Mountain Climbing – Zugspitze

I know I promised to make a food post, but instead of going to a normal afternoon walk to a hill last weekend, we went mountain climbing. I did however have one traditional German dish during the trip, and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it when the time is right (yes, in this post!)

I want to start this post about the hike we did last weekend by stating a couple of facts:

  1. It is now Tuesday evening, and most of my muscles are STILL hurting like heck.
  2. Mountain climbing is NOT just walking up to the top. I know this now.
  3. Mountain climbing is serious business. I wouldn’t have had any chance there on my own, without Johnny, my experienced mountain climbing roommate.

Everything started during our semester opening party at our dorm-bar, which is now open every Thursday for a party. The profits of these parties are spent in buying new kitchenware and other necessities thus, keeping our rent as low as it is now. Some time during the evening Johnny asked if I wanted to go with him the following weekend, early Saturday morning, to climb the tallest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze. The next morning (ok, afternoon, the party went until 4 a.m.. ) I went to get some more info about the trip. I recognize my limits, and wanted to make sure that I wasn’t signing up for anything I wouldn’t be able to handle safely, without getting myself or some one else seriously injured or killed. In addition I needed to find out what equipment I needed for the trip, so that I would have enough time to buy them before the early depart the next morning. When I learned that no climbing equipment would be necessary and that the only hard part would be the sheer amount of elevation we had to overcome on the first day, I decided that I would be up for it and agreed to go along.

The initial plan (plan A) was to approach the peak from the north, crossing a mountain glacier on the way before reaching the peak, reach the summit and then proceed to a cabin in the valley inside the mountain. The following day we would attempt another mountain on the other side of the valley. Since our plan A included the glacier, we went to the local DAV (Deutsche AlpenVerein, government mountain association) to rent (6euros) crampons for our shoes, since with sunny weather the snow would melt off the glacier revealing glass-like ice that you would surely fall on and slide off the mountain (to your death..). The DAV was also the right place to be, since from there we could ask for the most recent weather info and information regarding the cabins we were planning to sleep at.  We planned the routes there and also borrowed a guidebook about the different paths of the area. The tour book excellent to have, since it had information regarding all the mountains in the region, especially the safe ways to approach the summits, if there were any. They also had one pair of mountain walking poles on the counter, which were removed from there for-rent inventory, and were now for sale for only 35 euros. Later turned out, that this was a very good purchase..

We would be spending the night at these Winterzimmers (winter rooms) of unmanned mountain cottages, hüttes. The winter rooms would be nicely equipped with everything from cooking stoves to blankets and mattresses, meaning we didn’t have to bring anything else with us than warm clothes, food and water. As I was packing my stuff and fitting the crampons to my new shoes in the evening before the trip, Johnny came over to propose a plan B for the route: plan A would involve too much back-and-forth walking, so we would now be approaching the mountain from the west, from Austria. This wouldn’t be as long of a walk, but nevertheless it would incorporate the extremely serious 2 000 meter ( 6 560 feet) ascent on the first day. This also meant that we wouldn’t be going through the glacier, so the crampons could be left at home. I asked about bringing along my camera (a ‘big’ DSLR), and the answer I got was to definitely leave it home, so I did. Later, as we’d made it to the top, I couldn’t help thinking that I probably wouldn’t have made it up with the extra weight of my camera to carry.

At this point I also have to tell you, that I later heard that the glacier is completely full of nice deep cracks in the ice, crevasses. These crevasses can be hundreds of meters deep, enough to easily make you extremely dead. In order to keep you from becoming extremely dead, you should always cross all glaciers in a group of 3 or more, all carrying a pickaxe and everyone linked to each other by a rope. In the case of someone stepping in a crevasse (that is under snow, so you can’t really see them :)) the others drop down and dig their picks into the ice thus stopping the fall of the unfortunate one (and from being also pulled into the crevasse themselves..). According to plan A, we would have crossed the glacier. But we wouldn’t have brought along any harnesses or ropes..

I also would like to tell you about another option for a route we had, but which I’d ruled out in the beginning as being too dangerous for my comfort zone. The route was called Jubileumsgrad, or Jubilee ridge. We got a picture of it from the top, and you can see it here (photographed by Johnny):

The Jubileumsgrad would certainly have been the utmost cool thing to do. After climbing onto the top of the ridge, you would continue all along the ridge for the entire length of it until the tallest point of Zugspitze, the Gipfel (where the photo was taken from). The only problem of the route was, that if you fall of the path you die. Really die. Certain death. At times, the path would be no more than a foot wide, and at times you would have to really utilize your wall climbing skills. Of course, there was also a ‘safe’ way to tackle the Jubileumsgrad. The ‘safe’ way involved two people, with a rope connecting them. If one were to fall, the other one would only have to jump off the other side of the ridge fast enough, before being also pulled down to meet his maker. Of course you now wonder what happens when both are hanging from each other on the opposite sides of the ridge. I’m wondering that too.. Anyhow, Johnny had conquered the Jubileumsgrad earlier with his father, so he wasn’t too disappointed when I wold him that I wasn’t feeling too confident in my spider sense and jumping off a mountain if things would go wrong. We did however, for our astonishment, see a lonely hiker approaching us on the Jubileumsgrad from the Gipfel. Just one wrong step..

So, no nasty glaciers or jumping safety precautions involving jumping off mountains for us. How hard could it be?

