Hike via the Gatterl up to the Zugspitze
A breathtaking hike through high alpine terrain
The weather forecast predicts perfect weather. The best conditions for climbing Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Countless tours lead up to the Zugspitze, from relatively easy to quite challenging ones. We chose the version starting from Ehrwald via the so-called Gatterl and the Knorr Hut up to the 2962-metre high peak. The Gatterl tour is demanding in terms of stamina, but it doesn’t require high alpine experience. However, you will need basic fitness, surefootedness and a head for heights as well as good preparation and gear for this hike. Thanks to two cable cars, even less experienced hikers can try this tour. By the way: to see a video of the whole hike up to the Zugspitze, wait until the end of this article, where you’ll also find the GPS data for the hike.
The photos in this article were shot with the Sony Alpha 6000. What else do we carry on our hikes and travels? Take a look at our photo gear here.
Starting the hike at the Ehrwalder Alm
We’re leaving from Munich at dawn. Our destination is Ehrwald in Tyrol. We shorten the hike up to the Zugspize a bit by taking the cable car Ehrwalder Almbahn. We’re planning to bivouac at the peak of the Zugspitze tonight, so we’re not only carrying our supplies for the day but also a sleeping bag, camping mat and thick clothes. The Ehrwalder Almbahn (GPS: N 47 23.275, E 10 56.293 → Google Maps) takes us and our heavy backpacks to 1500 metres within a couple of minutes, covering an elevation gain of 500 metres. From here, the peak of the Zugspitze is only 1462 metres above us.
We take one of the first cars and enjoy the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. But once we arrive at the Ehrwalder Alm, the hard part begins. With the heavy backpacks on our shoulders, we hit the trail in the direction of the Gatterl. We follow the routeway from the Ehrwalder Alm. At the moment (this was in August 2016), there’s a lot of construction work going on, so there’s no trace of idyll. The Max-Klotz-Steig is also partly closed, which is why we have to take a detour via the routeway to the Hochfeldern Alm. Then we can finally leave the broad gravel track and switch to a nice mountain path, which leads us further up the mountain past grazing cows and colourful flowers. At this point, the mountain pines are still providing some shade.
Breathtaking mountain panorama
We have a clear view of the Ehrwalder Sonnenspitze, the Tajakopf and the Drachenkopf. The gravelly road now steepens and we’re gaining height rather quickly. There’s not a single cloud in the sky and the sun is burning. We aren’t the only ones on the trail. Minute by minute, hikers come our way and we keep on passing larger groups on their way to the Zugspitze. If you’re looking for solitude, the Zugspitze is definitely not the place to be, especially on weekends when the weather is as good as it is today. You could of course start in the middle of the night – the trail will be practically deserted early in the morning.
The trail now leads us past a gently descending mountain slope covered in grass. The mountain pines have long disappeared and we can enjoy the view. After one and a half hours, we reach a small plateau (“Plateu”) with a little rock pinnacle, where many hikers are already resting. It’s worth climbing the small peak, because the view of Ehrwald (“Ehwald”) and the Gaistal valley is impressive. But we won’t stay for long. After all, we’ve got a long way ahead of us.
We now descend again for a bit. The trail is clearly visible here and leads us straight to the Gatterl in about an hour. An old squeaking gate marks the frontier between Austria and Germany, but you won’t find any frontier posts. The Gatterl is a popular photo subject and we obviously make a short stop here, too. In front of us, there’s the Zugspitzplatt – a huge sea of rocks surrounded by massive peaks. The next part of the trail called Plattsteig is a bit rougher than before. Again and again, we have to jump over rocky steps. Some hikers here are seriously struggling with this, but if you’re a regular mountaineer you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
The Knorr Hut
In the distance, we can already make out our next intermediate stop: the Knorr Hut. It will take us about another hour to reach it from the Gatterl. In the meantime, we enjoy the breathtaking 360-degree view of the Zugspitze and other peaks like the Schneefernerkopf, the Zugspitzeck and the Wetterspitzen. The Knorr Hut is jam-packed, as we expected. We find ourselves a table in the small beer garden on the sun terrace and order something to drink. The selection up here is pretty limited, but it’s more about getting enough water anyway. The trail up to the Knorr Hut really made us sweat. We refill our water bottles and continue in the direction of the Zugspitze.
