Limestone walls filled with finger size divots lined the leaf lain trail. The sun crept through the trees, glittering the smooth walls and tree trunks. The breeze calmly blew through the forest as travelers headed to the popular via ferrata that was near by. As for my friends and I, we wanted to climb the beautiful cliffs splattered with green moss without any crowds, pre-bolted steel ropes or any other nuisances. We just wanted to embrace the pure nature and climb.
It was about 5:45 P.M. when we got off work on Friday. One of my best friends Blue, another good friend Brandon and I had planned a trip up to Höhenglücksteig where we would meet up with a friend I’ve known as long as I could remember, David. David was going to come out the following day, but Blue, Brandon and I decided we would leave the night prior and just sleep in the Jeep until Saturday morning when David arrived.
Around 6 P.M. Friday night we began our drive to Höhenglücksteig. The weather was definitely not the greatest to say the least. Winds were high and rain was sideways, clouds grouped as a blanket making it dark and feeling later than it actually was. It was a pretty cool evening which was unusual for July, but we were determined to climb and the forecast read all clear for the rest of the weekend. Even David had his doubts about coming.
On our way to the Corn field surrounded parking area, with the cell phone service cutting in and out, I remember receiving a text message from David. He stated he was unsure if he was coming due to the weather, but asked if we had still planned on going. I remember telling him it was really up to him if he wanted to come or not and that there were no hard feelings if he didn’t show up, but we were already on our way and we were going to climb regardless. David let us know that in the morning he would give us an answer and that was all we heard from him until the next day.
After an hour of driving through small towns, weaving in and out of tiny roads we were almost to our destination. The parking area was what looked like a corn field on our google maps and unsure really what we were doing trusted the map and location given to us by a friend. Blue and I laughed joking that we might get murdered as at the time the creepy clowns were a big rise in the states, luckily for us we were no where near the states and the only worries we had were getting stuck in the glue like mud.
We got situated, drank and played cards most the night. Talked about what routes we wanted to climb as we flipped through our Frankenjura route book. We found a couple routes that look decent and marked them for the nexts days excursions and then attempted to pass out for the night in the cramped jeep.
The weather breathed softly and a little chilly, the rain had ceased. We slowly slugged out of the cramped jeep and began grabbing our Jetboils. We made coffee and began gathering our gear together and all of a sudden here comes David scooting along in his red little half van half car. He had made it out to join us on our little climbing journey, and personally I was excited as I have known David for as long as I can remember. He was basically family to me.
We began walking through the spread out forest and unsure of the route followed one of the many trails that lead upward. After about a ten minute walk from the parking area we noticed some cliffs that were bare of any people. We quickly made our way to these cliffs and then began getting our gear on to ascend them.
It was gorgeous out as the sun beamed through the trees glittering the ground with sunlight. David agreed to go first, I belayed him and we began climbing like monkeys on stone. It was enjoyable to be in the great outdoors.
David lead the first route and no one else followed, because he had told us up top was extremely mossy and the wall runs out. We agreed to move further down the wall and try a second route where I lead and David belayed this time. I was excited to be on the wall of a cliff. It made me feel at home.
As we each ascended then descended, we’d “pay for our ride” a term climbers use meaning once you’ve climbed you’re up on belay. It was a good time and we all made it up the second route.(David climbing the second route)
The third route was the last route. It was a harder route. David made it up, I made it until the crux, or hardest sequence of moves, Blue made it partially Along with Brandon. The finger holds had won and worn us out but it was a good time any way.
(Blue on the third Route, practice lead, right before the crux)
Once we finished we packed our gear and tiredly walked back to the vehicles. we talked with David about Germany, since he spoke German and lived hear long than us, about things to do and the culture. After about a good 5-6 hours of climbing it was time to call it a day. We said goodbye to David and then headed off to a new adventure.
It was a warm day as the sun beat down on the forest right outside Königstein. Peacefulness filled the air with chirps from birds and rustling of leaves in the breeze. The trees had a blanket of moss that surrounded their roots and lead to the mouth of the cave. Then everything changed. Darkness and crisp air stung our faces. The high pitch squeal of bats shuttered around as they flew out into the sunlight then scampered back into their dark hole. The Grottë’s mouth called for us and we went.
We arrived to The Grottë after driving down narrow pothole filled roads. The parking area was nothing more than what looked like a campsite. We got out of the car and read the signs written in German which had colored photos, arrows and other symbols to distinguish different routes. None of us read German, but we all understood the symbols and knew to follow the arrow pointing with the word “GROTTË” on it.
