How did this come about, you ask? I've been looking for new things to do lately and I've also been trying to take advantage of this beautiful country we live in. Even though we are civilians, we are able to use some of the services offered by the military. There is an organization called Outdoor Recreation that offers all kinds of opportunities to ski, hike, bike, kayak, camp, etc... They offer trips where they do the driving and the leg work, so all you have to do is sign up, pay your money, and go along for the ride. I saw the Zugspitze hike and after talking it over with Rick, we decided to do it. We have been to the area surrounding the Zugspitze a number of times, but we have never been to the summit. The visibility has never been too good while we were visiting, so we never bothered to take the cable car or train to the top.
We set out in a van at 5:15 am with 10 other people to make the drive south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Garmisch is a beautiful town nestled in the foothills of the Alps and it's been one of our favorite places to visit since we've been in Germany. Once we arrived, we parked at the Olympic ski stadium - an impressive complex with huge ski jumps built on the side of a hill. It was apparently built by Hitler for the 1936 Winter Olympics. In researching this fact, I came upon a really interesting website where you can see pictures and read more about it by clicking here. (Side note: It never ceases to amaze me how many things that we do and see almost on a daily basis here that Hitler had something to do with).
Ok, here's some background information that may be helpful while you read about the hike: The trip is designed to hike 4-5 hours on the first day (Saturday) to a hut or "hutte" where we would eat dinner, shower, and sleep, eliminating the need for us to carry camping provisions with us on our backs (thank goodness). The second day we would have breakfast at the hut and then hike the remaining 4 hours or so to the summit. You can see a map here of our hike. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is in the top right corner of the map (with the elevation of 705 meters), which is our starting point. We hiked the dotted red line from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the Zugspitze. Our destination on the first day was the Reintalangerhütte which is marked on the map with a green square at an elevation of 1370 meters.
So, we took a quick look around the ski stadium and then we started our hike. The beginning of the hiking trail took us through the Partnach Gorge, which was absolutely gorgeous (come on, I had to say it)! As we followed the walking path above the the rushing river, we tried our best to take in the spectacular beauty while also trying to watch our heads in the many low caves that we were walking through. Just as we made it out of the gorge it started to pour down rain. It was then that I became extremely happy with my waterproof hat purchase I made in the weeks leading up to the hike (even if it did make me look a little like Bob Denver on Gilligan's Island). We hiked through the forest and some beautiful trails (all while raining) for about 2 hours or so before reaching the Bock-Hütte which was our stop for lunch. By this time it had stopped raining and we were all ready to get out of our wet rain gear, take our backpacks off for a little while and have some food.
|The Partnach Gorge|
|Another view of the gorge. You can see the trail on the right hand side of the picture.|
|Rick and I looking like drowned rats! My Gilligan hat helped though :-)|
After a warm lunch and a refreshing beer, we donned our rain gear and back packs to continue our hike. It rained off and on for the afternoon, but we were able to enjoy the few hours of hiking following along the Partnach River. The trail had beautiful views with lots of trees, steep cliffs overlooking the river, and a waterfall coming right out of a hole in the side of the mountain. At around 4:45 pm, we turned a corner to see our overnight stop (the Reintalangerhütte) which seemed to pop out of nowhere. I couldn't help but think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he's in the desert and he keeps seeing a beautiful oasis that isn't really there. We all joked that we'd better not be seeing a mirage (or mir-ah-gee as Bugs pronounced it). Luckily, it really was there and we were at our destination for the night.
|Group shot on the first day|
|Waterfall coming out of the side of the mountain|
|Some of our group following the trail|
|The Reintalangerhütte - our overnight stop|
We waited outside the hut while Zeljko (our hike leader) went inside to confirm our sleeping arrangements and our time for dinner. As he came back out, he announced that we have our sleeping 'places' and that we had some time before dinner would be served. We all had to take off our hiking boots and use slippers inside the hut to minimize the tracking of dirt and mud, which was understandable. I brought flip-flops with me in my back pack but it was a little too chilly, so those won't going to work. That meant I was forced to choose a super groovy pair of slippers from the mis-matched pile that awaited us just inside the front door. We all chose our slippers and tried really hard to block out how many feet (and what kind!) had been in them before us (yuck).
