Zugspitze Part 2

So the next morning having been awake for a little while, at 6.30 in the morning the sound of accordion and guitar were heard outside the bedroom door, followed by a very cheery cry of “Aufstehen”, or “wake up”. This was rather nice actually, and if you look at the video in the link I have posted below you get to know exactly what it is like:

http://www.alpenverein-muenchen-oberland.de/huetten__wege/bewirtschaftete_huetten/uebersicht/reintalangerhuette/video

The guy who talks there in the video, Simon, runs the place, and it was he who I then encountered at 6.30 in the morning, and the news he delivered was not, sadly, ‘music’ to my ears. He said that there was already about 25cm of fresh snow lying at a height of 2,000m, but that worse, there was expected about 1 metre (!) during the day, and that we “must go down”. This was awful. I knew he was right, and had to listen and respect what he said, but it was so sad to have come so far to do the Zugspitze, to find out that you couldn’t go there at all, despite being already half way. Sometimes though you just have to respect the mountain and the conditions, and there was no choice.

I walked back into the dormitory and gave the news to Heather, who felt the same as me. In fact everyone who was staying there in the room and in the hut, had to suffer the same fate – we were all to go down and not up that day. So after a nice if rather slower and more sombre breakfast than we would have chosen, it was on with every piece of waterproof kit that we had.

The view out outside was basically one of torrential rain, with no view of the mountain tops, but evidence of snow not far above us – what a change from the day before!

The view from the room - this was as much of the mountain as we would see all day

So we were about to head off when at this point I got the text from Darina and Paul to say that they had successfully summitted Kilimanjaro. And that was such fantastic news, and it lifted my spirits hugely. The trip down the mountain though was just plain wet, pure and simple, such an amazing contract to the day before. I did get to try my new waterproofs out though, which worked fantastically well:

A brave face outside the Reintalangerhutte before we headed off the 'wrong' way, down the mountain.

The walk down was easy, punctuated only by passing walkers from the hut heading the same sad way as us. An interesting moment was had half way down, when a German guy pointed to the river and saw his sleeping bag floating downstream. This was made all the more strange by virtue of the fact that this was Saturday and he had dropped it upstream two days before! He managed to fish it out, and looked very pleased with himself as a result. By the time we got down to the Partnachklamm, after maybe three hours or so, the effects of the torrential rain could be seen in full force.

The stream had become a massively noisy torrent....

The gorge was even more spectacular than the previous day, and the noise of the river that it now was made it even more incredible. No photograph that I could take or show here could do it justice, but you just had to stare open mouthed at the power of the whole thing. It was truly amazing. We reached the bottom of the mountain at about noon in the end, and stopped at a little restaurant for some outstanding Schnitzel (for me) and soup for Heather (she doesn’t eat mammals).

The food was outstanding, (as was everything I ate in Germany) and was washed down with a rather pleasant glass of Lowenbrau – it is amazing how wonderful it tastes over there – I never drink lager at all at home, it is just so gassy and tasteless to me – but this was wonderful.

So having reached Garmisch we looked for a place to stay, and stopped at the first place we came to, which was a lovely little hotel called the AlpenGruss, which we had passed on the way up.

Hotel Alpengruss, Garmisch-Partenkirchen - perfect!

With backpacks duly stashed it was straight out of the door again, and we were headed for only one thing – back to the mountain! Having not been able to climb the damn thing didn’t mean that we weren’t going to get to the top, and there was a cablecar somewhere, which we hoped would be operating. The owner of the hotel told us we had 20 minutes or so to catch it. So having found a train to take us to the other side of the mountain, by about 2.30pm we were hurtling up the mountain into the clouds on what is a stupidly scary cable car.

I am not brilliant with heights (why do I then love mountains so much?), and this ride was made more unnerving by the fact that you would be in blanket cloud with two feet of visibility one minute, and then momentarily it would clear and you would be some 2,000 feet or more up in the air. I learned afterwards that the gain that the cable car makes of 1,950 metres (and in a distance of only 4,450 metres) is the highest of all single section cable car journies. It was however hugely spectacular – the views to the Eibsee were breathtaking – it is the most ridiculous shade of green that you have ever seen. Here is some more info on the Eibsee too:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eibsee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eibsee_Cable_Car http://www.germany-tourism.de/ENG/destination_germany/master_tlregion-id151.htm

The incredible waters of the Eibsee at the foot of the Zugspitze

So the cable car took us to the very summit of the Zugspitze. The cable car station just looks like it shouldn’t or couldn’t have been built there. It perches so ridiculously precariously on the top of the mountain that it looks like it should collapse or fall off at any moment. Just looking over the side of the railings from the restaurant gave me vertigo.

The Zugspitze cable car station/restaurant - pretty it certainly is not.

So at the cable car station there was huge anounts of freash snow, and we realised just how impossible our attempts would have been even if we had been stupid enough to try to ignore the advice we had been given earlier that same morning. There is literally no way that it would have been possible. But, after all, we were there, and it was wonderful just to have that feeling you get when you are on top of a mountain. And this one, believe me, is very very special.

The top of the cable car station, 2,962 metres, the roof of Germany.

The difficulty that we would have faced in trying to get up to the top by our own means was evidenced by the fact that even to try to get to the summit itself, some 20 metres away from where we stood, was just impossible due to all the snow. But here is a picture of the summit itself:

The summit of the Zugspitze in the background - we never did get to stand at the very top itself due to the snow

We never did get to stand up there by the gold cross. To do so would have meant climbing down from those railings pictured above, and across an icy ledge with a 3,000 foot drop below and nothing to save you. Then you would have reached the ladder shown below:

The iron ladder leading to the very top. It was not going to happen sadly.

