#urlaub: Risking My Neck in The Austrian Alps

Do you ever jokingly agree to something, thinking that it will never happen anyways? Yeah that was me at some point in early 2015. I agreed to climb the Alpspitz Ferrata. Well… that was not the bad part. I was prepared for this mountain. I was completely okay with getting up and scaling this 2628m high mountain. It is a fairly easy and too well developed ferrata. The Zugspitze 2 days later was a whole different story. But let’s begin at the start.

If you look at my schedule from summer 2015 you can label it with pretty much one word: packed. It is almost a small wonder that I managed a week to pack my bags and head south. Not that far south…  more like German-Austrian border area around Garmisch Patenkirchen. During one of my Skype sessions in time in the US my friend Christian proposed climbing the Alpspitze . I agreed so we packed up his car and off we went.

The thing is, while I do enjoy traveling a lot, I have not seen a whole lot of Southern Germany outside of hockey rinks so a mandatory stop for me along the way was Schloss Neuschwanstein. Yes my previous blogpost already spent a good time moaning about the temperatures at my graduation, but this day was not the coldest day of the summer either.

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I am not sure whether Cologne Cathedral, Brandenburger Tor, or Schloss Neuschwanstein is the most photographed building in Germany, but now I can say I’ve seen them all. Once parking somewhere in the overflowing and 100% touristy town Hohenschwangau, it is a nice short hike through the forrest to get to the castle. It is also possible to take a horse carriage, but hey we are young so off we walked.

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The hotel we had booked was in Austria and turned out to be a great place to relax. The food was good and the spa area had all the features needed to unplug and get away down from the stress of finishing the BA thesis within a very short time frame so I wouldn’t loose my grad school spot. Also the view from our balcony was stunning. Oh did I mention that right after I handed in the thesis I chopped off my hair?

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The next day started early as we headed from our hotel in Austria back to Germany to catch the first gondola to the Alpspitz base to head on the trail early.

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I did not really take a lot of pictures on the way up and down because a) I was busy climbing and b) I was slightly scared to drop my camera. But the video linked above shows how beautiful this trip is… and what an abundance of security was worked into this mountain. I think failing this ferrata is almost impossible.

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On top of the Alpspitze on has a beautiful view over the Eastern Alps and the valley with Garmisch Patenkirchen stretching out in front of you. But be warned that descend over the gravel field awaits you.

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The next two days after this summit trip (can you call it that? I mean after all we did climb all the way up to the summit so…) we spent doing small hikes, including the Partnach Gorge. It is an absolutely stunning deep gorge close to Garmisch Patenkirchen, which was great to hike through and provided a welcoming relief from the heat that hit the area that day.

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I loved this gorge and going back over these pictures I am taken back by its beauty once again. Had I included it in any of the Maui posts about the Hana area (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) you probably would have accepted it because it truly looks as magical as the rainforest in that area.

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We also hiked a “Waterfall trail” that did not feature a whole lot of waterfalls but a stunning panorama, I mean look at this massive mountain front? At this point I had been out of Albuquerque for about two months and waking up the view on the Sandias from my bed was something I was truly missing. And to be honest I am still missing that view today. Someone please build a giant mountain massive in the middle of Rotterdam. Thank you. Where was I? Waterfall trail, right. Well there is one small waterfall we did find. But finding it in this picture is a bit like a Where is Waldo? image.

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Other than this tiny waterfall, the trail did feature a number of great views and cheeky streams like this one.

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But hey at the end of the day we were not there to see waterfalls but to go on a hike and have a good time. What was the lesson TLC taught us in the late 90s? Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Yeah back at it with the unnecessary pop culture references. Geez Anja.

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Must refrain from singing “Heidi, Heidi, deine Welt sind die Berge, dunkle Tannen” DAMMIT…. pop culture… again.

After these two relaxing days it was time for the big one. Another trip to Garmisch Patenkirchen to pick up gear and another alarm clock that went off way to early for my liking on a vacation trip. What do I mean with way to early? Let’s just say by the time we pulled into the parking lot at the foot of the Zugspitze, where the summit gondola has its base station, the sun was slowly peeking over the surrounding mountains.

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Unlike the Alpspitze, you can only hike all the way to the top, or take the gondola to the top. There is no gondola station in between. When you get tired or bad weather hits, you have to climb up, back down, or find a safe place to recharge or stay dry. The only stop between the foot and the summit is a mountain hut after the big gravel field where you can recharge, eat, drink and refresh. But other than that, it is you and the mountain. Now this was our goal for the day. The Zugspitze. This highest mountain in Germany, 2962 meter or 9718 foot.

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The forecast announced a nice day and off we went. As the ascend starts from the foot of the mountain all the way up to the summit, the first few hours are mainly a hike through forrest, along the Eibsee up to the first big gravel field. I have to admit that we did take a wrong turn at some point, got a little lost and wasted some time realizing the mistake and getting back to the original trail. While the mountain is not that much higher than the Alpspitze, the longer ascend that takes much longer leads you through different climates and bundling up in layers is actually really important.

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Again on the way up we did not take too many pictures but this slide show video gives an idea about how amazing the way up to the summit it. You should really watch it. The hike up is an amazing experience.

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After hours of hiking and after passing the first big gravel field you get to the Wiener Neustädter Hütte for a well deserved break, some hot food and a moment to realize how far you have come to this point… and what is left to climb.

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The after the break you realize you still have a few hours of climbing ahead of you and get back on your merry way. Do you see that gray spot on the right corner of the Eibsee? yeah that’s where we started.

Hours later you will finally see the burnt out, old summit station and about 30 minutes later… or at least that’s what it felt like. I did not actually check the time, you finally reach the summit station.

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Check out the view back down on the Wiener Neustädter Hütte, those two green roofed buildings in the distance on the gravel field.

Once you have reached the summit station you think you are finally done climbing and have reached the top, but think again. There is one last ascend to the actual summit cross Of course after hours of hiking and climbing, you will to refrain from actually getting up to the cross. Now let me tell you. The way up was brutal but when you get to those last few hundred meters, see the actual stairs leading up to the station and see all those curious people that have taken the gondola, it is worth it. It feels like you have accomplished something unusual.

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Remember at the beginning of this post when I was talking about the Zugspitze and did not really sound enthusiastic? When I talked about bad weather and it is only you and the mountain? When I talked about the good weather according to the forecast? Come think again. About an hour into the Stöpselzieher Ferrata after the Wiener Neustädter Hütte we started seeing dark clouds coming in on the horizon and we knew… it was really just us and the mountain. The difficulty level of this ferrata is higher all previous ones we had done, the security often outdated or not well secured in the mountain. So it was us, a mountain with a shitton of metal in it, and a thunderstorm approaching. It was terrifying and we did not really dare to take longer breaks on the way up to enjoy the view. But when we finally reached the top, all stress and somewhat panic was forgotten. To be honest, thinking back, I often forget that the dark clouds were approaching. I only remember them when Christian mentions it or I look on this picture, because one of the clouds is creeping into the shot.

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