Photo: Spring 2013 conditions on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaten national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013
It has been a running joke among a few friends of mine for the last several years that I have an uncanny ability to attract abnormally bad weather. I actually used to boast that the California sun followed me wherever I headed, but for the last 5+ years I’ve seemed to have lost that power. Now I travel in my own personal rain, or snow, cloud wherever I seem to end up.
The Germans had a long, dark winter this year. And that is nothing due to me. But as I landed in Munich in mid May after a previous two weeks on the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, the temperatures felt absolutely tropical. Walking the streets of Munich to my hostel as the midnight hour neared, I was in a full on sweat under the heavy load of my backpack, without wearing a jacket. And so it was with a fairly optimistic outlook that my friend Till and I set our sights on some easy hiking in the Alps.
As we passed Chiemsee on our way to Berchtesgaden on a Monday afternoon, passing rain showers clogging up the normally fast moving autobahn, it was apparent that maybe our glasses were at bit too rosy. Or plans had been for Watzmann, the second highest peak in Germany, but as we neared Königssee, it became apparent that this would be an unlikely objective. Not to mention that I only had some light hiking boots, as I hadn’t left California planning on full on Winter mountaineering.
With clouds concealing all the high peaks, we caught the one of the last cars on the Jennerbahn up the mountain, entering into snow and blasting winds as we left the station at 1,800 meters. If it was truly bad, I knew we could stay at Carl. V. Stahl Haus at Sneibstein pass on the German/Austrian border. But it was only pretty bad, so we reached the hut, we decided to continue on up into the mountains in the direction of Schneibstein, 2276 Meters. I was here last October, in a brilliant t-shirt weather week of indian summer so I more of less knew where I was going. But as we ascended a bit further, into the whiteout of the clouds, the trail became near impossible to follow. Finding a fairly decent flat area in the snow, we decided to set up camp for the night and see what morning would bring.
The night was cold and windy, not to mention that I only had a 0˚C sleeping bag with me. Perhaps not the most comfortable night of my life, but still a ways off from the worst.
Morning arrived with passing moments of sunlight and raised clouds, at least high enough for me to see Schneibstein’s summit at set my bearings. We continued up the mountain, probably the only ones having made this journey since the storm arrived several days previously with a fresh dumping of snow. At times we struggled through drifts up to waist deep, as we watched the cloud layer begin to lower.
I knew more or less the correct way to go, or we would not have continued once we entered the whiteout, with visibility to each other limited to about 10 meters or so. And with a 500 meter cliff near vertical cliff near the summit, it wasn’t exactly a mountain to get lost on.
I could feel the way as we got higher. If the weather got too shit, we still had enough time to follow our footprints back down the mountain. Had I been alone, perhaps I would have turned around, but the hubris or companionship kept us going. As the mountain began to flatten, I kew we must be close. But it wasn’t until I was only 4-5 meters away from the summit cross that I could actually see it in the cloud, so covered in hoar frost it was, it was rendered near invisible.
Quickly chilled by the wind, we didn’t sit long on the summit before making our way back down the mountain. The descent proved to be much quicker, me bum-sliding most the way down the snowy slopes. Camp was quickly taken town and then we set of for the leisurely walk back down to the valley floor.
Photo: Deep snow while heading into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013
Photo: Ascending into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013
Photo: Nearing the summit in full whiteout, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013
Photo: Schneibstein summit, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013
Photo: Mandatory summit selfies, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria. May 2013