We started up the path with light packs and two harnesses. Three of us were heading to the cave and I was the only one who knew how to belay people down into the cave. Luckily I knew how to repel as well so getting into the gave was not an issue. We got to the mouth within five minutes and noticed a huge temperature change. It was hot and sunny right outside the entrance, but once we got into the entrance the cold air swooped around us and chilled us to the bone forcing us to put our sweatshirts on.
Once we were at the entrance we got ready to go down by sliding into our harnesses and tying a figure 8 knot into one person and clipping an ATC device to myself so I could lower them into the cave. We looked down and it was dark, not too sure how far down we had to go I slowly lowered Jessie, the first man into the cave until he reached the bottom about 20 meters in. Once he was out of the harness I pulled the harness up so Rich could get in it and I could lower him down. I then repelled down into the dark abyss and joined them on the adventure.
The cave was dark and we walked around trying to find the entrance that lead us deeper into this abyss. After climbing over rocks and sliding under we finally found a crawl space that lead to what looked like a massive hallway that was made for a castle. There were rooms and shelves everywhere. We explored them all until we came to another crawl space. We followed this one too and it lead to another enormous hallway with more rooms and crawl spaces.
In awe we took turns going around and leading the way. Bats plastered the walls like decorations and the stone dripped water like leaking faucets. It was extremely quiet and everything echoed. We were amazed by the darkness and beauty that was around us, even if it was in a cave there was still beauty to be found. The rock formations like delicate furniture or the ceiling with rocks that hung like icicles, no matter what it was, it was unique and brought a distinct comfort while we were in the cave
(A bat sitting on the wall of one of the crawl spaces we were crawling in)
Jessie found a slit in one of the rooms that lead down and decided he wanted to lead it going down. I had no problem with this and hooked him up to the rope so I could Belay him into the crevasse. As he went down he gave us a step by step description of what was going on because we could not see him once he went over the ledge. He found a slide that went down deeper into the cave, but was a little to sketched out to try to go down so I offered to try it out. We switched places and with a quick crash course he was ready to belay.
I went to the edge of the stone crevasse and swung my body over the ledge until my toes were able to stand on something, anything. I looked down the slide like tunnel and figured I’d give it a try. Although I couldn’t see Jessie or Rich, I could hear them and that was good enough comfort for me. I began sliding down the tunnel slowly as Jessie let slack into the rope and noticed it was getting narrower and narrower. I didn’t think it was a good idea for us to attempt it, because it would have been hard for us to get out had this been a dead end. (Looking up while in the crevasse to where Rich and Jessie were)
(Halfway down the tunnel Jessie had found before I decided it was too risky.)
Once I climbed back up we decided to see what else there was and crawled through more crawl spaces and massive hallways. We found a crawl space that lead us to a more exploratory room. We climbed over rocks and through tunnels until we realized they were all dead ends. A plaque hung on the wall of the cave with a name written on it stating, “IN THIS ROOM HANS HIMMEL WAS FOUND DEAD”. If that wasn’t creepy, I wasn’t really sure what was. It wasn’t in German, but in English and French. We decided after being in the cave for three hours it was time to go.
We headed back in the direction in which we believed we had come from, but after crawling through crawl spaces we realized we were now lost. We were going from hallway to hallway, but none of us panicked, it was actually the opposite, we found humor in our situation. We laughed about it and continue to try to find the way out. After 45 minutes of not finding It and seeming we were going in a circle Rich began to stack rocks as markers for where we had gone. (Rich climbing out of one of the crawl spaces)
Once we had crossed back through six crawl spaces, three hallways and climber over two shelves, we were back to similar rock formations that we had seen when we first got into the cave. We walked around looking for the final crawl space out and after climbing up and over some archers we had found it! It was time to go home and we were all excited that we were not going to end up like Hans Himmel.
One by one we went through the crawl space and saw the light beaming in again. We waiting around a little longer climbing inside the cave until the fifth hour of being in the cave approached. It was now time to climb out and that’s what we did. Rich climbed up first, I followed second and Jessie came up last. It was a great time down in the Grottë and I cannot wait to return.
(The exit out of the cave, daylight beaming in, a beautiful sight.)
The sky’s were gray and gloomy, the town seemed empty. Depression filled the air and it was eerily silent all around. Alone, quiet and miserable. Nothing could be said about this place, no words could describe the unbearable actions committed against humanity. It was a home to monsters and a prison to the innocent. The morbid actions may not take place anymore, but the memories are written in stone and carved from the dead still remain. Welcome to Flossenbürg Concentration Camp.
