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Short vacation: Hiking in the Fichtelgebirge - The Lyorn's Den

Mon Apr. 18th, 2011

05:12 pm - Short vacation: Hiking in the Fichtelgebirge

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One month ago in the bright spring sunshine I stood on a hilltop between strange art installations, looked at the surrounding hills, found on the highest and furthest away of them and said, "I want to go there".

Last weekend I did.

What I did: Three days hiking on the Fränkischen Gebirgsweg in the Fichtelgebirge, from Marktredwitz resp. Nagel to Bayreuth.
Fun: Yes, but somewhat on the meditative side.
Other: Need a smaller backpack. Much smaller.


Travel itinerary:



Summary

That itinerary included 50 km walking (actually, I did more like 70), and the two highest hills in Franconia: The Schneeberg at 1051 metres, and the Ochsenkopf at 1024. I suspect I also got the third and fourth highest, but they are both parts of the climb up to the Schneeberg. All in all, it was both easier and less scenic than I had expected. The climbs were more long than steep, and only about one quarter of the paths were footpaths on rocky or forested terrain. Most of the walk was on forestry roads (gravel), and especially the part down to Bayreuth was paved roads. The area is thickly forested, mostly fir trees, only rarely beech forest or open spaces. Except for some small nature reserves, it's conventional forestry all over, firs planted in rows and harvested in sections. The trail was extremely well marked. That, together with the easy road and the only moderate inclines made for very meditative walking, a way to be alone with one's thoughts, not much outside intruding, sometimes for miles.

Not many people, either. Skiing season was over, summer not yet begun. The weather was cold, consistently below 10°C until I came down to Bayreuth, and the sky overcast. Not unexpected: the Fichtelgebirge is one of the coldest and greyest place in Germany. The top of the Schneeberg remembers the ice age, ecology-wise. In shaded and low places, there was still some snow left. I have no problems with cold and grey, or I would not take my vacations in April. There were a few tiny drops of rain or sleet now and then, not enough to get the rain jacket out.

My backpack (K___'s backpack, to be precise) was too large for that trip. Actually, it was too large for the three-week trip to Cornwall two years ago, but only a bit. This time, I had filled most of the lower compartment with my gear, and the twice-as-big upper compartment held my water bottle. Other things that were too large: My hiking jeans (the store had refused to make them smaller, "Five inches? No way."), and the belt I used to cope with the too-large jeans. I do not want to buy new clothes again!

This was a very inexpensive trip. Most expensive was Marktredwitz, where I stays in a hotel and had a three-course-dinner with wine and coffee -- these two made up about half of the total cost. The B&Bs, the coffee and cake at noon, the dinners in country inns, and the transport costs, taken all together, didn't quite break the 100 Euro mark.


The (very) long version

After some checking of maps and reading up on the internet, I took two vacation days, and then doubtfully eyed the weather forecast. I'd walk in the plains and on open road in the rain -- there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothes. But in the hills and forests, rain is just miserable. The paths are slippery and low-hanging boughs dump water all over you. And the weather forecast said something about heavy rains on Friday.

Until Monday evening, that is. Then the heavy rains moved up to Tuesday, and from Wednesday on the weather was expected to be sunny and dry. So I booked accommodation (and fretted about it). Wednesday I worked too long because even for an absence of two days all the papers have to be in order and up-to-date so that everyone can find out what to do should any of my projects run into unexpected trouble.

Thursday I had the very uncommon and unexpected luxury of being able to start at my own time. Had breakfast, packed my rucksack, checked the timetable, and left home at a comfortable half past ten into a cool and sunny day with my (well, K___'s) big backpack barely one quarter full and weighing about five kilos. I didn't expect the weight to give me any trouble, no matter how the trail turned out, because I had lost three times that in the last year and had worked very hard to hold unto the muscle mass.

Day One: Marktredwitz, and the Rock labyrinth Luisenburg

A two hours' train ride later I was under a grey sky in Marktredwitz. Ten minutes to the hotel and a comfortable if plain IKEA-furnished room. I had had some vague plans of sightseeing in the town, but nervous energy, I has it, and more of it when on vacation. So instead I crossed the street to the tourist office, confirmed that my plan to get from the town to the trail the next day made sense, and had the way to the Felslabyrinth Luisenburg described. A seven-kilometre walk to a very-late 18th century rock garden. Gardening done with dynamite and pickaxes, to arrange a heap of granite boulders from the size of a VW beetle to the size of a small mansion in ways pleasing to the eye and challenging to the body. Really, some of the passages between the boulders are crawl spaces. I am a woman of pretty average size, and in some passages I had to walk like a duck and twist my upper body, and still touched the walls. I have no idea how a man or a bigger woman would manage. Or a woman in 18th century clothes!

