhpolding
Friday 29th of July Ruhpolding to Bad Reichenhall
Saturday 30th of July Bad Reichenhall to Salzburg

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