As I entered the town of Flossenbürg, my first time, I noticed the streets were empty. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but I did not expect it to be quiet on a Sunday afternoon. We searched around for the camp and drove up a steep winding road through the town. We parked our car and got out, no more than observing the desolation of this once torture camp.
As the prisoners were brought to the front of the concentration camp. A tall stone structure with three windows overlooking the camp. The SS headquarters quartered ninety SS soldiers for the entire Flossenbürg camp. The headquarter’s held the prisoner’s log and other documents about the prisoners and the history of some of the German prisoners that were forced into the labor camp.
(SS Headquarters second trip to Flossenbürg Concentration Camp)
Next place the prisoners would encounter what the roll-call ground that sat in between the old rugged kitchen and laundry room. They were two long white stone buildings that sat somber in appearance. They have since been refurbished and turned into museums. These buildings now tell the story of what a daily life is like in the despondent camp.
(Kitchen of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp first trip) (Laundry Room of the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp)
The Laundry Room was more than what an average person would think. It was a place of torture before being bathed in the showers by monstrous hands. During one of our trips we talked to an older couple. They had told stories that their parents had told them about the laundry room was used to brutally beat prisoners almost to the point of death. Some prisoners have been so severely beaten that they were never able to recover from the harsh beatings. They would then forcefully shave their heads sometimes cutting the prisoners and then bath them in showers which were scorching hot and other times ice cold. The laundry room was a torture chamber and it was feared to go into the building. Their striped pajamas would be given here and then off to the barracks the dispirited prisoner would go.
Death was welcomed by the SS in this lab camp. The town of Flossenbürg is rich in granite and many of the prisoners were forced to mine the granite. Sometimes the lab was so intense that prisoners would fall dead. If this did not kill you, random shootings from the guards and lethal injection was not a surprise in the camp. Many diseases began to crawl through the camp and would not be treated so they would die from the sickness. Death striving guards over the prisoners like the grim reaper ready to take their souls at any minute.
There were so many people dying during the cremation of the crematorium. Today the ashes of many still remains with grass growing and being named ” The Pyramid of Ashes “. Diedrich Bonhoeffer Who the gallows are no longer around. We do not know for sure if he was buried or hung, but it is assumed he was buried as many Germans were. Diedrich Bonhoeffer was hung up in this brightly filled camp on April 9th, 1945.
(Pyramid of Ashes) (The ovens in the crematorium) (The Pyramid of Ashes with Crematorium in the background as a guard tower over looks them.)
The prisoner quarters or barracks were pieced together with wood and are no longer around today. They run uphill and break away from the cold. Hypothermia, pneumonia, bronchitis and other sicknesses would be the prisoners and treatment nowhere to be found. (The Barracks in the 1940’s show the barracks on the left side of the gate) (Today in 2018 What’s left over the SS headquarters on the left, behind the HQ is the cantina or as we know it, cafeteria for the SS Soldiers and Guards , the kitchen with the homes behind the hill, the laundry room In the middle and the remaining detention barracks or “Arrest building”, where prisoners such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his comrades would have stayed.) (A comparison of then and now)
Flossenbürg was a torture camp and a hell for those who survived and remembered it. The United States arrived and liberated the camp on April 23rd, 1945 with troops from the 97th Infantry Division and the 90th Infantry Division. Bonhoeffer and many others may have been spared. The lives that were lost were remembered by the remains of today. Words can not describe the darkness. I would not fully understand what they were going through unless.
(A final look)
Towering mountains, stone giants, guarded the town as I entered through a cement road that followed along a peaceful river. The mountains set the scene for this festive outdoors town. When the sky is grey and dark the mountains stand strong against the winds and rain. When it’s sunny, they encourage people to come into their presence and explore their glaciers, crevasses, faces and foot hills. The tallest mountain in Germany stands on the boarder mighty, yet absolutely astonishing as well.
I was lucky enough on my second trip up to Garmisch to climb the overwhelming king known as the Zugspitze. It started in early August of 2017. A friend of mine, Ryan, had never climbed a mountain before and had this dream to one day climb a mountain. I proposed the idea that I would lead the climb if he wanted to not just climb a mountain, but climb the tallest most majestic mountain in Germany. With no hesitation he said, “Yes!”
