"Explore by Light" with The North Face

An Amazing Three-Day Hike around Lake Königssee in Berchtesgaden

I recently had the opportunity to organize a three-day adventure with The North Face for my followers and readers as part of the New Explorer campaign. Five fellow explorers and me ventured into the wildest part of the German Alps, on the hunt for beautiful views, unique landscapes and the best light to capture our experience. We had the greatest time roaming the wild backcountry in perfect fall weather and climbing to the remote summit of Funtenseetauern (2578m) in pathless terrain. Here is a report with impressions of what we were up to. You can check out more from the New Explorer campaign here:

Day 1: From Königssee to Gotzenalm
(Elevation Gain: 1100m)

I have been in mid-level snow storms in the Alps in October but it doesn’t look like that at all on this crisp and sunny fall morning. We are meeting in Schönau on the North shore of the famous Lake Königssee in Berchtesgaden, where our three-day adventure with The North Face has its starting point.

I’ve selected a route where we will be hiking around Lake Königssee in a big half circle and the trail head can only be reached by boat. From our end point after three days we need to take a boat ride back to civilization as well. This secludedness has a special appeal to me and is the reason I chose this tour: I really want to get off the beaten track with the other participants and explore a place far from any road, that cannot be reached as a day-trek — the “Steinernes Meer” or “Sea of Rocks” behind Lake Königssee.

After the whole crew has boarded the boat, we start heading down the fjord-like Lake Königssee, surrounded by steep, forested shores and mountains on all sides. We are the only ones to get off at the station Kessel. As the boat is drifting away from us, it feels like we have been dropped on a lonely island. Everybody is eager to begin the hike up into the forest and we have time to get to know each other. As we are climbing higher, little openings between the colorful trees reveal stunning vistas over Lake Königssee below. In the early afternoon the path leads us onto a wide open pasture where we spot our first mountain hut — Gotzenalm (1685m). It is time for a cool Radler and a hearty Bavarian meal.

But we still have one more goal for the day: We take a short hike up to the summit of Warteck. As we arrive, the sun already tints the whole mountain scenery in soft golden light. This gives us the perfect conditions to shoot some photos and to share photography tips about how to best capture landscapes and portraits in these amazing surroundings.

It gets dark early at this time of year, so after dinner we step out of the hut into complete darkness. It’s time for an astrophotography session. For me it is very interesting to hear about tricks from the ones who already know how to capture the stars and really enriching to tell the group what I know about long-exposure photography. Back at the hut we share some mountain experiences over a beer, but then decide to go to bed, because the next day is going to be the toughest one.

The milky way points to where we are going the next day: Kärlingerhaus.

The milky way points to where we are going the next day: Kärlingerhaus.

Day 2: From Gotzenalm to Kärlingerhaus via Funtenseetauern (Elevation Gain: 1800m)

Before sunrise we are already back on the summit of Warteck. The impressive Watzmann east face is dominating the view from here. As the sun rises, the highest mountain face of the German Alps and all the surrounding peaks start to glow in red. At the hut we pack our stuff and are quickly on our way after breakfast. We have a long distance and many meters to climb ahead of us, especially because we have to traverse and hike down for the first two hours.

Hiking swiftly through colorful forests with beautiful views of Lake Obersee and Lake Königssee, we eventually arrive at Wasseralm. This is a nice spot for a snack break and the calories will be needed because afterwards the main ascent begins. At first we zig-zag upwards on a forest trail, then more and more through pathless terrain. You can notice that we are reaching “Steinernes Meer”, as we begin to climb higher and higher over bizarre and sharp lime-stone formations. In steeper parts we have to start using our hands as the difficulty here is about I (UIAA scale). It isn’t easy to stay on the right treck, as there are no markings or other aids for orientation. With frequent consultation of our maps we eventually make it to a pass where we are crossing over to the Austrian side. Now we are in a fascinating place, that is dominated by rugged, rocky terrain in every direction — the “Sea of Rocks” has really earned its name. It is getting hard, because we have been hiking upwards for a long time, but nobody even thinks about turning around. The whole crew pushes forward.

After almost seven hours of hiking we finally emerge on the ridge and the summit of Funtenseetauern (2578m) is in reach. At the summit cross everybody is high-fiving and enjoying the amazing panorama in all directions — what a great team effort! From Königssee and Watzmann in one direction we can see all the way to Großvenediger, Großglocker and Hochkönig over the “Steinernes Meer”.

Along the scenic ridge of Stuhljochgrat we make our way down on the other side. We are happy to have made it to the summit but now the hunger kicks in and we want to make it to Kärlingerhaus in time for dinner. As we descend, the valleys already disappear in shade and the golden rays of the sun touch the fall-landscape almost horizontally. I can’t resist to stop for a photo here and there. With the last light of the day I walk along the shore of Lake Funtensee and arrive at the hut as the last of the group — what an awesome day this has been! Everybody is exhausted but already at dinner my fellow explorers surprise me by asking what peak I have planned to hike the next morning for sunrise — I love the motivation! This spirit of adventure is what drives us to explore new places!

Day 3: From Kärlingerhaus to Feldkogel and back down to Königssee (Elevation Gain: 250m)

Because the group is still hungry for more, we are already on our feet again before sunrise to hike to the small peak of Feldkogel (1872m). We arrive just in time as the sun illuminates the Watzmann massif. This is an awesome viewpoint that I had never heard of before. It must be one of very few spots where you can see along the whole length of Lake Königssee. The yellow and green trees make for an awesome color contrast with the rest of the scenery. A little later we hike back down to Lake Funtensee to take some more shots there.

After packing our things at the hut we begin the descent. Through the many switchbacks of Saugasse the path is winding down towards a forest bursting with different colors. On paths covered in orange leaves we are hiking down the last few hundred meters to Lake Königssee. We continue along the shore until we can see the busy boat station of St. Bartholomä in the distance. We have made it back to civilization. With another boat ride we return to our starting point in Schönau.

I am so glad that The North Face gave us the opportunity to go out and explore together. The experience was amazing and I’ve made great friends along the way! Thanks to everybody who was a part of it!

With the great outdoor gear that The North Face equipped us with for this trip and the strong motivation that the group showed, we probably could have made it through a snowstorm as well. But of course with these conditions it was an especially enjoyable tour. And a more extreme adventure surely awaits another time - Never Stop Exploring!

Click below for some more details of our route: