The main reason I decided to go back into Germany from the Czech Republic was that I had been promised an Alps trek, which has been a dream of mine since reading Heidi when I was probably 7 years old. (Also, of course, I wanted to meet David, the allegedly wonderful twinsy of my friend Robin, and promiser of said Alps excursion.)
I hope this post is as epic as I’ve been building it up to be. I think I’ll just start with a photo – the first glimpse of up-close, snowy Alps from the train speeding towards our mountain-town destination, where the trailhead is located.
Yes, yes, a million times, yes!
David and I decided to climb Kramerspitze, which could supposedly be completed in a day if you started early enough for it to still be light out during your descent.
The hike we did starts at the lower righthand side near the town. See all the switchbacks? That’s the way up. The peak is where it says “Kramerspitz” (how Bavarians spell it). Then we followed the snowy ridge to the left, and down the mountain on the next dotted red line.
The afternoon before our hike, David and I took a train from Munich to Garmisch, a small town nestled in the snow-capped Alps on the Germany-Austria border. We’d booked a hostel for the night, with plans to begin our Kramerspitze climb around 8:00 the next morning.
We arrived to the hostel with about ½ hour of daylight remaining, but decided we wanted to do a quick, shorter hike that very day, known as Partnachklamm. David’s “spare grandma”, Dee, had recommended this hike, which took us into a deep gorge in a mountainside, through caves and rugged rock tunnels, alongside a roaring, icy stream.
We did the hike in the dark.
It was incredible.
I had two headlamps; a tiny bit of dusky light was still showing through the trees by the time we got to the trailhead; and the trail was clear and quite easy, so there was little risk involved in making this a night hike. In the beginning, I wished it was daylight, so I could see the true beauty of the gorge and river flowing down from high Alps. But as we hiked on, the experience was just amazing. It was misty and cold; we could look high up above the crevice’s opening and see the mountain stars; we were continuously splashed by waterfalls flowing down right beside the rocky trail; we worked up a sweat climbing, climbing, climbing up into the gorge.
Eventually we took a rickety cable car back down the mountain and hiked back into town.
Obviously my photos from the night hike are no good, but here are a few of them that kind of came out:
Just leaving town; closing in on the trailhead in the fading light.
Almost in the forest at dusk. That huge ski jump was used in the Winter Olympics when they were held here in 1936.
Oh, beautiful Alps. Thank you for letting me gleefully climb all over you, at all hours of the day and night!
Yeah, no photos in the actual gorge. You can Google Partnachklamm for daytime pics, if you feel so inclined.
Anyway, back to the purpose of this post: Kramerspitze!
David and I woke up early and dressed in silence, packing our Camelbaks with food, a first-aid kit, extra layers of clothes, and plenty of water. Thankfully David is no more of a morning person than I am. Few words were exchanged, and that was juuuust fine.
After a hearty breakfast and coffee at the hostel, we headed to the Kramerspitze trailhead just on the edge of town.
Hiking, commence! (Note this sign says the summit can be reached in 5 hours. WE DID IT IN 4! Win.)
The trail started out nice and easy, with just a gentle incline.
Don’t be fooled. This is the only “flat” part for the next 9 hours…
Soon we came to this lovely bridge to help us around a giant boulder. In reflection, I feel the first 25 minutes gave me a false sense of security of how well we’d be provided for on the rest of the mountain…
Beautiful view already, and we’re basically still at the bottom!
Serene blue Alps. Only the low ones are blue. The high ones are rocky and white and sparkly and magical.
Soon enough, we came to this:
See that steep crevice? Time for a lil’ scramble!
But of course, this early in the hike, we were generously helped by some metal cables bolted into the rock.
Another amenity only present at the bottom of the hike. I wasn’t kidding about that false sense of security.
Yeah, that was the only cable we encountered. But the scramble continued for some time…
David killin’ it behind me.
We scrambled up near-vertical rocky slopes, like that in the photo above, for about 2 hours. It was physically strenuous, but extremely exhilarating – especially each time we reached a level point and stopped to look around!
Waterbreak! Oh, and not a bad place to take one.
As we climbed higher, the trail became steeper and more narrow, with sharp cliffs opening up to our left. Soon, we came to this memorial for a schoolboy who’d fallen from this point. More than anything, this reminded us to be extra cautious and safe with ourselves today. This is no Appalachia! (Though I do love my rolling blue Appalachians. It’s just that the Alps are very clearly a different beast).
The higher we climbed, the better the view…
Eventually we were up on the first ridge. It was incredible there; totally exposed on both sides, opening up to the vast valley far below and the magnificent Alps all around.
David on the ridge, admiring what magic surrounds him…
And soon, we caught sight of the summit. It looks deceptively close in this picture. The trail actually winds around behind it, with at least another hour of navigating steep, slippery switchbacks and icy patches before hitting the top.
The peak! It looks close, right? It’s not. If you look EXTRA hard, you can barely see the cross at the top, glinting in the sun.
And then, suddenly, the trail turned to ice.
Just a tad slippery.
It was around this time when we spotted a mountain goat! And I had my first Heidi moment, which involves me being ridiculously giddy about where I am and what it looks like all around me – “I’m basically Heidi right now!!!” That’s a Heidi moment.
We carefully hiked along the icy trail, being careful to step down hard – crunch! – along the trail’s outer edges, to ensure our boots had a solid hold in the less icy snow. Before long, we rounded a bend and saw what lie ahead:
You can just make out a faint black line in the snow, all along the right side of that mountain. That’s the trail, running through an avalanche field. (The peak we’re heading for is up and to the left of this photo).
Yep. An avalanche field.
