The Ridgline between Karwendelspitze and Sulzleklammspitze
The Mittenwalder Klettersteig (Via Ferratta Mittenwald) is a spectacular scramble following a knife sharp ridge high above the town of Mittenwald. It offers incredible views into the valley of the river Isar to the west and the legendary Karwendeltal (Karwendel Valley) to the east. The ridge’s elevation is in average about 1400 meters / 4600 feet above the riverbed. The ridge as well forms the borderline between Austria (Tyrol) and Germany (Bavaria) From the ridge the climber enjoys also spectacular views into the Karwendel Range and Wetterstein Range. On clear days the Ötztal and Stubai Alps are stretching along the horizon.
Years ago the Mittenwalder Klettersteig was named Mittenwalder Höhenweg, which accidentally was misinterpreted by many inexperienced hikers. This term often created the wrong impression of a hiking trail rather an exposed climbing trip. It happened quiet often that hikers got stuck in the middle of the trail with sandals in steep snowfields on the northern slopes of the ridge, or some of them got so scared by the exposure high above ground that it was impossible for them to either continue the scramble or return to the cable car station. Due to the easy access by cable car to the trailhead many inexperienced hikers took the challenge without knowing in what and where they run into. Accidents were quite common in the summer month and the mountain rescue was fairly busy to help these folks. For this reason the German Alpine Club and the operator of the cable car (Karwendelbahn) decided to rename the Mittenwalder Höhenweg and give it a more appropriate name pointing out a climbing venture.
What To Expect
The Mittenwalder Klettersteig requires some very basic climbing skills. It requires also absolutely no fear of heights and good orientation skills in case of a sudden weather change. Here, high on the ridge the weather can change within minutes and the hiker is surrounded by dense fog for the rest of the day. The entire route along the ridge and descending back into the valley is a very long and strenuous trip requiring a strong physical shape and endurance.
The trail is often exposed Ladder over vertical rock
Where Is It?
The little town of Mittenwald is about 18 km east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. From Garmisch-P. drive on Highway B 23 in east direction, take the bypass around Mittenwald following the signs towards Innsbruck. Turn right at the sign Karwendelbahn. Park your car right there and take the cable car to the traihead.
Mittenwald from above
Getting to the trailhead by taking the cable car (Karwendelbahn) from the little town of Mittenwald to the 2244 m tall Karwendelspitze is the easiest approach. It is only a 5-minute walk from the station of the cable car to the crest of the Karwendelridge and the start of the Mittenwalder Klettersteig. (plenty of signs)
From here just follow the trail, which alters between either sides of the ridge and sometimes even runs exactly on the crest. Exposed sections are equipped with a steel cable. There you have an option to use a harness and a short rope, approximately 5 feet in length, and a carabiner to belay yourself. Vertical sections are equipped with iron ladders.
The first part of the route climbs over several little peaks of the Lunderspitzen. This part is a nice mix of very easy rock climbing/scrambling sections, a couple of short vertical ladders and some exposed traverses with a steel cable. The trail winds down on loose scree into a saddle. In the saddle, tucked under a rock overhang right next to the trail is an emergency shelter (little wooden shack).
From here the trail traverses the Sulzleklammspitze on the east side. About 10 hiking minutes past the shelter the trail enters into a chimney. It’s a 3 feet wide passage through two vertical parallel rock slabs. After exiting the chimney the trail climbs through loose scree and zigzags over some high alpine meadows towards the peak of Kirchlspitz.
In order to reach the peak of Kirchlspitz the trail follows now the edge of the sharp ridge, formed by solid rock slabs. The most exposed sections have the steel cable to hold on to. This part offers the most spectacular vies over to the main crest of the Eastern Alps. The ridge slopes slightly down from here before it drops further into the valley of the river Inn (town of Innsbruck). The climbing/scrambling parts ends at the peak of Kirchlspitz and the southern slopes are gently sloped grassy meadows. The trail meanders down from here into the saddle below Rotwandlspitz.
Reaching the saddle turn right (west) and hike down very loose gravel (ankle deep) and watch out for the continuation of the trail to your right. This trail zigzags down hill for about 500 m elevation before it becomes flat and ends at the Brunnstein Hut. From the Brunstein Hut follow the signs back to Mittenwald.
end of difficult sections - Tiroler Hut on other side of saddle (route option to Scharnitz)
Alternative Route Option
This is also an option for folks who like to travel by train. The train station in Mittenwald is only 10 minutes away from the Karwendel cable car. Just follow the route as descibed above. Instead of turning right at the saddle and start the descent, keep on hiking uphill on the other side and follow the zigzagging trail to the little Tiroler Hut (closed in 2005 season). The trail continues on a grassy back past the hut untill it drops down very steep towards the little village of Scharnitz. This section is called Pürzlgrat and it gets you straight to the trainstation in Scharnitz (Austria). From here take a convinient trainride back to Mittenwald.
Elevation base town, Mittenwald cable car station -- 933 m
Elevation cable car station @ Karwendelspitze -- 2244 m
Karwendel ridge, average elevation -- 2300 m
Time for entire hike; from/to Parking lot @ Karwendelbahn -- a long day
The Summer Month.
The season for the Mittenwalder Klettersteig depends often on weather & snow melts. Snowfields are difficult to overcome due to their steepness and exposure. In a regular year the best season is from mid June into late October.
Re-hydrating & Additional Information
The Brunnstein Hut is about half way down from where you start descending from the the ridge (about 1 hour). The hut is maintained by the German Alpine Club (DAV). This place offers meals and drinks. Overnighters are welcome.
Refreshment at the Brunnstein Hut
If someone likes to do the roundtrip from this side first without using the cable car, it is a good idea to stay one night in the Brunnstein Hut and climb from here to the Karwendelspitze. A steep trail from the top of the cable car brings you back to Mittenwald.