Alpine marmots are common animals in the Allgäu Alps. In Oberstdorf there is a hiking trail to the Kemptner Hütte. Not far away from the hut Kemptner Hütte is a spot where alpine marmots live. Hikers with time and patience can observe quite many alpine marmots in this area and experience unique wildlife encounters. In this blog entry I write about my alpine marmot observations in the Allgäu Alps close to Oberstdorf.
The Allgäu Alps
Spectacular views on to the mountains. Fresh mountain air to breathe in. And a unique nature to explore! The Allgäu Alps are as a matter of fact a real beauty of nature, and thus, worth a one-day trip or a holiday for several days. In fact, the Allgäu Alps are a popular destination and many tourists are enthusiastic about these mountains. So am I! The mountains of the Allgäu Alps are thrilling, exciting and just beautiful!
The Alps can be divided into the Western and the Eastern Alps. The alpine region in Germany - including the Allgäu Alps - are part of the Eastern Alps. The Eastern Alps start in the eastern part of the Lake Constance and are located in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Liechtenstein. The Western Alps extend from Switzerland over Italy and France up to Monaco.
The Nebelhorn (English: "foghorn") is one of the most famous summits of the Allgäu Alps and located close to Oberstdorf. However, the Nebelhorn reaches a height of about 2224 m, and thus, is not the highest mountain peak of the Allgäu Alps. The highest mountain in the Allgäu Alps is the Große Krottenkopf with 2656 m in Tirol in Austria.
In 2020 I went to the Allgäu Alps twice.
On the one hand to the Oberjoch. And on the other hand, to the Kemptner Hütte.
Oberjoch is located at an altitude of 1139 m and starting point for many hikers. There are several hiking trails beginning in Oberjoch. We reached on our hike last summer 1844 metres in altitude.
Information: If you want to know more about the hiking trails in Oberjoch, please follow this link (in German). The hiking trails are suitable for families with children. We did not use any mountain cableway, although my eight-year-old nephew had joined that hike. It was a five-hour-long hike and he mastered it very well!
The Kemptner Hütte is located at an altitude of 1846 m.
My goal of a hike however - be it in the Allgäu Alps or in any other mountain - is generally not to climb the highest mountain. No. I usually do have other goals. Either spending a nice day in the mountains or observing the alpine fauna.
At the Kemptner Hütte I was hoping to spot some alpine marmots.
While in Oberjoch I undertook a nice hike with my family, at the Kemptner Hütte I was looking for alpine marmots (as far as I know there are no alpine marmots in Oberjoch).
Just next to the Kemptner Hütte, alpine marmots have found a perfect natural environment.
This blog entry is exactly about these animals. On my last trip to the alpine marmots in the Berchtesgadener Land I could collect already fabulous memories of these wonderful animals.
I wished to see alpine marmots again. I wanted to spend some more time with them. Taking photographs and just observe them.
Consequently, I embarked on a next trip to the Allgäu Alps in order to search for alpine marmots.
Question: Have you ever spotted an alpine marmot in the Allgäu Alps or at some other place? If yes, where? Please let me know in the comments!
Hike to the Kemptner Hütte
Before my hike I asked myself several questions.
Will I be able to hike to the Kemptner Hütte on one day? When should I leave? Marmots are early risers. Usually, they leave their dens early in the morning and back down in the course of the day when the day gets warmer.
But what if the day gets very hot? The alpine marmots at the Kemptner Hütte might back down into their dens again quite early in the morning.
Thus, I should leave early.
But is it possible to leave in the dark? Isn't it too dangerous? According to my internet research the difficulty level of the hiking trail is graded as medium to difficult... Are the hiking trails save in the dark? And what if I do not find the right hiking trail? Would be a hiking map useful?
These were just some of my questions and thoughts I had on the evening before when I was looking at the mountains in Spielmannsau.
Maybe I wouldn't have asked myself so many question, if I wouldn't have intended to hike up the mountains alone.
But yes. I hiked alone.
And at the end it was a good decision.
Who would have enjoyed to wake up early in the morning at 4 a.m. just because of some marmots? Not everyone. And sitting in the grass for hours to wait for the marmots after an early-morning hike? Indeed, not everyone is in the mood for this.
But that's okay.
Nevertheless, my hike to the Kemptner Hütte started early in the morning in Spielmannsau.
