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Zugspitze: Wiener-Neustädt route

I met Neil, a fellow Zugspitze enthusiast, via an English-speaking web forum. He was kind enough to write a great post about his love for Germany’s highest mountain, and a recent hike up one via ferrata section. Complete with fantastic Zugspitze photos! On to his story…

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When I was 12 years old, I went, with my family, to the Tyrol for the first time. We’d always been on holiday a lot, but this was only my second trip abroad and my first trip to see “proper” mountains. Sure, Wales and Scotland have mountains, but it’s not quite the same! I found the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak at 2,962m, on the border with Austria, particularly awesome, and enjoyed the cable car trip to the summit immensely. The holiday to Ehrwald (Austria) made a huge impression on me and has remained one of my favourite destinations.

Zugspize / Ehrwald Signpost

Fast forward 22 years and this (admittedly slightly weedy) 12-year-old is now 6 foot 2 and a keen hiker. This year, we repeated the holiday – parents, me (and my wife), as a 60th birthday present for my Mum. As our holiday commenced, my sister was drinking fermented mares’ milk in Mongolia on her honeymoon having not washed for 6 days, I was drinking European lagers in the mountains and swimming in crystal clear warm mountain lakes. Sometimes, the world has a wonderful unfairness about it!

If you’ve never been to the Tyrol, imagine for a moment a paradise of good rustic food, refreshing lagers and unusual Austrian wines, snow-capped mountains, beautiful sunshine, meadows of wild flowers, friendly people, mountain lakes, glacial fountains in town centres from which the water is clean enough to drink, pretty houses with flowers bursting from their window boxes. Oh, and Obstler: the local schnapps which is like drinking burning sandpaper, and which is used to toast almost everything.

When my wife and I go on holiday, we usually spend at least a couple of days apart. It’s not that we’ve been married so long that we can’t bear to be together, it’s just that we have different ideas of fun. I like walking, she doesn’t. Ten years ago, our “solo days” would involve my wife painting or relaxing and me going for a country walk. Over the years, “walk” has gradually yet steadily evolved into “fairly dangerous hike/climb”. So this year, against the advice of the man in the hiking shop, I decided to tackle the front of the Zugspitze, via the Wiener-Neustädte-hütte route. There are a number of routes up this mountain, ranging from relatively mild (but long) beautifully scenic routes round the back of the mountain, to this in-your-face, straight up, and slightly shorter trek. And it was fun!

Setting off just after 8am from the village centre, I began the lovely varied walk by making my way through the village, through the meadow, and into one of the larch woods which are so common in the area. Car-wide tracks lull you into a slightly false sense of security, and it took only 40 minutes to reach my breakfast stop, the Gamsalmhütte. Unfortunately, I hadn’t checked their opening times, and Tuesday is their closed day. Hungry walk for me then!

Zugspitze hiking path

I’d like to interrupt my hike story for a second to tell you a little more about hüttes. Basically, these mountain huts, located anywhere from the busy top of a cable car, to the middle of nowhere on a desolate ridge behind a huge mountain. They provide mattresses on which weary travellers can spend the night, as well as a varying range of food and drink items, ranging from a large and diverse menu at the busier huts, to a more limited range of home-made produce at some of the more remote ones. Beer is a staple, although I wonder how they manage to deliver to some of the higher ones!

Back to the Zugspitze, and I proceeded from the Gamsalmhütte up what would be, in winter, a busy ski slope. It was steep yet enjoyable, and looking back there were fabulous views across the valley. From here, already fairly high, the vegetation began to thin out and the hike continued across, at various times, grassland, scree slopes, rocks, unsafe-looking wooden platforms, and snow. The route passed under the cable car, from which the lazy people waved to me, and past some derelict buildings until eventually, after what felt like about 3 days to my stomach, but was nearer 2 hours, I reached the Wiener-Neustädte-hütte, probably the most remote hut in the region.

Zugspitze cable car

Deliveries to the hut are obviously difficult, and the chap inside informed me that I could choose between sausage and bread or soup, nothing else. I had a kasknödelsuppe – a clear soup of beef stock with a cheese dumpling in the middle, which was delicious (although to be fair, fermented mare’s milk would probably have tasted good by this point!). The hut itself was built in the late 1800s and was a beautiful cross between refuge, café and museum. For people staying overnight, there was no television, but an “entertainment corner” consisting of board games, a few books, and a guitar. The interior was of dark mellow wood with little natural light, and a number of antique hiking and objects hanging from the walls. There was also a guest book to sign, the first entry having been made in the 1960s. There are various hikes from this hut, but the most popular is obviously upwards. As I left, I looked at the photograph in the porch showing the route up from the hut – basically a wiggly red line up from the rock face!

