Zugspitze Höllental Valley of Hell is a 12 mile out and back trail located near the city of Hammersbach that features a waterfall. The trail is rated as difficult and primarily used for hiking, rock climbing, and backpacking.
This is Germany’s highest summit, the Zugspitze, up the Höllental (Valley of Hell) route. This route has everything you could want: a spectacular gorge, tunnels, Alpine hut, hanging valley, glacier, Via Ferrata with nearly a kilometer of vertical exposure, and a beer garden summit destination. The route starts in Hammersbach, goes up through the Höllentalklamm, past Höllentalangerhütte, then up a Via Ferrata route on the hanging valley of the Höllentalferner, onto the Höllentalferner itself (white in upper left), then up another Klettersteig to the summit.
This is Germany’s highest summit, the Zugspitze, up the Höllental (Valley of Hell) route. This route has everything you could want: a spectacular gorge, tunnels, Alpine hut, hanging valley, glacier, Via Ferrata with nearly a kilometer of vertical exposure, and a beer garden summit destination.
The route starts in Hammersbach, goes up through the Höllentalklamm, past Höllentalangerhütte, then up a Via Ferrata route on the hanging valley of the Höllentalferner, onto the Höllentalferner itself (white in upper left), then up another Klettersteig to the summit.
Here is a photographic trip report: https://flic.kr/s/aHskKPtxqq
I booked a room ahead of time online at Höllentalangerhütte. I also joined the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV) at the hut, which provides a membership discount on affiliated huts and coverage for helicopter rescue if necessary.
I arrived by Deutschebahn to Garmisch-Partenkirchen midday, stored my luggage in a locker at the Hauptbahnhof, stopped to pick up a topo map at Buchhandlung Adam (Am Kurpark 20), then took a taxi a few miles to the trailhead in the hamlet of Hammersbach.
Lots of little kids hike up to Höllentalangerhütte through the Höllentalklamm. After this, it's a completely different climb, requiring lots of mountaineering experience, or a guide, or both.
Though this route can be accomplished in a day, it's long. A safer option is to book a berth at Höllentalangerhütte, enjoy the Höllentalklamm in daylight, and depart right after first light after a good night's rest.
Minimum necessary gear for this route:
Via Ferrata Lanyard with K-rated carabiners
Via Ferrata Gloves
3 l water
Here's what happens if you fall off the rock with the wrong gear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Y2WgtnemY. And more on the necessity of at least an ice axe below. I was solo, so I also brought along a personal anchor system and tied a couple Prusiks, expected to be unnecessary for this B/C rated route, but that made me feel better. I was expecting to see a few sloppy safety practices, but was amazed by what I really saw: obviously unsafe gear, and oftentimes no gear at all, climbing this route with no protection whatsoever. Inappropriate gear and usage appears to be the cause of the regular climbing deaths on this mountain. Guided tours roped their clients for protection along the glacier. Individual hikers used ice axes in case self arrest was necessary. Several hikers used no self arrest protection whatsoever!
Crossing the randkluft and transitioning back to the Klettersteig is the most dangerous part of this climb. Incredibly, I observed many climbers packing away their crampons and axes while still standing on the ice uphill of large crevasses! The two on the right in the posted photograph are doing this. One little mistake and you'd be on a fast slide down to the bottom of the crevasse beneath us.
I learned after I returned and told this account that a German man died in August 2016 at this point by making this very mistake and sliding into this crevasse: http://goo.gl/8YUjFg. This local news article says that a Zugspitze climber falls into a crevasse every year.
I stood in line and removed my gear only after safely back on the rock.
A note on Via Ferrata lanyard usage: I thought the most unsafe practice I would see on this route was unclipping both carabiners at once. Nope. Several climbers were ascending and descending this Klettersteig with no protection whatsoever, like the climber in front of me in the posted photograph. The fall beneath these pegs is a few hundred meters, but the result is the same as a ten meter fall I suppose.
I climbed the Alpspitze the day after this climb. A German woman climbing without protection said to me in my Via Ferrata gear, "Zat iz not ze vay vee do it!" I replied that I'd "honestly never do what you’re doing."
If you visit these routes, do it the right way. There are too many accounts of people lost while climbing without respect for the conditions.
A famous point along the Höllental Route is "Die Schlüsselstelle"; the "key" to accessing the upper Klettersteig. This youtube video shows this part of the route: Abenteuer Zugspitze - Höllental-Klettersteig, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGDiYYsVad0#t=645s.
At the summit, many climbers and people in street shoes who ventured out to the Via Ferrata from the seilbahn were moving around the icy summit with no protection. That cross is built a few boot-lengths away from a cirque wall that drops about a kilometer back down to the Höllentalferner.
The safest options back down are the seilbahn (mind the time of the last car), or staying at Münchner Haus on the summit. You can also descend via the Rental route about 21 km and through the Partnachklamm back to Garmisch. Descending back down the Höllental route is extremely difficult and highly discouraged.