Some people will have heard of Hanwag, many people will be new to them; however they are not a new brand and have been making footwear since 1921. Distribution to the UK has been sporadic at best, however long term investment here began 6 years ago and they are looking to increase stock.
Hanwag are based in the Bavarian region of Germany where they still make some of their footwear, while the rest is made in their Croatian factory. They specialise in traditional boot making, only making proper lasted boots and old school double stitched boots (click these links for more info on their cemented construction and double-stitching). They are the only company we work with that only uses these 2 methods, even for their shoes. This means the starting prices for Hanwag are higher than other brands, but you always get high quality construction; their priority is not selling the greatest numbers.
For the last 3 years Hanwag have organised an Alpine Experience event, inviting people from all over the world to learn more about the brand and have a lot of fun at the same time! Two places were given to the UK, one for a Hanwag rep and the other was luckily (for me at least) given to Outside.
The plan was to climb the Zugspitze, which is Germany’s highest mountain at 2962m, by one of four different routes (the Reintal, Juilaumsgrat, Hollental and Stopselzeiher in increasing difficulty). We opted for the Hollental as it looked like an interesting route with a bit of glacier crossing and lots of via ferrata. For the week before we went, I was checking the weather, which looked perfect... until the weekend we were supposed to get there! The temperature on top was dropping down to -3 with 10cm of precipitation due the night before and another 10 on summit day. We also received an email a couple of days before the trip saying that the hardest route, the Stopselzeiher, wasn’t going to happen as snow was forecast down to 2000m. Hmmm.
We arrived at the lovely Eibsee Hotel on Saturday afternoon, greeted by the enthusiastic Hanwag organisers and grey murky overcast weather. After checking in and enjoying some German buffet food we headed down to a conference room for the briefing. It was a great atmosphere with everyone excited about staying in a great hotel with views over a lake, and a massive pile of fresh Hanwag boot boxes behind us. We were introduced to the Hanwag team and organiser Chris Wittig, a great character with a massive ginger beard. The poor weather was eventually mentioned as Chris introduced the guides ending with the phrase “we have to talk”. Everyone knew what this meant, but instead of boos and groans there was a lot of grinning and laughter, which set a great precedent for the trip.
We were informed that the latest forecast went from bad to worse over the two days on the mountain. With 60 people that the guides had never met before the decision was to play it safe and for everyone to attempt the most straightforward Reintal route. I was a bit disappointed as I’d been looking forward to scrambling around on ladders and cables, but it was the correct decision to ensure everyone had a chance at reaching the summit.
The next morning we strapped on our new boots and headed off to the evocative 1936 Winter Olympics stadium where the route began. From here we quickly got into the Partnach gorge, which was one of my highlights of the trip. It’s a steep limestone gorge with a glacial sediment rich river running through it. The path runs next to the river, but it is almost entirely carved out of the cliff, rather than a natural open path. This gives it a great atmosphere with the echoing sounds of the river, dark tunnels and many drips from the seeping limestone. Well worth a visit.
We continued on our way to our first hut where we stopped for coffee and cake. It’s probably worth pointing out that for the whole trip we never walked for more than 3 or 4 hours without reaching a hut where you could get a hot meal. This was my first experience on this hut to hut style of walking and it makes these areas incredibly accessible and safe. A holiday experience rather than an expedition. I was also shown the alpine umbrella waterproof. This would never work here as there’s usually too much wind, but low down on a hot day they were the best option. You know it works when all the guides are using them!
The rest of the day was basically a lowland drizzle walk to our accommodation at the Reintalanger hut at 1366m, but it was a great opportunity to plod on and meet some new friends. This was a fantastic hut, built in 1912 and you could feel the history of it. It’s a great setting next to a river, and high enough to feel away from everything. Once the whole group of 60 had arrived and drinks started to get served the whole place came to life. Lots of chatter, laughter and some live music meant everyone had a great night despite the 6am start the next day. We actually found a few people on benches in the hall the next morning who hadn’t made it to bed and looked a bit sorry for themselves!
After an excellent breakfast we headed up the valley and began to notice patches of snow. Before we knew it we were in full on winter conditions. Definitely time to stop at the Knorrhütte at 2000m for some hot chocolate and cake! The wintery theme continued as we made it up to the Gletscherrestaurant Sonnalpin. The guides started gathering, looking sceptically at the massive group with no winter kit, as there is a cable car stop at this restaurant. We were told that the route was going to get much more challenging and anyone who had doubts should get the cable car to the top. It wasn’t far to the top at this point, less than 400m, but enough for some to take the easy option.
There was stress in the eyes of the guides at this point with lots of shouting information down the line. It wasn’t long before we got to some steep ground and found some via ferrata cables, but with no equipment we just had to hold onto the cables with our hands as we scrambled up. The conditions were better than everyone had feared though as no ice had yet formed and our new boots gripped to the powder snow. We all cruised our way to the summit hut. Before we could get stuck into the strudel though we had to make it up to the summit pole, the very top of Germany and of course the most technical ground we had covered all day, but with the hazards guarded by guides everyone made it.
The best part was we didn’t even have to get ourselves down from the mountain. It took us 2 days to climb up and about 10 minutes in a cable car to get down; followed by an arduous 5 minute tarmac walk back to the hotel for a shower and a relaxing afternoon. The event finale was another great buffet in a large wooden hall, complete with a traditional band dressed in lederhosen, who seemed to get bored half way through, giving up on traditional German folk to performing rockabilly covers! It was a wonderfully weird final evening that I had the pleasure of sharing with some great new friends and a memorable ending to the trip.
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