The hike to the Höllentalangerhütte via the Stangensteig Trail is definitely one of the most picturesque alpine treks in Grainau. The route from Hammersbach through the Hell Valley is known to many mountaineers who climbed Mount Zugspitze on foot. Our hike took place late in May 2019, when the upper part of the route was still partly under the snow.
Difficulty level: moderate to difficult
Tour length: approx. 11 km (round trip)
Ascent: 970 m
Descent: 970 m
The Stangensteig trail is generally accessible when the Höllentalklamm is closed. However, you have to pay close attention to the weather and avalanche situation. The Hell Valley is extremely apt for avalanches due to its steep walls. In spring the snow doesn't melt so quickly in the narrow high valley and avalanches often destroy the footpaths. From November to mid-May, the bridges and wire rope belays on the entire routes between the Höllentalangerhütte and Osterfelderkopf are dismantled by the German Alpine Club (DAV). For this reason, in spring the trail is normally accessible from mid-May at the earliest. Before the Höllentalangerhütte chalet opens, the paths get cleared and set up again.
Even in summer, the danger of falling rocks and flooding is much higher up in the Höllental than on many other mountain routes. The trail is only for experienced hikers who have a head for heights. You can find our safety recommendations for the hiking season here.
10:30 am: The hike starts at the large parking lot in Hammersbach, from here you walk up the road to the bus stop "Hammersbach". The weather looks rather changeable today, now and then I feel raindrops on my skin, however, on the ascent path light rain feels rather refreshing. Beech trees cover the path from above, their fresh lush foliage frames the view into the valley towards Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
11:30 am: It takes us an hour to reach the fork to the Stangensteig trail: the gorge entrance is on the left, but the gorge is closed for tourists until late in May, so we take the right route. The trail gets steep at first, but comes to a narrow flat bench after some 10 minutes. In the abyss on the left, water rushes from the Höllental Gorge into the Hammersbach stream. Fortunately, we have a head for heights and there is also a safety rope on the right. Lovely alpine flowers bloom on the rock face: the high alpine 'Primula auricula', the protected 'Soldanella' snowbell and many others.
Beside its value for mountaineering, the Stangensteig trail was historically of great economic significance for the Zugspitze area. As early as in the 15th century Hammersbach was already a mining area. In the 1840s, lead and zinc were mined here in an upward mine. This led to the construction of the miners' shelter, the 'Knappenhäuser', a wooden bridge over the gorge, and also the Stangensteig, which served to transport the ore in summer. At this altitude, avalanche danger is quite typical, even as late as July, so two tunnels were drilled in the most dangerous spots, which you can still discover today (be careful - the tunnels are extremely slippery, headlamps strongly recommended!).
Next, the scientists discovered that the high alpine mining area at Hammersbach contained molybdenum - a metal used in steel hardening that became increasingly valuable in the times of World War I. In fact, the Höllental mine was the only area where molybdenum was found on the entire territory of the German Reich! However, after the War Ministry in Berlin had operated the mine for 3 years from 1916 at enormous expense, only 17 tonnes of molybdenum could be extracted. The remains of the mine can still be found next to the gorge entrance, while the 'Knappenhäuser' are a well-known name for hikers between the Kreuzeck and Osterfelderkopf.
11:50 am: As we reach the end of the ascent, we continue through the alpine forest slightly downwards along the edge of the Höllentalklamm gorge to the iron bridge, which offers a breathtaking view into the gorge. Although the trail flattens out a bit and is easy to walk, there is a safety wire rope here as well - on the right the water rushes deep below and the slope is quite steep.
12:15 pm: Shortly after noon we reach the point where we cross the valley floor. From here it goes on the final ascent to the Höllentalangerhütte chalet. After the snowy winter this year, the valley pit is full of avalanche snow, which is up to 5 metres deep and has become heavy and crumbly due to warm air temperatures. The mighty snow mass has developed dangerous metre-deep cracks that we now have to cross. While jumping over, I can hear the torrent rushing dangerously under the snow. Thank God it's over!
Next, we reach the water power plant of the Höllentalangerhütte chalet. The chalet itself was completely rebuilt in 2015 using the latest sustainable technologies. In the past, the power was supplied from the two diesel generators that required 15,000 to 18,000 litres of fuel per season, the fuel had to be transported by cable car. After the renovation, 100% of the energy comes from the new water power plant. And the old Höllentalangerhütte with its historical furnishings was rebuilt in the Alpine Museum in Munich.
We go ahead. The winter of 2018-2019 was extremely snowy, so avalanche damage is clearly visible here. The place looks like after a tornado: torn trees and huge slabs of rock block the way. Slowly, we fight our way through and after a few vertical metres we reach a vast snow field that apparently marks the current snow line.
We don't have our skis with us, but fortunately the snow is quite dense, so we can walk without sinking in with every step. Some areas are already free of snow, here the mountain pines and other small trees lie flat on the ground, the reason being apparently the heavy avalanche snow sliding down in the last months. Thus, the snow has deprived the chamois found at these altitudes of their most important food sources. To ensure that the poor animals survive the winter, the hunters had to scatter hay from the helicopter. Some remains of the hay can be seen here and there on the snow surface.
12:45 pm: We finally reach the Höllentalangerhütte (1,387 m above sea level) that is still closed at this time of the year. No other hikers are there, so we enjoy our snack in peace. Suddenly the first slight sound of thunder comes from the distance. A thunderstorm high up in the mountains amid the snow masses doesn't really sound great, so we grab our things and just run back into the valley before it's too late!
1:00 pm: We quickly walk the whole way back, fortunately the weather is still stable and relatively dry. As we reach the tree line again, we notice that the forest has become very quiet - not a single bird is singing! A bad sign. But maybe we would still manage to get back to the car before the storm comes...
2:30 pm: Down where the route forks, we take the path to the left this time and race down through the so-called Legendary Forest ('Sagenhafter Wald') to the parking lot. Now it's getting serious: there comes a deafening thunder just next to us, and immediately after that the rain pours down on our heads through the thicket. We run downhill as fast as we can, I only keep praying not to slip over a tree root.
3:00 pm: It feels great to sit in the car and relax. The clothes are dripping and making the seats wet. And then my friend asks if we are going for a beer now... Silly question, brrr. No beer today. Maybe a punch?
Tips & Infos:
- Höllentalangerhütte Chalet - German Alpine Club
- If you intend to stay overnight at the Höllentalangerhütte chalet, be prepared to book well in advance.
- For less experienced hikers, the route via the Höllentalklamm is recommended. Please note the opening times: the gorge is only open from late in May till October. Check here for detailed info.
- Before you start: Alps for Dummies - our tips on safety and planning in the Badersee blog
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