This was my first experience with a hike of this level of risk (it was much more intense than Leggjabrjótur), so at this point, I was extra grateful to have David there. David has experience doing snowy treks, and knew that we could cross the avalanche field with minimal risk because there was just one layer of snow on the mountain. He also taught me how to stop myself if I slipped and started sliding down the side of the mountain (lie on your back, spread your arms, and pray…). I let him lead the way through this tricky (but epic/ridiculously amazing/”sick” [David’s word of choice]) part of the hike.
A closer view of the avalanche field/trail.
What’s up, guys?! I’m just crossing an avalanche field like it’s a normal Sunday activity! (Slash, peeing my pants).
David scrambling up some snow/ice. This is when we started referring to it as the “trail” (emphasis on the quotation marks). And why yes, he IS in shorts!
This part of the hike wasn’t necessarily steep (at least not in most places), but it took us a long time because of the intense focus required to take every step. Again, we had to stomp down hard to ensure a good foothold; we had to keep our eyes peeled up ahead for icy patches; we had to maintain a safe distance between us to decrease the risk of causing an avalanche or tripping one another. And on the steep bits, the focus was that much more extreme: not only were we already in a risky situation, but now we were also climbing up slippery, icy, sharp rocks with our bare hands.
Even with the intensity of this part of the hike, the views around us made it worth taking the time to stop for photo breaks!
This is a crazy-light photo of David hiking up ahead of me. You can just make him out – a dark patch on the left. This picture gives you a sense of how monstrous these mountains are.
Finally, we made it safely across the avalanche field, and into a saddle between two peaks. We just had a final incline to wind our way up before reaching the summit.
I’m basically Heidi!!! Can you tell how freakin’ happy I am in this moment!?!?
Big snowy rocks and smaller blue mounds surrounding us on every side.
Thanks for the awesome pic, David. That’s me, on top of a mountain, in the middle of the Alps, Germany, Europe, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way…feeling so blessed to be present here!
After a short break in the saddle, we were ready to make the final haul. We rounded the back of the peak, and saw that yet another icy patch lie ahead – this time much steeper than the avalanche field, with a sharper drop to one side.
Up, we climbed…
So close! Just one long icy scramble to go…
We reached the summit (about 2000m) after hiking for just over 4 hours. I think we could have done it faster, but I was all about the photo breaks. No point in speeding up such a beautiful mound of earth and rock, anyway!
The. Views. Were. Insane. Just across those mountains to the right? Austria.
The hills are ALIVE, you guys. THEY ARE SO ALIVE!
I really wanted to spin around and sing The Sound of Music, but decided against it since we were on a tiny peak surrounded by nothing but thin air and a long, loooong fall…
What’s up, blackbird? Just enjoying the view? Me too, man. Me too.
In the above photo, that especially tall peak on the far right is Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. David and I originally planned to climb that, but it snowed and made it impassable. That’s ok, though. Kramerspitze most certainly did not disappoint.
Little houses in a tiny town in a big valley far, far below.
Blackbirds on a wire. (The wires were holding in the giant cross that is staked into the peak, known as the Gipfelkreuz).
The cross, and some other hikers who joined us on the peak.
We found lunch to be extremely necessary when we made it to the top…
David eating while I continue to photograph everything in sight (which is a lot).
Finally, after recuperating, eating, and consulting our map, we decided to start the hike down. We opted for a longer, but more gradual route, which ended up taking us about 5 hours. We reached the bottom just as the sun was setting.
The first part of the hike down was still a bit intense, as the rocks were steep and the trail icy.
David making his way down from the peak.
Soon the trail opened up to another incredible, exposed ridge on top of the world. Follow the ridge and you’ll follow the trail…
David on the ridge.
Mountains. Man. Cliff.
Soon we caught an awesome view of a lake in the middle of a ring of mountains. This is Eibsee (“-see” means “lake” in German), and it was quite beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight.
You can see the fading sunlight reflecting on the lake, down below me on the left.
We thought we’d left the snow and ice behind, but rounded a bend and came upon a lengthy slope absolutely covered in slush and ice chunks. It wouldn’t have been too bad if we were going uphill, but coming down was a different story. We both slipped and slid chaotically most of the way down.
Ice is trickier on the downhill.
Not my favorite part of the hike down.
The ice soon ended, and we were met by a gradual decline into a broad meadow of small alpines and lots of mountain goat hoof prints.
What a lovely spot for a bench. Somebody was a thinker!
David and I frolicked in the meadow before re-entering the forest, which came next on the hike down.
Mountain handstands! My version of frolicking. Oh, Alps. Everything about you is just perfect and wonderful.
This can’t be real, right?
Once we left the meadow behind, we hiked downhill, through the woods, for about 2.5 hours. This was still incredible – tall alpines, cool air, lots of shade and sunbeams sliding through the trees, the smell of pine and fresh dirt – but I have to admit, my knees were pretty much ready to quit after the first hour and a half of this steep, wooded descent.
I don’t have many photos from within the forest, as it was quite dark – and the photos would have just been trees, anyhow.
We gradually made our way down series after series of quick switchbacks and steep dirt trail…
Them’s some switchbacks…At this point all I wanted was a mountainbike to take me the rest of the way down!
Finally, as the sun was sliding down behind Zugspitze, we reached the bottom.
The Zugspitze and a darkening sky.
As we walked several kilometers on harsh pavement back to the hostel, I turned around and took a final look at the incredible Kramerspitze.
We climbed that.
Feeling exhausted but satisfied, David and I picked up our things and hopped on the train back to Munich, where we cooked a huge dinner and promptly fell asleep.
What an incredible adventure! Thank you, Kramerspitze, for finally allowing me to realize my Alps-climbing dream. And thanks, David, for sharing such an amazing hike with me! I will most definitely be back for more…