On our way to the peak
The trail gets even steeper now ant the slippery gravel doesn’t really make it any better. I can already feel the height, or at least I think I can. The reward for our travails is a breathtaking view over the Zugspitzplatt and the surrounding peaks. Directly in front of us, for example, there’s the Schneefernerkopf, which, with its 2875 metres, is not much smaller than the Zugspitze. Here on the Zugspitzplatt, there’s even some snow left, but it’s far too little to hinder us from moving forward. It does, however, provide an excellent opportunity for a snowball fight, that especially some younger hikers don’t hesitate to embrace.
The final ascent to the Zugspitze
The trail over the Zugspitzplatt leads us steadily to the top. By now, our legs are burning and our shoulders are tired from the weight of the backpacks. Finally, after about one and a half hours, we reach the station at the bottom of the glacier cable car and the Sonnalpin house. Now it’s time for the final ascent. The mountaineers resemble a bunch of ants while they struggle to climb the steep scree slope. Passing the Schneefernerhaus, it’s another 400 metres in height that we have to conquer. We watch the others for a while and try to make out the best route through the scree field. We come to the conclusion that the lesser used alternative on the right is the better option.
Ascending through the scree field
We take a final bite of our energy bar, adjust our backpack and set out for the final part of our hike. Even though the trail is steep and the ground is very slippery, we’re able to move forward surprisingly quickly. After only half an hour, we’ve crossed the scree field. The view from up here of the Zugspitzplatt and the Schneeferner, or rather what’s left of the glacier, is breathtaking. However, we still haven’t reached the peak. Before we can enjoy the traditional snack at the summit, we have to master a via ferrata secured with steel ropes. Again and again, we have to use our hands but it never gets too difficult. Nonetheless, after such a long hike, we have to be very focused – one false move can cost you dearly.
I’m very tired by now and need a little break every once in a while. After the steep final ascent my legs are burning and I’m breathing heavily. Biggi seems to handle it a bit better, but she’s also glad that we’ve almost made it. One last slope and we should be there. No, directly in front of us, another rock face appears. The peak of the Zugspitze doesn’t seem to come any closer. Time to grit our teeth again and keep on moving.
At the top of the Zugspitze
We’ve finally made it! We’re at the top of Germany’s highest mountain – or rather on the ugly platform that ruins this peak. Transmitter masts, three cable cars, restaurants, terraces, a meteorological station and the Münchner Haus have been built here over the years. The cable cars start from Germany and Austria and take up to 4000 visitors a day to the peak. It’s not idyllic here, but we knew that beforehand – and right now, we don’t care at all. We take a pass on the small via ferrata to the summit cross, an area way too tiny for the dozens of people there. Instead, we enter the fray, find ourselves a table in the beer garden and enjoy a cold shandy (which is called Radler, the German word for cyclist) and a piece of apple strudel. However, the prices up here are obviously quite high.
Finally, some quiet on the Zugspitze
We can’t wait for the last car to make its way down to the valley. Then we finally have our peace up here. The Münchner Haus is still quite full, but no one is wearing sandals. Pretty much everyone here has mastered the ascent by their own efforts. Meanwhile, there are some serious looking thunderclouds forming in the sky. Will this interfere with our plans to bivouac up here? Doesn’t matter, right now all we’re thinking about is a delicious dinner in the Münchner Haus. Dumplings, sauerkraut, and gravy – vegetarian style. It’s one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Maybe that’s due to the exhausting ascent, but we don’t really care right now. We’re still sitting in the restaurant of the Münchner Haus and can already guess by looking out the window that the sunset tonight will be absolutely phenomenal.
I can’t wait to get back outside and set up my camera. All around us, huge clouds are banking up and in the distance, we can already detect thunder and lightning. Let’s hope we’ll be spared! Above us, it doesn’t look too bad – high time to make our way to the peak. The via ferrata isn’t difficult and it takes us just a few minutes to reach the gilded summit cross of the Zugspitze.
Dramatic sunset on the Zugspitze
The sunset is just as breathtaking as we had expected. The sun peaks through the thick clouds again and again and turns the landscape into a sea of colours. Everybody’s overwhelmed and stunned by this rare spectacle of nature. But enough talking, just see for yourselves…
Bivouac on the Zugspitze
The Münchner Haus is jam-packed and they’re only offering emergency accommodation for six euros. But we wanted to camp out overnight anyway. When we look into the sky, we feel a bit uneasy, but we still choose to make camp at a wind-protected spot. We’re lucky and during the night, it just drizzels a bit and we’re spared from severe weather. We can even see the starry sky – an unforgettable experience.