Spielmannsau is a small village about 10 km from Oberstdorf in the valley Trettachtal. In Spielmannsau there is only a mountain inn (German: "Berggasthof") with a restaurant, a country house and a hostel, but also a farm and a small chapel.
Thus, indeed a very small village.
Someone looking for silence and beautiful mountain views will find this in any case in Spielmannsau.
According to my hiking map, Spielmannsau is located at an altitude of 983 m. Thus, I had to overcome an altitude difference of 863 m (reminder: the Kemptner Hütte is located at an altitude of 1846 m, again according to my hiking map).
Would I reach the Kemptner Hütte on one day?
Meaning, hiking up and down the mountain on the same day?
Information: There is the option to stay overnight at the Kemptner Hütte. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 it was necessary to bring a sleeping bag. As I didn't want to drag so much luggage (my camera bag is already heavy), I decided to stay in Spielmannsau. There is a goods cable lift in Spielmannsau, but as far as I know, it is not possible to let luggage transport to the Kemptner Hütte. Please check the official website of the Kemptner Hütte to get the latest information.
Nevertheless, I ventured eventually on that trip up the mountains in the Allgäu Alps.
Not to forget, I had already done such a similar hike alone early in the morning in the Berchtesgadener Land.
However, I really have to mention here that I shouldn't have started this hike in the dark if the bright moon wouldn't have shone onto the hiking trail. In my opinion, the difficulty level of medium to difficult matches perfectly to this hiking trail.
The beginning of the hiking trail leads along the Trettach river.
It is almost impossible to get lost on this hiking trail, because there is actually only one direction.
The hiking trail is quite narrow, and thus, especially in the dark not safe. Therefore, I highly recommend a torch to everyone who wishes to hike on that path in the dark!
The hiking trail to the Kemptner Hütte leads through forests at the beginning.
Further up the landscapes open more and more. But the hiking trail remains narrow. Fortunately, the sun rose quite early in the morning. Thus, I did not have to hike in the light of the moon for such a long time.
That early in the morning I had the mountains all to myself.
It was just beautiful.
I'm unable to put my admiration for the mountains into words.
I enjoyed the fresh mountain air, the views onto the mountains and how the first rays of the sun shone on the mountain peaks.
What a sight!
When observing wild animals you never know what happens. You never know if you spot any wildlife.
However, I knew in that moment. Whether or not I would spot any alpine marmot in the Allgäu Alps again, it would have been worth every effort. The mountain views were so remarkable and every footstep up that high mountain was worthwhile.
Nevertheless, I tried not to stay for such a long time at one spot, as I still wished to see alpine marmots on that day. Well supplied with nuts, I continued my hike to the Kemptner Hütte without any long break.
The hiking trail further led along the Sperrbach river.
Although there was only one direction, sometimes I was not sure if I was really on the right trail, because there were no signs. However, as there was not any trail crossing, I assumed to be on the right trail.
At a few places I had to move forward on all fours.
Every time I saw a step I was relieved. Every step was a sign for me and indicated the right hiking trail.
The most difficult parts of the hiking trail are closer to the Kemptner Hütte. At these parts I had to cross several small waterfalls.
Due to danger of slipping, there were wire ropes fastened at the steep face. It was indeed necessary for me to hold these wire ropes when crossing the waterfalls in order to prevent slipping down the rocks.
At one point I did not pay enough attention and stepped with one foot into the water.
My foot was wet after that, but I tried ignoring it and continued to walk.
Hiking map? Yes? No? I think, someone hiking from Spielmannsau to the Kemptner Hütte does not necessarily need a hiking map. As there is actually just one path, no one should get lost on this hiking trail. I just looked at my hiking map once when I had reached a chapel at a place called Knie. At that chapel I just wanted to check the path I had already walked.
Nevertheless, after these waterfalls it was not far anymore to the Kemptner Hütte.
The last meters of the path were quite steep.
But after that...
... I finally reached the Kemptner Hütte.
According to a sign in Spielmannsau it takes about 2 ¾ hours to hike to the Kemptner Hütte. I believe that's quite correct. I got up at around 4 a.m. in the morning and started with my hike at around 4:15 a.m. When I reached the Kemptner Hütte it was 7:05 a.m.
At that time first hikers got ready for their tour on that day.
I didn't stay long at the Kemptner Hütte. But I was searching for the trail which would lead me to the alpine marmots.
