Autumn has arrived in the Alps. The trees boast a colourful dress in yellow, orange and red, the highest peaks are already covered with snow, but the days are still sunny and warm. A wonderful time for hikes and tours through our amazing alpine landscape. Before the Höllentalklamm gorge and the surrounding trails get closed for the winter, I will make another tour through the gorge to Hochalm.
Difficulty level: difficult
Tour length: approx. 10,5 km
Ascent: 1100 m
Descent: 0 m
9:00 am: After a good breakfast, my backpack gets full with provisions and warm clothes, so my tour can start now. The weather looks promising, although the morning is still chilly: after the sun comes out, its rays will make me warm. I start in Hammersbach and follow the ascent trail that takes me to the entrance point of the Höllentalklamm gorge. The golden trees around look amazing, so I keep my camera ready. After the first vertical meters my body warms up and any chill I felt before has now vanished.
9:25 am: From now on I have to thank the good Lord for every flat spot on my ascent track. This allows my legs to recover a bit before the muscles have to use all their strength again and my pulse speeds up. The golden-coloured forest on both sides of the path is simply amazing. It's hard to say which season is my favourite - nature shows its most beautiful side at any time of the year. The rushing Hammersbach torrent below is incredibly beautiful as well. In small waterfalls, the water flows down into the valley over giant boulders. And I haven't even reached the Höllentalklamm, the top highlight on this trail.
10:00 am: As I reach the gorge entrance, the trail is still deserted - not so many hikers are out at this early morning hour. Here I pay the entrance fee and enter the fantastic world of the Höllentalklamm. It feels quite chilly inside the gorge after I had really warmed up on the way to the entrance, so I put on my fleece pullover.
10:10 am: The Höllentalklamm gorge is something to enjoy. I move slowly along the narrow path that takes visitors along the gorge. The roaring of the water is overwhelming, the pools under the waterfalls are so turquoise blue that you would want to jump in for a swim. The grey rocks look threatening - or sometimes protective. The impressive natural landscape is matched with brilliant human architecture: the trail is made of stairs, bridges and tunnels along the long route that is simply cut into the rock.
10:15 am: The fact that tourists and hikers from all over the world can walk through the gorge so easily today is the merit of Adolf Zoeppritz and several local mountain guides from Zugspitze area, who used their engineering skills to measure and explore the gorge as early as the beginning of the 1900s. After almost 4 years of work, the Höllentalklamm was opened for the public on 15.08.1905. To ensure that the gorge remains accessible over time, considerable work is required every year to maintain the trails and remove the enormous masses of snow (up to 70 m). The removable bridges and catwalks have to be installed and dismantled depending on the season, and safety is checked on a regular basis. This work is financed by the entrance fee.
10:20 am: The gorge came to exist millions of years ago. The hard limestone layers, which were deposited on the seabed during the middle Triassic period about 240 million years ago, were later folded during the formation of the Alps and later deeply cut and hollowed out by the rain and melt water of the Hammersbach stream over time to a typical gorge formation. The local name 'Höllental' (Hell Valley) is quite misleading, as it actually goes back to the word 'Höhle' (cave), not to a mystical legend about the origin of the gorge as you might think. That's really a pity - an exciting legend is certainly something everyone loves to hear.
10:30 am: Huge masses of water rush down from the rocks into the gorge. Cold water drips from above, sometimes you have to pass small waterfalls quickly if you don't want to get too wet. The rock floor is damp, but fortunately not slippery. The trail is covered with pools of water and the tunnels are so dark that sometimes you can hardly see your hand in front of your eyes. Therefore, sturdy shoes are a good idea. As I make my way through the gorge, it's still deserted at this early hour, as most hikers are still on their way to Grainau.
10:50 am: Every gorge has an end, so at some point I reach the exit. The rocks step aside from the water once again and make more room for the Hammersbach torrent. It gets much warmer, so it's the perfect moment for the first break on my hike. A cup of hot tea warms me up inside after the freezing cold in the gorge.
11:05 am: It is still too cold for a longer break. In autumn the sun doesn't reach deep enough into the gorge to make the rocks warm. Now I should be off to the Höllentalangerhütte chalet, the next destination on my tour. The path is very relaxed at first, but in a few minutes I reach the steep climb that takes me to the top. My muscles start screaming again, wondering why all this is happening to them, and I clearly feel the pulse beat on my neck. The warming tea is no longer relevant, I'd rather have a cold drink instead. But all this doesn't matter, I chose the tour myself, so there I go, following the steep hairpin bends, stopping to take a deep breath from time to time and to get ready for the next stretch. And when I look around, I know that the effort and strain are worth it anyway.
11:40 am: I am absolutely happy when I finally reach the top and the path gets level again. Oh thank you, dear nature, for giving me a break! My pace gets steady again, the muscles get relieved from pain, and the pulse calms down. This feels much better, and the last stretch on the path to the Höllentalangerhütte is indeed a very pleasant one.
11:50 am: As I reach the Höllentalangerhütte chalet, it is already closed for the winter. So I take a seat on the steps, somewhat sheltered from the wind, and instead of a hot tea, I get a cold 'Radler' out of my rucksack. That feels really good now. Add a good snack to this, and the energy is back again. The passing hikers get envious about my drink: "Where did you get a beer?", "Cheers! Oh, we'd love to have one as well...", "A great idea!" When you stand in front of a closed chalet craving for a cool beer, it feels frustrating. And after this has happened to me many times, I always have one in my backpack.