Bridges along the route

The last bit is by far the most fun. This is the start of the via ferrata: metal rungs in the rock with a cable to attach safety ropes (which I didn’t have – oops!). The first part after the hut is across scree to the bottom of the rock, and at this point the via ferrata begins, firstly up the side of the mountain, and then for a while through a cave. The views behind and down are truly breathtaking and as the path, marked by red paint (blood?), winds its way up, the ascent is quite rapid.

Cave via ferrata

About half way between the scree and the summit, the via ferrata comes to an end, and what remains is of equal steepness but without the mechanical aids. At times the path is indistinct and you just have to follow the person in front, at other times it’s quite clear. Eventually you reach the ridge, where you join with the Gatterl and Reintal routes for the final ascent, which is a little easier.

Rungs and Ladders - via ferrata

The last few yards to the tourist platform are, disappointingly, via a metal staircase, after which you have to get through the crowds of day-trippers (who’d ascended via the cable car) and queue for the final few yards to the summit. When I was there, those queuing for the summit were a mixture of elderly tourists and children wearing plimsolls, and over-cautious 30-somethings with full climbing gear, who looked a little out of place! From the summit, you can see the various routs up in each direction, after which it’s a queue back down to the platform and a celebratory schnapps and germknödel (sweet dumpling) in the café! Remember to take lots of cash with you, as they don’t take cards for the cable car down and it’s a long walk back!

Zugspitze seen across the glacier

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Thanks again, Neil! If readers enjoyed this article, please check out Neil’s Hiking Site for more.

Posted 7 years, 3 months ago at 12:06 pm.

1 comment

Climbing Zugspitze: Germany’s highest mountain (Part 3)

In case you didn’t see Part 1 and Part 2, that’s because they were published quite a while ago. I’ve been busy with snowboarding, and decided that this final post & video about a summer hike would anyway fit better once spring arrived.

After crossing the Höllentalferner glacier, we continued climbing up the wall for a long time.

Dave and Bunky climbing Zugspitze

As we neared the top this beautiful view greeted us:

Nearing the top of Zugspitze

Here’s the Eibsee, which we could also see briefly from the train on the way down.

View of Eibsee from the climb up Zugspitze

Now, for the final video. High-def views over the Höllental and everything beyond!

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Watch “Climbing Zugspitze: Part 3” in HD on YouTube. A big thanks to Danny Galixy for letting me use some of his fantastic instrumental music for these three videos!

We made one slight error, in that we planned to hike back down. But the ascent went slower than expected with our acrophobic friend, so we took the train down instead. That would have been no problem, except that we’d left some sleeping bags and shoes at the hut, planning to pick them up on the way down.

So… after arriving back to the car in Hammersbach, Scott and I did a lightning-fast hike up the bottom section of the mountain. This time we chose to go via the Höllentalklamm, a gorge with a river, instead of the longer (but fee-free) Stangensteig. When I say lightning-fast, I mean the signpost said 2 1/2 hours, and we did it in 1:15. Our Smartwool shirts were soaked with sweat!

In the end I’m glad we did this bottom section twice, because the Höllentalklamm was gorgeous! You walk up narrow staircases cut into the rock, with splashing waterfalls and scenic views everywhere. I’d recommend if you are hiking up and down, to go up Höllentalklamm and down Stangensteig to take in both scenic routes.

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For the full details about the hike, where to stay, where to rent gear, and all that – check out Part 1 of this series. The end of that post has all the hard facts listed in English for your Babelfish-free understanding. Part 2 of the Zugspitze series is all about the via ferrata sections (where you’re clipped to the steel cables on the cliffside) and the glacier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and seeing what Zugspitze is like. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer about the hike or the mountain! I’m happy to help fellow English speakers figure this baby out, because almost all the information out there is in German (grin).

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 6:34 pm.

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Climbing Zugspitze: Germany’s highest mountain (Part 2)

If you are new to this post series, start with Part 1 of the Zugspitze hike.  All the details of how to get there are at the end of Part 1.

The first video saw us up the Stangensteig, passing over the Höllentalklamm, and reaching the Höllentalangerhütte for a nice Schweinsbraten (pork roast) with red cabbage and dumplings. The next morning we started early and reached the first stretch of via ferrata, where we clipped into steel cables and walked on pegs across the cliff. Kind of like this:

Walking across steel via ferrata pegs

And of course there were these pesky ladders,

Climbing a ladder below the glacier

Then the Höllentalferner glacier itself!

The Hoellentalferner glacier

I had skied on glaciers before, but in the winter they look like the rest of the ski slopes.  Never had I seen one in the end of summer, mixed with dirt and rocks, full of deep crevasses.

Enough photos for now, on with what you’ve all been waiting for: part 2 of the video! There will be at least one more part after this.  And again, thanks to Danny Galixy for the amazing music!

