Walking in the Austrian Alps

11 May 2018

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!

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!

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