Saturday morning came with a early wake up, so that we could make the first train from München HBF (HauptBahnHof, main railway station) that was leaving at 6.30 a.m. The reason for our early departure was quite simple. Mountain climbing can only be safely done in daylight, so you can see which steps will make you dead, and which steps will get you forward. As we approached the mountain, it looked like a mountain. Like a big rocky ugly thing sticking up from the earth, with no trees or obvious paths all the way up top, the mountain was not exactly inviting you to try and get up it. A picture from the train station, and the beginning of our expedition (photographed by Johnny):

On the way to he root of the mountain, we ran into Herbert, who was a very fit looking man of about an age of 45. Herbert had taken the same train with us and we also had the same route to the summit as we did, so our dynamic duo became a dynamic trio for the time being. Herbert was unbelievable. At the end of our time as a trio, we had learned that in addition to his work, the only thing occupying his life was (buy his own words!) mountain climbing. No wife, no kids. When he wasn’t mountain climbing he would be doing triathlons or some other insanely sporty stuff. In addition to also having the hard-enough 2km ascent in mind, he’d also go, on the same day right after reaching the summit, to another mountain. Then he would clime another 1500 meters, before making the descent out of the mountain and catching the last train out. His backup plan was of course, climbing back up the mountain into a winter room, in case he would have missed the train.

So began our ascent. For the first leg, we made it up to the stoney part of the mountain buy walking up a ski slope. After the ski slope ran out our path led us through a huge cobble stoned gradient, which was one of the first exciting parts. A slip here would not be nice, probably leading to a loong slide and some serious bruising:

We were already starting to see snow here and there, meaning that from here on you have to always concentrate on your steps, to avoid nasty slipping from snow or ice. After the cobble stoned slope the ground turned into nice hard rock, which made our progress a bit faster. Here and there, we started to see that a wall here or a piece of ‘solid ground’ just stopped, revealing extremely beautiful views with an insane drop. This was also the first section of the mountain, were I saw guard wires drilled into the walls. You really hold on to the metal wires hard, when walking on a small snowy and icy path with a de-motivating drop right next to you..(photo by Johnny):

Finally, we made it to our lunch spot, the Wiener Neustädter Hütte. From there we were could already see the top station of the seilbahn, taking loads of tourists the easy way to the summit. During our lunch sandwiches we also had plenty of time to look at our next leg, which was going to be the hardest and most demanding. Sadly though, since Herbert was in no need of breaks, this was the time when our dynamic trio relaxed back to a duo. Here’s a picture I got from Johnny and Herbert before our ways departed:

As I mentioned before, now began the hardest part of our climb:

Most of the way (but not always..) there were guard cables, that we could hold on to. On some parts the only thing to step on were metal rods bolted to the wall.. Especially with my big backpack, progress was very physically demanding. I learned then, that especially when confronted with extreme exhaustion, you shouldn’t take any breaks. You should simply take slow enough steps to make them count as small breaks, without letting your pulse go too down and but still being able to concentrate enough on each step. There were also lots of crosses on the way. Crosses with names of people and the date they’d taken a misstep or something else nasty.. Also some fresh blood was drizzled on the snow the entire way up, presumably from the previous group, that was climbing during our lunch break. This was the part where I believe, that I wouldn’t have made it with the extra weight of my camera. Finally though, with good spirits, we made it up the climb! (photo by Johnny):

After this we only had to walk up to the actual summit, with nice guard wires and fairly level paths. Up at the top we found the massive tourist circus with beer gardens and restaurants. But first, of course, we went to the actual summit. Afterwards, we celebrated with beer and a Currywurst. The currywurst is a german Bratwurst (saussage) served with a spicy curry ketchup and fries. Sadly though, thanks to the constant cold wind at 3000 meters, the dish cooled quite quickly and we were left with frozen french fries and a sausage..:

It was neat to look at the people at the summit, where some of them were fitted with climbing equipment and really, really happy to have gotten there. We, of course, were one of those people 🙂 There are of course, like I mentioned before, harder ways to get to the top. One route involves a long vertical climb, and I’ll try to do that if possible some time during my semester here.

After our break we headed for the middle of the valley. We ‘skied’ down a cobble stoned slope to the bottom of the valley, from where we could then just walk to our cottage. We were extremely tired.

Before going to bed we noticed a single flashlight on the other side of the valley. What the heck?! It’s dangerous to be there in the dark. I set up my flashlight outside, to guide the assumed lost or in trouble -person to our cottage. Crazy enough, the light came to us, but it was a bicyclist! He just continued upwards. Totally sick. The following day we walked through the path he had in the night ridden, and concluded that he must have had a death wish.

We got up at 6 a.m. to be back on the ‘road’ at sunrise, to have enough time for the second summit and still make it for our 15.37 train at Ehrwald. Either from being too exhausted from the day before, or not having had a good enough sleep, I was very tired. I couldn’t really concentrate good enough on my steps, so at the foot of the second mountain, I stayed and waited for Johnny, since he was fit enough to try to summit it. We noticed that the other sides of the mountain, the sides where the sun could shine, were green! We also saw lots of mountain goats and reeeaaly beautiful sights.

In a hurry to make it to the train, we had to run downhill an entire ski slope, to turn 1 hour of walking into 20 min of running. With our big backpacks.. We made it. My ankles hurt. Still.

I’ve now been writing this post for a good 2-and-a-half hours, so I’m now giving up 🙂 Check out the photos at: