Packrafting Isar, from source to Bad Tölz

After our white water course we would like to make a multi-day tour by ourselves. We think we’ve learned a lot and would like to test that in practice. We search through our DKV Kanuführer, the book White Water North Alps and at kajaktour.de and find two rivers to choose from: the Isar and the Salza. We consider all options and stare at the water flows a lot and finally decide to go for the Isar.

We find an example tour on the internet. The part Scharnitz to Wolfsrathausen has been done in packrafts in June 2009 and took them three days. Helmets and wetsuits could be rented at outdoor company Nature Lounge. Unfortunately no water flows are mentioned in the example. We drive to Scharnitz and search for the company Nature Lounge. Without protection against the cold water we’re not going to enter any river in the Alps. Tomorrow it will rain, but a window of four days good weather will arrive after tomorrow. If we can rent the wetsuits tomorrow, we can raft for four days in good weather. Perfect fit.

Nature Lounge does exist, however, only as a lama rental company. This is confirmed by the local tourist information office. The lady at the tourist information tells us that there are no kayak companies in the area. The first shop that sells anything that has something to do with water sports is located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A little disappointed we return to the camp-site. We’re reluctant to drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to find out we can’t rent wetsuits there. On the internet we look for alternatives: Kayak school Source2Sea near Innsbruck is advertising with wetsuits rental. We don’t find any opening hours, so we pay them a visit at random.

At the door we find a sign with opening hours. Ofcourse we arrived just after morning closure, but fortunately someone is still there. We receive a phone number to call when we want to return the goods. He also tells us that the opening hours at the door are more or less indicative. We’re happy to start floating tomorrow.

Our plan is to raft down the Obere Isar from the camp-site. After a night at the camp-site we take our backpacks and continue for three more days on the Untere Isar. We’re unable to judge how far we can float in three days because there are no water flows mentioned. We know that the water level is just under the minimum and we keep in mind that it can take longer and we might need to have to walk some stretches. At many places along the river it is possible to leave the water and return to the camp-site by public transport.

Obere Isar

Pete Bandtock: “Every time we do this run, we are simply buzzing to repeat it immediately.”

From the village a jeep track ascends to the put-in. It is forbidden to drive for all traffic. One exception: For kayaks one can call a cab that drives you to the put-in. We go by foot in that direction. The water level is low: According to the measurement station it is 112.7 cm where 115 cm is the minimum for boating. If the water level is too low at the put-in we just move a bit more downstream.

From the put-in to the first narrow valley is really low water. We have to slalom the whole time to avoid hitting rocks and fallen trees and we scratch the ground multiple times. We survive the Isar Cataract intact, but not in the most elegant way.

01
Obere Isar.

After the Cataract we enter the first narrow valley and finally the water level is high enough. From now on we paddle with big, big smile. It’s hard work, but very much fun. This continues until we enter Scharnitz.

The first valley consists of a continuous descent over small plateaus. There are no eddies to wait for each other or for a small rest. Then the valley opens and the water becomes more tranquil. Here you can enjoy the view at the Karwendel massif.

02
Obere Isar.

The second valley is easier, with more rocks and more eddies. Take a good look where the Gleierschbach flows into the Isar: if you look to your left, you’ll see the beautiful and very small Gleierschbachtal. Near Scharnitz you should pay attention for dredging work where they drag a cable through the river. Pay careful attention on working days! A weir with iron rods was described in our guidebook, which we didn’t find, even at these low water levels.

Untere Isar

From Scharnitz we go downstream. At the border we have to get out of the water and carry our packrafts: A weir has been put up there with big boulders and multiple large, rusty iron rods. Probably not a problem with a kayak, but with our inflatable packrafts we tend to avoid sharp objects. At these low water levels the rods are just centimeters above the water level. If the water level is a bit higher, they cannot be seen.

04
Near the border in Mittenwald.

In Mittenwald there are two other parts with too many rocks. After passing them we can quietly paddle through the village.

07
Mittenwald.

The next obstacle is in Krün. A little reservoir has been made to generate electricity. At the start of the reservoir a sign has been put up that you should take out at the left side because it is forbidden to paddle on the reservoir. You can walk over the bridge and put in after the weir.

09
Reservoir near Krün.

kajaktour.de: Man könnte fast meinen, dass man nicht mitten in Europa sondern irgendwo in Kanada ist.

After Wallgau the river changes character. Until now it was a reasonably fast flowing river filled with rocks and boulders. Now the Isar is splitting multiple times and these creeks flow through gravel banks with fallen trees and driftwood. We follow the biggest creek and have to get out of our boats multiple times because the water level is too low to raft. Later we see the water level at Rißbachdücker is only 16 cm. 23 cm is the minimum for boating and the advice for a nice float is a minimum of 30 cm.

In the Isartal from Krün tot Vorderriß we find a lot of people bivouacing. We meet some people with canoes that pitched their tents near the shore.

11

When we wake up the next day the world is covered in a blanket of thick fog. We can hardly see the other side of the Isar. We have our breakfast, pack our bags and leave. Soon we have to get out of our boats near the weir and measurement station in Vorderriß. Meanwhile, the fog has almost disappeared.

16

Today we’re not making much progress. We have to get out of our boats a lot because the water level is too low and we have to pass a lot of weirs. The scenery is beautiful, but getting out and putting in takes a lot of time. A little before the Sylvenstein-Stausee gravel is being mined. Big trucks come and go, filled with gravel. They drive full throttle and we have to take shelter behind our packrafts regularly. Immediately after the bridge we put in, to find out we have to get out again two minutes later. There we find the real weir. Unfortunately.

17
Sylvenstein Stausee.

We’re happy finally to be paddling on the reservoir. Sadly the wind is blowing from the front with four Beaufort, despite paddling hard it takes us a long time to get to the other side. They are working at the weir, so we have to walk and put in a few hunderd meters after the weir.

Our packrafts seem to attrack children. When we want to put in after the weir a family with four kids is about to leave. One of the children is nearly sitting in Fred’s packraft when he is attaching his backpack. They keep watching us until we disappear at the horizon.

After the put in there are three enjoyful drops. Each drop is higher than the previous one, but easier to raft. At this side of the weir the water level is high enough for fast paddling. We were afraid that the water level would be low on this side as well.

18
Drop after the Sylvenstein Stausee.

19
Drop after the Sylvenstein Stausee.

At Winkl there is one more weir where we have to get out. The second part of this day we go astonishingly fast. The river picks up speed and we can raft without having to get out. We pass the weir in Lengries and pitch our tarp at a small island in the Isar just outside of Lengries. The island is full of biting, red ants, but we find one spot without ants, just large enough for our tarp and two packrafts.

21
Bivouac on an island downstream of Lengries.

Only a small piece of our tour remains until the final take out near Bad Tölz. We play a bit going in and out of eddies but reach Bad Tölz sooner than expected. We have to search for the station which takes longer than expected, but in the afternoon we board the bus to the camp-site. A few hours and two bus changes later we’re back in Scharnitz. Another quick end to a beautiful tour.

23
Take out near Bad Tölz.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

Pete Bandtock – White Water North Alps
Rivers Publishing U.K.ISBN 0-9519413-9-9

DKV-Auslandsführer Band 1 – Österreich/Schweiz
Deutscher-Kanu-Verband-Verlag
ISBN 978-3-937743-19-6

WK322: Wetterstein – Karwendel – Seefeld – Leutasch – Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Wander-, Rad- und Freizeitkarte, Freytag & Berndt
1:50 000

182: Isarwinkel, Bad Tölz, Lenggries
Wandern – Rad – Skitouren, Kompass
1:50 000

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