Becoming a teacher inevitably meant that I had six weeks of summer vacation. So what better way to spend it than to travel to a nice climbing destination and explore there for four weeks. In search of a not too difficult to reach place with a high density of climbing routes that wouldn’t be too hot in the summer, I stumbled upon a region called Allgäu. In the south of Germany, very close to the Austrian border, at an elevation of about 900 meters it ticked all the boxes.
Upon arrival I discovered one personal downside; almost every parking in this area is paid. Whether you go climbing, hiking or any other activity, placing your car anywhere will cost you between 2 to 10 euros. On top of that you might want to take a ski lift to take you to that beautiful hike or crag that will cost you another 15 to 40 euros. Now, it is possible to do a lot of fun things without spending tons of money, but it needs some research beforehand.
This downside was well outweighed by all the upsides that this area had for me. The beauty of the region with all the possibilities for hiking, climbing and via ferrata all so close together was amazing. Even though 2022 was a very hot summer I was able to find enough shaded or cooler climbing options. I really enjoyed that half the time I was spending time in Germany and the other half I was in Austria. The places that I mention in this blog can be either in Germany or Austria and all can be easily reached without border control issues.
Traveling to Allgäu
The main reason for me wanting to stay on the German side of the Alps was that I didn’t have to drive through Austria, saving me having to buy a vignette for the highways. From this region it’s easy to enter Austria without venturing on the highways. The region itself is fairly flat but at the borders the land suddenly rises to great altitudes. I really enjoyed this because I didn’t have to drive any steep roads as I was arriving from the Netherlands.
You can also travel here by train. Kempten, Sonthofen and Oberstdorf all have a train station. But you would need some form of transportation after that, because the crags are, as far as I know, never reachable by foot. I think the closest big airports are Munich and Innsbruck.
Where to stay
I decided to stay in a town called Sonthofen, it’s officially the most southern town of Germany. In hindsight I’m very happy with the choice of the location since it’s very central within this climbing region and the guide that comes with it. The furthest away crags are 45 minutes by car, everything else is a lot closer than that. I really enjoyed the town because it’s not hyper touristic and at the same time has everything that you might need. Shops, restaurants, places to stay overnight and a cute historic center. I stayed at the campground, which offers both campsites and tiny cabins. In town there are also hotels and other places to stay to be found.
The whole region in itself is very touristic since in winter it’s also a skiing destination and is full with overnight options.
I believe there are three guides for this area. One is a (mostly) single pitch sport guide, the second is a multi pitch guide and last is a boulder guide. I only bought the single pitch guide called Allgäu-Rock by Gebro Verlag. I bought my guide at the climbing gym in Sonthofen, at that time I bought the last one they had. It seems like they don’t have a big supply. Another place where you should be able to find the guides is the Exxpozed shop in Kempten. The multi pitch guide is called Alpinkletterführer Allgäu und Tannheimer Berge by Panico and the boulder guide is called Allgäu-Block also by Gebro Verlag.
The guide I have is mostly in German, only the very first pages explaining how to read the guide are also translated in English. The difficulty ratings are in UIAA, but a table in the front of the guide helps with translating it to the French and USA grading. This wasn’t my favorite topo. It sometimes took a lot of time to translate the real thing to what the topo said.
As a climber who has never really been able to climb anything over (french) 6a, both top rope and lead, it can be hard to find a climbing destination that has enough easy climbs. I stayed in Allgäu for almost four weeks and had 14 climbing days of which I only once was at the same place a second time. I would have done even more if it wasn’t for the very hot and sunny weather. A lot of nice crags were pretty much south facing. Often we chose a west facing crag and started early, so when the sun would hit it around 1 or 2 PM we had climbed a lot already.
The rain also had an influence on the choice of crag. The most crags are limestone, but you can also find quite a few conglomerate (nagelfluh) crags and some sandstone. Only the limestone can be climbed just after rain, the other two have to dry for a bit before you climb there. So I never had a chance of trying the easy south facing conglomerate crags.
