Switching gears we harnessed up and traversed across inch wide metal pegs slammed into the gray and black streaked limestone. This traverse, called “Brett” is the most famous part of this hike. Looking over my shoulder I saw where we had entered. From this distance the entrance was invisible among small peaks that looked like a row of sharp teeth. The path leading back that way was a deep groove cut between rocks. Below me was nothing but a rough rock wall ending fast with the downward sloping ground. Falling meant a very bad day. But the brush with danger is the part of adventure travel that I enjoy the most.

Early this morning we woke when darkness still owned the world and entered the Hoellentalklamm Canyon. Starting at Hammersbach, near Grainau in Southern Germany, I ducked through tunnels blown into rock, stepped cautiously over slick stone beneath my feet and grew cold from the spray of water shooting off the river next to me. The water thundered, shattering the silence of dawn and thrusting me into nature. The thrum of water thrashing against and over rock, pulled by gravity and searching for the easiest way through the bends, falls, and rocks of the river was meditative. Raising and falling in volume the water droned on as we marched through and out of the canyon and then up the mountain.

The Zugspitze is not an impressive mountain. Topping out at only 9,718 feet it is the foothills of the Alps, even though it is the tallest mountain in Germany. But, the climb from base to top takes at least 6 hours, most need more than 8. At Hammersbach, when you first enter the forest and begin the ascent you are only at 2,325 feet. Over the next 6 to 8 hours you hike through a canyon, past a hut, up several ladders, across iron pegs drilled into the side of a sheer limestone rock face and over many other obstacles until you summit. The total ascent is over 6,500 feet.

When you enter this region of Bavaria the Zugspitze is the first thing your eyes travel to. Looking up, the mountain arches like a raptor’s claw and ends in a point. You can see all 6,500 of its forested and rocky stomach from the towns below. From a distance it’s smooth, grey belly looks innocent and to those who come for the glacier skiing or lake swimming at Eibsee it is. The mountain grows out of the farmland and taunts you, beckoning you to test your mettle against its belly. I climbed it because it was an itch that needed scratching. I wanted to look upon that raptor’s claw and say “I climbed that. I overcame that.”


There are several routes possible, but we recommend taking the Hollental route. This will take you through the beautiful Hoellentalklamm canyon and beyond. This route is considered moderately difficult and has via ferrata.