But it was amazing, for all the senses, and the sun had come out and made the boulders dark silver and the moss shiny bright emerald. Narrow stairs led to amazing sights from boulder tops crowned with fake ruins. Very romantic era, the whole thing. The whole area is full of memories and memorials of romantic poets and composers, up to (or down to) Wagner, who ended the romantic era and invented Heavy Metal. Kind of.

The road to the Felslabyrinth passed through thick forest, over open fields where the wind was icy, down into a small town which seemed to consist solely of hospitals, old age homes, and construction sites to build more hospitals and old age homes, then up a road currently being build. Incredibly depressing. On the way back, the sun made it all a little better, though the temperature had dropped to about freezing.

Back in Marktredwitz I was very cold and very hungry. I had planned to check out a bunch of eateries and then go to the most promising, but the very first I found looked nice enough, it was getting dark, I wasn't getting any less hungry, and I had promised myself not to skip dinner. (I can become so hungry that I cannot decide anymore where and what to eat, and then I do not eat.) The place is called the "Winkelmühle", and their web page is kind of embarrassing (comic sans and idiosyncratic spelling), but it was comfy (could be heated a little better, though), the food was good, and the waiter very attentive and fast. I had three courses, red wine, and a coffee for closure, and felt very content and very tired afterwards. So I shambled back through the cold to the hotel, had a long hot shower and fell into bed. I slept ten hours, occasionally woken by people being noisy on the street below, and by nightmares of being late. I tried closing the window against the noise, but didn't like it.

Day Two: Schneeberg and Fichtelberg

Got up early, had a typical hotel buffet breakfast with my brain still somewhat fogged, and was at the bus station way too early. But finally the bus arrived, and even later (around 11) I was in Nagel, a tiny town existing mostly for tourism, and after a very short search found the trail.

There isn't much to say about the walk itself, and what there is to say I have said in the summary. Mostly easy paths, mostly quiet (except for the sounds of distant chain saws) forest, no visible or audible animals except for some birds, the occasional granite-bouldered hilltop which opened to a vista. After eight or nine kilometres, a small inn with a tiled stove, a friendly waitress and good cake. Further upward to the Schneeberg, which is actually quite remarkable. As said, this is the highest mountain in Franconia. It is also really close to where the Iron Curtain ran. So of course they built a spy station and listening post there. Until the early nineties it was a prohibited zone, big ugly mast, big ugly office buildings, big ugly wire mesh fences topped with barbed wire. And a small wooden look-out that had been there before all the ugly stuff.

The big ugly things are still wired off. The mast is used for mobile phone communication. The offices are deserted and look as if they are trying to make up their mind on "to crumble or not to crumble". There are no broken windows, not a single one. "Access forbidden" signs now mark rare biotopes. The Iron Curtain created Europe's largest connected nature reserve, running from the Alps to the Baltic sea. Up there, you see it. There are bobcats in the forests.

No one was around. I climbed up the small look-out, which offered amazingly good protection against the wind, drank some water, ate some more cake, and marvelled about time, and about the strangeness of human existence.

Then mostly downhill, through a moor in the long process of re-building after being drained two hundred years ago, past an artificial lake with real badgers (you could see their work, but no badger), and a very new-agey swimming bath (probably not suitable for swimming, and really, the description of the place scares me), and down into Fichtelberg. Another out-of-season holiday town in the looks-like-rain. The town hall, the town museum and some inns were welcoming and had a fresh coat of paint, but most of the shops were closed, the windows plastered with old newspaper. I found the B&B quickly, a friendly old woman renting out the upstairs rooms, usually by the week, but also for one night for a single hiker, 12 Euro for one night, breakfast included. After dumping my backpack, I took a walk down the main street (more than one kilometre of it, passing a wasteland between upper and lower town which I first thought to be the devastation after a flooding, then, when I saw that the rubbish was tidily sorted, a junk yard, but there were heavy concrete foundations and the middle of it, overgrown with young bushes. I didn't find out what it was.) Then back in a wide arc, crossing the river at the bottom of the valley on a narrow bridge, where two young men in a car asked me for the way to the bath. They had relied on their navigation system and ended up in a street with a similar name in the utterly wrong place and no idea where to go from there. I could help them.

Then I went for food: roast pork and dumplings and dark beer. On the way back I was so tired that my sight became clouded. (My contact lenses do that when I'm too tired to blink.) I fell into bed before it was even dark and slept twelve hours. More nightmares of missed connections and being too late.

Day Three: Ochsenkopf and Goldmühl

At the breakfast table I met two of the other guests, a married couple in their 50s, from Dresden. They were spending a week here and were determined to do as little walking as possible, as that's what they did in their jobs all day. I, spending ten hours and then some on my butt in front of a computer every work day, traipsed on.

