KG Weg rock climb (IV+)
We decided to go for a day of rock climbing despite a stormy weather forecast. Two destinations seemed attractive. The first in the Dammkar sported several routes in the range V to VI, mostly bolt protected and up to 12 pitches. The second was the Alpspitze, with several somewhat easier routes on north facing slabs. This mountain was higher, and therefore possibly more dangerous in storms, but it boasted the attraction that we could ride the lift up, and also quickly ride it down to go cragging in the valley if the high peaks were too lightning-charged. The Dammkar would require a 1.5 hour hike, so if it started raining hard we would just have to turn around and hike soggily back.
So at 8:40 am we found ourselves up around 2000 meters, eyeing the breakfast pastries on display at the lift station exit. But we were too eager to climb, so we hiked off on the path to the “Nordwandsteig”, a via ferrata climb of the peak. Before entering a tunnel to start that route, there is a little sign indicating the start of the “KG Weg.” (KG Way). Daniel had climbed the lower half of the route before, leading the even pitches. So he started out on the first pitch, ostensibly the crux of the route. I belayed from the tunnel entrance, enjoying the shade while I munched on a breakfast bar coated in a kind of edible paper. Delicious! Daniel belayed me up for a fun steep pitch. I already regretted our heavy pack, with 4 water bottles, shoes, jackets, food. The locals probably do this climb only with a loincloth and four quickdraws, so we had much to learn.
After this enjoyable pitch, I took off for a similar one, although not as steep. Generally, we continued up well protected slabs and corners, with the occasional bit of easy scrambling in between. The weather was hot and fine. Pitches 4-7 became really nice slabs with water-worn runnels that could be pinched or stepped on. The bolts were not too close together so you could get into the flow of the climb (unlike some other “alpine-sport” climbs I’ve been on). In fact, we simul-climbed for an 80 meter pitch because I simply couldn’t stop with such a nice slab in front of me (sorry Daniel!). Soon we reached the band of snow and scree (The Hertzl) that divides the north face.
After some water and a good rest, we hiked up in tennis shoes, where Daniel kicked steps up a short snowfield for us. More scrambling and hiking led to another steeper snowfield. Daniel kicked up this one and built an anchor in a rock outcrop. From here I continued up onto easy-looking rock in tennis shoes. It’s funny though, it was steeper than it looked. From a distance, this upper part of the face with it’s distinctive curving black bands seems very low angle. But it didn’t stop me from sweating a little bit as I carefully stemmed and manteled up to a ledge, shoes greasing all over the wet slabs. “I’ll build an anchor here,” I said. Happily there were two decent cam placements in an overlap. Daniel came up, we changed back to rock shoes and wondered which way to go. We thought the KG route would be under some weeping snow slabs, judging by it’s grade III (like 5.4 YDS) pitches in this section. Another route to the left looked more attractive as it had bare rock, although it promised no intermediate protection between belay stations (assuming you could find them). But we had a gear rack and plenty of slings, certainly we could forge our way up. So I traversed carefully left from the belay for 20 meters, passing some beautiful slabs crying to be climbed. But with no bolts it might be scary…
Finally, the last chance for slab climbing revealed…a bolt some ways up - I had connected with (a? the?) route! I told Daniel all was good and scampered up the clean slab, avoiding wet spots. We simul-climbed for a while to a belay station (about an 80 meter pitch). Daniel sent me off again, feeling kind of wierd on the odd mix of slab, water, snow and confusing options. I was curious about what we’d find above where there was even more snow. The weather was holding up, so we had no real worries. Another great 50 meters of clean slabs, and then abruptly it changed to snowy, loose terrain. Again we simul-climbed, though my gear placements were a bit too sparse in this upper section.
