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.

7 thoughts on “Climbing the Zugspitze”

  1. Hello,
    Back during the 2nd.war (1945)a buddy of mine gave me a small lapel pin
    with the picture of the Zugspitz 2964m on it.

    After all of these years I got to see the mtn.on this web site
    I would appreciate any e-mail you may want to send to me…
    thank you
    Sincerly yours
    Jacob Flagler

  2. Hi, Thanks for a nice summary of the climb! I’m interested in climbing the Zugspitze in maybe july this year and have a couple of questions. I presume the climb on the snow slope requires crampons and ice axes? With the rock scrambling, is this the sort of thing that might require ropes/protection? Also, is information regarding the climb easy to come by?
    Many thanks,
    Hugh.

  3. Hi Hugh. The amount of snow on the Zugspitze varies quite a bit from year to year, and obivously depending on the time of year. If you climb in July that’s around the same time when I climbed and there shouldn’t be too much snow. Having said that, Germany has had quite a cold summer so far so there may be more snow than when I was there (I believe there’s a web-cam somewhere where you can see pictures from the Muenchner Haus on the summmit).

    When I climbed, the snow slope was confined to the Zugspitzplateau and the last couple of hundred metres near the summit, and no ice axe or crampons were necessary. An ice axe might have made things a bit easier on the steep part, but crampons weren’t needed at all. However, make sure you have good waterproof hiking boots.

    Once you get past the snow slope you reach the rock scramble which has cables. In general no protection is necessary, but if it get’s icy and slippery then it might be more comfortable to ferrata off the cable.

    In summary, there aren’t really any major safety hazards on this climb (going via the Rheintal route that is) and you can most likely do the entire climb on your own without any sort protection or equipement other than hiking boots.

    Regards,

    Peter.

  4. Howdy, thanks for the write up, im and american student studying in Tübingen in Baden Wurtenberg for a year, im thinking of doing zugspitze in mid Oktober, i have waterice, rock and glacier experiance, but i would be doing this as a solo, do you know if i would be able to find the cables this late in the season, if i would need to make it a ski accent, since i left the skis in Montana…
    thanks if you can
    Tschuss
    Keese

  5. Hi Kesse,

    Glad to hear that you’re considering climbing the Zugspitze – it’s a nice climb. I’m afraid I can’t offer too much advice on climbing in winter, since I climbed at the height of summer. However, keep in mind that the Zugspitze is a prime skiing area and the route crossed the ski slopes. So you could definately expect thick snow in winter. Whether you would need skis isn’t clear to me though. As for the cables, you probably won’t need to make use of them. There’s only a small area near the summit where there are cables, and it’s not that steep or exposed, so with you’re level of experience, I’m sure you’ll be comfortable without making use of the cables. Keep in mind that everything I say relates to the ‘Rheintal’ route, which is the easy way up. There are other routes over the ‘Hoellental’ as well as a ferrata route from the Austrian side that you might want to look into also. If you need more information, I recommend just going down to your local Deutsche Alpen Verein (DAV) – I’m sure Tuebingen will have one – and ask them.

    Regards,

    Peter.

  6. hi Peter,

    would like to climb zugspitze with a few friends. we are not climbers just walkers but can manage a bit of via ferrita. been told this route can be done by walkers – is this true from your experience? We will go in high summer.

  7. hi claire. the zugspitze is definitely accessible to walkers. it’s essentially a walk with a little bit of rock scrambling at the top. there are several routes. the route that is most accessible to walkers is up the valley (i think it’s via the ‘partnachklam’, if I remember correctly. let me know if you need any advise.

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