Walking Holidays

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After walking for five hours, ascending 1000 metres and with the summit of the highest mountain in Germany within our grasp, I took a moment to reflect upon our walk.

There was a lot to reflect upon! We had seen marmots slipping in and out of the rocks; watched a herd of horses gallop down the valley; we had watched people on the summit of the Sonnenspitze, a steeple-like mountain appearing inaccessible to humans; and we’d experienced spectacular views of the Mieminger range as its ridgeline traversed the sky. We had walked Collett’s Mountain Holiday’s “Zugspitze Challenge” and enjoyed every moment of it.

Upon reaching the summit of the Zugspitze, we were greeted with a magnificent panoramic view over hundreds of mountain peaks in four different countries. To the south-west we could see Italy and the outline of the Piz Bernina standing 4048 metres above sea level. To the east we could see the silhouette of the Grossglockner, Austria‘s highest mountain, and to the west was Switzerland, with more 4000 metre peaks. In the North were vast plains covering southern Germany all the way to Munich.

When standing on the top of Germany, it’s not hard to feel ecstatic!

Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena
Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena Walking Holidays in the Austrian Alps - Zugspitz Arena

But what did send me down memory lane, prompted a retelling about my final Zugspitze ascent in the summer of 2016? It was the notion that I am returning to the Zugspitz Arena in Austria for another season working for Collett’s! Cue the (I hope) sarcastic groans of disappointment from my colleagues. I’m super excited. Who knew that a simple Google search in 2016 for “Work summer amazing places Europe” would yield such dividends?

Walking Holidays in the Zugspitz Arena

It is comprised of three different areas. Looking at the arena from above, at the centre is the Moos, a circular field on the valley floor approximately two miles in diameter. The Moos often provided an ideal warm up during the start of a hike or, alternatively, an idyllic end when the legs are heavy. Early in the season wildflowers bloom here and the fields (and hills) are alive with the sound of music (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help it). Walkers gaze in awe at the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and it seems almost obscene that such ostentatious sights are so easy to obtain.

On the outer edges of the Moos are three villages: Biberwier, Lermoos and Ehrwald. Their locations within the arena yield unique views. Biberwier rests behind the steeple-like Sonnenspitze which looks very different from the rear. Its profile is triangularly shaped, less like a tower and a peak more like a pyramid cuts down the centre from its apex. Its face is sheer. Biberwier provides a waypoint for most southern walks and is the closest village to the unbelievably beautiful Blindsee lake.

The village of Lermoos is raised above the valley floor allowing unobstructed view across the Moos to the Zugspitze. Take a moment. Take two. Take as many as you like to appreciate, contemplate and meditate over the Zugspitze itself. At 2962 metres above sea level it stands literally hundreds of metres taller than the mountains in the neighbouring ranges. However, it is not the height of the Zugspitze which takes the breath away, more so its complete dominance of the skyline. It fills your visual spectrum and demands your attention. The absolute magnitude of the Zugspitze is highlighted by the village Ehrwald, which sits directly below the mountain. Ehrwald sits minute against the monstrosity of the Zugspitze. Curiously, last year, I found such contrast elicited existential musings from Collett’s guests about human significance, or its lack thereof, in the world.

The final village is Ehrwald. Tiny compared to the Zugspitze but the largest village in the arena, Ehrwald provides the accommodation for Collett’s guests (and u, the walk organisers!). The generosity of the locals match the size of the mountain they are beneath. The hub for our guests is the 4-star Hotel Sonnenspitze in the centre of Ehrwald. Despite the grand infrastructure, the employees and owners are grounded people who selflessly and willingly assist the Collett’s operation.

The final and most important component in the Arena are, of course, the mountains. They have been partly described already but deserve their own mention. There is surprising variety: On the Zugspitze, vegetation gives way to rock quickly, but on Mt Daniel bushes are seen almost to the summit; the spire of the Sonnenspitze is contrasted against the rolling nature of the Grubigstein. Thaneller stand alone, defiant, at the end of the Western valley and is a common target for the summit baggers. However, the broad variance between the surrounding mountains only serve to highlight their one commonality: their size. The sense of magnitude these mountains emanate is a major reason for why I am returning.

Collett’s guests are the other reason warranting my return. We had some wonderful characters! Eighty year olds as fit as a fiddle. We had families with four generations who went paragliding, white water rafting, horseriding and canyoning as well as walking. We’ve had those who have walked in the Himalayas, scaled Mt Kilimanjaro, who have climbed in Kalymnos, Scotland and Wales. We had guests on their first walking holiday abroad, fresh into the spirit of things, enjoying new-found camaraderie with like-minded walkers. We had a mix of people from countries far and wide, and many guests whose genuine manner and personality provided the essence why every week was different but always fantastic for us, the walk organisers.

This year Collett’s are introducing hut to hut hiking in the Austrian Alps and 2017 is looking like it will be a wonderful summer season in the Zugspitz Arena.

We look forward to meeting guests, new and old!

From Ehrwald, the Zugspitze cable car is silhouetted against the sky line. It is a marvel of engineering, with just two stanchions and ascending almost two thousand metres. The stanchions are immense and protrude from side of the Zugspitze at an angle which appear to defy physics. Near the higher stanchion is the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte, yet another Austrian hut which has a proud mountaineering history. From the valley, it takes hours to reach the hut, however, the hut itself is well stocked aas supplies and produce are lowered from the cable car above.

This Hut also provides the apex point for the Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk.

The Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk is one of the toughest walks in the Zugspitz Arena. It begins from the bottom of the Zugspitze cable car station and, after 1200 metres of elevation, surpassing the tree line and reaching ‘moonscape’ territory, it finally reaches the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte. The ascent is exposed with incredibly large drops; cables are provided in many sections and scrambling skills are of paramount importance. After reaching the hut from the North West, the path descends on the South West face of the Zugpitze down an immense scree slope which runs almost all the way down to Ehrwald. The walk is only recommended for the most mountain-hardy of guests and, without exception, has always received a positive response.

