Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. At 2,962m (9,718 feet), it towers above the surrounding mountains and straddles the border between Germany and Austria.

A choice of cable-cars or a cog railway takes you to the summit: we chose the most direct and quickest of them to ascend from the forest at Eibsee, on the German flank. Once atop the peak, there is a surprisingly large complex to visit, containing the usual restaurants – individually run and marginally different in style according to which side of the border you visit – and a couple of large platforms from which to enjoy the views. Thanks to low-lying cloud and fog in the valleys, the peak was completely clear and so the views in question were pretty spectacular: ranging across Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

The precise summit of the mountain isn’t within the complex, as you would expect. It’s a pinnacle of rock, slightly higher than the viewing platforms and tipped with a golden star atop a mast. Seeing that there was access to the actual summit, and given that the wind- and snow-free weather conditions were perfect, I wanted to make the effort to get there and photograph the view of the summit station from the absolute “top of Germany”.

As you can see from the following photos, it was quite a little adventure.

Once past the warning signs and a gate on the edge of the station itself, I was immediately out onto the rock; using a firm grip on the pinned steel cable to lead myself across a narrow ridge with precipitous drops on either side. Once across this first short challenge, the next was to wait for the way to clear of people returning to the station before ascending metal rails and a climbers’ ladder bolted into the cliff-face. Where many experienced climbers would probably scoff at this, the adrenaline coursed and gave me wobbly knees after the short ascent, after which I could relax again amongst an almost generous few square feet.

Thankful for the fact that I had my proper mountain boots on, as opposed to the trainers and even Hunter wellies which some of the more foolish tourists were using, I continued along the steel cable to pass around the back of the peak rock. A sheer drop of over a thousand metres straight down meant that I took my steady time and kept a firm grasp on the safety cable.

Once atop the summit, I was glad to sit for a few minutes, regain the breath which the mild exertion at this altitude had robbed from me, and enjoy the view. The usual temporary exchange of cameras and favours of photographs for one another ensued and I got my photo taken by a grateful tourist before the nerve-wracking descent of the ladder and return to the safety of the mountain-top station.

I am terrifically pleased that I took a hold of my fear and made the effort to get to the summit itself, as I am by no means a fit mountain climber. It’s a great memory to have, and one which reinforces my gratitude that I can experience such wonderful things. I just have to promise Jo that I won’t do this kind of stunt on a regular basis!

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