|Look at all of those fancy slippers (yuck)!|
Before the hike, I had done a little bit of research into the overnight hut (the website was all in German), so I knew that we were going to be in bunk beds and that it was going to be a very 'communal' situation. I was totally fine with that, however I was not prepared for what we saw when we went up to our room on the second floor of the building. In our room sat two huge bunk beds. There was one large frame and little mattresses in the frame with a number above each one. There were 8 mattresses on the top and 8 on the bottom, all in the same frame and right next to each other! No dividers, no buffers, just cozy right up next to someone that you just met this morning. Awesome (that's sarcasm, by the way). ***I think it's worth saying that I have seen bunk beds of this type once before...on a visit to Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich. Really, I'm not kidding. Just think about that for a minute*** Anyway, by the time Rick and I made it upstairs, all of the good spots on the giant bunk bed were already spoken for. That left Rick and I in the middle of the bottom 'shelf' with people on either side of us. Neither one of us were excited about that prospect at all, but there really wasn't anything we could do about it. I was lucky enough to sleep next to Stephanie who I met for the first time that morning, and she turned out to be a wonderful bunk mate. Rick on the other hand, was not so lucky. He was stuck next to another man that we also met that same morning, who turned out to be a not-so-wonderful bunk mate. More on that later... I should also mention that there was another bed just like ours in the same room. It was about 2 feet away from our set of bunk beds and turned sideways, so the beds made an L-shape and filled up the entire room. There was another hiking party of about 10 Germans that were occupying that space. Also, there were clothes lines hanging in every available space on the ceiling and they were completely full since everyone had gotten rained on all day. This made our room a jumbled mess of giant beds, clothes hanging in your face, too many people, big backpacks, and chaos. Fortunately, the situation actually made me laugh instead of cry so I consider that a blessing.
|Our giant bunk bed. This is a picture from their website so they had different blankets when we were there. Also this is set up for 6 people and ours was set up for 8 people on each level|
|Rick and I were right in the middle of the bottom bunk (again this is set up for 6 not 8 people)|
|This is a picture that shows what we it looked like when we were there. The girl is Jenny-she was part of our group.|
|The hallway leading into our room cluttered with wet clothes|
We decided to quickly shower and then have a beer before dinner. Teena, Hannah, and I headed to the one women's shower that was for the entire house. According to the website, the house holds about 110 people and it was full, which meant there were people everywhere. Hannah managed to figure out that we needed to purchase a coin for the shower, so you got 2 1/2 minutes of water for your coin. Ugh. After an awkward shower of washing only the important places all while a pushy German lady kept coming in and wondering when we'd be finished, we headed out to the front porch to join our group for a much needed beer.
After about an hour, our dinner was ready. It consisted of a yummy potato soup, sauerbraten with klösse (German potato dumplings), red kraut, and peaches and pears for desert. At that point most of us would have eaten anything you put in front of us so we were thankful for a hot meal. After dinner some of our party went back up to the room and a few of us stayed downstairs for some more drinks. Those of us who stayed had a great time talking, laughing, and probably having a few more drinks than we should have. We were pleasantly oblivious to what the next day's hike had in store for us!
