It’s 08:00 o clock on a beautiful thursday morning in July when I lock the car behind us. The sky is of a pristine blue and, even though it’s still early, I can feel the warmth of the rising sun on my skin. It’s a little later then I’d like but even after months of camping I still underestimate the amount of time it takes to pack everything up and leave in the morning. It’s going to be a hot day in Grainau so I want to make sure we have the majority of the hike behind us before noon.
It’s a 90 minute walk through the idyllic alpine town towards the start of the trail so we should hit the coolness of the Hollentalklamm around 09:30, I quickly calculate. Good, my failure to leave on time probably won’t harm us too much then. I strap on my backpack, switch on my smartwatch and start walking towards the mountains.
I was trying to grasp this powerful beauty and harvest it into my soul. Like finding a touch of the heavens in the centre of hell.
Ninety minutes later we are elbowdeep in weeds and trying to climb a mudslide. The trail towards the gorge mysteriously disappeared 45 minutes ago and we haven’t been able to get back to it ever since. I refuse to walk back the way we came from so we plow on; stumbling and sliding down the steep ascent. Sweat is burning in my eyes, mosquitos are buzzing around my head and Nova is panting hysterically. I can feel the clock ticking; it’s getting too hot and we are burning through our time and energy way too fast. We should have been there by now but my watch reveals that we are nowhere closer to the damn gorge than when we left one hour and a half ago.
I am way past frustration when I decide to walk back the way we came from. The path we followed kept taking us in the opposite direction from the gorge, private property or swamplike fields we couldn’t possibly cross. There are very few things I despise more than having to walk back the way you came from. Such a waste of time and energy. But the alternative being that we would probably die in those very woods before making it to that gorge, we turn around and start to crawl over the very same rocks and mudslides again.
After about half an hour we stumble out of some bushes onto the pavement. I look up to see where we are and I can actually see the car about 500 meters away. Awesome. For just a second I feel like screaming. Walking back to the car and forgetting about this dreadfull morning sounds really tempting right about now. As I’m weighing my options I see a mark on a random tree; Hollentalklamm 80 minutes. Not ready to admit defeat yet, I gather myself and start to walk. The walk through Grainau is actually pretty lovely this time. The road takes you through charming streets that’ll make you feel like you’re in a Swiss alpine village. You’ll find beautiful flowers on every balcony and each house is decorated with stunning paintings of what I assume are a representation of their familial history.
There’s running water next to every street so, even though it’s scorching hot now, I find comfort in the fact that Nova is enjoying herself jumping in and out of the water. She has no frustration about the course of our morning whatsoever. She just takes it as it comes without judgement and is therefore always able to find joy; a quality I hope to master someday too. As I am watching her throw herself into the lush grass with the Alpspitze as a majestic backdrop, I can feel my frustration fading.
I can tell we are close to the start of the trail; all of a sudden there are cars parked on every square inch and I am suddenly walking amidst hundreds of tourists. Just follow the crowds now, I think to myself while secretly enjoying myself over their flipflops and heavy shoulderbags. It’s 11 o’clock when we leave the heat of the asphalt for the mysterious woods that’ll take us the gorge. Only 90 more minutes and 600 HM left to go.
Five minutes in I feel like I’m dying. The trail is so steep that I have to stop every 50 meters to keep myself from either hyperventitilating or fainting.
The families with the flipflops are already scattered on the side of the trail and I wonder if they are considering to either continue or to go back and forget about this failed attempt alltogether too.
Slowly we move on. Step by step making our way up. As I am resting to catch my breath again I notice that everyone is suffering in their own way. Kids are complaining to their parents, couples are finding their pace seperate of eachother and even the experienced hikers are visibly sweating. And then there is always the occasional trailrunner that seems unaffected by it all and speeds us amateurs by. There is a beauty to that, I think to myself.
While I wait in line and take my bag apart in search of my mask, I can hear that deeply roaring sound of falling water. I really hope I didn’t forget my mask, I anxiously think to myself, although that would be a very fitting end to this ardious day. I can barely hear the lady when she calls us over the deafening sound of the water and the mask she is wearing. We manage to buy a ticket and after I struggle to get Nova through the small turning gate for a while, we seem to enter a different world. Welcome to Hell.
The majestic walls close in around us and the temperature seems to have dropped 15 degrees on this side of the gate. The trail is carved out of the rocks and takes you into the depths of the gorge. The powerful display is overwhelming and immediatly make me see why it’s called the gorge from Hell; it’s cold, slippery and freezing glacial waterfalls are falling down onto the trail. The deafening sound of the water seems to have grown even louder and really adds to the somewhat treathening armosphere.
We cross the river a couple of times, crawl through pitchblack caves and get soaked by several waterfalls. After about an hour we turn a corner and right in front of me is one of the most beautiful vista’s I have ever witnessed. There is water falling down from the glaciers above into the gorge. It seems to come down in slow motion, illuminating the dark gorge with all possible colors known to the human eye. I must’ve stood there for at least 30 minutes. Watching. Admiring. Trying to grasp this powerful beauty and harvest it into my soul. Like finding a touch of the heavens in the centre of hell.
The walls that kept us enclosed open up again and we slowly step into the light. I look over my shoulder and see the luring darkness of the gorge dissapearing behind me. I have returned from the depths of hell but I will never forget the unexpected beauty that I witnessed in there.