In the shadow of the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, lies alluring Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The separate towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen were forever linked by a hyphen when Hitler combined the two in a successful effort to land the 1936 Winter Olympic games.
Today, the area attracts hikers for the scenic trails and winter sports enthusiasts for the excellent skiing and snowboarding. I was most interested in hiking the Partnachklamm (the Partnach gorge) that slices down nearly 260 feet deep just on the edge of town.
To reach the gorge, the trail begins at the old Olympic Stadium. You walk inside and circle the field where ski jumpers landed back in 1936. You can see it looks almost the same as it did back then (click here).
The stadium itself is modest but I was amazed at how high the ski jumps were built into the sky. They are still used during winter competitions today.
You exit the other side of the stadium and make a 20-minute hike up to the entrance of the Partnachklamm. Along the way, you follow the mountain stream (the Partnach) responsible for creating the gorge as it rushes down from the mountains.
As you climb higher, you begin to gain glimpses of the first range of the Alps not far away. You’re seeing the southern border of Germany. Austria lies on the other side.
For me, the gorge itself was an attraction but the man-made pathway was an engineering marvel. Hiking along the rushing water, you alternate between hanging off the side of the steep rock walls with water dripping on your head to lurching through dark tunnels carved deep into the mountain. Your eyes never have time to adjust so you’re always staggering ahead.
Hard to believe this mad rush of water was used to transport logs down to town below beginning in the 1700s. There were memorials along the pathway to the men who lost their lives trying to free jammed logs.
Once you come out of the gorge, you’re back in welcome sunshine to continue your climb higher into the Alpine valley. You’re gasping for air and almost out of hope when you finally reach a tiny farming settlement. I think I passed the smallest church I’ve ever seen.
There was an option to ride the cable car up and then travel the gorge as you walked back down but that would be too easy. I had to earn my Hefeweizen!
Earlier in the morning, before I left Oberammergau, I had to ride the Kolbensattel Alpine coaster. You hike (again) up to the bottom of the ski lift, jump on the lift as it comes up behind you, tumble in and then hold on for a precarious journey up the mountain. The lift was a bit rickety and there didn’t seem to be much between you and a swift plunge to certain death. At least it would be a scenic spot for your memorial.
Once you neared the top, you could see the track for the Alpine coaster and a lodge perched on the mountain complete with a requisite Biergarten.
You jump off the lift, clamber inside a luge-style bobsled and strap yourself in. I kept thinking if the ride up didn’t get me, the ride down would certainly do the job. The man giving you your initial push down the rail (I’ll call him Herr “Off You Go”) didn’t offer much instruction except how to adjust some feeble-looking brakes. I think he checked my seatbelt…
Who cares if there were middle school kids happily throwing themselves down the rail? I should have had more sense. It was crazy but I didn’t stop laughing (and maybe screaming a little) all the way down.
After this daredevil of a day, I’m headed to the quiet village of Mittenwald which is the final stop in Germany before the Austrian border. We’ll see where the road goes from there. Auf Wiedersehen!