The Hindelanger Via Ferrata, located in the small town of Oberstdorf in Bavaria, is one of the oldest and most renowned via ferratas in Germany. Stretching over 5 kilometers along the ridge, this via ferrata offers breathtaking views as well as some physical and psychological challenges. The Hindelanger Via Ferrata had been on our “Want-List” for a long time. So it was a delight when we finally made it to Oberstdorf in summer 2022.
In this blog post we will take you along on the ridge of the Hindelanger Via Ferrata, highlighting its unique features and unforgettable moments.
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata – a German Classic
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata is a classic in every sense. Established back in the 1970s, it predates the surge in popularity of via ferratas in the Alps. In fact, the Hindelanger Via Ferrata is about our age. But unlike us, it has undergone renovations in 2003 and 2020/21 to ensure its safety.
What is a via ferrata?
Via ferratas, Italian for “iron path,”, bridge the gap between mountain hiking and alpine climbing. Using a network of steel cables, ladders, and iron steps, they offer a safe way to explore steep cliffs and rocky terrains. Thus, they appeal not only to climbers but to a wide range of outdoor adventurers.
To embark on a via ferrata, you will need some special equipment. The typical set includes a harness, a helmet, and a via ferrata lanyard with shock-absorbing components. You can rent a via ferrata set at several sports shops in Oberstdorf for around 25 Euro per day. In addition, sturdy shoes with a good grip are a must.
Taking the cable car to the start of the Hindelanger Via Ferrata
Our via ferrata adventure starts with a cable car ride up to the Nebelhorn summit. From the viewing platform perched around the summit at 2223 meters we marvel at the 360-degree panoramic view. Blue skies and clear weather set the stage for an unforgettable day.
A group of young men are gearing up for the Hindelanger Via Ferrata just below the viewing platform. We follow them on the narrow path along the ridge to the official start. Setting the tone for the adventure, a sign warns:
“Absolute surefootedness and freedom from vertigo required.”
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata is rated B/C on the official difficulty scale, indicating a moderate level of challenge. However, we have read that not the entire route is equipped with steel cables. This means that some sections require walking along the ridge without any belay possibilities.
High up on the mountain ridge
Just after the start, a heart-pounding 10-meter ladder leads vertically up to the summit of the Western Wengenkopf. The ascent is fun, but we make a mental note not to look down into the abyss. Soon after the Western Wengenkopf we encounter the first of many bottlenecks at a steep section where safety requires maintaining a greater distance between climbers. On a beautiful summer day, we have anticipated this since the Hindelanger Via Ferrata is one of the most popular ferratas in Bavaria. As we wait our turn, small talk flows among fellow hikers. “Look at this panorama”, “What a beautiful clear sky!” and “It must be one of the last good days of the summer!”
We watch a father cheer on his daughter as they conquer a rare overhanging section. He advises her to prop herself up on her arms, making the move less strenuous. The child, seemingly unfazed by the spectators, reaches the top with ease. By contrast, her father ends up struggling somewhat.
Demanding terrain and psychological challenges
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata offers quite a variety of terrain. Some sections are like a wide and flat path reminiscent of high mountain trails. Other sections consist of steep rocks – in some places without a safety steel cable to clip in. The placement of the steel cables seems a bit random to us. Sometimes quite easy parts are equipped with one, while on some steep and potentially dangerous sections there are none. Realistically, the risk of slipping and falling is quite slim, but as always, thinking about it makes us a bit nervous.
As we progress along the ridge, the path becomes increasingly challenging. The exposed passages get longer, and the difficulty level increases. Moreover, fatigue sets in, and concentration is crucial to safely navigate the path.
Meeting other climbers
At one of the smaller peaks, we find ourselves in a friendly chat with Ralf and Carsten from Stuttgart. They are about our age and move at a similar pace – we have all waited for each other at some bottleneck ladders already. We mutually apologize for being so slow and then revel at the great view from our elevated position. The conversation moves from the pros and cons of rock-climbing vs via ferratas to European climbing areas, and even to Japan. Ralf likes to go on long and difficult via ferratas and does so regularly. Because of its exceptional appeal, he is tackling “Hindelanger” for the third time already. As a conversation, it is a refreshing change from the usual brevity of communication on such climbs.
We made it!
After nearly five hours on the mountain ridge, including waiting times and chats, we reach the end of the climbing section. It was indeed more physically demanding than we anticipated after climbing the first stretches. Before us lies a walk back to the cable car station at the Edmund-Probst-Hut.
It is already 3 PM and we must make it to the last cable car going down at 4.30 PM. Missing it would mean a daunting 1150-meter descent! So, we hurry along the well-marked mountain path past Lake Koblat and are relieved when we see the hut in a distance.
In the queue for the descending cable cars, we pack away our harnesses and lanyards. And among the day trippers in the queue, we can immediately recognize our fellow via ferrata enthusiasts. The dead giveaway is not their helmets and harnesses; it is the radiant happiness in their eyes from conquering the Hindelanger Via Ferrata.
Reasons to climb the Hindelanger Via Ferrata
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata is one of the oldest and best-known via ferratas in Germany. It follows a natural route along the ridge with a limited use of iron clamps and steel cables. This makes for a very alpine feeling: You have a lot of real rock beneath your fingers. Some passages must be climbed freely. With sunny and clear weather, you will have marvelous views from the ridge all day long. However, with the tour being so popular, it also means that there will be some waiting times on sunny days.
However, do not tackle the via ferrata unless the weather is stable. You should be free of vertigo and have some experience with via ferratas and alpine terrain. For those getting scared or finding that the via ferrata is too hard for them, there are several exit trails early on.
In summer you could also join a guided climb by Mountain School Kleinwalsertal.
You can also read about our adventure on the Hindelanger Via Ferrata in German in the Lonely Planet book “Legendäre Outdoor-Abenteuer in Deutschland” by MairDumont. The book describes 40 different outdoor adventures in Germany, of which we contributed three .
If you are looking for a tamer adventure in the area, why not go on a long-distance hike in Bavaria, like the King Ludwig Path or the Romantic Road?
The King Ludwig Path leads over 120 km from Bernried at Lake Starnberg towards Füssen. Along the way you will pass through pretty Bavarian villages and encounter authentic beer gardens and lavish Baroque churches.
The so-called Romantic Road hiking route also ends in Füssen but starts in Würzburg. The whole trail is 450 km long – we hiked the 60 km section through the Tauber valley. With lovely wine producing countryside and some historic towns, like Rothenburg ob der Tauber it was a highlight of our hiking life.
How to get to the Hindelanger Via Ferrata
The Hindelanger Via Ferrata runs along a mountain ridge above Oberstdorf, a small town at the end of the train line in Southern Germany. The Nebelhorn Cable Car leads in three stages up to the Nebelhorn summit at 2224 m, from where the Hindelanger Via Ferrata starts. From the end of the via ferrata there is a trail to one of the middle stations, the Höfatsblick station with the Edmund-Probst-Hut. You could also stay at the Edmund-Probst-Hut before or after the climb and have a more relaxed day.
We got free tickets for the cable car but all other expenses were paid by ourselves. Writing this blog post was not part of any asignment or contract.
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