Last week I was in Germany for a few days with the Bergfreunde, and on Monday morning I woke up at 4 am to hike alone to the Top of Germany via the Stopselzieher Via Ferrata.
Disclosure: This trip was supported by the Bergfreunde and the local Tourism agencies, but I did not get paid to write about it. As you know: I’m keepin’ it real and tell you how it is - I maintain full editorial control of the content published on Hiking in Finland. Read the Transparency Disclaimer for more information on affiliate links & blogger transparency.
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The weather forecast was “Thunderstorms, every day” at the start of my journey to the Zugspitze Region in Austria and Germany. But how it is with weather forecasts, they can be off sometimes, and as my Alarm rang at 4:00 o’clock on Monday morning I jumped out on the balcony, half wishing for lighting bolts to flash across the sky so I could head back to bed. However, a calm, dark blue sky with white, blinking stars was above me, and so I brushed my teeth, got dressed, headed to the Hotel restaurant to drink a coffee and then I was off. I heard some traffic in the distance, but soon I left the little village of Ehrwald behind me and hiked up one of the trailrunning trails to the Gamsalm, a small hut next to the ski slope. I followed this wide grassy hill upwards and another 20 minutes later I entered a low forest and a narrow trail. A frog surprised me by jumping almost under my foot, but in the beam of my headlamp I saw him and avoided an untimely end for him.
The trail took me up a scree field and the trees became smaller and smaller, until they completely disappeared. In the light of my headlamp I hiked up, the only sound being my panting. The first hour passed with almost 450 m of ascent, which is a tad too fast, and so I slowed down a bit, and as the sky started to became lighter I also could see more of my surroundings.
At the old middle station ruin I took a big gulp of water, a bite of my vegan chocolate bar, and continued on the Georg Jäger Steig trail. A group of chamois was grazing in the field above me, completely ignorant of me. I took a few photos of them, and followed the trail towards the ridge which would give me my first glance of the orange dawn. I could see the big, new pillar of the Gondola Station, which starts at 8:30-ish to ferry the first tourists to the top, and it’s about here that I put on my harness, Via Ferrata Set and Helmet. The trail is really exposed, narrow, and I didn’t want to risk falling down, but in the end I didn’t clip in even once as I didn’t find the trail as bad as I read.
To my surprise this section was really short and in a mere 10 minutes I stood in front of the Wiener Neustädter Hütte, one of the alpine huts of the Austrian Tourist Club. A dozen eyes of hikers and mountaineers looked down on me as I hiked up to the hut, I said Hallo, watched with them towards the sunrise, and then continued onwards towards the entry of the Stopselzieher Via Ferrata across the Schneekar scree field.
A helicopter was commuting to and from the summit, dropping off the supplies needed on the highest peak of Germany and also some construction goods, and I was happy when it flew off after a while so I could enjoy again the sound of the mountains. Now the Stopselzieher is a Via Ferrata with a Difficulty rating of A/B which means it is really easy, and experienced mountaineers probably won’t need a Via Ferrata Set, but if you’re a Beginner then use it to be safe on it. It’s a nice Via Ferrata which takes you through a small cave, and then climbs at a moderately steep angle upwards. You climb via steel ladders and natural rock up, and here and there are natural platforms which are useful for a short hydration break, catching your breath and enjoying the view.
I was lucky to be the first person on the Via Ferrata, and enjoyed the steep and exhausting climb up to the ridge. At the ridge I basked in the sun, took off my harness and helmet, put on my sunglasses and continued on the trail towards the top. The trail ascends here besides a lot of pipes and cables, and it isn’t the most pretty experience, but I didn’t mind. A group of young men hiked slowly in front of me, and from their conversations I gathered that they started at the Knorrhütte three hours ago.
And then I was at the Summit Station. A lot of people were already up here, because you also can sleep up here at the Münchner Haus of the German Alpine Club, but it also was now 9:00 o’clock and the first Gondolas had arrived at the top. I didn’t mind, it was nice to see so many people enjoying the beautiful sunny weather at the top of Germany, and after a bit of navigating I found the trail which lead me to the summit cross.