Information: The Kemptner Hütte is a popular and much-frequented stop in the Allgäu Alps, because there are several hiking trails that lead to famous mountain peaks, like for example, to the Großer Krottenkopf (the highest peak of the Allgäu Alps), to the Mädelegabel or to the Muttlerkopf where apparently many alpine ibexes live. Furthermore, the Kemptner Hütte lies on the long distance hiking trail E5 from Oberstdorf to Meran.
Alpine marmots in the Allgäu Alps
I left behind the Kemptner Hütte and set off to hopefully spot some alpine marmots. It didn't take long and I saw the first entrances of marmot dens.
But how many different subterranean dens were there?
One entrance here and another one there.
Counting all these den entrances I assumed to see quite many alpine marmots on that day!
But where were they?
Finally, I sat down on a stone, drank some water, and admired the mountains.
Even though I took a break from the exhausting hike up the mountain, I kept an eye on one den on my left and on another one on my right.
By all means, I didn't want to miss a marmot observation, but I also didn't want to disturb anyhow the alpine marmots with my presence. Therefore, I tried to keep my distance, behaved very quietly and made myself invisible as much as possible.
Important! Observing wildlife in their natural environment is very, very special! I know that and I hope that many other people can experience unique wildlife encounters like me with alpine marmots. However, all of us is obliged not to disturb wildlife in their habitats! Please keep sufficient distance to the animals and do not anyhow impair the lives of any wild animal!
I kept my seat on the stone.
Maybe it was still too early. On my last encounter with alpine marmots, it was at least like that. Therefore, I knew that they might become active later on a day.
That's why I kept my seat on that stone and waited and waited and waited.
After one hour...
Nevertheless, I was sure. There had to be many alpine marmots around!
And I was right.
Finally, I saw the first brown body.
That had to be an alpine marmot!
I ducked down. I didn't want this alpine marmot to see me. I wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible. Slowly I moved forward. But not too much. It was not at all my intention to disturb this sunbathing alpine marmot!
Finally, I sat down on the grass and exercised patience.
Tip: If you intend to photograph wild animals you do need not only a lot of patience, you also should bring along lenses with long focal lengths. Most animals do have a great flight distance and it is only possible to take photographs of them from a long distance.
Eventually, I tried to take another photograph of that marmot.
And indeed. This animal saw me!
I drew back and moved to the other direction where I sat down on the grass again.
There was another marmot looking out of its den.
Maybe it was the same individual? Maybe this alpine marmot just went to the other entrance of its den?
However, this alpine marmot disappeared very quickly in its den again. At least I thought it had disappeared. But then I heard some stones moving. What was this animal up to?
Then I got distracted by two other alpine marmots playing in the distance.
I remained on my spot. Every movement could frighten these animals. I knew that there are alpine marmots anywhere in the Allgäu Alps which might approach humans. However, these alpine marmots at the Kemptner Hütte do not approach humans at all and rather seemed to be shy and elusive. But of course, I had no food for them!
When I was looking back to the other entrance of the den where I spotted the first alpine marmot, there was another individual.
I knew it! There were two of them!
Although I could perceive that these animals knew I was there, more and more alpine marmots ventured outside and left their dens. I tried to keep either motionless or moved as slowly as possible. I didn't want to scare any animal. Nevertheless, one of the two alpine marmots went back into its den again. The other alpine marmot entered the den at another entrance.
Information: Alpine marmots live in subterranean dens or burrows. Their winter dens can reach a depth of up to 7 meters, while their dens in summer are closer to the surface of the earth and lie only about 1 meter below the ground. In order to escape a predator, alpine marmots furthermore build specialized tunnels to back down quickly.
Alpine marmots typically live in family groups of up to 20 animals dominated by an adult breeding pair. The territory of a family usually reaches a size of about 2,5 ha.
As I could not see many of these alpine marmots at the same time, I assumed that most of them were probably anywhere under the earth in their dens.
Often, I saw a pair of alpine marmots moving around. However, I never saw more than two alpine marmots at once.
And then again. I spotted a pair of alpine marmots scurrying out of their den. As it seemed to be they were searching for food.
I tried to went back on my original spot and sat again down on my stone.
These two alpine marmots seemed to be very nervous. I stayed on my stone. Alternately, I watched these two marmots looking for food on the one side and on the other side I was admiring the mountains.
When I lost the sight of these two individuals, I decided to move forward over the Obere Mädelealpe into the direction of the Mädelekopf.
