The day had finally arrived. It had finally arrived. We were going to hike up into the Alps today — eeeeeeeeek! This is something I’ve dreamt of doing for so many years, I’ve lost count. Tom and I were on the trip of a lifetime, touring Europe for three weeks in our trusty bright blue Skoda Fabia, and the first stop (after a night in Folkestone and Trier) was the South German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I knew the Alps were beautiful, but nothing could have prepared us for just how jaw-dropping the scenery would be as we approached this Alpine ski destination.
This was going to be a holiday to remember, one from which we’d be recounting stories to our children in years to come. So naturally we tried to pack as many adventures into it as possible and this three-day hike up into the German Alps was Adventure #1. And one year on, as I write this blog post heavily pregnant, I just can’t wait to tell our little boy all about it. In fact, I can’t wait to take him on many similar adventures!
All right, back to our hike…
We’d travelled… Sorry driven 888 miles to be here. So we were hoping for sunshine, even just a little. But the Alpine weatherman hadn’t got the message that we were escaping the rainy land of Wales for some sunshine-bathed days in the German Alps. So you can guess what we woke up to…
Yep — a decidedly grey and wet looking day. But, after the first few hours of hiking, we realised the inclement weather was actually a blessing in disguise. The more altitude we gained, the warmer we got, shedding layers as we went. Turns out climbing 1,675m is much nicer with a light drizzle to cool you down!
In planning our adventure in the Alps, a friend had recommended we do a three day hike her and her then-friend-now-husband had done a couple of years ago. Starting in the beautiful town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, South Germany, it wanders through the Partnachklamm (the gorge pictured), over the Kälbersteig and the Schachenhaus up to Meilerhütte — a gorgeous Alpine hut. That may not say a lot to you, but here’s a map to make it a little clearer.
We’d read it should take about five to six hours to hike up to Meilerhütte, but all in all it took us about nine hours. The stunning scenery was mainly to blame for that though, and perhaps a slight detour my husband took us on, which added about 45 minutes. We really took our time walking through the Partnach Gorge — we’d just never seen anything like it. Wild waterfalls, water rapids and tranquil water basins, this natural wonder will blow you away.
After walking through it at about 8am, I’d highly recommend getting an early start. Apart from the photographer (whose photos we kept getting in the way of), we were the only people in the gorge. However, on our return through the gorge three days later, we could hardly move for people. It was lunch time and the narrow paths were packed with tourists — a very different experience.
Far too distracted by the beauty of our surroundings, it was at this point we started our little detour. Just a wee reminder not to neglect our map reading, even if the paths are largely much easier to identify than UK mountain paths (or at least the ones we follow). But actually if you just keep going straight when you come out of the Partnach Gorge and head over the beach, there are numerous signs and maps telling you explicitly where each path will take you. Just don’t get too distracted!
After crossing over a split in the river, you’ll see a sign pointing you up through a narrow entrance onto a beautiful wooded path. This is the Kälbersteig — where the hard work begins! Don’t be fooled by this beautiful trail though. It may be stunning, but it sure is brutal. For a couple of hours you follow the path up some big steps and long upward sections, stepping over tree roots and around boulders. I just loved how simple the route was to follow. Every time our path crossed with another, there was a sign pointing us to Meilerhütte. So you really couldn’t go wrong.
After our epic hike through the forest, we were ridiculously happy to be welcomed by a wide flat path and some absolutely stunning views of the mountains we were climbing. Don’t get me wrong, I love forests and it was a beautiful part of the walk (although we enjoyed it a lot more on the way down), but for a good few hours we couldn’t see what we were climbing. So seeing that view was just so rewarding. Good spot for a few sandwiches, some sugary snacks and a Jetboil coffee.
Tummies filled, it was time to stretch our legs and gain some ground. Time was ticking and we needed to be at the Meilerhütte before 5pm, otherwise they worry and start trying to contact you to see if you’re OK. You can stay at the Meilerhütte by just turning up, but especially in peak season, it’s good to book ahead. (At the end of this blog you’ll find all the details about booking your stay at the Meilerhütte.)
