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:
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.