The evening I arrived in Ehrwald (Saturday June 24) was the night of the “Bergfueur” fire event, in which people light fires on the nearby mountains to celebrate the solstice. There were pretty good views from my room in the Mellow Mountain hostel (which I highly recommend, although communicate if you need to check in outside of their limited hours).
Approach through Ehrwald
The Mellow Mountain Hostel is about a 10 minute walk from the train station. The approaches I had read about to Zugsptize from Ehrwald all started at the base of the cable car, which was a little out of the way.
Instead, I used Gaia to plot a route through town and then through the ski hills to get to the base of Zugspitze. I walked to the Gamsalhutte, which was the base of a ski lift, and then up a ski run to the start of the trail. Some extremely fast guys passed me on this route, so I wasn’t the only one to go this way.
To the Weiner-Neustadter Hut
The trail goes up a valley, then up some scree-ish slopes. There are red and red/white spray painted markings to follow most of the way up. There was some rockfall near the trail, so I put on my helmet early. After the trail goes back into the trees, I heard what I thought was another rockslide on the scree slopes below and saw two small brown ungulates racing down the mountain (I think they were chamois). They were going far too fast to get photos, but it was cool to see wildlife.
The trail gains the top of a ridge, then joins up with the route coming up from the cable car just before the first bit of scrambling begins. I almost missed the turn, despite the large red arrow. The route follows a narrow ridge up with small amounts of scrambling before reaching the Weiner-Neustadter Hutte.
I stopped at the hut to use the bathroom (what luxury!), then put on my mountaineering boots to cross the snow. That was probably unnecessary, as it was just a couple short snow sections to reach the start of the actual via ferrata. I ended up doing the entire rest of the climb in my mountaineering boots, which was not ideal and put a lot of pressure on my achilles.
The via ferrata section was relatively easy scrambling, especially with the ladder rungs and using the cable as a hand line. Even though I had put on my harness and my via ferrata kit, I ended up not clipping in because it didn’t seem necessary and didn’t make me feel any safer. If you fell on the via ferrata you would still go down a long ways before you stopped, assuming everything held in place. I saw a couple of places where the metal posts that anchor the via ferrata had pulled out and were just hanging on the cable.
To the Top
The route transitioned to a mix of easy scrambling and scree above the via ferrata, and then just scree hiking. The group above me was kicking down quite a bit of rocks so I continued going straight up while they went right to avoid their rockfall. This would turn out to be a mistake. Although the scrambling was easy and fun, I eventually had to traverse across a sketchy wet ledge to get back to the trail. I do not recommend. If you do this route, stay on the trail, such as it is.
Civilization at the Top of Germany
The route eventually reaches the top of the Zugspitze ridgeline and traverses northeast towards the cable car complex/ski resort and the summit. The complex includes the terminals for the cable cars to Ehrwald (in Austria) and Eibsee (in Germany), as well as a couple of museums, toilets, restaurants, and a whole ton of people.
The True Summit of Zugspitze Makes Me Feel Like a Good Climber
You reach the true summit of Zugspitze by taking some stairs down on the German side of the complex, and then standing in line. There are a ton of people going to the top, most of whom are terrified of heights and are clinging to the cables for dear life.
I was able to bypass a lot of the line by going around the start on some snow (glad my mountaineering boots were handy for something) and then scrambling to climbers’s right of the ladder, although I had to wait below the ladder for quite awhile before I could get close enough to scramble around it. Above the ladder is easy scrambling and I was able to bypass the line to the left. When I reached the summit area, a couple was taking forever taking photos at the cross on the summit, in part because one of them was afraid of walking towards the cross on what seemed to me to be a wide open area. They started crawling and I blurted out “you can walk!” The person looked back at me and I said “it’s a pretty wide area, you’ll be fine.” They kept crawling.
It was eventually my turn, so I went to the cross that marks the official summit of Zugspitze and had someone nearby take my photo. I used the ladder to get down, which required me to hang out awhile until the person in front of me asked everyone coming up to stop so we could get down. The people I had started in line with had either given up or were still waiting for the ladder. I made it up and down in about 20 minutes by skipping around the line, but had I waited I could see it taking an hour.
Easiest Descent Ever
I chose not to have lunch at the top because it was so crowded and I was a little concerned about cable cars being too full on the way down, but it probably would have been better to hang out. Food wasn’t that expensive considering the location- only about 8.50 EU for a pretzel and bratwurst. Instead, I bought a ticket for the cable car and made the next one down. They run about every 20 minutes. I probably purchased a ticket about 5 minutes after the previous car had left and was in the first third of people on. I’m not sure if everyone who was waiting with me made it on.
The cable car avoided going down scree and the scramble, which was totally worth the 39 EU that it cost me. Being in the back of the car, I got some good views of the route.
When I got to the base of the cable car in Obermoos, I walked back into town via a nice pedestrian path that paralleled the road, but far enough away that it felt like I was walking in the forest. It took about a half hour to walk back into town, after which I realized there was one restaurant open on a Sunday afternoon near my hostel. At least they had good food!