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Watch “Climbing Zugspitze: Part 2” in HD on YouTube.

A few more choice photos: Scott and Bunky walking up the glacier, taking in the view…

Scott and Bunky on the glacier

And a bit later, Scott being nonchalant… I think he clipped in for a total of fifteen minutes during several hours of via ferrata ascent. It must be those expensive mountaineering boots, perhaps they cannot slip.

Scott with a background of glacier and clouds

That’s all for today.  The next (and final) post should be up sometime after the weekend.  Summit views and perhaps a bit of the train ride (we ran out of daylight, and our group’s acrophobic member wasn’t planning to hike down).

Part 3 is now posted! It took a bit longer than originally expected, but I hope it’s worth the wait!

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 9:51 am.

9 comments

Climbing Zugspitze: Germany’s highest mountain (Part 1)

When two old friends visited for Oktoberfest, we decided to try the Höllental ascent of Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany. Höllental means “Valley of Hell,” and conveniently there is a Hütte run by the Deutscher Alpenverein part way up. It’s named the Höllentalangerhütte, which literally means “Hell Valley Meadow Lodge.” You’ve gotta love German!

Here’s a photo of the Höllentalferner glacier where you can see Zugspitze in the distance. Click on the photo for a full-res version.
View of Hoellentalferner Gletscher and Zugspitze

Here’s a shot of a huge ice chunk we found on the way up the Stangensteig path, just before it rejoined the Höllentalklamm path:

Giant ice chunk on the way up Stangensteig

I took my newly assembled Canon Vixia HF200 helmet camera along for the ride, and below you can see an HD video of the experience. This climbing video is just part 1 – there will be two more videos coming in separate posts. Let me know how you like my first attempt at a semi-pro video!

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Watch “Climbing Zugspitze: Part 1” in HD on YouTube.

The music in the video is by Danny Galixy, whose music and photographs are fantastic. Check out his website!

Climbing this mountain via the Höllental route requires more mountaineering knowledge than some of the other routes up Zugspitze. You’ll need climbing gear including a harness, “via ferrata” equipment, a helmet, and crampons for the stretch along the glacier. A medium length of rope or webbing might also help, as you’ll see in the video in part 2. One should only attempt the climb when good weather is forecast; you’ll see memorial plaques along the route (many for people killed by lightning).

This climb is not standard rock climbing, but more a combination of bouldering and walking across iron pegs.  “Via ferrata” means “the iron way.” On the most dangerous parts, one is always clipped into a steel cable by two carabiners. There is a shock cord in the via ferrata equipment so you won’t have a sudden deceleration if you do fall.

Ahem, I also found a bit of toilet humor in the lodge’s restroom, and for once the graffiti cracked me up:

German toilet humor poem

Rough translation (sorry, I couldn’t rhyme it):

In this toilet lives a ghost,

And everyone who takes too long,

Will be bitten in the balls.

But the ghost did not bite me,

Because I crapped upon his head.

Getting to Zugspitze:

  • To arrive at the top, you can take the Zugspitzbahn (a Zahnradbahn – geared train), a cable car from Austria, or a cable car from Eibsee in Germany. Link to Zugspitze Roundtrip description
  • Of course, I recommend to hike the Höllental route if you’re in shape, adventurous, and not scared of heights.  Park here in Hammersbach and walk a bit up the road to the trailhead by the river. There are two trails: Höllentalklamm (which goes along the river and costs a few euro), and the longer Stangensteig route (more ups and downs, and is the way we went).
  • Starting height: 778m. Höllentalangerhütte: 1387m. Zugspitze: 2962m (9,718′). Call the lodge to reserve a place if you plan on staying overnight; it’s not expensive even for non-members of the DAV (Deutscher Alpenverein) at 20 euro for adults.
  • Where to rent equipment: Werner Niedermeier at WN-Alpin speaks English, and it was around 40 euro per person to rent a harness, via ferrata gear, helmet, and crampons. You WILL need crampons for the glacier. DO NOT ATTEMPT without all of this gear! You can also buy a mountaineering map here. The shop is conveniently located in Garmish-Partenkirchen on the way from the Autobahn to Hammersbach.
  • Since we did not have enough time to safely hike back down before dark, we took the Gletscherbahn gondola and then the Zugspitzbahn down. The train conveniently passes right through Hammersbach, and we had to walk a bit under 1km back to the car from the train station.
  • Elevation map of the climb: just look at the height profile (graph in lower right side)! If you are afraid of heights, this ascent is not for you.

Here is a link to Part 2 of the Zugspitze adventure! If you’d like to read about Part 3… with more photos & video… subscribe with the orange buttons in the left sidebar. You’ll be notified by either email or RSS feed. Thanks!

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 9:17 pm.

18 comments