Saturday, 22 July 2017

Kayaking am Finowkanal

A lovely day for kayaking on the canal. And naturally, Teddy joined in!

Here he is helping me with the paddling:

Phew, too much for a little bear. Better to just watch the canal bank go by whilst we do the hard work!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

On Top Of Germany! - The Peak of the Zugspitze

Our journey to the peak of the Zugspitze began at the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bahnhof, next to the regular DB Bahnhof, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, near to the Olympia-Skistadion. Here we caught the cogwheel railway train that would carry us all the way up the steep incline to the Zugspitzplatt skiing lodge, where we then took a cable car to the very summit.

There was a rather overcast sky, so we weren't expecting great views from the summit, and boy were we right.

To be honest, the train journey isn't all that spectacular unless you are a die-hard railway buff. I don't think even Michael Portillo would have been impressed. For most of the ascent the views are obscured by trees, and after the station at Riffelriß the train enters a tunnel so that thereafter all you see is rock walls and darkness (and escape routes should the train break down or catch fire. Not trying to frighten you here folks!). When the cable car from Eibsee opens up (currently under construction), that will be a much more spectacular route.

When you reach Zugspitzplatt it is like stepping into another world, and a cold one at that. The phrase 'lunar landscape' comes to mind, except that there isn't, so far as I am aware, an après-ski restaurant and Biergarten on the Moon.

Neither is there a church on the Moon. Nearby to the restaurant is Germany's highest chapel at around 3000 metres, 'Mariä Heimsuchung' (The visitation of Mary), consecrated in 1981 by the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

Inside, the church is colourfully decorated, which brings some relief from the monochrome grey world outside.

Over a brow of scree is a view of all that remains of a glacier. The glacier, once upon a time before industrialisation global warming, covered the whole of the peak. See it quickly folks before the last bit melts away forever.

In Winter, the plateau is thick with snow and given over to skiing, but even in July there are children sledging on the lower part of the glacier.

Inevitably, somebody has been practising the art of balancing stones on top of each other.

Wandering, and at many points scrambling, around the area is kind of surreal. It feels like you are on another planet, perhaps like the one Matt Damon was stranded on in the film 'Interstellar'. You are fearful that accidentally stepping over an edge like this, you would suddenly find yourself falling through miles of cloud to the planet surface below.

High above the plateau, it even seems to have its own space station, serviced by a cable car. Either that or the hidden lair of a Dr Evil.

Excuse me if I'm getting fanciful. It must be the rarification of oxygen at this level. This is the Schneefernerhaus, and actually used to be a hotel, opened in 1931. On 15th May, 1965 an avalanche crashed down onto the sun terrace of the hotel and claimed 10 lives. It now operates as an Environmental Research Station for altitude, environment and climate research. I can only imagine what it must be like being a scientist working there over a Winter. Though on the plus side, it would be easy enough to pop down on a cable car and go to the restaurant.

You would think that at this altitude there would be little in the way of flora, but you would be wrong. Even here there are alpine flowers blooming. I must find out what species they are and plant them in a rockery in our garden - they might even be able to survive a Berlin Winter!

From the plateau there is another cable car, the Gletscherbahn, to take you to the peak of the Zugspitze. Then, if you are feeling brave, you can climb a via ferrata to the absolute top. I am never brave when it comes to heights. I am especially not brave when there is a sheer three thousand metre drop down hard pointy rocks involved. I am a total pool of custard when metal ladders slippery with mist and people come up behind you and down from above are concerned.

Dear Reader, I did not climb to the top. I got a photo of it though. I console myself that eh, with an impenetrable cloud covering the peak, I wouldn't have seen much anyway. Was I shamed that I saw Chinese women older than me, and wearing nothing in the way of adequate gear, climbing fearlessly up those flimsy-looking ladders? A little bit.

Hey folks! Health and Safety! Can't you read the sign? 'Alpine experience and equipment required'!

Even at this height, there are animals managing to thrive. You can hear their eery calls somewhere in the mist, and then you will see them, Alpine choughs. They are much like the ones you get on top of Mt Snowdon, except these have yellow instead of red beaks.

Because the Zugspitze mountain straddles the border, you could actually return to ground level on the Austrian side, and take a cable car down to Ehrwald, where our apartment was. However, our car had been left in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, so we made the long journey back on the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn again.

First though, one last look at the summit.

Teddy on the Zugspitze

Ted's ambition has always to go to the top of the highest peak in Germany. He has always also wanted to drive a train. Two goals scored in one day then! Here he is at the start of the journey at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, at the controls of the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn!

