Zugzpitze

Background information:

Location: Bavarian Alps (Germany) near the village of Grainau

Altitude: 9,724’ (2,964 meters)

Tidbits: Highest point in Germany

Time Zone: GMT +1 hour

Climbed by Author: June 19, 2000

Trip Description and Travelogue-

I have traveled all over the world, and I can safely say that the views from Zugspitze, particularly along the Hollentalklamm route, provided the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. Period.

The Zugspitz region is located in the Bavarian Alps, about 90 minutes from Munich via the Autobahn and a little longer by train. Munich airport is easy to navigate, and immigration and customs are a pleasure. The best way to get to Munich is by the S-Bahn (the terminal is located in the airport terminal). Train fares to Munich are about 20 Marks (about $10). There is a new travel card that permits unlimited travel for up to five people on a single ticket for about 28 Marks (two children count as only one person).

I decided to drive to the Zugspitz area, with my good friend from Munich, Peter Eisenbraun, at the wheel of his Mercedes. We made it from downtown Munich to Garmisch, the gateway town to this region, in just about an hour.

Approaching the Zugspitz Region from the Autobahn

There are several ways to get to the summit. There is a 10 hour (+/-) climb that can be made from the village of Grainau (about a 5 minute drive from Garmisch), a 6-8 hour climb from the village of Eibsee (about 5 minutes further from Grainau), or a cable-car/cogwheel train ride to the summit area (followed by a short 100 vertical foot climb on iron ladders and a rock scramble to the summit), which also leaves from Eibsee. Garmisch is a quaint and scenic little Bavarian Town, worth stopping in for a stroll. I was disappointed to find out that there were no restaurants open for early breakfast, other than a McDonalds (which stands out like a sore thumb). We did locate a little bakery and stocked up on breads and headed off to the trailhead which is located in the nearby village of Grainau. If you arrive by train, there is a local bus, as well as a Cog Wheel train, that goes from Garmisch to Grainau to Eibsee (more on the train later).

The best time to climb is between late June and early October. Several climbers had already died in avalanches and falls as recently as three weeks earlier, so if you’re not equipped for sever alpine conditions, wait until this optimal climbing window opens. As I later discovered, late June is the BEST time to go…the glaciers are still enormous, water is flowing through the gorge with tremendous force, and the weather was in the 60’s, even at the summit (by late day).

The trailhead is located just to the left of the main road (as you’re heading to Grainau). You’ll see signs and a free parking area that holds about 60 cars. On weekends the lot fills very early. We went on a Monday at around 8:00am, and there about 15 cars already parked. The area is very quaint. You frequently hear the gentle clang of bells in the distance as cows and goats graze in the Alpine meadows.

The trailhead is about ¼ mile further up the road from the parking area (the shuttle bus stops directly at the trailhead) at the Obergrainau Square. The Hotel Post is located directly across the street and would make a good base to spend the night (either before or after your climb). At the trailhead area, there are two paths. The most direct route will be the path to the left (facing the mountain) along the Hammersbach River. Follow this path for about 30 minutes and you will arrive at Klamm-Engangshutte. A "Klamm" is a German term that roughly translates to "narrow gorge". "Engangs" translates to ‘entrance" and "hutte" simply means "hut". The Klamm-Engangshutte is a beautiful little restaurant at the entrance to the gorge. They serve beer and hot food, both indoors and on a deck overlooking the entrance to the gorge, and there are toilets located here. In order to proceed into the Klamm, you need to pay an entrance fee. At the time I traveled the fee was 4 marks (about $2). After paying, you receive a receipt (that you must present to EXIT the gorge if you come back down the same route), and the gatetender opens a large iron gate that lets you enter.

Several waterfalls flow into the Klamm from sheer cliff hundreds of feet in height

The gorge is beautiful beyond description. There is a narrow path the goes for about ½ mile along side of the gorge, carved out of solid stone. At times, the path travels across the gorge and under solid rock for hundreds of feet at a time. The path was created almost 100 years ago as a commercial endeavor by a utility company planning to create a hydroelectric dam in the area. The project has long since been abandoned, but is now a popular tourist spot with the locals. One of the most fascinating sites, which is present only for a brief time during the year (mid/late June) was viewing HUGE blocks of ice and snow bridges that transverse the gorge. The interesting aspect is that the path frequently wends its way under the ice, so you are in a cave, looking up at a solid ice "glacier", with a raging river running next to you. It’s really indescribable. A raincoat is a useful item to have with you at this point. As the snows melt, it works its way through the rocks and you will get wet. Make sure that you have another jacket to change into when you leave the tunnel area, particularly in the morning when the temperatures will still be a bit brisk.

Tunnel through rock along a porition of the Klamm

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