|After dinner drinks and laughs|
At around 10:00 pm we all headed up to bed. The room was quiet and pitch dark as we all made our way into our sleeping spaces. The mattress was barely wide enough for me, so I'm still baffled at how any of the men were able to fit on them. I sandwiched myself in between my husband and my new friend Stephanie and I drifted off to sleep pretty quickly. That peaceful bliss did not last long. I woke up around 3:30 and laid there forever deciding if it was worth it to go to the bathroom or not. I finally decided to go, had a heck of time getting out of bed and making my way in the darkness, but I did it. After I climbed back into bed I was wide awake. That gave me plenty of time to lay there and just listen. Oh my. Our bunk beds sounded like some sort of circus. The guy next to Rick was snoring like a runaway freight train and he had lots of other noises coming from him as well. (Most of them are associated with comfortable sleeping, if you know what I mean!). We had other people snoring, people talking in their sleep, people getting up to go to the bathroom, people knocking things off of the top bunk, and even one person clicking in his sleep! As all of this craziness was happening on our side of the room, I was struck by something else entirely. The other set of bunks in our room with the Germans was completely silent! Not a sound. No snoring, no farting, no talking, not even any loud breathing. I actually almost got up to see if they were still alive. Then I had to just laugh. Americans are notorious for being louder than Germans, apparently even in our sleep! What a revelation that was and what a night.
The next morning the entire house was awakened at 6:00 am by a real live oompa band! Of course I was already awake, so I got up to join the crazy scramble of 100+ people all trying to get ready in the same house with 3 sinks and 3 toilets. We ate breakfast, got packed up, and headed out for our second day of hiking around 7:30 am.
The second day had a theme...hard. (I really don't think it would have been quite as hard for me if I had a little less to drink the night before and if I had slept more than just a couple of hours). I knew that we didn't cover much elevation on the first day and the hike was easy for me, which meant that we had a lot of elevation to cover on the second day. We left the hut and we started hiking uphill immediately. We took an early detour to hike to a waterfall which was worth it. It was a beautiful view and we got to rest a little while we took pictures (bonus!).
|Our group in front of the waterfall|
|Some of the views were just amazing|
After our detour, we got back on course and the real fun started. On our map, we had seen a section of the trail with a lot of switchbacks. Switchbacks are tight zigzags in the trail which mean that a section is so steep you can't climb straight up. As the hike was getting progressively harder and the terrain much rockier, I realized that we were in the middle of the switchbacks. That's when I realized two things-we weren't anywhere close to our halfway point yet (ugh!) and I was going to need more water very soon. Thankfully, we all made it through that tough section (with lots of stopping) and we were rewarded with ice cold water flowing from a pipe in the side of the mountain. We filled our bottles with the frosty goodness and kept trucking along.
|Here we go! A very steep part of the trail|
|Another challenging part of the trail|
I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that I am afraid of heights. Yep, pretty darn afraid of heights as a matter of fact. That's why this next little event is so much fun. By this time the entire trail had become nothing but rocks. Some parts were large rocks that you just had to maneuver your way up. Some parts were smaller loose rocks that required you to be very sure of your footing because as you stepped, you would slide back down. All of this wouldn't be too big of a deal, but the back pack made it much more of a challenge for me. An extra almost 20 pounds on my back is enough to make it very awkward for me to balance on a rocky and steep trail. As we were on a particularly hard part of the trail, I was doing my best to climb up some large, steep rocks that didn't really have a trail marked on them. You just had to go up any way you could get there. All of a sudden I realized that my back pack had come completely unzipped. Rick was ahead of me and told me to stop before I lost everything out of my bag. I leaned forward with both of my hands on the rocks and waited (and tried not to look down). Rick had to climb back down the scary rocks and balance while he used both of his hands to zip up my bag. I could not have done what he did. There was no way I could have been facing down the mountain staring at the infinite drop below while helping someone else. There are so many reasons why I married that man and his catlike mountain backpack zipping skills are just one of them.