The Ochsenkopf was not far. I did not see anyone coming up the path from the east, but there are two lifts to the top from north and south, so there were some families with large dogs and a few mountain bikers in the hilltop inn, enough to occupy the small room. (The large room was the size of a school gym, it must have seated two hundred. In winter, this place is popular for family-friendly skiing.) There is a stone look-out with the strange name of "Asenturm", dedicated, in a 1920s way, to the Norse gods. No one, as far as I know, got hanged from it or something similarly unpleasant. Most of it was build, unpaid, by volunteers. It cost 2.5 billion Marks to build. The more one knows about history, the more baffled one becomes by it.

The way down was interesting for the first two or three kilometres, steep and rocky. Then it became forestry road and I got into mile munching mode. I think that I covered more than seven kilometres in less than 90 minutes, before the path became interesting again. Up another hill (the Fürstenstein) with a strange large rock on top, which had caused some confusion among geologists because it did not fit in there. (The area has been tectonically very active, in a non-violent, slow way. You find wildly different kinds of stones nearly on top of each other. Literally, in this case.)

At the rock I left the trail and went downhill (steeply, on paved roads) into Brandholz and on to Goldmühl. I had had a hard time finding accommodation there, because the internet page of Goldkronach (the nearest place that has an internet page) did offer only holiday apartments, and googlemaps came up blank. So I had e-mailed the tourist office on Monday and they had given me an address in Goldmühl. That B&B was the nicest place imaginable. Run by two enthusiastic motorbikers. The woman designed stuff (like geological info tables for tourists) for a living and it showed in the room. Plus, there was free chocolate, an electric kettle, and all the things one might need in the cupboards, from Kleenex to extra towels. If they had a web page I'd link to them.

Dinner was in another traditional-going-on-posh inn, and with the intuitive certainty of those who spent too much time on diets I ordered the most energy-laden dish on the menu. Which left me too full for dessert, but still very happy.

Day Four: Bayreuth and back home

The woman from the B&B drove me uphill back to the trail the next day after a pretty spectacular breakfast, and told me some things about the history of mining for gold in this area. It's been a while -- no one has been able to make significant money from it since the 30 Years' War, but in the 14th century they got pounds of gold out of the hills and rivers every week. In summer, you can try your hand at washing gold from river sand. Either from prepared river sand that you buy and which is guaranteed to contain a certain amount of gold, or "in the wild".

The trail went mostly downhill, from one village to the next, and ran mostly on paved roads, which my hiking boots are not made for. The weather was a little warmer and more sunny. 12 km to Bayreuth, and it dragged. Still I enjoyed the open sky. Finally I crossed a vast and crowded golf course (I cannot help myself, I feel that golf is a very silly game), then steeply downhill through a wood, over a river, and the next hill was the old princes' garden of Bayreuth, the Eremitage. Which is, well, baroque. Mostly. And has to be seen to be believed. I can only recommend that every cultural pessimist, before lamenting the bad taste and the Disneyfication in these modern times, get a good tour of the designs of the baroque era. OMGWTFBBQ barely begins to describe it.

At the Eremitage, the trail turned south, and I found myself with a problem. For some stupid reason I had neglected to take a look at a city plan of Bayreuth and had somehow assumed that the garden would be within the city. Actually, it's three kilometres east of it. And I had no idea how to get to the train station. And it being Sunday, buses were few and far between. (As in, I saw one, checked, and the next would have run in three hours.)

Fortunately, I'm good at this stuff. Googlemaps tells me that the shortest way would have been 4 km. I found the train station in less than one hour, and was home at half past five on a mild and sunny evening.

Looking back, I'd have expected the walk to be a lot harder. What gave me most trouble were my sadly under-padded hip bones which had to take most of the weight of the backpack. I'm still not sure that I'll be up to more challenging walks, especially not with a group, as I still cannot pace myself uphill and need my gasping-for-air breaks. A long incline where I had to keep up with a group would give me trouble.

Note: I'm backdating this because it took a while to write.

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Comments:

[User Picture]
From:mad_freddy
Date:April 25th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
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Sounds like a very interesting hike - I'm sometimes amazed at what nice places you can find nearly everywhere, no need to fly thousands of miles. Yay for short breaks near home!
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[User Picture]
From:lyorn
Date:April 26th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
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It's like one never visits the museums in the town you live in *G*. Too close has a hard time getting noticed.
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[User Picture]
From:mad_freddy
Date:April 27th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
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I have somewhere a nice article about a hiking trail in the Elbsandsteingebirge. If I can dig it up again I'll show it to you, maybe you'll like it.
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