A Quick Stroll Around the Leutasch Platt

Do what, I hear you ask? Well, the Leutasch Platt is a rather fine high-level limestone plateau on the German - Austrian border, just south of the town of Garmisch Partenkirchen, and I thought Pelobates would be an excellent place to write a short article about a recent weekend spent pottering about on it. Besides which, I've been meaning to write something about this area for years.

Sarah and I decided to make the most of British Airway's "World Offers", by buying two return tickets to Munich from London Heathrow for about 80 pounds each. The plan was to climb up to Meilerhutte, at around 2400m, stay a couple of nights and have a look at the Leutasch Platt, not a renowned caving area, but one which has over 60 known entrances, a shaft of 160m depth and a plateau to resurgence depth potential of around 1100m. All of course, over a long weekend.

To be honest, we only had one problem all weekend, and that was this ... On arrival at Heathrow at 7am on Friday 18th July, having arranged to just take a couple of daysacks, we decided to be the honest citizens we are and tell the baggage people about our stove. We have a Coleman unleaded petrol stove, and had made sure the day before that it was empty of petrol. I took the stove out of the bag, and passed it to the British Airport Authorities chappies. They turned out to be completely mindless morons, who remarked that not only could we not take it with us, but that it would probably get destroyed (by them). End of story.

I dared to mention that we had actually flown with it several times before, and that British Airways seemed to be quite happy to carry it, once they had a chance to check it. They then got to the "Now look, sonny, we don't make the rules" and the "You have no option but to leave it here" stage, when I asked if it was OK to take it back out to the check-in desks and sort it out with British Airways. They reluctantly agreed, but why hadn't they suggested I go back to the check-in desk themselves? "Nil points" to the citizen's charter of BAA being a caring organisation.

Meanwhile, out in BA land, the check-in clerk gave the stove a good look over, rang through to a security number, and had the stove labelled and packed into one of our daysacks for storage in the hold. Apparently, all sorted. Well, it was until we arrived at Munich to find that that daysack was missing. We described the problem to a very helpful BA assistant, who said she would arrange for the daysack to be sent to our hotel (we had fortunately decided to B&B the first night before heading south to the Alps). Oh well, nothing else to do except get the train to Andechs and get slaughtered!

(To cut a long story short, the daysack was despatched to our B&B that night, intact and with the stove! On the way back, the Munich airport gestapo had a good look and decided it was OK to go, as long as the screw cap was left open. We've since heard that you can pack it inside your knickers and socks and not tell anyone - Carl Gibbs; use a stove with a flexible metal tube and those detachable bottles cleaned in washing up liquid - Steve and Helen Wray; or go to Los Angeles and have it confiscated - not telling).

And so to jolly Andechs. Forty minutes on the S-bahn (overground train) to the city centre, and a further forty minutes out the other side. (If there are two of you, you can buy a special family ticket that allows two adults, four children and a dog to go anywhere inside the Munich MVV area - like doing all of London's zones - for 24DM, or 8 pounds). Then either a one hour walk through gently uphill forest, or a local bus (not MVV) for 3DM which gets you to Kloster Andechs in 10 minutes!

Basically, Andechs is a community of monks with a fine Catholic church set on top of the holy hill of Bavaria. Since they're German monks, they've been brewing beer for hundreds of years, and sell their own meat and dairy produce in the Andechs Braustuberl, not to mention beer of course. Delightful views across Bavarian countryside to the Alps, litres of excellent beer (both light and dark varieties) and gargantuan quantities of meat. To paraphrase into English (with litre of beer in hand of course):

Customer: "I'd like some of your fine roast pork please, with exceptional amounts of crackling."
Meat shop attendant: "Would sir like to quote to the nearest kilogram?"
Customer: " Ooh, about half a kilogram perchance?"
Meat shop attendant: "I'm sorry sir, but the smallest I can offer you is this knuckle". (Enormous juicy roast pork knuckle thuds onto the weighing machine, still sizzling from the grill). "A mere snip at 850 grams."
Customer: "But of course!"1

A patter of words that will delight many a Croydon member, I suspect. The addition of potato salad, brez'n (traditional bread in a ring and cross shape) and lashings of beer rounding things off superbly.

