Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Day Hike in the Alps

  For my second day in Munich, Markus and I went for a hike in the Alps south of the city.  It was perhaps an hour's drive through scenic countryside to get near the Alps, and a bit more driving to get to the spot where we caught the cable car.  We selected the "Zugspitze & Partnachklamm" hike from Lonely Planet's "Walking in the Alps" guidebook, which is a very good guidebook for such things.

  Zugspitze is the highest mountain in the German portion of the Alps, 2962 meters high.  Remarkably, there is a cable car that goes right to the summit of the mountain.  The woman selling the tickets for the cable car clearly thought we were insane to want to buy one-way tickets up.  From the cable car we got some views of a lovely lake at the foot:

  Then we plunged into fog and didn't see much beyond the immediate vicinity of the cable car.  The summit was completely fogged in; here are photos of the signs telling us what we ought to have seen:

  In the last photo you can see the lake that we saw from the cable car, the Eibsee.  We never saw it again.  The second photo shows the start of our hike, a station called Sonnalpin that is below the summit, at 2600 meters.  We walked from there towards the left of the photo, down into the valley called the Reintal that can be seen in the first photo.

  So we took a cable car down to Sonnalpin from the summit, after a half-hour wait that was clearly calculated to try to get us to buy crap from the gift shop at the summit; the previous cable car to Sonnalpin had conveniently left a couple of seconds before we arrived.  From Sonnalpin we started walking, after getting directions to the trailhead from another incredulous worker at the restaurant there.  You'd think from all this that they never see anybody hike this trail, but actually we saw a couple of dozen other hikers over the day, and even a few insane mountain-bikers.  At Sonnalpin we were below the level of the fog, but just barely, and it was snowing lightly:

  The second photo is the view back towards Sonnalpin, with its cable car cables radiating.  The third cable car from Sonnalpin, if you're wondering, goes to a research station halfway up the slope towards the summit.  The clouds obscured much of the view, but they did make for some etheral photos nevertheless:

  We descended about 550 meters to the first hut of the hike, Knorrhütte.  Hiking trails through the Alps have these huts sprinkled liberally everywhere you go.  Sometimes they are a full day's hike apart, but often they are closer than that, and you can stop for snacks, water refills, and so forth.  You can also stay overnight in them, which gets rid of the need to carry a tent and sleeping bag and such.  They're remarkably big, well-run, and civilized; this hut had running water, plumbing, even showers.  It's a wonderful invention that the U.S. ought to adopt wholesale; I've only seen such huts in the U.S. in Glacier National Park, where there are two; but even those two are much smaller and more rustic.  At Knorrhütte I had spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch, and Markus had a traditional German soup:

  You might think, based upon solid precedent, that that is a beer, but actually it's apple juice with soda water, which is the perfect refreshing drink while hiking, and is available at all the huts.

  After lunch we continued onward, descending into the vast valley called the Reintal.  Here's a sort of time series:

  As you can see, the weather got nicer the further we went.  The whole way from Sonnalpin it had been a steep descent over rocks and scree, with care taken each step to avoid losing one's footing.  Here's a view back up at the kind of terrain we were descending:

  Our knees were quite sore by the time we got to the valley floor.  Here the trail was still generally downhill, sometimes fairly steeply, but it was much easier going than it had been descending the mountainside.  Soon we reached the next hut, Reintalanger-Hütte:

  Well, actually that's not the hut, just a supply shed for the hut, but the hut is just around the corner.  I forgot to take any photos of huts, since each time when we got to one I was tired out and just wanted to sit down for a minute.  At this hut I had a piece of cheesecake and another mug of apple juice and soda water.  Here's a view back from the hut towards the top of the mountains:

  We had descended from the ridge on the right of the photo, down into the valley.  Actually we had come quite a bit further than that; Knorrhütte is well above the ridge, and Sonnalpin is way further than that!  Our reward now was a gentler trail alongside a river, winding through forest with occasional views of waterfalls and landslides on the mountainsides surrounding us:

  As we went along, the forest got bigger and the river got wilder:

  Sadly, the trail eventually left the river and became a supply road for the huts, winding around through the forest high above the river.  We walked for an hour and a half on that road, the only boring part of the hike.  Then we descended down to the river again, and eventually the river plunged downwards into a narrow gorge, the Partnachklamm.  We crossed over the river on a bridge above the gorge, and then descended into the gorge and walked along a small semi-tunnel carved into the rock next to the river:

  Water was dripping down all around us, the thundering of the water was deafening, and the air was filled with cool mist.  It was a perfect end to the hike.  Here are some views from the Partnachklamm:

  And then suddenly it was over, and we were out of the gorge, walking on a paved road beside the now-placid river:

  There were sheep:

  And then we got to the old ski jump from when the Olympics were held in Munich, and then the outskirts of town, and then we caught a taxi back to our car.  We drove through the countryside to an Italian restaurant Markus knew from previous expeditions, and had lots of food (four-cheese pizza for Markus, gnocchi with gorgonzola and mushroom sauce for me) and beer.  And then back to Munich for more beer and Futurama.  Does life get any better?

  All in all, it was a 19 kilometer hike (just under 12 miles) descending from 2600 meters to 740 meters (about 6100 feet of descent).  We were very sore afterwards.  Yesterday, the day after the hike, I took the train back to Vienna, and limped back to my friend's apartment here and collapsed in bed.  Today, two days after the hike, it still hurts excruciatingly to stand up or sit down; it feels like someone has taken a bludgeon to my thighs.  Still, I can't wait for my next chance to hike in the Alps; it was really wonderful. Hopefully Markus and I will intersect again some day to do that three-day hut-to-hut hike I fantasize about!

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