Climbing German’s Second Highest Mountain
Jesus was there to greet us as we scaled Germany’s second highest mountain.
It was appropriate as we thought we were going to die twice.
This wasn’t the plan. It was the first day off the plane. And a great way to power through jetlag. We were supposed to do a rigorous four-hour, very vertical hike up to the Watzmann House, have a beer and brat, then enjoy a leisurely afternoon in Berchtesgaden.
But we got up there and Casey said, “Dad, the mountain peak is just up there.”
Sure. Only it wasn’t just up there. Every time we thought we’d reached it, the real summit teased us from a distance. “****!”
So here’s the mountain we hiked from the valley below to the highest peak on the right. At the bottom of this is the Watzmann House. We reached it in a little over two hours. We thought the peak was that first high outcropping above us, not realizing we’d have to traverse the mountain horizontally and vertically to reach the true summit. Look at this map and the black line drawn representing the additional distance. I wasn’t sure if Casey had tricked me, knowing that I’d be too anxious if I had known what was up ahead.
Mom asked me how we knew where we were going. Well, the Germans, Austrians and Swiss (precise people of course) all have very well marked hiking trails. This is painted on rocks marking the path. Some even have arrows. You can look down and see where the Watzmannhaus is. And we still had a couple hours of tough climbing ahead.
So we reach a snowfield we have to cross. In sneakers. While everyone else has mountaineering gear. I cross. Casey freezes. For the first time ever.
“I’m not going across.” I’ve never heard him say that. “Yes you are because I’m not turning back now.” For a moment I was the brave (foolish) one.
The problem was twofold. This snow patch extended from the top down at a 45 degree angle right over the edge of the mountain. Casey said he couldn’t watch me because he was afraid to see me toboggan over the side to my death. Two climbers died last week unaware a snow field was actually hiding a crevice. They died.
Rescues like this are common. Way down below this helicopter you can see the Watzmann House. And if you have to get rescued, you pay for their services. The chopper flight alone begins at $2,000.
Now we are having to climb rocks and use fixed cables to scale sharper inclines. The sharper the incline, the more spectacular the view (and fall!) below. Look at the valley and mountains behind Casey. Just gorgeous.
The peak is getting closer. So now I am running up parts of it to get there (so I can go back down!). It was the longest and highest hike of my life. 38,000 steps. The equivalent of climbing 515 flights of steps. 11 hours total by the time we got back down.
But the views were spectacular. They had record snow this year, more than since Hitler and his SS thugs built the Eagle’s Nest on a competing mountain. So everything was snow covered above the lake below.
We climbed up the narrow ledge. 360 degree views all around. I was elated. Then I got scared. Look over the edge–that’s a steep drop. And there are parts where it feels like if you slip, you go down 10,000 feet.
Casey’s all happy and carefree now while I get tentative and quiet. The wind is picking up and dark clouds roll over. It starts to spit rain. I picture myself losing grip and falling.
Right over the side of the cliff, it’s a long way down. And those mental images just mess with me. That’s when I get tentative and it’s not good.
But after about 30 minutes of scrambling down the rocks, I relaxed. It ended up being a Top 3 experience together. And as usual, it was Casey’s suggestions (and my finally yielding to something new) that made it possible.
Casey badgered me to use the camel back above because it can carry 3 liters of water and you just drink from a handy tube. I was resistant of course. But used it. A lifesaver.
This was my own invention, of course. What does every Martin have in his backpack for use at 10,000 feet? Charmin Ultra Soft of course! It was a life saver. 🙂
We walked down from the Watzmann House virtually alone.
We heard birds, cow bells, saw mountain goats up close. Peaceful. Exhausted. But together sharing an experience few do.
Grateful for perfect weather. If sunny, we would have been scorched. If rainy, it would have been too slippery. And closing the night with veal schnitzel, fries, beer and apple strudel at our favorite outdoor beer garden. A perfect first day.
We’ll see if I can move on Day Two! Thanks for sharing the journey with us! Love you all.