The main problem about being a mountaineer and living in Denmark is the complete lack of mountains in this country (highest hill is 176 m ...). Luckily the Alps are "only" 10-12 hours drive away. No problem for a longer vacation, but much too long for going there in weekends or take day trips. The distance means that once I finally get to the mountains, I am so eager to get the most out of the precious little time and bag as a many of those tall peaks as possible that I often end up with completely wasted legs after 3-4 days, and sometimes venture out on mountain adventures when weather really should just have forced me to stay down in the valley.
This year (2011) I spent another 2 weeks touring the Alps. Again I had a heavily packed program, so speedy ascents were crucial. Zugspitze was on the list. The normal route takes two days. No time for that, it should easily be doable in a day!
I had spent the first three days of my holiday on mountainbike in the Harz region. We had bagged more than 3.000 height meters on the bikes, so when I drove south towards Garmisch-Partenkirchen Friday afternoon it was quite ok to get a rest day. I arrived in Garmisch late afternoon just as the afternoon thunder shower struck the city, so I had the opportunity to see the slowest hikers returning from the mountains racing towards shelter.
I had planned an early start, so I didn't want to pay for lodging. Instead I drove directly to the trailhead at the Kreuzeck cablecar. I chose not to pay too much attention to the "No Camping"-signs and found a quite place in the corner of the parking lot. The weather kept improving and in the evening there were some nice views towards Zugspitze and the Wettersteingebirge. I didn't want to draw to much attention, so putting up a tent was out of the question. Instead I cleared the back of the car and made room for the sleeping bag. Tugged in early - tomorrow I would finally be back in the mountains.
Sunset in the Alps
Weather looks promising!
Hotel Toyota Avensis
Kreuzeck car park to Höllentallhütte
The weather forecast predicted deteriorating weather during the afternoon, so I aimed for an early start. Hence the alarm rang at 5:10. Partly clouded, no wind, yes sir! I ate a couple of buns, shot a yoghurt and packed the final gear. Ready for departure at 5:50. In the Harz I had been stung by a wasp in my left calf. Since being stung by one of its BIG Slovenian hornet cousins 10 years ago, I have been quite allergic to these little bastards, and even though it happened three days earlier, my calf was still almost twice normal size. Well, luckily I could get the boot on and walking wasn't painful, so of I went. The first part of the route consisted of 20 mins of level walking across fields towards the village of Hamersbach. There was a path most of the way and the last part of the route, I simply just walked on the railway tracks.
Huts on the fields towards Hamersbach
I had chosen to climb Zugspitze via the Höllentall route, since this should be the most interesting one. The first part towards Höllentallklamm however was not that interesting. Just moist and wet spruce and deciduous forest. Still the path climbed steadily upwards and I quickly gained height. Weather kept on improving and the clouds where gradually being burned away.
Looking back down the lower parts of Höllental
I reached the entrance to the canyon Höllentalklamm just short of one hour after leaving Hamersbach. It was still early, so there was nobody to charge entrance. The tour up through the klamm, where the river has been eroded more than 75 m down into the rock, was an exciting break after the forest. The path followed bridges, tunnels and otherwise clung to the side of the canyon. And then it was wet! From above, from below, from the rock walls and from water falls.
Ascending the Höllentallklamm 1
Ascending the Höllentallklamm 2
I reached the Höllentalhütte after 1,5 hour. I was making good progress, so I decided to take a longer break. I had thought, I would be alone due to the early start, and so far that assumption had held, as I had only passed three guys in the klamm. It turned out however that a lot of people had slept at the hut, so suddenly there were many people around and later it would be even more crowded.
The chapel at Höllentalhütte
Höllentalhütte to Höllentalferner-glacier
After the hut there was a short level section up through the Höllental. The valley was now much wider and I had some nice views up towards Zugspitze.
View towards Zugspitze from the Höllentalhütte
View back down the Höllental. I wish we had just a few places like this in Denmark....
I knew I was going to climb a "via ferrata" route on the last part towards the peak, but not long after leaving the hut I arrived at a cable section. Hmmm everybody else seemed to be gearing up, so I found the harness and via-ferrata slings. Later it turned out that it was just a short cabled section with easy-medium difficulty. The most fun part was the traverse of the slaps at the "Brett".