Bergfeuers and the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte Walk

Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk
Ehrwald, Austrian Alps Ehrwald, Austrian Alps
Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers
Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers
Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers
Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers
Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers Zugspitz Arena Bergfeuers
Ehrwald, Austrian Alps Ehrwald, Austrian Alps

At the beginning of July I walked the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte route with guests for the first time this season. We had an absolutely phenomenal day. Beyond the exquisite technical experience the walk itself offers, we were also lucky enough to see a family of Gams (chamois), make good friends with a herd of sheep and stand right above a rainbow. Cheers nature!

Before we opened the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte Walk to Collett’s guests I hiked the route to ensure it was in an appropriate condition. On the descent I encountered some strange activity. Flags of all different colours dotted the scree slope. They were spread across the area and there was more than 100 metres of ascent between the lowest and highest flag. Men were gathered and were consulting a bit of paper when I arrive. While friendly, they were all quite guarded so I took the hint and took my leave.

These were the Bergfeuer men or, in English, the mountain fire men.

On the 24th of June, these men set the surrounding mountains of the Zugspit Arena alight. Each flag I had seen represented a location of a fire and, when all the fires were burning together, they formed images for spectators on the valley floor. Traditionally the mountain fires were used to ward off evil demons and spirits and many of the images had Christian themes. Other images served to highlight the plant and animal world and human’s relationship with them. The objectives of other images were more ambiguous, like a picture of a Smurf standing above the village of Lermoos.

After dinner, with our guests wandered around the village soaking up the atmosphere. That night Ehrwald, which hosts the sleepy population of 2600 people, was inundated by folk who had come to see the Bergfeuers. Over 9000 people visited the Zugspitz Arena that evening. Biergartens were erected and the sound of live music drifted over the town. A thunderstorm was brewing in the South and the flashes in the distance created a truly powerful and unique atmosphere. Fortunately for us and, more importantly, the Bergfeuer men high in the mountains, the storm did not enter the valley.

The Bergfeuers event is a must see, a unique exhibition which is hosted by the Zugspitz Arena every year.

June the 24th 2018: put it in your diaries, have a word with Tom Collett and maybe we’ll see you here!

One hour west from the Zugspitze Arena, straddling the border between Germany and Austria are the Tannheim mountains. Known for cross country skiing and paragliding, as well as the Zugspitze Arena, the Tannheim region has also proved popular with Collett’s guests due to its own remarkable panoramic views.

The walk begins from the top of the Fussener Jochle cable car and traverses round to the Bad Kissinger Hütte and Aggenstein Mountain before returning to Gran, the hamlet where we parked. As we expected, the majority of Collett’s guests in the resort joined up for the fun, so we piled into the van and headed out, full of chatter and laughter.

Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps
Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps Tannheim Range - Austrian Alps

Choughed to be on a Collett’s day out: The Tannheim Ranges

In the valley the sun was shining and the day was beginning to warm up. However, at the top of the cable car we were immediately reminded of the stark wilderness that the Tannheim mountains provide. The cable car stands on the high outer ridge of the mountain range and clouds had descended into the bowl. Occasionally wisps of cloud boiled over the ridge, covering us and obstructing our vision. Fortunately, the cloud soon burned off and the famous 360 degree views appeared.

We set out just after 10am and made good progress. The track ascended a short way on the Western ridge line before heading into the ranges, and before long it was possible to see the Hut on the horizon against the back drop of the Aggenstein mountain, which still had its head in the clouds. With few stops and time for photos, our group reached the Hütte.

(Mountain) Location, location, location…

I’m continually astounded by the Austrians ability to construct beautiful Huts in amazing locations. The Bad Kissinger Hütte is one such building. With a proud mountaineering history, and located right on the border, the Hut is well equipped to cater for walkers, mountaineers, climbers and long-distance hikers. At this point our party split into two. My colleague Alex (who was feeling lethargic after climbing 1300 metres up Mt. Daniel the previous day), took half the group into the Hut for a hot lunch whilst my group ascended the Aggenstein mountain.

We started and very quickly the path became steeper, so much so that the final ascent had cables to assist scrambling. Just when I was starting to feel jealous of those enjoying hot lunches at the Hut, the scramble ended and all my thoughts of food were blown away as we reached the summit.

The views were phenomenal…

The flat lands of Germany ended against the sheer face of the Aggenstein. Across the West and South mountain ranges stretched into the distance. As we arrived a group of climbers were ascending the final pitch on the North-East face of the mountain and others were already at the summit enjoying a well-earned lunch. Alpine Choughs were present and scouring for food. The birds had no fear of humans and, by using the thermals running over the mountain, they could stall in the air, motionless and silent by our heads waiting to pick food from our hands. What was initially disconcerting quickly became hilarious as the birds starting landing on our heads, shoulders, knees (but not toes). When we descended to the Bad Kissinger Hütte, right before we regrouped, the Aggenstein treated us to one last piece of nature: a Hummingbird, gathering nectar from the alpine flowers.

After we had regaled the group who had stayed at the Hut with our experience (who may have cared more if their own lunch hadn’t been as fantastic as it sounded) we started descending back to Gran. The descent was long but group morale was high and, with much conversation and laughter, the time flew by.

A stream ran at the bottom of the mountain and there was no hesitation to have a paddle and soothe the feet. It was an ideal finish to the hike.

I noticed the van ride was considerably quieter on the return to Ehrwald than it was in the morning.

A vintage Collett’s Mountain Holidays walking itinerary.