Watzmann traverse

The scramble over the ridge of the Watzmann is probably the most beautiful mountain tour in Germany.

Der Watzmann über Berchtesgaden
Watzmann above Berchtesgaden (Hocheck and main peak on the right, Kleiner Watzmann on the left)

“Groß und mächtig …” On this tour I keep thinking of the song by Wolfgang Ambros and Co. But these are not clouds chasing around the summit, the summit is stuck in a thick, penetrant cloud cover during the ascent to the hut. After all, two days earlier a violent storm had caused flooding and mudslides in the Berchtesgaden region. On this day it was supposed to be better again, but the weather forecast is almost never right in this rainy summer in the Alps. I just hoped that the next day would be as sunny as promised.

From the Wimbachhütte car park I don’t take the direct route to the Watzmannhaus, but first march to the Achenkanzel, a vantage point high above the Königssee. Deep below me, the lake is even partially in sunlight, just a pity that the mountains in the background are not visible. In the evening, I sit in the completely booked out hut wearing an FFP2 mask.

view from the main to the south summit of the Watzmann
Always along the ridge: view from the main to the south summit of the Watzmann

I am one of the first to set off at dawn and climb towards the first summit, Hocheck. At sunrise I am halfway up. The sky is almost cloudless, only a dense layer of fog lies over the Königssee. Later I have breakfast on Hocheck. Here I put on my climbing belt and helmet and as soon as the first group appears, I continue over the ridge. In exposed places there is always a wire rope that I can click into. I soon reach the main summit (2713 m), where I am almost alone. The view to the southern summit is particularly impressive here, with a cloud hanging on its east face. The ridge across looks spectacular, but for me it is easier in the end than it looks from above. Finally, I sit down for a second breakfast on the southern summit and thus my third peak.


The way down is long. Again and again it goes through steep chutes and over crumbly rocks, the terrain is so prone to rockfall that I only move forward at a snail’s pace. While the upper part of the mountain consists of the Dachstein limestone, which is pleasant for climbers, we now pass through the dolomite below (Karn-Noric dolomite and Ramsau dolomite, with the clayey-marly Raibl formation in between). These are much more brittle under tectonic stress and therefore fractured and strongly fissured.

When you have the feeling that you are almost at the bottom, there is another scarp before you finally reach the wide valley of Wimbachgries. Numerous debris flows reach down from the jagged mountains all around and join together in the valley to form a huge stream of debris. When it rains heavily, it starts to move, otherwise the gravel lies motionless and the water of the streams seeps away underneath.


The valley with its wide gravel bed leads back to the car park parallel to the Watzmann massif. At first the strange landscape is still unfamiliar and pleasing, but with time the valley wants no end…

Watzmann von Maria Ger
Watzmann from Maria Gern

The next morning I want to photograph the mountain in the most beautiful postcard views: at sunrise at the little church of Maria Gern, the view from the road over Berchtesgaden and finally from the summit of the Jenner. However, the Watzmann peak has already disappeared in clouds again by the time I arrive on the first cable car on the summit of Jenner…

Blick vom Jenner auf Königssee und Watzmann
View from Jenner across Königssee to Watzmann

I then walk the short loop over Rabenwand and Malerwinkel, the most famous views of Königssee. On the way back to the car park I meet crowds of people and am glad that I got up early and have already finished my programme.

Königssee von Rabenwand
Königssee from Rabenwand

Before my Watzmann tour, I waited for better weather in Ramsau in mostly pouring rain. That gave me plenty of time to explore the Zauberwald (enchanted forest) and Hintersee. Both go back to a huge landslide that rushed down from the Hochkalter after the ice ages and dammed up the stream. The large boulders in the forest, in the stream and also on the lakeshore add to the charm of this landscape.

Hintersee near Ramsau
Hintersee near Ramsau