After about 2 1/2 hours of hiking, we made it to our midway rest stop, the Knorhütte. You can see it on the map with an elevation of 2051 meters. This hut seems to be precariously perched on the side of the mountain the middle of nowhere. We could see if for quite a while before we reached it and almost seemed majestic with the clouds rolling past it. It was too early for lunch (we were waiting to eat at the Zugspitze anyway), so we got drinks and enjoyed some of our trail snacks while sitting on the balcony feeling like we were on the edge of the world.
|The Knorhütte really is in the middle of nowhere (and we were certainly glad to see it).|
Once we were all rested, we got back onto the trail for our last leg. During this part of the hike, I was pretty sure that we were hiking on the moon. It was all granite rocks and very little vegetation and it just looked like what I imagine the moon would look like. As we got up higher, it was so wonderful just to stand on the edge of the cliffs (not too close though-hee hee) and just look around. I'm really starting to love doing things that bring me out of my comfort zone and make me realize that we are just insignificant beings in this universe. Standing in the middle of a mountain with no civilization in sight was an amazing reality check for me.
|Heading up from the Knorhütte. It really was a steep climb. (That's my arm on the left side of the picture).|
All along the highest part of the hike we could hear bells all around us. At one point, we looked way off into the distance and we could see sheep. As we climbed, we actually came upon the sheep-lots of them. They were all over the place just hanging out, eating grass, and looking like they were generally perturbed. (I would be perturbed too if I were some sort of mountain animal, for sure). They would give you a loud 'Baaa!!" if you got too close to them. One would do it and then the rest of them would start in and you'd wonder if they were planning some sort of rebellion without your knowledge. Based on my fear of heights, I found this a prudent time to ask the universe to not let me come back as a mountain sheep (or goat, or lion) in my next life. I just wanted to put it out there while I had the chance.
|Rick found some snow to play in!|
About an hour and a half after our rest stop we started to see the gondolas at the Sonn Alpin which was our final hiking destination. Of course they were far in the distance and we still had a while to go, but we could see it! After 30 more minutes or so of hiking (on the moon), we made our final steps up to the top! We were not however at the Zugspitze just yet. You can see the Sonn Alpin on the map marked by the green square at 2656 meters just to the left of the Münchener Haus. The hike between the Sonn Alpin and the Zugspitze is extremely steep and dangerous and in my opinion, should only be done by seasoned hikers/climbers. We were taking the gondola up the last 303 meters to the summit to avoid that climb, which was more than fine by me!
|This is where it really looked like we were hiking on the moon. That tiny figure in the middle of the picture is me.|
|My last few steps to the top (thank goodness!) Notice the patches of snow in the background.|
|Hannah, Teena, and I were happy to be finished climbing. The actual Zugspitze is on top of the mountain behind us (in the fog).|
|Our group photo to show that we all made it to the Sonn Alpin!|
|Zugspitze-the top of Germany|
We took some pictures at the Sonn Alpin and rested for a bit and then made our way by gondola to the Zugspitze. Once we were there, we were so excited to see the spectacular views of the Alps, Germany, and Austria. Of course after all of the anticipation, we got up there and we couldn't see our hands in front of our face! Fog, fog, and more fog. Awesome (again, sarcasm). It made things sort of anti-climatic for sure. We were surrounded by signs reminding us that we were at the 'Zugspitze-The Top of Germany!' but you wouldn't know it from our vantage point. We were all so hungry and tired though, so we were happy that we could sit down, have a beer, and a delicious warm lunch all in Deutschlands Höchster Biergarten (Germany's highest beer garden). Due to all of the hiking, I literally ate every single bite of food on my plate and it was huge!
|That's the marker showing the actual summit of the Zugspitze. Look at the fog!|
|Germany's highest beer garden and we climbed all the way to it! There's supposed to be a spectacular view behind us, but again the fog was way too thick.|
Once we had lunch and had fun chatting about our experience, we made our way down the mountain. We traveled by gondola and the cogwheel train all the way back down to Garmisch, which was much easier than our trek up!
In the end, this was an absolutely wonderful experience that I will never forget. I was so proud that we made it up and it made me feel very strong and empowered. Now I have the mountain climbing bug more than I ever did before, despite my fear of heights. I hope that we are fortunate enough to have many more new and amazing experiences like this one!
(A special thanks to Zeljko, who was our hike leader and his wife Laura. They are wonderful people and we really enjoyed our time with them. Thanks for all of your hard work to put this trip together!)