Friday, February 20, 2015

Zugspitze: Top of Germany!

We survived! Even though it wasn’t actually an extreme sporting adventure, emerging from our night in an igloo atop of Zugspitze felt victorious. During the kids’ recent “ski week” vacation, we spent one wintry February night in an igloo on the top of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany (2,962 meters).
The whole thing felt extreme but it actually wasn’t. No trekking involved.  From Garmisch- Partenkirchen, we took a cog train up the mountain, past a frozen over Lake Eibsee, through a tunnel carved into the rock and onto a plateau just below the summit of Zugspitze. The train exits through a mountain lodge, restaurant, ski rental, gift shop combo, which immediately made us all feel better. There was a heated building up there! Phil went out to check the weather but came back quickly due to wind and ice and zero visibility.
While large booms sounded outside, the guides briefed our group. Avalanche prevention explosions. We listened very closely after learning what the noise was. We learned about high altitude sickness and that our sleeping bags would take us down to -40C. A little nervous, we went outside to walk ten minutes to the igloo. Surprisingly, the storm passed and the late afternoon was crystal clear. Our spirits soared with the view and continued to soar even higher when we saw the igloos. From the outside, a mound of snow with a big wooden door but on the inside the igloos were gorgeous, all filled with Africa themed ice carvings. Our room was the elephant room. We thought it was the best, though the meerkat room was pretty cute too.
We learned the igloos were built by covering inflatable balloons with ice, not ice brick by ice brick. The igloos are connected by a tunnel system with a communal room for eating. The igloos have an ice platform with a space cut out for a mattress. On top of that are piles of furs and on top of that you put your sleeping bag. Though we were cautioned not to unroll our bags until bed time- to keep the warmth inside them! The rooms range from 0C to 5C, warmest in the communal room. There we had lots of hot tea and a cheese fondue dinner, eaten in our coats with hats and mittens. The igloos are all 4 meters high or higher so there is definitely space to move around. In the middle of the night, Adam, sleeping next to me, got a bit claustrophobic - sleeping bag, hat, face mask, ice ceiling. I almost understood him …except that it was 3 am.
Throughout the evening, the guides kept us moving around and thus warmer. We went for a night walk around the plateau, checking the outside thermometer that read -12C at 8pm. After dinner, some of us came out again for night sledding. And for the stars, seemingly close enough to touch. Tori said it was the kind of night that makes you want to be an astronomer. We all agreed. The stars, also viewed from an outdoor hot tub, were definitely the highlight of the adventure. Until sunrise when we walked out to a stunning panorama; 400 peaks in 4 countries. And most importantly, all viewed in the bright almost warm sunshine!