Sunrise by the summit cross
Long before the sun rises, we’re standing below the summit cross with a couple of other mountaineers. The start to this day is just as overwhelming as the end to the one before. Below us, clouds roll by while the sky is already illuminated in the most beautiful colours. But as the sun rises on the horizon, the landscape basically explodes. We’re standing at the top of the mountain and look towards the Jubiläumsgrat – behind it, the rising sun. An experience we will never forget.
Descending from the Zugspitze
After witnessing this unique spectacle of nature, we treat ourselves to a hearty breakfast in the Münchner Haus. Farmhouse bread with butter and cheese – everything the heart desires. And before all the crowds arrive, we start our descent. Instead of crossing the steep scree field about 400 metres down to the Zugspitzplatt on foot, we take the glacier cable car. The descent would have been no fun and we most certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the hike. For seven euros, the cable car takes us down in two minutes. At such an early hour, there’s barely anyone here – a stark contrast to the day before.
We make our way back in the direction of the Knorr Hut and enjoy the beautiful 360-dregree view. The trail is pretty steep and the gravel is a bit unpleasant, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone. At the Knorr Hut, that’s already quite full again, we just fill up our water bottles before continuing our hike. In this direction, the route provides another scenic highlight.
Delicious apple strudel
Four hours later, we’ve arrived at the Ehrwalder Alm. We find ourselves a table in the sun-flooded beer garden with a view of the Ehrwalder Sonnenspitze, the Tajakopf (“Tajakop”) and the Drachenkopf and treat ourselves to a delicious piece of apple strudel. In contrast to the restaurants on the Zugspitze, the size of the portions here is gigantic, while the prices are small and the taste is amazing. If you don’t feel like hiking, you can just come to the Ehrwalder Alm for pure enjoyment. Unlike on our way up the mountain, we now descend to the parking site. After another four and a half hours, we’re back at the starting point of our Zugspitze tour.
Tour dates ascent (oneway) from the Ehrwalder Alm
Total trail length: 13 kilometres
Elevation gain: 1570 metres
Walking time: 5:30 hours
Tour dates ascent (oneway) from the station at the bottom of the Ehrwalder Almbahn
Total trail length: 15.5 kilometres
Elevation gain: 1960 metres
Walking time: 6:30 hours
What you should know about the Gatterl hike up to the Zugspitze
The Gatterl tour up to the Zugspitze is a real highlight in terms of scenery and technically not that difficult. Just at the Gatterl – the border crossing point between Austria and Germany, there’s a small part where you have to climb. If you don’t think you’re capable of mastering the final ascent through the steep scree field and the via ferrata to the peak of the Zugspitze, you can use the glacier cable car that covers an elevation gain of about 400 metres. However, surefootedness and proper planning – that does include an obligatory (!) weather check – are prerequisites for this tour. You’ll be in the alpine mountains, so weather changes and drops in temperature can happen quickly and become pretty dangerous in such heights.
With regard to stamina, don’t underestimate the hike up to the Zugspitze. If you use the Ehrwalder Almbahn to the Ehrwalder Alm like we did, you still have to cover 13 kilometres and 1,570 metres in height. If you want to save the twelve euros for the Ehrwalder Almbahn (retrieved: August 2016), you have to leave very early and cover the 15.5 kilometres and 1,960 metres in height yourselves. For the way back, you might want to use the glacier cable car to the Zugspitzplatt. It costs only seven euros and saves you a pretty unpleasant and dangerous descent.
If you want to spend the night on the Zugspitze, you can do so at the Münchner Haus → here’s the website. On weeknights, you can reserve a bed, but that’s not possible on the weekend. There’s always a spot, though, but you might have to come to terms with sleeping on the floor. You can also bivouac on the Zugspitze, just ask the innkeeper at the Münchner Haus, where a good spot is. You should leave the bivouac spot as you found it, because otherwise they might stop people from bivouacking on the Zugspitze in the future.
