A unique mountaineering experience with no physical exertion
The sun is high in the sky on this late morning in June 2019. After leaving our tour bus, we stand in a parking lot peering up but it’s impossible to see the mountain peak from here. The previous day our American guide was excited that fine weather was forecast as there’d been only heavy clouds on his recent visits.
Although cable cars make me nervous, I decide this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ascend to the peak of Zugspitze (zoog-spitz-za), the highest mountain in Germany. On maps, the German/Austrian border runs right through the summit.
As I pay about $80 Canadian for my ticket, I try to ignore the butterflies collecting in my stomach. My husband is petrified of heights and can feel a strong urge to leap over any barrier, so he’ll stay at the base and paint a water colour while I’m away. He’s a keeper.
Dressed in shorts and tee-shirt, I carry my rain jacket (the warmest item I have on the trip) to protect me from the cold at the summit. A sign declares this cable car has the world’s longest freespan at over three kilometers between supports.
About 30 tourists shuffle into the large cable car and I easily find standing space at a side window. After the doors close, we slowly begin our ascent and beyond
the coniferous trees below I spy a distant village in a green valley. Within minutes
the tree-covered slope makes a 45-degree angle and snow-spotted peaks and blue sky fill in the rest of the scene.
Two minutes later there is nothing green to be seen – only craggy grey rocks with patches of snow lying in protected bowls and crevices. Early summer warmth has not yet melted the white crystals. This indicates how cold the outside air is at this altitude. Whistling wind buffets the cable car.
When the car starts to swing gently, I think, Good thing Eric decided to sit this one out. He’d be petrified. Peering out the front window I see rocks glistening with quartz in some places, ice in others. They seem only a few meters out of reach.
Having recently read about throngs of climbers struggling up Mount Everest (with some dying), I feel both lazy and blessed to be treated to these remarkable vistas with zero physical exertion on my part.
After a 15-minute ride we reach the top, which is 9718 feet above sea level. Once I’m outside the car the wind nearly bowls me over. I do up all the fasteners on my flimsy rain jacket and try to ignore the freezing cold. (I later read that the daily mean temperature at the summit for June is 3.7 degrees Celsius.)
I locate a couple of women from our tour group with whom to experience the spectacular 360-degree view and we take pictures of each other. (That’s my photo above.) I explore viewing platforms facing in multiple directions, a snack bar, restaurant, and souvenir shop. Thankfully there are restrooms. I wonder, How do they transport things like water and supplies, and what do they do with the sewage?
After spending about an hour at the top of Zugspitze, I decide to head back to the base and show Eric the fabulous photos I’ve captured. I walk to a booth and present my return ticket.
“Sorry ma’am,” the official says, “You came up from Germany as shown by your ticket. This is the Austrian-return cable car.”
I hadn’t noticed the two oval signs: Freistaat Bayern (Germany); Land Tirol (Austria). Smiling, I head to the correct booth. What a mess that would have been if I had headed back down to the wrong country!
I’m happy to be returning to the base, Eric, and our bus. Facing in a new direction for the descent, the gradual return to a natural green environment relaxes me.
Although the views from the summit are breathtaking, one feels as though on another planet which doesn’t accommodate human beings.