A Perfect Holiday in Grainau: Circular Hike in Wetterstein Range over Hochalm (1.705 m) and Hell Valley Gorge

 // by Polina Peskovsky
A Perfect Holiday in Grainau: Circular Hike in Wetterstein Range over Hochalm (1.705 m) and Hell Valley Gorge
Thursday, 27 May 2021

Our today's hike for experienced alpinists starts and finishes in Hammersbach in Grainau. Along the alpine routes over Kreuzeck and Hochalm, following to the Hupfleitenjoch Saddle and further through the famous Hell Valley Gorge, you would discover the mountains in Grainau in all their beauty and enjoy the most picturesque sites.

7:30 am: My hike starts at the large parking lot in Hammersbach (elevation 760 m). From here you would need about 10 minutes to the start point, the small chapel next to the Hammersbach bus stop. The first sign is on the bridge: „Kreuzeck über den Jägersteig“. The so-called Hunters' Trail ('Jägersteig') is the next turn to the left. The first 100 vertical meters are rather unpleasant: very steep, with broken woodensteps, covered in groundwater and mud. As I finally reach the alpine pasture border, separated with a turnstile, I feel relieved. From here the trail gets dryer and more inviting, although some sections may be very steep.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 01

8:00 am: I've left the first 300 vertical meters behind me and now reached a forest road. After some 200 meters, my 'Jägersteig' leaves the road on the right. From now on it runs through the mountain forest in small curves, until it reaches the saddle next to the Kreuzeck, at the valley station of the Längenfelderbahn Skilift. On the whole route I only meet two hikers, whose voices I hear in the distance before me, and an elderly couple that I leave behind as I reach the saddle.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 05

8:45 am: Now I'm on my final straight, standing on the saddle next to the Kreuzeck. From here I take the 'Hochalmweg', the wide road to the right in the direction of Hochalm. This is really an alpine route for gourmets: on the left you look into the Reintal Valley, the amazing panorama of the Ammergauer Alps extends on the right and the Kreuz-Alm Chalet (1.600 m) and the station of the Kreuzeckbahn Cablecar are behind me on the saddle. The road goes slightly downhill, with the picturesque limestone cliffs with countless grottos and caves on the right. After a brief ascent I have now reached the 'valley' station of the Hochalmbahn Cablecar (1.705 m), which currently looks quite lonely since no hikers are there yet.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 06

9:00 am: The Hochalmbahn is fully automatic. The empty cabin produces a loud greeting for hikers and takes off in the air. However, my goal today is Hupfleitenjoch, not Osterfelder, so I look for the further ascent trail that starts to the right from the cable car station. From here on I enjoy the high alpine nature: the path gets narrow and steep, cows are grazing on both sides. They are chewing alpine flowers and enjoying (hopefully, but probably not at all?) the amazing view of the alpine meadows under the Alpspitze.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 07

9:30 am: After a small saddle, which was the highest point of my hike with approx. 1.850 m altitude, the path goes slightly down. In summer heat this section lies in the shade, thus offering a perfect place for a short refreshing break. In the next 5 minutes I reach the point where my route joins another trail coming from Kreuzeck. After just a few (vertical) meters I meet my colleague Sonja on the Hupfleitenjoch Saddle at the altitude of 1.750 m. Today Sonja is hiking the next stage of the Spitzenwanderweg long-distance trail, which partly coincides with my own route. Next, I am excited on the small detour to the Schwarzenkopf that we can afford today.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 13

9:45 am: Mount Schwarzenkopf (1.818 m) is a small summit covered with mountain pines that greets the passengers of the Alpspitzbahn Cable Car from its idyllic green valley under the Osterfelderkopf. Due to its location, the mountain offers a unique panorama that one can enjoy alone – unlike at the Alpspixx platform. The hill looks extremely attractive from the distance, and today's tour is a suitable opportunity for a brief visit. The ascent from the saddle takes only 10 to 15 minutes, after a couple of cliffs the narrow path gets easy. On the top I am rewarded with a splendid panorama that includes the Alpspitze, the Hell Valley, the Zugspitze, the Waxenstein, the Ammergauer Alps, the Ester Mountains, the Kreuzeck and naturally the whole Loisach Valley with Grainau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and other localities seen from above like in Google Maps. The Hotel am Badersee can be spotted as well, although it's hidden in the forest. Next to the summit I notice the firespot from the 'solstice fire' - a tradition that is annually celebrated in Grainau. The fire on the Schwarzenkopf is a very significant one, as it can be seen from any location in the valley, as well as from any mountain in Grainau.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 24

11:00 am: The sun is shining at its full strength here on the saddle, but the air is still fresh. The weather forecast predicts 32 degrees centigrade in the valley today. We take time to enjoy the view from the Schwarzenkopf and from the saddle, after that we start to descend into the Hell Valley ('Höllental'). Our next goal is the 'Knappenhäuser'. The trail lies partly in the shade, is moderately steep and with trekking sticks is an utter pleasure. We walk along the rock face and enjoy the views of the Hell Valley from above. Below is the Stangensteig Trail and the goods ropeway that supplies the Höllentalangerhütte Chalet. In around 40 minutes we reach the 'Knappenhäuser', which is not open to the public, however, we find two old chairs and sit down on the terrace to briefly enjoy the view of the Zugspitze with a (still) cool drink from our backpacks. Next, we go down to reach the Höllentalangerhütte Chalet around 12:30 pm.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 35

