The Journey

The Journey is the Destination

Oh, the places you'll go

Oh, the places you'll go


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Unchained; Climbing to the Top of Germany

Do I have a death wish? Maybe.

"You're crazy." "That's stupid." "How dumb." "It looked beautiful though." Are all comments I heard when I told the story. Some people think I am a little insane, and I admit, I am. But in reality and opposition to a death wish, I am simply looking for ways to feel alive.

I reached the summit of 4 gruesome mountains in the past 2 days via challenging/risky routes and I have never felt more exhilarated, blissful, or ecstatic. Was it dangerous? Hell yes, and the adrenaline rush was worth every minute.

Mom, don't read this.

I climbed the tallest mountain in Germany via a Kettersteig Level C route without a harness (This essentially means you should have a harness and plan on chaining in in order to have insurance, otherwise a slip most likely means bye-bye). Trust me, this wasn't the plan, but I lived and I discovered a new German friend and hobby.
Hell Valley
I arrived at the end of the no gear hiking part of Hell Valley, aka Hollental, at 12:30pm. This is the part where you go from hiking to mountaineering. The part that separates the men from the boys. So to say. I noticed a young man staring up at the mountain assessing the situation, which was my full intention for the day. I just wanted to do a little hike, get some pics, and head back down, since I didn't have a harness.

They say a man doesn't really know what he is made of until he is thrown in the ring and tested out. Or maybe they don't say that and I made it up, either way, I was about to discover a lot more about my capabilities.

I began chatting with the young Ukrainian and I come to find out he didn't have a harness either and he just wanted to see if he might be able to head up to the Zugspitze this way. We both sat and stared up for what seemed like a very long time. We watched as little specks of people moved their way up, clipped in, clipped in, moved over, clip out, clip out, clip in, clip in, move, repeat. Until they got to a point where we could no longer see them. As they disappear, another man, roughly my age, in a bro tank comes up from behind us and starts talking to us. He realizes I'm American and begins chatting us up in English, as he puts on his harness.

"Is this route really difficult?" I ask.
"Well, it depends on your endurance and level of skill." He replies.

Obvious common answer I could have told myself. I would soon learn this guy's name to be Rob, and he didn't fully prepare for this adventure either, only his lack of preparation was minuscule compared to mine.

"Well, good luck." He says as he takes off up the ladder that scales straight up the mountainside. He's super fast too, hooking in and out and moving vertically to a section that takes him horizontally across the mountain, standing on nothing but an edge and holding onto a steel cable.

Now I had never done a hike or climb like this, so I admit I was incredibly intimidated as I stared up at him and the mountain. It looked so fun though, and I knew it would be incredibly easy with a harness and I would basically fly up the mountain.

"Are you going to do it?" Asks the Ukrainian.
"Well, I didn't come this far to turn back." I reply. We both laugh, easing the tension.

Now I realize I have to go, but if I do, this is the point of no return. I have no idea how difficult this gets. I know I am very physically capable and my endurance is through the roof, but not having that safety net could be crucial to success.

I begin up the ladder.

Rob clipping in and out across the mountainside

After you get up the ladder and over a horizontal part, you come to a mountainside that has these steel pegs protruding from the mountain as you grip the steel cable and shimmy over. Slipping here would certainly mean a long tumble to the afterlife. Although it was pretty natural and easy to me, I always had it in my mind that I needed to concentrate and not get too confident.

Me getting cocky before a harder part came
After you get pass this part, you continue on and upwards. The cables are sometimes there and sometimes not as you pass over giant boulder and scramble up hill sides. I thought the worst part was behind me, but I was incredibly and sorely mistaken.
After about an hour of hiking and scrambling, I reach a waterfall area where Rob is taking pictures. No idea how long he was there but he is about to leave as I am finishing a handful of trail mix.

"Where's the Ukrainian?" He asks.

We both laugh. Suddenly I realize I left him way back there but I knew he made it across the mountainside. Rob and I start chatting a bit about random things and we both admit we don't know how difficult this gets but we proceed on. The thrill of the unknown compels us forward as we continue our ascent toward a giant glacier.

I admit I am in very good shape, but Rob's pace is incredibly fast. My heart is beating, my legs are burning, sweat is dripping and still I proceed and push on, refusing to request him to stop since we technically aren't hiking together anyways, but we sort of are.I let him borrow one of my hiking poles and he retorted with saying he always had too much pride to give them a shot, after 30 minutes, he admitted he liked it. I would soon come to find out Rob is a marathon runner, and then it was obvious why his endurance was so fast. We arrive at the glacier at 3:00pm.