As much as we’d wanted a hot sunny day, the clouds made for even more breathtaking scenes as we continued to climb. The clouds were whipping and whirling around the mountain tops, so every time we looked up, the view had changed. It was probably also a good thing we couldn’t see how much we still had to climb!
Just before the second big steep section of the hike, we reached the guest house, Schachenhaus, at 1,867m. It took all our willpower not to stop for a nice bit of coffee and cake, but we’d already taken our time and needed to get a wiggle on. The café at Schachenhaus has a gorgeous view over the mountains and offers a whole variety of delicious German cakes, coffees and meals. You can also overnight here if you’d like to continue your hike the next day or if you find this is enough of a walk for you. A bed in one of their dorms costs €12 for adults and €6 for children under 11 — not bad.
The increase in gradient again was tough, but a little bit of rain kept us cool. With our newly gained altitude came increasingly changeable weather. One minute we were in the thick of cloud, not able to see ten metres in front of us and then all of a sardine (as my dad always says), the clouds would open up to reveal some stunning views.
This last stretch from Schachenhaus should only take one and a half hours, but it was tough, especially as we’d already been walking for about seven hours. But then we came across these adorable Alpine sheep — a super welcome distraction from our burning legs! Of course I had to stop to take a quick video.
After a short rest, it wasn’t long before we spotted our final destination, and what a relief that was. It had been an absolutely beautiful and unforgettable hike, but we were so looking forward to sitting down to some good food and a beer or two, before an exciting via ferrata adventure the next day.
Overnighting in the Alps is a completely different experience to to any night I’ve ever spent in British mountains. I’m so used to having to pitch a tent at the end of a long day’s hiking, so being able to sleep on a bed in a guest house, have a proper cooked meal and a pint of beer is a real treat. Due to the cost and effort of transporting everything up via cable car, there’s not a huge choice on the menu at Meilerhütte, but lucky for me, they had exactly what I wanted — a huge plate of fried potatoes with bacon and two fried eggs. The perfect post hike filler!
Even though staying at Meilerhütte is more expensive than at Schachenhaus, the views are so worth it! I mean can you beat this?
After a couple of board games, another beer and some friendly conversations with fellow hikers, we headed up to our bunkroom for a well-earned sleep. The guest house has a few bunkrooms and some private rooms. They’re simple, but are all furnished with super comfy beds, pillows and blankets. And what guest house would be complete without a long-drop and some freezing Alpine water to wash yourself with?!
You can either stay the night and head back down the next day, or like us use the day in between to explore the surrounding mountains, before heading down on day three. There are a number of via ferrata routes around the guest house, and having never done it, we thought that would be a great use of our middle day.
Do it yourself…
Accommodation before and after hike
We stayed in the Sport Hostel, right next to the Olympic ski jumping stadium. It’s really close to the start of this hike, has great facilities and is super clean. Beds cost about £20/night.
You won’t be able to leave your car at the hostel, but we just drove round the corner and left our car in a residential road near the Olympic ski jumping stadium.
There are trains going every hour from Munich Hbf (central station) to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, with regional busses (Line 1 and 2) linking the train station to the ski jumping stadium.
Here’s an interactive map of the route. It may be in German, but it’s perfect for zooming in and really getting your head around the route. It even has handy pictures showing you different points along the hike.
You can pick up the Kompass hiking map of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1:35.000) and its surrounding area from the tourist information centre in Garmisch-Partnekirchen or from www.gapa.de. The tourist information centre also hires out a digital hiking guide with info on places of interest, plants and animals. More info on the website.
Staying at Meilerhütte
For a bed in one of the bunkrooms we paid €19/night. Reservations can only be made over the phone by calling (+49) 171 522 78 97 and they’ll require a deposit of €9/person a week before your arrival. The guest house is only open for a few months over the summer. For more information, check out the Deutscher Alpenverein website.
Outdoor Active has loads of handy information on this hike.