12:25 pm: The break was just the right thing for me, so now I am ready for the next part of the trail. The 'Knappenhäuser' are my next destination. After the break, my legs feel light again and the first part of the section is easy. I wish it could stay like that. Soon I reach the higher section of the trail, from this point I can look down into the valley that I have just left. I can exactly make out the ascent trail with the hairpin bends that I just walked up to the Höllentalangerhütte a short time ago. Now I can also see the 'Knappenhäuser' - they are still very small, but I have them in front of my eyes.
12:45 pm: The view now extends far out over Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberau. I already have lots of vertical meters behind me and there are still quite a few to climb today. But compared to my starting point in Grainau, I have gained an impressive altitude, so I'm quite proud of my today's achievement and I encourage myself for the final stretch.
1:30 pm: The further part of the trail to 'Knappenhäuser' is steeper and it also brings about noticeably more rocks and stones. My feet feel heavy again, and walking gets more strenuous. The trail is partly secured with a rope, although it is quite easy to walk. The weather remains dry and the route, which is in fact one of the most popular hiking trails in the Zugspitze region, is still deserted. As I reach the 'Knappenhäuser', I discover a table and a chair that invite for a short break. Now it's time to have another drink from my backpack and look back at the path I have now left behind.
1:35 pm: My backpack is strapped again and off we go. The Hupfleitenjoch saddle, my next destination, is in sight. According to the signpost, the Kreuzeckbahn via the Hupfleitenjoch is still 1 hour and 15 minutes walk away. It's a pity that the signpost doesn't say how far it is to Hochalm. Anyway, 1 hour and 15 minutes sounds good, since most of the way is definitely behind me and the actual goal is getting closer.
2:00 pm: But the path to the Hupfleitenjoch saddle is tough, especially on the last stretch. Once again, my body starts to protest, and I think again why I actually go through all this strain in my free time. Why couldn't I just sit on my balcony and enjoy the alpine panorama from below? Now I'm trudging up here, out of breath, sweaty - and I haven't even reached the end of the trail yet. In the meanwhile, the 1 hour 15 minutes sounded better than it actually was. I sit down on the wooden steps in the middle of the route and look back at the path I've left behind. More hikers are now coming my way. Some have already overtaken me on the trail. No matter - the route is the goal. I have to discover my own tempo for hiking.
2:20 pm: I did it. I'm standing up at the Hupfleitenjoch saddle, smiling happily, even though this part was really hard for me. But now I've left this behind me and I actually expect that at some point I will need to go downhill. So far, it has always been an uphill trail. While I stand at the saddle and enjoy the view, other hikers are trudging up here. They don't look any happier than me, so the climb seems to be strenuous for them too. So probably I'm not alone in feeling that way. But once I've reached the top, the exhaustion disappears in no time.
2:35 pm: I've enjoyed the view from above, had another snack and more to drink for an energy boost, so now I'm ready to go again. It would be good to see where my trail continues - from Grainau you can easily make out the 'Knappenhäuser' on the rocks. A hiking sign informs me that I still have a 1 hour walk ahead of me to Hochalm. In the meanwhile it would only take 45 minutes to reach Kreuzeck. Should I just walk to Kreuzeck? That's 15 minutes less. No, I'll go to Hochalm. A glance in the direction of the sign arrow tells me that, although it goes downhill at first, another climb awaits me on the other side. I had actually hoped that Hupfleitenjoch was the last climb. What a pity.
3:20 pm: After fighting my way up the last climb I'm just fed up with uphill runs. It's just incredible what my leg muscles did today! But the scenery is simply breathtaking, with all the panoramic views I enjoyed on the way up here. However, now I'm looking forward to a ride up to Osterfelderkopf with the Hochalmbahn cablecar and then a relaxed return to the valley with the Alpspitzbahn. Before that, I still have to walk a bit to reach Hochalm. Thank goodness it's only downhill!
3:40 pm: The last part of the trail is really relaxing, I reach Hochalm almost effortless. The cablecar leaves shortly after, so I don't even have to wait long. After the hike, which took quite a bit of my energy but was overwhelmingly impressive, the alpine restaurant at the Alpspitzbahn top station is an inviting option with a cool drink and a delicious meal. And then it goes down with the cablecar. I will definitely walk this trail a few more times, possibly at different seasons. But for now, winter is coming and before I come here once again, it's time for a nice winter break.
Tips & Infos:
- Route length: approx. 10.5 km
- Duration without breaks: approx. 4 hours 15 minutes to 5 hours
- Altitude difference: approx. 1,100 vertical meters
- Difficulty: medium to difficult, surefootedness and head for heights required, sturdy shoes and hiking poles are critical
- The Höllentalklamm gorge is open from late in May till the end of October, depending on the weather and snow conditions. When the Höllentalklamm is closed, you can sometimes take the upper Stangensteig trail. However, the Stangensteig is only for experienced hikers and very weather-dependent. Please mind that bridges and other infrastructure in the Höllental area including Hupfleitenjoch and Rinderscharte gets dismantled for the winter months early in November and will be installed again shortly before the Höllentalangerhütte opening late in May.
- It is possible to start in the opposite direction, for example from Kreuzeck down to Hammersbach (Spitzenwanderweg Section 8), or try out the circular hike without cablecar support from Hammersbach to Kreuzeck, Hochalm and then through the Höllentalklamm back to Grainau.
- Refreshment stops: Höllentalangerhütte, Höllentaleingangshütte (the so-called Entrance Chalet at the gorge), Berggasthof Kreuzeck or Restaurant Alpspitze. Check the opening times before you go.
- Start early if you intend to get the cablecar down to the valley. Check the opening times here.
- Public transport from the Hotel am Badersee: take the Eibsee bus to Hammersbach. There is also a train connection by Zugspitzbahn between the Alpspitzbahn base station and Grainau-Badersee station.
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