We are hiking on a giant glacier but the most frozen part is straight ahead.
Notice the snow and ice from the glacier going up the mountain. The incline was insanely steep. We take a short rest here. As I am pulling out my crampons (these spikes that go around your boots to make it easier to walk on ice) Rob says he doesn't have any. I give him the same weary look he gave me when I told him I didn't have a harness. He reassures me it will be fine and he will get up the glacier.

As we are eating trail mix and sipping water, we notice the couple in front of us with a lot of gear. They look like they are about to hike Everest. Rob and I glance at each other and snicker at how much gear they have. Are we vastly under prepared or are they over prepared? All I brought was hiking poles, a helmet, crampons, and food. They brought a rescue team with a 100 foot rope and all!

We pass the couple and begin our way up. The trek up is a grueling and slow process. One foot forward, then the other, inching along as you barely get anywhere. The couple we passed eventually overtakes us and passes us and then we get to a point where Rob can't move. He tries to go up, but without crampons, he slips back down. He has 2 choices: give up and attempt to slide back down or try to continue struggling upward, which is not working. The couple, that we somewhat mocked, stops and asks Rob if he is okay. Rob says no he can't move. The mountain man German guy whips out his 100 ft rope and throws it to Rob and latches it to his waste and essentially pulls Rob the rest of the way up the freakin glacier. How much irony is this! We would laugh very hard at this later on.

Rob waiting on the mountain rope man
As we reach the end of the glacier. We laugh with mountain man and his S/O, then I notice there is no trail, just a steel cable going straight up the mountain for 25 feet. Oh, great, I think. It is at this very moment I ask myself, "What the f*$k have you gotten yourself into?"

"I don't have a harness." I say to mountain man and his S/O.
Rob clipping in and heading across the mountain ledge
"WHAT!" Says the woman.

She turns, says some things in German to mountain man to which I translate as "Wow, what a day, one of them doesn't have crampons, and the other idiot has no harness!" They laugh, Rob laughs, I laugh but I am not laughing because it's funny.

"Are you a good climber?" Asks mountain man. I shrug my shoulders and mutter something meaning 'We are about to find out'.

I begin up the mountainside. In order to begin this part you put your legs on the mountain and pull yourself up the mountain by the cable. You get to a part where you shimmy over horizontally and across a boulder while, like earlier, holding onto the cable as your feet are barely on a mountain ledge. The picture to the right will give you an idea of how the next 2 hours went.

About an hour into complete focus on my next move, I look down. Mistake. My hands get clammy, my heart starts pumping, my mind starts racing, my thoughts go wild and I curse myself for how much an idiot I am. I am going to die on this mountain because of a bad choice to be risky and adventurous. An anxiety attack right now would mean death.

Breathe. 10 seconds goes by, and another voice emerges.

"Would you shut the hell up? You are on a mountain and falling is imminent death, you got yourself into this situation because you love adventure. Now get yourself out. You know you are strong and this is a challenge but if it wasn't challenging then it wouldn't be rewarding. Now shut your mind down, focus on the present moment and take each step carefully as you ascend to the top of this mountain." I relax and focus. At one point I hooked my elbow in tight and snapped a selfie:
Good decision selfie
We go as slow as we need up each mountain edge. Grab, pull, step, move hand, grab, pull, step, move hand, repeat. Slowly moving up, we have been able to see the peak since the glacier, but now it looks in good view as we edge closer. Each move testing my body and pushing my mental capability to the max. If I live, then I am going to purchase a harness.

After what seems like an eternity of exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping adventure, we summit at 5:30pm! And of course, we have a beer at the top... and it tastes like sweet sweet heaven poured into a fine crystal glass ball that tells me the future is bright and tastes like gold.
Tallest point in Germany
Honestly, I would not have done this if Rob had not come by when he did. I was prepared to turn around and live to fight another day, but something compelled me to push forward. He had mentioned it was a "C-level Klettersteig", which means it's intermediate. The scale goes from A-G. I wanted a challenge, and I found one, even though I was stubborn, stupid, dumb, risky, idiotic, and whatever you want to call it, I rose to the occasion and discovered what I was made of. We both learned that maybe we should prepare a bit better next time. I wonder now though, would I have appreciated it as much if my life wasn't on the line for it? Needless to say, I believe I found a new hobby.

Rob and I decided to get a beer when we finished, and we made plans to go for another Klettersteig hike the very next day. It was only an A-B level, but it was along the Karwendel mountain range ridge that runs between the Austrian/Germany border. It was no less challenging and an absolutely satisfying and stunning adventure. I see more Klettersteig hikes in the near future. Stay tuned.
Germany Side

Austria Side
On the ridge/border