One slip from here and you would be dead, simple as that. It was an easy choice in the end not to go up there.

The top of the mountain straddles the border of Austria and Germany, and in the restuarant on the Austrian side of the mountain they were having their own Oktoberfest! I would have loved to have stayed and had a beer, but unfortunately that would have meant missing our cablecar down, as the last one was at 4.45pm – shame!

There was however a view of sorts of the glacier, the only one in Germany, and we were glad at least to have safety now on our side. For me it was a moment of pure reflection. I was very glad to be at the highest point in Germany, disappointed that I hadn’t got there under my own steam, but very glad to be safe, and respectful of the mountain and the elements, which will, if they decide to, always beat you in the end.

So we left via another cable car off the other side of the mountain, and then back into Garmisch via the funicular railway. The journey was ridiculously pretty, the area is totally beautiful, and I vowed, promised myself, that I would be back. What do they say in Slumdog Millionnaire – “it is written“?  – well I believe that it most certainly is.

Zugspitze

So having had a few days of beer at the Oktoberfest, it was a pleasure/delight and relief all rolled into one to wake up and be heading for the mountains.

The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany, at 2,962 metres above sea level. It is located on the Austrianborder beside the town of Grainau in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the federal-state of Bavaria. On the Austrian side lies the town of Ehrwald in the district of ReutteTyrol.

We headed off to Garmisch-Partenkirchen by train after an early start, and carried just what we needed for the next few days on our backs. I had booked us into an alpine hut, called the Reintalangerhutte, which was half way up the mountain, for the Friday night, and we would need to walk all day after arriving just to get there before nightfall.

Despite a bad weather forecast, we arrived into Garmisch-Partenkirchen with typical German efficiency exactly on schedule about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving Munich, into glorious sunshine. The winter clothing was heavy on our backs, but we were naturally glad of the beautiful conditions. Shortly after leaving the train station, and after getting stocked up with picnic supplies for the journey, we began the trek – and soon came upon the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics – the famous ski-jumping station – shown in the picture below in the background:

 

The Olympic Ski-Jumping slopes in Garmisch

 

By the time we were on our route at the base of the mountain itself it was around 11am, following a little bit of ‘ahem’ bad planning by me (in fact I had no idea which direction our route was going to take us at all, but ‘all’s well that ends well’, as they say:)). Stopping to ask someone how far away the Reintalangerhutte was, we were told six to seven hours, and so figured we’d need to move quickly to ensure getting there before darkness fell.

Shortly after beginning our trek up the Reintal Valley (there are two routes up the mountain, the Hollerental, or the Reintal – we picked the easier route in case the weeather got bad on us), we came upon the Partnachklamm. This is a deep and amazingly beautiful gorge, about half a mile long, which takes you up and through onto the base of the Zugspitze. Some information on it here below:

http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partnachklamm&ei=bP2xTOL6G9GSjAfN4aytDQ&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q7gEwAA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dpartnachklamm%2Bwikipedia%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den

It was stunningly beautiful, and it came as a total surprise. Here are some pictures in the gorge itself:

 

At the start of the Partnachklamm - the 'Nach' is the name of the river

 

Part of the path plunges you into total darkness, and then you are out to the incredibly loud torrents of water flowing from the mountain. It is glacial meltwater, and an incredible shade of blue. It is literally one of the most stunning things I have ever seen.

Coming out from the gorge and its noise was a revelation, all of a sudden the river became quieter, and the place was beautiful.  A few reviews that I had read beforehand had said that the Zugspitze was not an attractive mountain – they were wrong – take it from me it is stunning. Here are a few piccies from the other side of the gorge:

 

A beautiful day for a walk....

 

 

The mountain starts to come into view....

 

 

And this was where we stopped for lunch - glorious!

 

From here the walk began to get much steeper, and we walked for another four hours or so, the path following the river all the way. The weather was so hot all the way, probably 25 or so celsius, and very warm for climbing uphill. I was very glad of my Camelback, and went through almost three litres of water. We passed huge waterfalls and saw the river in almost every stage, albeit it was clearly a very quiet time of year for it – in the spring after the snows melt it must be totally incredible. I made a note at this point I think to say that I needed to come back here, I was engrossed and awestruck by the majesty of this place, it just felt really special.

At about 4pm, and earlier than we expected, we came to our mountain hut. It was bigger than I expected it to be, and quite imposing. It was at about 1,600 metres, or 5,200 feet, basically about half way up as far as ascent of the Zugspitze was concerned.

 

The Reintalangerhutte, Reintal Valley, Wetterstein Alps

 

The hut sleeps about 60 people in total I believe. The best way I could describe it was to be very, well ‘German’. The chap who runs the place, Simon, did an excellent job, and also speaks English, which was certainly a blessing, even though I can get by in my pidgin German. The accommodation is basic, but clean, and was certainly very welcome.

 

Dormitory sleeping arrangements, Zugspizte style - this room slept 20 or so

 

After a hearty dinner, and a few glasses of beer, it was off to bed. We were to be woken by the staff at 6.30am for the trek to the summit. Before we went off, the weather outside turned wet and cold all of a sudden. I spent what I can only describe as a fitful night listening to the rain, and was awake by 4. I was rather worried that at the altitude we were at, that the path might become tricky higher up. And by morning, sadly, that was to prove very much the case.

(….to be continued….)