Danno and I had the day free, which was cool, despite a somewhat miserable forecast. “Be prepared to hike in drizzle!” we told ourselves. Among several different ideas, we chose a moderately ambitious one: to climb the Zugspitze from the west, passing the Wiener Neustaetter Huette and getting on the Stopselsteig to the summit. This is a fairly easy klettersteig, as long as the snow isn’t too troublesome.

We were hiking around 8 am, in dense fog. But it didn’t take long to get above it, and we already felt rewarded to climb above a “cloud sea” and have wide visibility of the cliffs above us. We were on roads and ski trails of the Zugwald, stopping often to verify our location on the map. It’s so easy to get lost down low on hikes without good signage and several junctions, especially when most of the journey is on roads in dense forest.

But eventually we climbed into a latschen-gurtel above the mature trees. The Riffelwaende cliffs were above, and we were making for the line of the Ehrwald Zugspitzebahn, which occasionally sent a cable car up or down. The trail climbed through cliffs with cable protection and we entertained ourselves by resurrecting a character from previous hikes, who we now gave a name: Silas Ezikiel Monroe. This guy comes from southern aristocratic stock and is loosely based on the sniper from Saving Private Ryan, one Private Daniel Jackson, Charlie Company, played by the actor Barry Pepper. Especially when he offers obscure bible quotations! We had great fun developing this character further, finding that it’s easy to put words in his mouth. He has a curious habit of praising before he damns, for example:

I am not unsympathetic to the aims of the new immigrants to our great nation, coming as they do in vast number across the sea from the stinking cities of Southern Europe. Indeed, their desire to rise above the squalor to which they have long accustomed themselves bodes well for their future in this country.

Ouch.

Silas lives in an indeterminate time, probably coming into his prime between the World Wars. By the time they are finished, he sees decay in all directions. He admires grit and determination, but will see it in places that have fallen out of fashion today, such as imperial adventure. He is an unabashed racist, damning huge swaths of humanity with the language of discrimination that “merely” seeks a higher ideal. It goes without saying that his own race is atop the heap through countless civilizations (but he says it anyway). Key terms for him are:

and so on, ever alternating disgust with the soiled world around him, with expressions of nobility and tolerance for that which nonetheless is unpleasant to his taste. Silas hunts of course, but honorably.

Anyway, it’s fun to flesh out a character.

We were surprised to find the Wiener Neustaetter Huette open, but that didn’t stop us from buying a coffee and some cake. 30 minutes later, we continued up in a vast Kar (basin surrounded by walls) to the beginning of the Stopselsteig on the left (north) side. Another party was negotiating the great crevice and cave that marked the start, following the cable and ladders up to a broader realm of terraces 200 meters above.

Danno and I started up, enjoying the climbing moves. The “crux” of the route seemed to be on the last of several ladders, squeezing you rather awkwardly into a crack on the left which is finally escaped with a move to the right on a broad ledge. From here we walked and occasionally scrambled up towards the great object of mystery on this route: the abandoned lift station!

Like something out of Lost, it hulks, looking oddly out of place: a 4 story building with boarded windows, suggestive of a vast complex in a wilderland of scree, snow and cliff. What sort of classes were held within, lo on 50 years before? Why would a lift station rest below the penultimate cliff of the ridge crest? It was in the wrong place, and the cables which once reached it were now removed. We stood on a terrace of strangely sound wood, remarking that the building was somehow maintained. A new steel door (tightly locked, alas), and a new roof from the last 20 years protected it. We didn’t know what to call it, so we opted for a kind of default from our twelve-year-old selves with “the Nazi compound.”

We gained the ridge crest and looked down on the beclouded and wintry Zugspitzeplatte, a great plateau that was once glacier. A dozen sledders were screaming and enjoying themselves far below. We saw the other summits along the ridge, though those to the south were continually disappearing in cloud. Another cloud bedeviled the summit, and we made our rather tired way up through deepening snow along ledges. Suddenly in the vast summit complex, we moved through the trinket sellers to climb down the north side to reach the true summit. A friendly crowd was here, everyone marvelling as usual at the contrast between a pointy, windswept summit and the vast, semi-crowded viewing platform 30 meters away. We took some pictures then headed back for a beer and Germknoedel. Saving our knees, we took a lift down to the car and returned home, driving away just as the storm truly set into the region around 3:00 pm.

We had admired the W. Welzenbach West Wall route from the cable car, and prepared vague designs to climb the route he did on the right of the great wall…the ridge. Rated IV, it should be safer from stonefall. Of course it’s very rarely climbed!

Thanks Danno for a fun day!