Washington, DC is a pretty grim place these days. Despite the energy and unity displayed at the Women’s March last weekend, the inauguration and the actions of our new president this past week have left a lot of people here feeling both depressed and infuriated. So in order to temporarily escape reality, I find myself daydreaming of the day we spent in Königssee in December…
Königssee is a beautiful lake in Germany’s Berchtesgaden National Park, near the Austrian border. It’s more of a summertime destination, but I’m glad we were able to see it in winter when there was snow on the ground and the crowds were nonexistent. We were worried when we arrived at the ferry docks as a heavy fog rolled in, but it slowly cleared and we were able to see more of the mountains around us.
The only way to get around Königssee is by boat as the lake is surrounded by steep mountains walls and it’s impossible to hike around. In the winter, only a few boats run daily and the only stop is St. Bartholomew church which was originally built in the 12th century, then remodeled in the 16th century using architecture influenced by the Ottomans.
By the time we got to St. Bartholomew, the fog had cleared and it was a beautiful winter day. Originally, we wanted to go to Obersee, the smaller lake next to Königssee, but the boat doesn’t run to the Salet stop closest to Obersee in the winter so instead we found a 6 km hike leading to an eiskapelle, or ice chapel.
We started off quickly on the hike since we had less than 3 hours until the last boat back to town left St. Bartholomew, and if you missed the last boat, you were out of luck and stranded for the night. It seemed like plenty of time, but you never know!
As we hiked up the mountain and into the forest, we came across this tiny Chapel of St. Paul and John and the trail became really snowy.
We stopped here for what was the best view of the hike as the forest cleared and we had a clear shot of Watzmann, the third highest mountain in Germany.
It was here that the trail went from a well-maintained uphill path to a very snowy and slippery rock scramble.
We passed all the warning signs about avalanches (we definitely heard one in the distance as we started out on the hike) and soldiered on toward where we hoped the ice chapel was. There were no signs to guide us, but Robin figured out a path despite my protests that we should turn back just to make sure we had enough time to catch the last boat.
In the end, I’m glad we didn’t give up, The pictures don’t do it justice, but the ice chapel was truly unique and beautiful in the snow. There was only one other couple from our boat who made the trek so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I wish we could have enjoyed it longer, but I was still worried about time and the prospect of sleeping in a cold, unheated church (at best!) that night.
As we made the hike back, we came across some mountain goats who were walking much more steadily than we were in the snow.
We made it back to St. Bartholomew with over a half an hour to spare so we celebrated with some drinks and more bread, cheese, and venison. And of course, Robin gloated a little about being right about the timing.
We caught the last boat back to town and took in the views one last time, just as darkness began to sink in. Even though we didn’t get to Obersee like we wanted, I think we found something even better and more memorable with the snowy hike to the ice chapel!