And so onwards, and up and up and up until --- the highest teddy bear in Germany!

Yes, Ted has made it to the glacier on the top of the Zugspitze. Here he is checking out the local flora:

It's pretty amazing that anything can grow at this altitude. Presumably there must be insects at this height to fertilize them too?

Fearless Ted pushes on, and here he is right at the very pinnacle. You should see the drop just over those railings! (well, imagined drop, as today the summit is surrounded by cloud). He is at around 2,962 metres, which is the highest he has been (not including when on an airplane).

Ted is perhaps not the highest any teddy bear has been, as he finds a friend at the gift shop a bit lower down.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Seebensee - Austrian Tyrol

The breathtakingly picturesque glacial lake of Seebensee is 1,657 metres high in the Tyrol mountains  above our apartment in Ehrwald, Austria.

We reached it by taking the Ehrwalder Almbahn cable car up to the Ehrwalder Alm (Summer pasture), then following a not too demanding walk with panoramic views, up to the lake.

Looking back we could see the Ehrwalder Almbahn station, nestling below the peak of the Zugspitze. The Germany-Austria border runs around the peak in this photo, at the level of the top of the paler coloured scree-slopes.

The Zugspitze remained a presence to our right-hand side, and then behind us, skirted in cloud like something from the Lord of the Rings.

But looking forward, we're headed for just above the middle of this next photo, where there seems to be a horizontal line which is the edge of the flat meadow around Seebensee lake.

The path occasionally afforded panoramic views of the valley below. We could even just make out where our apartment was in Ehrwald.

Halfway up there is, of course, a place to relax for a while over a glass of Bier and maybe an Apfelstrudel. Austria is of course just as civilised as Germany is, when it comes to looking after travellers.

Onwards and upwards! No great trial, except for the heat, and there is even an alternative easier-going path for if you are pushing a buggy!

Finally we reached the Seebensee, and what a gorgeous lake it is!

Sharing the meadow around the lakeside with us were a herd of dairy cows, complete with bells. They appeared pretty contented at this altitude and had lots of fresh lush grass to graze on. I wonder how they feel when Winter starts to creep up, and they will all have to make the journey we did back down to lower pastures, presumably without being able to use the cable cars!

The weather is so changeable up in the mountains, and soon we began to lose the light. But still, a place of beauty looking back to the Zugspitze.

Ehrwald Mountain Rescue

We decided to change our base to the other side of the Zugspitze and on the Austrian side of the Alps. This was mainly because torrential rain was beginning to flood our tent-pitch at Garmisch-Partenkirschen and we needed somewhere with four solid walls to dry out.

We found a small apartment in the town of Ehrwald, which had some spectacular views from the balcony. We were rather surprised though when the Police and ambulance services started taking over the field next to us, and even more so when a rescue helicopter flew in two people who had clearly been plucked from difficulties in the mountains and brought to safety.

We were off up the Zugspitze itself tomorrow, so we were hoping this wouldn't be a rescue that we needed!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Alpspitze and the Wetterstein Mountains

The Zugspitze is Germany's highest mountain and is part of the Wetterstein range that tower over our campsite on the edge of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

We plan on ascending the Zugspitze soon, but for a starter we took the cable car up the nearby Alpspize, rambled around the plateau down to Hochalm, then made our way across to Kreuzeck where we descended by another cable car.

You can get a better idea of the route by looking at this map (external website).

If you are planning on following in our footsteps and go up one cable car and down another AND go up and down the Zugspitze on the Zahnradbahn from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, then we would recommend you ask for a 2-Gipfelpass Kombiticket. It costs 64 € per adult, but is worth it (with thanks to the half-German, half-Welsh woman at the ticket office for the Alpspitzbahn who pointed this out).

At the top of the Alpsitzbahn is a restaurant at 2,080 metres with typical Bratwurst / Bier / Apfelstrudel fare:

However, the main attraction here is to cautiously edge out on two 24 metre long transparent grating walkways arranged in an X 1000 metres over the Höllental valley. If you have a fear for heights, it is quite thrilling. And if you are not a wimp, it is gives you amazing panoramic views of the valley and the Wetterstein mountains.

And here's the view looking directly down!

From here we walked along a well-defined path that was not too strenuous via Hochalm (and some Apfelstrudel and Buttermilch! ) to the Kreuzeck cable car and back down again.

Unfortunately the batteries ran out on my camera, so I can't share the beautiful meadow flowers and stunning mountain views (including real snow!). You'll just have to take my word for that.