We were in extra luck that afternoon, if such can exist. A wedding had taken place, and the sound of a traditional Bavarian band booming across the courtyard was a pleasure to the ears. The happy couple even went for a dance around the gaststube with their jugs of beer, to the delight of all. Oh jolly Andechs.

We then took our leave to the B&B at Starnberg, on the main railway line between Munich and Garmisch Partenkirchen, the latter famous for hosting the winter olympics some time in the 70s. Overnight it poured with rain, and the landlady was telling us how awful this summer and the previous summer had been for visitors; they had been very much wetter and cloudier than the past (the summers, not the visitors). We awoke to a grey Saturday morning, and set off on the first available train to Mittenwald, a small town lying at 900m in a pass just southeast of Garmisch, and on the way to Innsbruck. (The cost of a weekend return from Munich to Mittenwald is about 35DM or 12 pounds).

From Mittenwald, it requires at least 5 hours walking to get to Meilerhutte. There is one very direct route (also very pretty), that takes you past a couple of lakes (excellent for swimming on a hot day), along a footpath called the Schutzensteig, which winds its way along the edge of the forest, at the foot of the towering pinnacles of the Wettersteingebirge, named because their colour tells the locals what the weather is going to do (limestone which goes a deep orange before sunset, signalling a dusty and dry atmosphere out to the west).

Unfortunately, the rain had made Scutzensteig rather sodden and muddy, and a little extra effort was needed to get to Wettersteinalm, a small alpine dairy at the end of the track, at about 1450m. Here, we were rewarded with a beer, but had to stay outside. The interior was packed with large Bavarians, all in traditional lederhosen, whopping great boots and home-made woolly cardigans, sinking their beers with plates of ham and eggs like there was no tomorrow.

Where had they come from?

We decided to get on, and reach Meilerhutte before it got too late. From Wettersteinalm, you can take a forest track round a pinnacle to Schachen (a wooden Alpine retreat at 1800m used by King Luitpold many years ago), where there are refreshments, and make progress up an easy path to the top. We had planned to go for an alternative path, not marked on the map, but well marked in the field with red splodges of paint. This track winds its way up through a tiny gorge to the last of the latschen at about 1750m.

From here, there is what at first appears to be an impenetrable rock face some 300m high. However, the perspective plays tricks, and closer up, it doesn't seem quite as intimidating. The path follows meandering cracks and gullies in the rock, eventually turning right back on itself to the crux. This comprises a climb out up an overhang, rather exposed, but with good wire ropes to hang onto. There used to be a wire loop for the feet, to help get over the overhang, but the whole path has been re-splodged and the crux now contains a short section of aluminium ladder to help the ascent! From the top, it is merely a 10 minute scramble up a gentler slop to a prominent lip, where a well-earned rest can be had. A further 250m of ascent is required up a gentle high-level valley, round a corner and up the last few zigzags on the main path to Meilerhutte.

We reached the hutte at about 7:15pm, and immediately realised that something had changed. Meilerhutte literally had had another storey added! It turned out that this was what the burly Bavarians down at Wettersteinalm had been up to. They were spending weeks up at the hutte, building the extra storey, then coming down on Saturday, for a rest with their wives on Sunday, before climbing back on Monday morning. What a job! No wonder they'd been scoffing as if there was no tomorrow!

Once inside, it was boots off (essential protocol when staying in huttes), booked our bunks for the night, and in true Croydon tradition, covered every conceivable inch of the mattress with sleeping bag. Back downstairs, we ordered beer and leberkase mit ei, a typical Bavarian meal of something like an enlarged wodge of spam, with potato salad and fried eggs. Yum. There were only a handful of people staying (very quiet for a Saturday night), most put off by the weather we thought. It was pretty claggy, wet and grey outside, so we had to find solace in our few companions for the night, together with a few beers and an obstler (a fruity schnapps).

