Climbing the Zugspitze

To finish off my holiday in Germany, where I have been visiting relatives in Berlin and Baden-Baden, I made a short detour to the German Alps, where I climbed Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze (2964m). I have only ever visited the Alps in winter for a skiing holiday and visiting in summer is a completely different, yet equally beautiful experience.

The climb started from the German-Austrian border town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 700m. From there the route follows through the Partnachklamm, an extraordinary narrow gorge created by the runoff from molten snow off the Zugspitze. The route then continued up the Rheintal, a beautiful valley between two long rock-faces. The Rheintal leads directly up to the Zugspitz plateau (Zugspitzplatt), a popular skiing destination in winter, where I learned to ski about five years ago. From the plateau the summit is reached by ascending a steep snow slope followed by some rock-scrambling. At the summit of the Zugspitze is the famous Münchener Haus (Munich House), a bar/restaurant, which can be accessed by gondola or cog-wheel train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. For this reason, unlike most Alpine peaks, which are secluded and solitary, the summit of the Zugspitze is teeming with tourists. This is not quite the atmosphere that a mountaineer hopes to be rewarded with, although I have to confess that it is quite nice to able to sit down and have a coffee after climbing for 7 hours.

Only an hour into my journey, while still on the completely flat part of the Rheintal, my right knee, which I injured several months ago during the Brisbane Marathon, began playing up again. I was determined not to give up, even though I had virtually the entire ascent ahead of me, so instead of turning back I started experimenting with different ways of walking so as to try and remove the strain from the painful part of my knee. I tried everything from walking with a rigid leg to taking very long steps and must have looked like something from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks skit. I eventually discovered that by walking 45 degrees sideways and cross-stepping I could walk without any pain in my knee whatsoever. So this is how I continued for the rest of the 22+ km journey, looking like Zorba the Greek turned hiker. This must have been quite amusing for the seven other parties I met along the way.

I was very fortunate to have had extremely good weather on the day making for an incredible view. From the summit I could see as far as Munich, the Großglockener (Austria’s highest mountain), the Italian Dolomites and the Swiss Alps.

View from the summit of the Zugspitze (2964m), looking towards the German-Austrian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

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