Crossing the Brett
The ferrate part was quickly done and now it was just normal hiking path and a few scree sections up to the glacier - or more correct - the rather pitiful remains of the glacier. Most clouds had now disappeared and the sun was hammering down. Time for t-shirt and rolling up the trouser legs.
Heading towards the glacier
Another great day in the Alps looking down Höllental
Approaching the glacier it now became obvious just how many people had slept at the Höllentalhüt. In front of me there was a pearl string of climbers. Clearly I was not the only one who had gotten the idea of climbing the mountain this Saturday.
Solitude in the mountains ...
Höllentalferner-glacier to Zugspitze
I had talked to a couple of German climbers coming down from Alpspitze the evening before and asked about snow and ice conditions in the mountains. They had advised my to bring crampons. I looked at the glacier. It wasn't that steep, there was some soft snow on top of the ice and only a few small visible crevasses around. I therefore decided to skip the crampons relyaing on being able to self arrest with the hiking poles if I slipped - the added benefit was that this enabled me to overtake 15+ climbers struggling with the crampons. On the way up the glacier I passed a father and his 11 year old son. Tough kid!
Crossing the Höllentalferner-glacier
At the bergscrund where the via ferrata route started, there was again a long line of people queuing up. I didn't have patience for that - especially not when weather is supposed to deteriorate later - and had heard about a second starting place. I looked around and spotted it 30 meters to the left. I boot kicked a trail over there, dad + son followed, and jumped the cables. I speed climbed the first part and outpaced the more patient peasants waiting in line.
Pick a number and wait in line
The ferrata route was graded easy/medium and I think that fitted quite well. Most of it could be climbed without using the steps and spears bolted into the rock, so I mainly just used the cables for protection. There were still a bit too many climbers on the route this day, so a lot of time I had to walk in line. Finally however I managed to overtake the last group. Now however the legs were getting rather used, so the speed dropped to a natural lower level. The views from the route though were great with mountain ridges and lakes down in the valley.
Looking back down the via ferrata route
I was now just a few meters below the top, but I was in no way prepared for what waited around the last corner. After having been (almost) alone in the mountains, I now had the platforms of the cablecar stations in plain sight. My first thought was: "Fu**", and then a quote from the book Heart of Darkness (filmed as Apocalypse Now) formed in my mind: "Oh, the horror". I understand and accept that the average tourist should be able to get a taste of Alpine adventures, but it must be possible to enable this to happen in some other way that this carnival...
Oh, the horror
Just another day at the office, or not
Luckily I was able to reach the cross on the top before "the hordes" and had 5-10 minutes alone up there together with three British climbers. Took the mandatory summit shots and then ventured out on the most dangerous part of the whole climb. Getting down to the platforms I had to pass the hordes who raced up the peak without any sort of safety equipment. I wonder how many accidents that occur here each year?
It was now 11.50 and I had climbed to the top in more or less exactly six hours. Feeling quite satisfied about that I finally threw myself over some more decent food than the chocolate and energy bars that I had survived on till then.
The clouds were now rolling in and a cold wind picked up. I moved inside (ok, I accept, there are some benefits to all the buildings up there) and bought a coke. Then wondered what to do next. I really wanted to climb Jubiläumsgrat the next day, but there was no room in the refugio (surprise, it was Saturday and I didn't have any reservation). I might be able to get a shared bed, but I had to wait 3-4 hours to know for sure. I checked numerous weather forecasts that all looked sort of ok, but in no way guaranteed stable weather the next day. I weighed pros and cons and then decided that Jubilämsgrat would also be there in the future and that I would return and do it in better conditions.
Walked to the ticket office and boarded the cablecar and train down the valley (ok, again I reluctantly accept the benefits ...). Threw the gear in the car and drove to Mittenwald, where I found a campground. Then it was time for food and recovery for the coming days adventures on the Mittenwalder Klettersteig, Achensee 5 Gipfel Klettersteig and finally Dachstein Super Ferrata. As written in the introduction, being a Danish mountaineer you fill up your calendar!