The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany – 2962 meters high. One can access it from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a well known mountain town only 45 minutes from my hometoen Starnberg. I have been up there several times in the past to ski, but never in summer and I never hiked up. So when our friends from Berlin said they are planning to climb this impressive mountain, I was intrigued. And when there were actually 3 beds available at the Knorr Hut, were Imke, Andreas and their two boys Lasse (12) and Finn (9) had made a reservation months ago, it seamed like it was meant to be. I was a little nervous about the challenge since we haven’t done much walking lately. Sol having been sick in Victoria for 3 months with mononucleosis before our trip and then five weeks sitting around on a sailboat. Andreas assured me we could manage and since we wanted to spend more time together with those guys we decided to go for it.
The hike starts spectacularly in the Partnachklamm, a deep gorge incised by the mountain stream “Partnach” . You walk on a narrow slippery path often under overhanging rock cliffs. There are several pitch black dark tunnels leading the awestruck wanderer to yet another exciting turn of the hastily flowing Partnach. The gorge is 700 m long and in places up to 80 m deep.
During the 18th century the river was used to transport firewood on rafts from the Reintalvalley further up. So called “Marterl”, memorial boards by a wayside cross on the path leading up to the gorge speak of the tragic losses this dangerous business has caused in the past: “Peter Lutz died April 7, 1867, while trying to free jammed logs in the Partnach,” one of them read. Until the 1960s the river was used as a rafting stream.
There are four different routes up the Zugspitze to chose from. The beauty of the Reintalvalley Route is that you walk along the river for most of the way. You also pass two mountain restaurants were you can recharge with juice, sprite or beer, have a piece of apple cake (which we did in the first one) and use the bathroom. It is also the least steep and technical route. But it is by far the longest. And since Leonie and I walked slowly we could not afford long refreshing rests. Sol and the Berlin gang were usually way ahead and by the time we got to the resting spot, they were pretty much ready to roll on.
The hike didn’t really get hard and tiring until we started ascending this hill on the picture above. Somewhere up there was our destination – the much anticipated Knorr Hut. Meanwhile we were getting well into the 1000 plus metres and breathing got difficult. Leonie bravely set one foot after the next, not trying to look up too much toward the endless turns into this rocky steepness. By now we had been walking for about 6 hours and I was starting to wonder if maybe this excursion was a shoe size too big for us. Imke, Andreas and the boys were long out of sight and the two of us tried to stay chipper by telling stories and imagining all the food we were going to order after checking into our modest mountain hostel.
At one bend the boys were waiting for us because Sol’s hiking boots (which were actually his Oma’s boots) had fallen apart. The whole sole had come off in one piece! Thankfully I was carrying his sneakers in wise foresight, so he could march on reaching the Knorrhütte one hour before us.
For Leonie and I the blessed sanctuary seemed to jump at us from out of nowhere. In the thick fog that had us wrapped for the last hour or so of the ascent we didn’t see anything but rocks until the walls were basically rising up two meters in front of our eyes. Oh, how warm and cozy the guest room felt, how comfy the bench pillows, how tasty the hot package powder noodle soup and how thirst quenching the 1 litre Applespritzer (Apfelschorle) was that I gulped down in seconds! The experience of sleeping in a mountain hut was one of the main attractions of this trip. You have to imagine it like staying in a youth hostel in a remote location. You share a room with complete strangers whose socks and bodies are as smelly as your own after hiking uphill for 6 hours or more. In this Hut the three story high bunk beds were very cosy, comfy and cute. Complete with wood panelling, red blankets and checkered red and white pillows. Everybody brings a thin cotton sleeping bag for hygiene’s sake. It is all very organized with a room for the 50 or so pair of hiking boots to dry, slippers to loan, games to take out and a curfew at 22:00. We didn’t make it that late: Sol went to bed sick to his tummy at 19:00 and the rest of us didn’t last much longer. The exercise as well as the height – sleeping at 2050 m – took it’s toll on our bodies.
Thankfully everybody was fine the next morning. But no way were Sol and Leonie in any mood to go up to the summit. Even after a 12-plus-hour-rest they were very clear about that. To be honest: I wasn’t too keen either, especially once I saw how steep the ascent was. By the way, Sol’s hiking boots got “fixed”. A service most Alpen huts offer for 3 to 5 Euros.
One last group photo in the morning by the hut before two more hours of uphill stumbling over slip rock and glacial debris. My hope that a good night sleep would bring back my kid’s appreciation of exercise in nature was smashed by reality. “Walking up a mountain is the dumbest thing ever,” was one of the milder reflections shared that morning.
Some old snowfields served as a brief distraction from the combined miseries of altitude impact, muscle tiredness and un-motivation. For the first real smiles I had to wait until 11:00 am when they were digging into “Kaiserschmarrn” with applesauce at the Sonnalpin glacier restaurant on 2600 m, tickets for the downhill ride to Garmisch-Partenkirchen with the cable car in pocket. We had said Goodbye to our friends 10 minutes earlier at the turnoff to the summit. Lasse and Finn, the two youngsters were fresh as the morning breeze, almost skipping up the hill. I don’t know what they feed them there in Berlin to be so fit and altitude resistant…
Riding the cable car down from Zugspitze to Eibsee was spectacular and great fun. We were so happy to have made it and to be back down in the valley. There probably won’t be any mountain climbing for us for a while. But we did bring home a great new word. Knorrig. When you are almost too exhausted to speak, you are knorrig. That’s what the approach of the Knorr Hütte was like. Knorrig.