Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). ‘Kofel’ means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.
Bavarians we’ve met in this picturesque town are well-versed in the art of hiking, known as wandern, in German. As a result, they’re able to call off the names of these mountain peaks with the same sort of ease with which they ascend them. Coming from the Midwestern United States where hikes are typically through flat terrain, and well aware of my distaste for heights, I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to reach the Kofel’s summit.
When I first came to Oberammergau and spotted it dominating the landscape, I questioned if it could be easily hiked. Many of the villagers told us that it was “easy”, some even mentioned that they’d taken their children along for the hike. These comments gave me some encouragement, despite it appearing to have sheer faces.
On an early summer morning, my parents, Shawn and I set off to tackle the Kofel. Our hike would take us past a religious shrine carved into rock, then through a lush forested area where we met two hikers sporting Lederhosen. My mom and I grew intimidated when we encountered a scree field which had to be crossed if we were to make it to the summit. Banishing all thoughts that doing so might start an avalanche, we eventually made it.
Another leg of the path wove past rock walls on which hikers had scribbled their names and the year of their ascent. With some entries dating back to the 1930s, we pondered what became of those individuals during World War II.
Eventually, nature’s canopy gave way to an unobscured view of a pristine blue sky and we knew we’d reached the leg that locals describe as being the most challenging. This part of the mountain was exposed, with fixed metal cables attached to the rock face to which hikers can hold. We met a pair of women who said they were afraid to go further, a gentleman in his 70s who had just completed his third climb of the mountain, and a large fluffy dog as he bounded down the trail. As we tackled the final leg, which is largely devoid of vegetation, we knew that we’d reached the top when we glimpsed the summit’s cross. The views of the Ammergau Valley, surrounding peaks, and a dollhouse-sized version of Oberammergau made the hike well worth it. We’d later learn that we’d forgotten to sign the ‘guest book’ at the top of the mountain, a practice that’s customary in the Bavarian hiking world. Perhaps that means a second ascent is in the cards for us soon.
Where in the World?
- The Kofel’s elevation is 1,342 meters, and Oberammergau sits at an elevation of 837 meters. The hike is relatively easy, for those who are fit, and mostly takes you through a lovely forested area. About half-way to the summit, hikers will encounter a scree field, which some might find disconcerting. The last segment of the hike involves ascending the exposed section of the mountain. There are fixed metal cables to which you can hold on. Those with a fear of heights might find this leg of the hike challenging. At the time of our climb, one or two small sections of the cables had come dislodged from the rock, making it possible to get off-balance or startled.
- Several different routes access the Kofel’s summit. We started at the Döttenbühl parking lot, near the Oberammergau Cemetery, crossing the Kälberplatte meadow. This more direct route generally takes approximately 1.5 hours, but it took us a bit longer since we stopped to take breaks and photographs and mingle with other hikers. To return to Oberammergau, we hiked via a different path, the Königssteig (King’s Trail). The return journey was considerably longer – approximately 2.5 – 3 hours.
- Be sure to pack an adequate amount of water and snacks in your backpack, as there’s no drinking fountains or vendors along the route. On the way back to Oberammergau, we stopped at the Kolbenalm, a family-owned restaurant/inn for cold, bubbly water since we’d exhausted our supply.
- More Kofel Hiking Resources: Summit Post & Hike & Bike.
- Also view this stunning panorama shot, which shows the Kofel and neighboring peaks at sunrise.
- Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Germany.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.