12:30 pm: The Höllentalangerhütte Chalet has really a complicated name for non-Germans, it should be literally translated as the 'mountain cabin in a small meadow in Hell Valley' - German is an incredible language! The chalet is located at the altitude of 1.387 m up in the Hell Valley, and it is typically very full on sunny days. This is exactly what we had expected, so we find a quiet spot with a wooden table under the neighbouring trees for our homemade meal. Many hikers are disappointed by the waiting time at the chalet and come here to take a rest. This shows in fact that it's good to have your own meal in your backpack at any time - so to say, a 'Plan B'. The chalet itself is very modern, it provides high capacities and also meets the modern security standards. Because of this, the atmosphere here is not very Bavarian - sometimes I have a feeling I'm back in Yosemite Valley. The sun shines through the fir trees and it slowly gets hot even at this altitude. However, we are planning to descend into the Hell Valley Gorge after lunch, which is definitely the best place to cool down.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 43

1:30 pm: The trail that connects the chalet to the gorge is very full as well. In fine weather lots of tourists are willing to visit the Hell Valley Gorge, so as they reach the gorge exit, the chalet seems to be pretty close. Many people that are not really experienced with hiking in alpine altitudes choose to go further uphill - and get exhausted. Some sit on the rocks on the wayside and ask if the chalet is still far away. Unfortunately many tourists leave trash lying all around, and that just makes us crazy. It is allowed for everyone to make a picnic in our mountains, but by doing so you take the obligation to pack your trash in your backpack and take it away, instead of letting it pollute our environment! Among other typical objects, we see something new: a couple of face masks lying on the rocks. This is absolutely unacceptable. We take out a plastic bag and gather the trash of those unknown tourists, that would never thank us for doing so. Next, we proceed to enter the Höllentalklamm.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 49

We immediately find ourselves in a shady and wet environment, here and there cold water drips on my head and runs down my back... Brrrr. The Hell Valley Gorge is longer and in my opinion more impressive than the Partnachklamm Gorge, the tunnels are narrower and steeper. And this is probably a good thing that not everyone is able to reach it. We are now curious to see how the coronavirus regulations are met in the gorge. Unlike the Partnachklamm, the Höllentalklamm has no option to organize one-way traffic, as the alternative route Stangensteig, that could be potentially used for that purpose, is not suitable for the broad public. Therefore, due to the oncoming traffic you have to approach others very close, keeping social distance is not possible. In addition to that, some reckless tourists don't even care to put on their face mask as the others approach.

It takes us about an hour to get through the gorge over its numerous stairs, bridges and slippery passages, until the last trace of the summer heat has disappeared.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 61

14:30 Uhr: The final point of the gorge is the so-called 'Entrance Chalet' ('Eingangshütte'), where the entrance fee is charged. Here we take a break to visit the small hut, which offers historic atmosphere and a lovely valley view in the direction of Hammersbach. This is also a chance to get warm after the long hike through the cold wet gorge. From here we need another hour to get down to Grainau. And we manage it exactly at the right moment, as the dark clouds are gathering in the sky after the hot day and we hear the first thunder coming from the north.

badersee blog rundwanderung hochalm hoellental 56

It was a perfect day in Grainau again that stays in our memory - with lots of sun, high mountains, fresh alpine air, the impressive gorge and crystal-clear water.

TIPS & INFOS:

  • Parking: You can park next to the start point on the parking lot for hikers Hammersbach P2 (with parking ticket). Alternatively, you can park at the Kreuzeckbahn for free (as of 04.2021) and take the ascent trail from the Alpspitzbahn valley station to the Kreuzeck.
  • Our hotel guests can spare the parking fee by taking the Eibsee Bus or the Zugspitzbahn train to Hammersbach, or just going on foot (ca. 20-25 min.) 
  • If you are not fit for the ascent with 1.000 vertical meters, just take the Kreuzeckbahn. However, don't think that descent is that easy - this is a long way downhill that will be a challenge for your knees. Take your walking sticks and 2 lt water with you. This route is not for beginners.
  • The Hochalm Chalet is currently closed. However, there are other chalets on the route: the Kreuz-Alm (1.600 m), the Kreuzeckhaus (1.652 m) and the Alpspitze Restaurant up at the Osterfelderkopf Station (2.033 m).
  • If you plan to visit the Höllentalangerhütte (1.387 m), check the opening times including the latest updates before you go. The chalet can be closed due to weather changes or avalanche warning. The normal opening times are the same as the Hell Valley Gorge. In fine weather the chalet can get overcrowded.
  • The Höllentalklamm is normally open from May to October, however, it can be closed due to weather changes or avalanche situation as well. Entrance Fee: adult ticket €5, DAV members €2.
  • To reach the Höllentalangerhütte from Grainau when the gorge is closed, or to avoid high traffic in summer, you can take the 'Stangensteig' Trail as the alternative route (only for trained hikers!). To return to Grainau from the Höllentalangerhütte, on leaving the chalet, take the trail to the right shortly before the gorge entrance.