We were excited. We had talked with two other friends who had also agreed to go, but the weather report showed thunderstorms with high winds and rain. They ended up deciding to go to Berlin for Comic-con, but Ryan was not backing out. He was all in and ready to adventure out into what he had called the unknown. So we double checked our gear, packed our bags, loaded up into his car and drove the four hour trip to the awe inspiring Garmisch Partenkirchen.
Once in Garmisch we ended up going to a small shop and renting gear for Ryan. The gear consisted of a via Ferrata , helmet, ice axe and pair of crampons. We then made our way to the parking lot where we had planned on camping and scouted out the trail. It was an eventful time and as we entered the mouth of the Höllental trail we were welcomed with a nice little creek and a beautiful farm surrounded by mountains. They towered over like great kings with a blanket of green pines. The sky had clouds but the sun peaked through making its presence a warming gift.
Once we had finished our little scout out, we headed back to the car and went to bed as we knew our endeavors for the next day would begin early, 3 A.M., but we were excited and called it a day around 4 P.M. As we slept through the night wind and rain pounded the car with great force waking us up constantly and making us want to reconsider climbing this beast. 3 A.M. snuck up like a robber in the night and Ryan, wide awake, woke me up asking if I was ready to climb. I peaked out of my sleeping bag opened the door and was punched in the face with a blast of wind and needle like rain. I slammed the door and said, “No way man! Not in this weather, wake me up in an hour and we will see.”
Ryan didn’t reply, but later expressed he had frustrations about my response. He said he knew I was the experienced one though and also knew not to argue with me. He was frustrated, almost angry that our trip might become nonexistent because of the weather, but I explained to him that’s a part of the adventure sometimes it’s just not possible.
Around 4 A.M. he woke me up again asking if I was ready. Again I opened the door there was a slight breeze with light rain. I looked at him and smiled, it was time to climb this beautiful peak. We grabbed our bags, repaid for parking, verified our gear and at 4:30 A.M. we were on our way with headlamps beaming in the dark. Ryan was excited and you could tell by the pep in his step and the giant smile on his face.
Once we started on the trail we were faced with somewhat steep switch backs. Ryan was so excited he raced up these winding zig zags like a mountain goat running up a cliff from its prey. I on the other hand, took my time knowing it was only the beginning and terrain later on would become even more difficult and draining. The switch backs ended at an old hut which turned into a road which lead to the entrance of what seemed to be a cave. Now, it was fairly dark and all we could see was a gate leading into the cave and an old little hut. We waited, unsure if we could enter until three lights popped out from behind us. We observed what they were going to do, and watched them just simply push it open and go through.
I looked at Ryan and shook my head, then we followed the leader pushing the gate and entering the unknown. We had found ourselves in a lit up and very wet gorge. Now you might think I’m just referring to the ground, no I mean waterfalls from the roof of the rocky path, waterfalls from the sides, streams flowing down the path and splashes with mist drenching us and chilling us to the bone. One thing we had not anticipated in our little adventure, but the views and sights were spectacular. It was a miserable beauty, but a beauty nonetheless.
When we exited the gorge the weather had cleared up, it was just before day break as rays from the sun were able to be seen from behind the mountains. The wind had faded, the rain was no more, it was simply a gorgeous view of mountains surrounding a valley in which we were standing in. We were about to start going up hill from the gorge again when we noticed scattered little Lizards across the trail. At the time we had no idea what these lizards were but come to find out later, they were alpine salamanders. Ryan and I played hop scotch up the sandy and rocky trail avoiding these lizards who just sat there and stared, not worried about any dangers.
Eventually the path evened out, the salamanders vanished and the forest and mountains around us rang of bells. Confused we would look around for anything that was ringing. The bells sounded like that of a cows bell. No matter how hard we scanned the walls, we saw absolutely nothing, and continued walking along the path which lead us to the Höllentangerhutte, a cabin in the alps which was where most climbers stayed the night so they wouldn’t have to make the climb in a single day as Ryan and I were doing. We saw as the climbers were waking up and drinking coffee on the hutte’s deck, we decided not to stop in and continued on our way up to the first ferrata.
Now, let me give a quick explanation of what a ferrata is. A Via Ferrata is a route which consists of a bolted cable railing along a path, usually used on very steep and exposed faces. A Via Ferrata set up consists of a loop where you connect to your harness, two shock absorbing lanyards with a carabiner attached to each shock absorbing lanyard. The purpose of this is you will have one Carabiner attached to the wall at all times, but if you can, it is highly recommended to have both attached. As you come to where the steel rope is bolted, you unhook one and hook it to the the other side and move the other one over.