The rock steepened and I found a bolt atop a short vertical wall. Realizing I should set some kind of belay, I looked around and found an awkward 3 bolt station above a snow bank. Ugh…I hate rock shoes in snow…As Daniel came up I mournfully realized I was letting our ropes get soaked from a stream exiting from the bank. As I pulled in rope, my feet would get a “refreshing” shower from the squeezed-out water. We thought about the way ahead. The “route”, so far as we could tell, continued under the snow on moderately easy terrain for at least another pitch to the ridge crest, where it meets the Alpspitze ferrata. But the snow was no fun, so we couldn’t help but admire the vertical wall above the belay station. My first attempt to climb a soaking wet corner ended in predictable failure. But a steep wall split by a finger crack looked short enough and dry enough to offer reasonable escape straight up and away from the snowy ledges. A delicate move followed, from the snowbank to a finger jam, a foot in the crack and another pasted on the wet corner. Yes! A bomber nut protected me here. Two more moves of some fun unexpected crack climbing got me to a pedestal with easier terrain ahead. It was a brief foray into VI- moves from our “genuss” climb. A few final vertical moves (oddly, also well protected by nuts) led to the broad east face/ridge about 30 meters below the summit. Some folks were standing at the cross and staring at me as I belayed. Daniel enjoyed the tough moves and soon we were walking to the summit.
Cool! What a fun climb it was. We looked at the climbing mecca of the Wetterstein Range on three sides around us. It is only the start!
But now it was 4:10 pm, we had to hurry down if we wanted to make the last lift at 5:00 pm. We tore down the Alpspitze ferrata, feet flying on the ladders and stempels. We passed a couple moving very slowly just below the summit. “They’ll be here for hours!” we worried. Finally we were down that nice little route, and running across trail and snowfields to reach the lift station…too late! We came huffing up at 5:08 pm, and a nice couple there gave us a drink to drown our sorrows. In Germany, things happen on time.
Now we listened to distant thunder and saw clouds approaching from the east. The couple below saw the couple above with binoculars, and worried about them. I thought there was at least an hour before the storm really arrived, so they would be down quite a ways more. Since there was plenty of daylight left, we thought about another small adventure. Rather than taking the boring old trail/road combination down to the car we could visit the Hoellental valley via a little-used trail instead. I had never seen the famous Hoellentalklamm, and was eager to use the daylight. The man at the lift station did his best to pour cold water on our plans, laughing theatrically when I questioned his minimum 4 hour time assessment for going down that way. “There will be lightning and metal railings and probably body bags!!” he said, or words to that effect. So we sighed and went down the “safe” way through boring ol’ forest.
But I kept whining about it, and just being a real nusiance. “Gosh, I love to see new terrain,” etc. You see, I had already hiked down this way only two days before on a solo hike of the Alpspitze ferrata. Happily, we found a lower trail that entered the Hoellental, making a long traversing trip to reach the Hoellentalangerhuette. Daniel and I had a great time on this trail, it’s incredibly scenic. The Zugspitze loomed ahead, now becoming obscured by dramatic clouds. Waterfalls on either side of the valley elicited oohs and aahs. The trail spicily traversed a cliffside with the occasional bridge over a small gorge, or offered an inner railing for safety. Of course we couldn’t touch the railing because the thunder was coming closer, and finally it started to rain. A wild fast walk in a developing thunderstorm followed, but soon we barged into the Hoellentalangerhuette, demanding mead and a warm place by the fire. The inhabitants remarked on the many bits of metal climbing gear attached to us, perhaps we would be struck by lightning.
No matter. We quaffed our mead, waited for the rain to stop, then lit out for the fabled Hoellentalklamm. The next hour was really fun. Dank tunnels illuminated by flickering lamps, roaring waterfalls and plunging cliffs. Snowbanks high above our heads, capping the canyon like a Shelob and blocking the light. Little wooden bridges and even a stone spiral staircase!
“That was awesome,” I said, thanking Daniel for making the trip into the klamm (he’s been there before). A quick walk in the forest brought us to the car before dark. Thanks for a fun day!