There were even more alpine marmots!
Alpine marmots on the right. And alpine marmots on the left.
It was so beautiful!
One alpine marmot was sitting on a hill looking down on me.
Another marmot had made itself comfortable anywhere on the meadow.
Curiously enough, there were no other hikers on that path on that day. I saw some far away moving down another hiking trail. But on the Obere Mädelealpe I was all by myself. Maybe because the path to the Mädelekopf takes only about half an hour. I'm sure, most hikers who had stayed overnight at the Kemptner Hütte did have higher goals than such a short hike. The hiking trails to the Großen Krottenkopf or to the Muttlerkopf start at the Kemptner Hütte, but into the opposite direction. I only can explain it to myself that way why I was alone on the trail through the Obere Mädelealpe.
Again, I got spectacular views.
The Allgäu Alps are just unique!
From a distance I saw an adult alpine marmot with a young. When I walked back into the direction of the Kemptner Hütte, I was surprised. The adult marmot went back to its den, but the young remained at the entrance of the den. I tried to hurry a little bit, because I wanted this small alpine marmot to be scared of my appearance. I didn't want this young to be an easy prey for predators!
When I reached my original spot - the spot with the stone - I observed two more marmots looking out of their dens.
One of these two individuals went back into the den, while the other one left its den to feed on the meadow.
Even though I could have stayed there for many more hours, I finally decided to leave. I still had to hike back down to Spielmannsau. I expected to hike for another three hours...
On my way back I thought a lot about my marmot observations.
It was indeed a remarkably beautiful experience again. However, these marmots knew that I was there. I always tried to keep a long distance to the animals, but the alpine marmots indeed perceived my presence.
Was that okay? But how to move "correctly" in nature? Wouldn't it be better to leave these alpine marmots alone? Meaning, not visiting them at all? This way we definitively wouldn't disturb them!
But my counter questions here is, wouldn't we lose this way more and more our connection to nature in a more and more technological world? I believe we need experiences like this to value our nature!
But of course, in my opinion this is not an easy decision!
Nevertheless, my current opinion about this is to say, it is okay to encounter wild animals. But just with care and distance. Most important is not to intervene in the lives of any wild animal (like e.g. people providing wild animals food to attract them).
What do you think?
Information: On my hike back to Spielmannsau I met quite many hikers. It was a quite hot day and I was relieved that I had hiked up the mountain early in the morning. Depending on your heat tolerance, a hike early in the morning might be more pleasant for some.
How to get to Oberstdorf and Spielmannsau
Spielmannsau is easy to reach by public transportation. I travelled by train to Oberstdorf. I arrived at the train station in Oberstdorf. The train station is located in the town centre just next to the bus terminal. At this bus terminal I took a bus (bus number 8) to Spielmannsau.
The first bus left at 7:45 a.m. and the last one at 5:45 p.m. in Oberstdorf. In Spielmannsau the buses leave to Oberstdorf between 8:10 a.m. and 6:10 p.m. However, I suggest to look at the most recent timetable of bus number 8. Especially in autumn there is another timetable.
I paid for one ticket from Oberstdorf to Spielmannsau 3,90 Euros.
In Spielmannsau the bus stops directly in front of the Mountain Hostel. The Berggasthof and the Landhaus are just opposite of the Mountain Hostel.
Information: In Spielmannsau there are no supermarkets or any other shops. But there is a restaurant in the small village.
Accommodation in the Allgäu Alps
I stayed two nights at the Mountain Hostel. I was happy with my decision. The rooms are simple, but I had everything for these two nights. The Mountain Hostel is like the Landgasthof and the Berggasthof in a very beautiful valley. Importantly, after the sunset it can be quite chilly. Even in summer.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I had one room just for me, although I paid for a shared dorm. I paid 20,90 Euros for one night. The dinner cost 9,50 Euros and the breakfast 8,50 Euros. It is also possible to order a lunch at the Mountain Hostel.
Every tourist furthermore has to pay a visitor's tax of 2,05 Euros for every night.
Information: Of course, the Mountain Hostel is probably not that comfortable and luxury like the Berggasthof or the Landhaus, but I felt good at this hostel. You can find other accommodation options on the official website of Spielmannsau.
More information and links
Have you ever seen an alpine marmot in the Allgäu Alps? Or maybe at another place? Please let me know in the comments!