I sat for a long time on the summit, composing photos, and took in the magnificent view over the Jubläumsgrat Ridge. One day I’d like to ascend the Zugspitze via this Route.
My original plan was to descend via the Gondola and relax for the rest of the day, but those who know me also know that I have difficulties to sit still and take the easy route. So while I was drinking a coffee and eating a Pretzel, an idea hatched in my mind: I could hike back via the Gatterl Route to Ehrwald, making a pretty loop of this trip. It was so early in the day still that I had plenty of time before the promised Thunderstorms, it was nice and sunny and the friendly chap at the DAV hut refilled my water bottles for free, so around 11 o’clock I descended to the Zugspitzplatt and ran on the trail to the Knorrhaus Hut.
Now this trail to the Knorrhütte was very, very busy. The Route via the Knorrhütte is one of the easiest as you have no climbing to do, but I didn’t really like this bit. The descent of the screefield on the lose trail was fine, but it is the kind of trail which I wouldn’t want to hike up. Going against the flow was fine, however! At the Knorrhütte I used my last cash to buy a peasoup and a tasty elderberry drink, and as it was still some 26°C I also refilled all three of my water bottles at the well. And then I was off towards the Gatterl, the border between Germany and Austria.
In this time and age where backward morons want to again build up border walls and refuse people entry into a country it is beautiful to walk on my own feet over a border, without anyone asking for my passport or anything. I walked to the gate, said bye to Germany and continued on the trail to the Ehrwald Alm.
I got really tired on this stretch, and as I passed a small stream I sat down, took off my shoes and cooled down my dear feet. A big gulp of water, some more vegan chocolate and I had the energy I needed to continue to the end. After the Ehrwald Alm more and more people were sharing the trail with me, and it was beautiful to have so many fellow humans enjoying the beautiful nature here. Four kilometres from Ehrwald I heard the first thunder 🌩 and I put some more speed into my steps so I wouldn’t need to get the rain jacket out of the pack. Alas, I wasn’t fast enough, and about 500 m from the Hotel the Thunderstorm reached me!
I stopped my Suunto at 16 o’clock in front of the Hotel, with a big smile. I did it! I climbed to the top of Germany and hiked back to Ehrwald with a beautiful loop, and it only took me some 8 hours! I entered my Hotel, had a well-deserved coffee and then went to stretch & relax in the Sauna!
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I stayed at the Tiroler Hof Hotel in Ehrwald which is ideal for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s close to the centre of the village and the various trails go past the front of the hotel. It has a delicious breakfast, great views and a large Spa with nice Sauna for relaxing after a day in the mountains. I started and ended my hikes and activities in Ehrwald all here, and would go there again.
Ehrwald and my route up the Zugspitze are still one of the less popular routes, as it is very steep. However, I saw on my descent many groups of people heading to the Via Ferrata, so I’d start as early as you’re comfortable getting up. I started my hike from the Hotel at 4:20 and had nobody in front of me, but if you take less photo breaks you also should be fine starting at 5:00 o’clock.
Gear-wise I’d recommend to go as light as possible. I wore my La Sportiva TX2 shoes, the Houdini Motion Lite Pants, an Houdini Activist Message Tee, and the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody softshell. In my pack I had thin synthetic insulation jacket, the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket and my Houdini Aegis Hardshell which I all didn’t need (I run very easily really hot and it was a warm day, but weather can change quickly in the mountains so I go prepared). In the morning I had the Petzl Bindi on my head to illuminate the trail, and for the Via Ferrata section I wore the Petzl Sirocco Helmet, a Camp ALP Harness and the Edelrid Cable UL Via Ferrata Set. All of that was in my trusty HUCKEPACKS pack 🤗 when not needed, and I also had three 0,5 l Softflasks with me full of water which I refilled whenever I could. Add in a few vegan chocolate and Müsli bars and you have a lightweight pack for a fun day in the mountains!
I took the train to Ehrwald after flying in to München. It’s fast, cheap and convenient, and you can see the beautiful panorama from the train without standing still with you car. You pass Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and with the Guest Card from the Hotel you can take the local Bus around the mountain to also take different routes up and down.