Crags that I enjoyed the most are Besler and Grauer Stein. Besler for the view and the very exposed feel while climbing and Grauer Stein for the amazing slab experience. I also was very happy that I was able to climb one multi pitch. We did a route called Wirklich oben bist du nie. A nice, not too hard 6 pitch climb.
If you’re having bad luck with the weather the region offers multiple climbing gyms. I’ve been to the one in Sonthofen and it’s really nice. I know there’s also one in Kempten, at the Exxpozed shop. There should be more around, but not sure where.
I’ve done two via ferratas in the time I was here. The first one I did is called the Friedberger klettersteig. There are two ways of doing this via ferrata. I did it the hard way with a hike all the way from the valley, past a peak called Rote Flüh. It took me 7 or 8 hours to complete the full hike. I’ve linked to the route information that I used below. The other option is to take the Füssener Jöchle Bahn and from there follow the signs for Friedberger klettersteig. The via ferrata was fairly easy and I enjoyed it a lot because you’re fully capable of climbing on rock only. Other than the cable there is no steel in the route.
The second one I did is called the Zweiländer klettersteig. It’s a traverse along a north east facing rock face, finishing on the Kanzelwand peak. I took the lift up and hiked back down after the via ferrata. The climbing in this route surprised me a lot, it was a lot harder than I expected. Footholds were very polished and at the same time it was overhanging with nothing but the cable to hold onto. I regretted my choice of footwear, old shoes with the profile completely worn off. I needed a lot of upper body strength to make it through. However, the view and the route were amazing.
The sport routes in this area in general aren’t that long, like up to 20 meters. However you do find climbs that are up to 35 – 40 meters, and in many of those you’ll find an anchor halfway up, but not all. There are a few routes where trad gear is useful, but in general you don’t need any additional gear. A regular set of quickdraws is enough in most cases. Bolting is in most crags very friendly with a very safe distance between bolts. If the bolting is a bit more spaced you’ll find that the placement is very good, right when you need them. In some areas you can be surprised by the ending of a route. Sometimes just one single bolt, or two sharp bolts that are not connected and only one has a maillon rapide. In most cases you’ll find two bolts connected with a chain or rope and a big carabiner is in one of the bolts. Be prepared for anything.
If you’re planning to also go climb multi pitches then you’re going to need a double rope. The rappel in the climb I did was about 50 meters long. I do believe there are also alpine trad routes in the area, but I haven’t looked into that.
As far as I know the region doesn’t really have a climbers hangout. But with that being said, the area is full with local climbers looking for all sorts of climbing partners. They find each other usually through the Facebook groups Allgäuer Berggruppe and Klettern & Bouldern im Allgäu. I noticed that posting in German was a lot more effective than in English. Through Facebook I also met Thomas, who is a local in the area. We had some fantastic climbing sessions together and he asked if I could feature him here. So if you’re in the area looking for a climbing partner, get in touch with Thomas, I highly recommend him as a safe and reliable partner. All Facebook pages are linked below.
What else to do
Any outdoor mountain sport you can think of is possible in this area. I’ve seen many people going around on mountain bikes, the campground that I was staying at offers wild water rafting experiences, I’ve seen some para gliders and there is hiking in varying difficulty in varying terrain. The high amount of lifts that can take you high up into the mountains makes for numerous opportunities to discover the area without too much effort.
- Campground Sonthofen – https://www.tourismus-sonthofen.de/illercamping/
- Climbing gym Sonthofen – https://www.kletterzentrum-sonthofen.de/
- Exxpozed shop – https://www.exxpozed.de/
- Multi pitch – https://www.bergsteigen.com/touren/klettern/wirklich-oben-bist-du-nie/
- Friedberger klettersteig – https://www.hoehenrausch.de/berge/rote-flueh/friedberger-klettersteig/
- Zweiländer klettersteig – https://www.bergsteigen.com/touren/klettersteig/zweilaender-sport-klettersteig/
- Allgäuer Berggruppe Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/2238728019710728
- Klettern & Bouldern im Allgäu Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/178353728875335
- Thomas’ Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/wiest.thomas