Hochvogel: A famed mountain straddling Germany and Austria faces a rocky collapse

It is one of the most famous mountains in the Allgäu Alps - and it could soon be history. According to experts, the summit of the Hochvogel will soon collapse, and up to 260,000 cubic metres of rock could fall into the valley.

Hochvogel: A famed mountain straddling Germany and Austria faces a rocky collapse
The summit of Hochvogel. Photo: DPA

Yet the possible scenario is hardly shaking up the locals: According to the authorities, there is no particular threat to the population near the mountain.

For years now, a huge crevasse at the summit on the border between Bavaria and Tyrol has been growing in size, and the first rock falls have already occurred. Researchers use sensors to monitor the movement of the massif in order to be able to predict large rockfall.

SEE ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust: Reaching new heights in the Allgäu

The only building near the Hochvogel summit is the Prinz-Luitpold-Haus, an almost 140-year-old refuge of the German Alpine Club. But it is so far away that hardly anything can happen to it, says Andreas Kaenders of the Oberallgäu District Office.

There is no built-up area on the Austrian side, says Thomas Figl from the Tyrolean Landesgeologie association. “If there is the big rockfall, there will be a cloud of dust in the Hinterhornbach community depending on the wind, but the area is definitely not threatened,” he says.

The village is more than two kilometres as the crow flies from the mountain.

The rock movements at the Hochvogel are monitored by researchers. According to them, the crack at the summit is currently a good 40 metres long, 8 metres deep and 3 metres wide.

In the Zugspitze area as well as in two other regions in Austria and Italy, threatened mountain regions are also being monitored by drone flights and measurement technology.

It is unclear whether the Hochvogel summit will actually come to an end with a great deal of noise. “There have been smaller and larger events for years,” says state geologist Figl.

It is difficult to assess whether the rockfalls will continue piece by piece or whether the “big bang” will suddenly occur.


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‘Too dangerous’: Calls for Switzerland’s Matterhorn to be closed to climbers

Switzerland's iconic Matterhorn mountain should be closed to climbers, mountain guides have told a Swiss newspaper in comments that have divided the climbing community.

'Too dangerous': Calls for Switzerland’s Matterhorn to be closed to climbers
Is the Matterhorn now too dangerous to climb? Photo: AFP

Read all the latest on this story here

“The mountain has become “too unstable and therefore too dangerous to be a tourist attraction climbed by loads of people every day,” one unnamed guide told Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung.

The comment comes ten days after two climbers died on the mountain in the canton of Valais after a rock fall. So far, six people have died on the mountain this year. Last year it was eleven.

READ ALSO: How heatwaves are making the Swiss Alps more dangerous

Now some climbers want to the mountain closed to climbers as was the case after a huge rock slide during the extremely hot summer of 2003.

It is still not clear what caused the rock fall that killed two climbers recently but geologist Hans-Rudolf Keusen with the Swiss Alpine Club told SonntagsZeitung that hot conditions were “very probably partly responsible”.

Keusen said that permafrost was thawing at increasingly high altitudes.

He said that this was why rock falls and avalanches were increasingly common above 2,500 metres – especially on the exposed north faces of mountains.

But Keusen is against closing mountains to climbers. He says climbers have to take personal responsibility for risks and must inform themselves about local conditions.

Closing the Matterhorn 'a laughable idea'

Meanwhile, Raphaël Mayoraz, head of the natural hazards department in the canton of Valais called the idea of closing the Matterhorn “laughable”.

He said climbing was a “private activity” and that authorities should instead ensure climbers are aware of the risks.

But, as Keusen admitted, this risk is hard to measure. He noted increased instability at higher altitudes was an issue across the Alps as a whole, affecting cable car stations, hiking tracks and climbing routes.

No plans to close mountain

In comments made to Swiss national broadcaster SRF, Zermatt commune president Romy Biner said a closure of the mountain was not being considered.

She noted there were 38 4,000-metre peaks in the commune and that the issue of thawing permafrost was not only applicable to the Matterhorn.

“We can't take responsibility for everything,” the commune president said.

READ ALSO: 'Now I know what hell is like' – survivor of Swiss Alps tragedy