The five most famous hikes up to the Zugspitze
- Gatterl One of the easiest and most popular hikes up to the Zugspitze is the tour via the Gatterl that we’ve described in this article. If you’re looking for a more relaxed or family-friendly hike, you can use the hiking ticket “Gatterl”. It includes the three cable car rides with the Ehrwalder Almbahn, the glacier cable car (Gletscherbahn) and the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, as well as the bus ride back to the starting point of the hike. The ticket can also be used in the opposite direction. Personally, though, we would prefer standing on top of a mountain at the end of the tour rather than the beginning. Plus, the ticket also includes the entry to the interactive museum “Faszination Zugspitze”. More info here.
- Reintal With 21 kilometres, the hike via the Partnach Gorge and the Reintal up to the Zugspitze is the longest tour. Technically, it’s not difficult, but it does require a certain amount of stamina as you have to cover an elevation gain of more than 2200 metres. At the Knorr Hut, hikers on the Reintal tour will meet the hikers on the Gatterl tour.
- Stopselzieher The hike via the Wiener-Neustädter Hut and the via ferrata Stopselzieher is the shortest and fastest way to reach the Zugspitze peak on foot. However, you will have to cross some scree fields and the via ferrata. After about six kilometres and more than 1700 metres in height, you will be on top of the Zugspitze.
- Höllental The hike through the Höllental (translated: valley of hell) up to the Zugspitze starts in Hammersbach. The beginning through the spectacular Höllental Gorge is pretty relaxed until you reach the Höllental via ferrata with the difficulty level B. In case of good weather, you might have to expect longer waiting times. Before reaching the Zugspitze peak, you’ll also have to cross the Höllentalferner glacier. Crampons are absolutely necessary here! Especially in summer, the glacier’s randkluft can cause some problems. The Höllental hike up to the Zugspitze is just about ten kilometres long, but the elevation gain amounts to over 2200 metres.
- Jubiläumsgrat The Jubiläumsgrat is definitely the most challenging route to the Zugspitze. To reach the Jubiläumsgrat, you will have to climb the peak of the Alpspitze (2628 metres) first. The starting point is the parking site of the Alpspitzbahn in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The cable car will take you up to 2033 metres, from where you will use the Alpspitz-Ferrata to climb the Alpspitze. This is only the start of the Jubiläumsgrat, which takes you to the Zugspitze in eight to ten hours. It’s reserved for experienced alpinists and should not be done unless the weather is absolutely stable. The Jubiläumsgrat is not a classic via ferrata – there are sections where you can secure yourself, but large parts of the strongly exposed path have to be free-climbed. Many mountaineers also use one of the cable cars to reach the Zugspitze peak and make their way back to the Alpspitze via the Jubiläumsgrat on foot. The Jubiläumsgrat is a good seven kilometres long. If you use this way to reach the Zugspitze, you have to keep in mind that the Jubiläumsgrat alone has an elevation gain of 1200 metres when ascending and 350 metres when descending.
The ten highest mountains in Germany
The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest mountain. Next on the list are the Hochwanner (2744m), the Watzmann (2713m), the Leutascher Dreitorspitze (2682), the Hochkalter (2607m), the Biberkopf (2599m), the Großer Hundstod (2593m), the Hochvogel (2592m), the Östliche Karwendelspitze (2538m) and the Hocheisspitze (2523m). (Punkt fehlt)
Packing list for the hike up to the Zugspitze
- Hiking backpack with a capacity of 35 to 40 litres
- Sturdy hiking boots with a good grip – no trainers or low shoes, please
- Hiking sticks
- Warm jacket
- Fleece jumper
- Windproof hiking trousers – no jeans, please
- Head protection
- Protection against the rain
- Enough cash – in the Münchner Haus, they don’t accept cards
- Enough water and food
- Sunscreen with a very high SPF
- Medication, for example headache pills, contact lens solution etc.
- Headlamp for emergencies
- Hiking map and/or GPS
- Mobile phone/smartphone
- Camera + possibly small travel tripod
- Spare batteries for GPS, headlamp and camera
- ID and, if applicable, membership card of the German Alpine Association (DAV)
- Small bin bag – please don’t throw away your rubbish on the trails. If nobody clears it away, plastic waste lies around in nature for hundreds of years
- If you want to sleep at the Münchner Haus, you’ll also need a thin sleeping bag, slippers, pyjamas and a microfibre towel as well as a toothbrush, toothpaste etc.