Once we arrived at the ferrata there was a mom and her son gearing up to go first. You might be thinking of an older kid, but no, this kid was six years old. We talked to them and exchanged stories of past climbs, Ryan, who had never climbed of any sort, looked dazed and in awe of the stories we were sharing. This six year old boy had climbed up the Zugspitze his first time at the age of four and was an avid rock climber. We let them go first once we had finished talking, even though they had offered to let us go. We mainly let them go because we didn’t know the trail, although we had a map, we wanted to be on the safe side.
We followed the trail from the Ferrata route and scrambled up rocks until we got to the next Ferrata route. This route was one of my favorite parts of the climb. It consisted of rusty old rods that stuck out of a cliff that was well over a hundred feet above any flat surface. Ryan was sketched out so I told him I would go first and he followed. Once he started across he was in disbelief, but at the same time was in awe and excitement.
We had finally crossed the rods and were now headed up to the glacier where we then spent two hours climbing vertical cliffs via a Ferrata route. As we put our Via Ferrata set ups back into our bags the bells we had heard earlier in the day started up again. We looked around and finally caught sight of what it was. It was goats that roamed the mountains with bells around their necks. These goats were fearless as they stood and ran up the side of cliffs using their suction cupped hooves to get around. We watched them play for about five minutes before we started on our way again towards the glacier.
The trail that lead to the glacier was made of shale, very loose rock that broke off and slid down the steep slope to our left. We hadn’t taken any major breaks and our first major break would be on the glacier, 10-15 minutes. It probably Seems pretty short, but I did not want to approach this glacier with Lactic Acid build up in my thighs. We raced across the shale and onto the glacier which had rocks sticking up through the ice. This place seemed to be a pretty decent place to switch into our crampons, also known as ice cleats, and quickly scarf down some spam and mixed nuts. At the 8 minute mark I told Ryan it was time to change into our crampons if he wished to wear them, he acknowledged and continue eating. I was a little annoyed as the 14 minutes approached he was still sitting and eating and no crampons on, or any place in sight.
“Ryan… you ready?” I asked. He looked up at me confused. He saw I hadn’t had my crampons on and was holding my ice axe ready to ascend. He jumped up quickly scrambling to put his crampons on and unhook his ice axe from his Backpack. After another 5 minutes he said he was ready as he took a step stepping out of his crampons.
“Uh… do I have to wear these?” He asked as he started packing them back into his bag. I shrugged and just told him it was up to him, but I made sure he knew not to let go of the fixed rope that lay in the snow.
As we continued up the glacier I chopped small steps with the back of my ice axe and then would swing the pick into the glacier and pull myself upward. I looked back at Ryan and he was following my steps but kept losing traction because he used his axe like a cane. By this point a guided team of german climbers had gathered behind us and another team was approaching. I really didn’t want to be the cause of a back up so I yelled down to Ryan, “use the pick end and pull yourself.” Ryan did as instructed and gained momentum and speed away from the group behind him.
Once we met up at the top of the rope we headed to the final approach of the climb, the last two hour Feratta. We got to a stopping point on the glacier and hung our ice axes back onto our backpacks. We then slid back into our harnesses and grabbed our Via Ferrata set up and began to climb the face.
As we climbed up the face of the colossal mountain, the team behind us was on our tail and we were climbing at a decent paste. Ryan was exhausted by this point and neither of us knew exactly how long we had until the summit. Ryan followed as fast as he could, but I realized I was leaving him behind. I would clear a section of about 20 to 30 meters and then wait for him to catch up. Finally it got to the point where Ryan needed a break and we let the climbing team behind us pass. After a quick five minute break we were back to climbing up to the summit.
After about an hour and half we took a second break since we started to climb up the ferrata on the face. We sat there and ate a small snack being able to see the top of the Zugspitze. We were so close to summit but yet so far. We decided to make the push to the summit with some scrambling of rocks and some steep vertical climbing. We were feet away and had been climbing well over six hours, our goal was nine hours max, but we didn’t even pay attention to the time until we reached the summit. When we began to enter the summit joy over rode both of us. A cross stood high looking over all the mountains in the German Alps. We celebrated with the team that had passed us and the mother and her son were up celebrating too. We all laughed, shook hands and hugged before we headed to the restaurants and beer gardens on the peak that stood next to us. It was an adventure where we had to take a chance in the weather and it was so worth it. A memory like many other climbs, I will not forget the awe-inspiring king of the German Alps, The Zugspitze.