Kamikaze – “having or showing reckless disregard for safety or personal welfare.”
Yea, that sounds about right. Where do I even being…
Last September, my friend (and former roommate) MaryBeth and I decided to hike one of the mountains behind where we live. As I mentioned in this post, I had been eyeing this mountain since the day I arrived so we decided it was finally time. If you read the post I linked, you will know our attempt was unsuccessful, so we decided to try summiting the mountain from the other side – hoping it would be less scary.
Spoiler: It was not.
I’ll start from the beginning. The day we gave the Kramer a second chance was beautiful. The sun was shining, the temperatures were warm, and it was a complete 180 in weather from our first attempt. I was feeling good, my body was ready, and I was excited to see a new to me route (the Kramer literally has never ending trails.)
The route we chose this time was a bit longer in distance, but was supposed to be less sketchy once closer to the top. This route also has a well known Hütte called Stepbergalm a little over halfway up, and we had both been wanting to see it/grab a bite or a drink. The day we hiked was the day the Hütte reopened after temporary closure due to the Coronavirus.
Everything was lining up – it was going to be a great day…
The hike to the Stepbergalm took us about 2 hours and 20 minutes. The trail up was beautiful and moderately inclined. I never felt unsafe, and my anxiety was low. I was smiling, and singing, and relishing in the beauty of the mountains surrounding me.
I was also savoring this time with MaryBeth. I knew she would be moving out soon, and this was likely our last hike together in Garmisch. She moved to Ulm a couple weeks after this hike, which is just a short two hour-ish train ride from Garmisch. I plan to visit her before I move back to the states, and hope for one more weekend getaway together.
MaryBeth was nothing short of a blessing to me while living in Germany. She was not only my roommate, but my best friend. She got me through difficult times at work, difficult times at “home,” and was an all around amazing adventure partner. We managed to travel to six countries together, and I know we will be travel buddies for life.
Divagations aside, back to the story.
Upon arrival at the Stepbergalm, we sat and savored a snack before completing the final push towards the cross at the summit. The estimated time to the summit was an hour and 45 minutes from the Stepbergalm. I was still feeling great, and was confident we would summit with ease.
And thennnn the rocks got larger and looser and I suddenly regretted denying the use of hiking poles.
Going up with loose rock isn’t usually an issue, it’s coming back down that makes me nervous. Naturally when going up, all I can think about is how stressful it will be to come back down. We reached a section of the trail that was surrounded by trees without any sudden drop offs, so imminent death was not a concern, but I was still getting anxious.
We passed the section of large loose rocks and falsely believed we were in the clear. The path flattened out for a bit, and although the trail was thin, it was stable. We began laughing again, we settled into a comfortable pace, we savored the views we were starting to see, but then as quickly as it returned my ataraxia was swept back under the rug.
We saw the cross off in the distance, but something in my gut told me this was not going to be a cake walk to the summit. The slim path was now becoming a roller coaster like track of ups and downs and the loose gravel was back. I suddenly became very aware of how high I was, and how unsafe I was starting to feel. Kamikaze Kramer.
We quickly learned it didn’t matter which route we took to the top, they were all equipped with a frightening trail towards the final push. Our pace slowed to a crawl, and at one point I was literally immobile, clinging to a large rock. I began laughing, similar to the beginning stages of hysteria, and told MaryBeth I wasn’t sure I could keep moving.
I managed to push past my rock of safety, but my body was shaking as if I had spent all night out in the cold. I don’t often feel this amount of fear when I am hiking, but all I could think about was how one wrong step would send me slipping, and the exiguous trail left me envisioning the worst.
And then, just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse we saw her. The sheer rock wall to the summit. Fully equipped with loose gravel. The summit was surrounded by people, and I wondered if any of them had to revert back to infancy like MaryBeth and I while crawling up the side of a mountain.
I could feel the eyes of those at the summit watching me move at the pace of a sloth, and I wondered if they could sense my fear. If we had been a different species of animal they would have been able to smell my freight from miles away.
We decided to skip the sheer rock wall, and promptly sat at the base of the final stretch. I once again had no desire to “touch the cross” indicating I reached the summit. We had reached the elevation of the summit, and as far as I am concerned we summited. We sat at the base of the cross for a good ten minutes anticipating the descent.
We sat at the base of the cross because we were both too fearful to move back down what we had just gone up.
I prayed for us (yeah, we were that scared) and off we went. I scooted on my butt for the portion of the trail that has a sharp drop with loose rocks, and when I found my way back to my rock of safety I felt relief. I struggled more going up, and MaryBeth struggled more going down. She became immobile at one point, but eventually mustered the courage to continue.
We finally made it back to the first sketchy path just past the Stepbergalm and after seeing the summit I no longer thought this area was sketchy. My perspective was immediately altered. We made it to the Stepbergalm just as they were closing, and our hopes of having a post hike drink blew away with the wind between the trees.
We sat on the hill by the Stepbergalm to eat some food, and to mentally prepare for the two and a half hours of hiking we had left.
At this point I managed to switch my laughter from hysterical to “what the hell did we just do.” I couldn’t help but wonder why no one else I’ve spoken to has been phased by the sketchiness of the summit. Were we the only two people to find this hike terrifying at the top? I never realized how afraid of heights I was until this hike.
Needless to say, I will never hike this mountain again, and I no longer have a desire to hike the Zugspitze (Germanys tallest mountain, which is also in my backyard.) I have realized my preferred hiking is the kind where I don’t feel my life is in danger. I don’t enjoy kamikaze hiking!
Most people wouldn’t be as dramatic as I have been in this post, but these were my feelings throughout this hike.
The views from the “safe” part near the summit were mind-blowing, and the valley where the Stepbergalm lives is like something out of the Sound of Music. I would happily hike to the Stepbergalm again, just to sit and savor the valley, but 10/10 would not do the summit ever again.
As I get older I have become more in tune with my intuition and my “gut voice” when I feel unsafe. This hike had my gut doing backflips like a gold medal gymnast, and I was happy to skip the last 5 minutes of this hike. I regret nothing, and this is now a comical memory I become overly dramatic about when discussing with my peers.
I’ll never forget the Kamikaze Kramer.
Q: Would you need to go right next to the cross to consider this a summit, or would you still feel you completed the hike without the final few steps?