The weather forecast predicted a fine and sunny day, but the fog does not lift although it is already well past sunrise. Reluctantly, most of the hikers start to leave for the mountain anyway. "The recruits left at 4, I think – they had torches, too," someone remarks. We had shared the mountain hut with a whole company of mountain infantry in training, who were supposed to cross the rocky Watzmann ridge today with packs of 25 kg and more.
We too start our ascent to the smallest of the Watzmann peaks, the Hocheck. 600 m higher up, a handful of people in colourful outdoor gear are readying themselves for the via ferrata across the ridge. Below us, nothing is to be seen but a few raven dipping into the chasm after a piece of bread, and beyond that, still the cloud. We turn round to walk down to the sunshine in the valleys below.
"I think apple juice is better – at least it's something natural". The mountain inn on the next alp is still at least an hour away, but the family passing us walking uphill is already discussing the snack options. "Servus" – "Hi" – "And now you also say 'Hello', Ella!," the father admonishes.
Later that day, going around the mountain massif in a long loop, we meet some of the hikers who went over the ridge and are now leaving the national park. "The soldiers were still at it this afternoon," they complain. "Some were not really used to mountain paths at all, let alone a via ferrata. And with all that luggage!" We are glad we didn't go for the via ferrata on the ridge.
The next day, coming up to the Hundstodgatterl ("Gate of the Dying Dog" – but no dead dog to be seen) we realise why the area beyond is called Steinernes Meer, or the Sea of Stone. While there were still patches of grass between the rocks before, the path now winds down over stone and rocks. With dark grey clouds still above us, the only bits of colour are the red-and-white way-markers on the stones, and the moving blue or yellow dots of fellow hikers in the distance.
Only close to that day's overnight stop at the Kärlinger Haus do we pass green meadows again. Fat marmots waddle about lazily, so certain that the hikers mean no harm that they don't even bother to whistle.
By noon the next day we are back at the Königsee and mingle with the international crowds visiting the tiny, isolated baroque church of St. Bartholomä. "The first time I went abroad in the 1970s", the local conductor on the boat tells us in adjusted Bavarian, "there was a picture of St. Bartholomä on the wall of my room in Norway." Admittedly the Watzmann region is very touristy in summer, and we would have wished for better weather, but it was definitely a great hike. We will be back for the via ferrata over the ridge!