Sunday morning dawned, well, rather snow-like. Sarah made a brave effort to go to the washroom (outside, down about 10m), whilst I just slobbered around getting the breakfast ready. Most huttes do a bread, pate, butter and jam breakfast affair with instant coffee, which is actually pretty crap (all in little plastic tubs), and very expensive. Much better to haul your own bread and butter, coffee and bacon all the way from Waitrose in Wokingham. (Hutte staff are quite happy about you eating your own food in their rooms; it would be rather silly not to be able to eat what you've spent a day carrying!) Outside, the snow was still snowing and even settling - in the middle of July.

We decided the best thing would be to spend the morning out on the Leutasch Platt, just the Austrian side of the border, and head down to a B&B for Sunday evening. The best way across is not to go straight down from Meilerhutte, but to take a traverse path around the south side of the Partenkirschner Drietorspitze (2600m), called the Hermann von Barth Weg. It looks rather intimidating, but with the wire protection, is actually a very good wheeze, and gets you across to the east side of the plateau at around 2300m altitude in a few minutes.

From here, we crossed still untrodden snow around the higher east side of the plateau towards Sollerpas, a notch in the ridge on the south side, which lets you descend down to Leutasch. There are about 20 small entrances on this higher side, often ending after 10m or 15m, in loose choss. The area is probably too high and in an area of highly fractured limestone (Alpine trias) for much vertical development to have taken place, but there are one or two potholes which might be worth investigating when the snow recedes. Unfortunately, that was our problem this weekend; too much snow on the plateau, and not enough hot sunny days to have removed it. Ideally, a serious caving expedition to Leutasch Platt would go in early October, before the autumn snows and after a long hot summer, following a mild winter. We even had difficulty finding many of the caves. Quite a few have been marked by a caving club from Rhine-Main, with red plastic triangles bolted to the rock and their Leutasch Platt number (LP1, LP2, ...); much better and longer lasting than paint in this environment. I took a map of the locations of the known entrances, but we could only find LP57 and LP26 on the high side.

We decided to carry on to Sollerpas, and work our way back across to the main footpath down to the Leutasch valley, past a large cluster of entrances near Sollerpas itself. With slightly less snow, it was easier to find the entrances. Besides, there is a large fault of solid limestone below which can be found some of the larger potholes, including LP9, the deepest at 160m. We picked our way around LP6, LP9 and LP11 and lunched directly above LP32, just as a shower burst from the sky! Strangely, LP9 was blocked by a snow-plug almost to the surface, whereas you could see down at least 20m into LP32. We dined on bread and crab pate, and made some soup with the stove (thank goodness we'd got it over)! Of course, by the time we were ready to pack up, the sun came out, but we'd decided to head on down to the footpath and into the valley.

A few minutes later, Sarah suddenly came to a halt and told me there was a strange metal object just in front of her. Coming back to look, I noticed that it was some sort of army missile, about 10 inches long, rather rusty but still intact. We moved quickly on (this is the first time I'd ever come across artillery on the plateau), and some while later, reached a small new hutte (built privately by a local climbing club) about 400m below the plateau. From here it was a simple 800m descent down a pleasant footpath to the road, where we strolled along in sunshine at last!

It is quite easy to walk along the road to Mittenwald for the return train (about 6 miles), but we decided to stay in a typical Austrian B&B called Gasthof Muhle, run by two families straight out of Swiss Family Robinson or The Sound of Music. Actually it was very good, and they didn't practice their singing on us. A very pleasant Sunday evening spent downing Austrian beer (it only comes in half litres though), and chatting with Pops, who used to be a geology teacher!

Well, all good things have to come to an end, and on Monday, it was a quick walk out over a hill called Grunkopf, down to Mittenwald for lunch. By 1pm, we had boarded the train, and by 8pm, were sitting outside the Queen's Head in Wokingham, quaffing some Old Speckled Hen and Stella, with duty free in the bag as well as the stove!

The next time will have to be with some SRT gear in autumn next year. (I understand that the construction work at Meilerhutte will have been finished too).

Any takers for another long weekend, to include Andechs of course?

George Pankiewicz