Between July and August of 2016, I became an avid hiker. I describe myself as ‘avid’ because these adventures entailed waking up at the crack of dawn, to drive an hour or more to the Alps, to then hike up a mountain for 4-9 hours; safe to say I, or rather we, were eager. Hiking also combines two of my greatest passions; alpine exploring, and beer drinking. In this post, I will describe 3 of my summer mountaineering experiences that I find adequately describe 3 distinct levels of hiking; beginner, intermediate, and expert.
Disclaimer: Please excuse my lack of technical climbing terminology, as I am quite a novice (perhaps my 2 month timeline gave this away…)
Schlinersee to Tegernsee: Beginner (4 hours)
In July, I and 20 other TI-ers embarked on a journey from Schlinersee to Tegernsee. (Well, from Freising, to Munich, to Schinersee, and then Tegernsee). Some of us were a bit hungover from the festivities of the night before-which included a rock concert put on by local bands in Freising Marienplatz (and subsequent after-party activities)-and were therefore heavily reliant on the fresh mountain air to sober us up. Once we arrived at the starting point, we nominated the two eldest interns of the pack to be our tour guides (it helped that they serendipitously wore matching jackets- thanks Matt and Lucy!), and set off for our first hike. Due to the number of us, we swiftly broke off into groups along the way; the photographers (at the waaay back), the strollers (mid-back) the normal hikers (middle) and the elite (the front). We were a mix of skill levels and athleticisms, of proper hiking attire (some wore hiking shoes, I wore Converse…another girl wore Doc Martins), and were carrying with us a mix of hiking expectations. The hike took about 4 hours, with 2 hours of intensive cardio, but the majority being a pleasant forestry stroll. We even found a restaurant mid-way through on a peak overlooking our scenic route, and enjoyed some sausages and a few (more) beers. Once we made it to Tegernsee, we sun bathed by the lake feeling accomplished, and slowly made our way back to Freising; a little sore, but with a renewed appreciation for the great outdoors.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Grainau: Intermediate (7 hours)
The beginner hike inspired me to pursue more difficult routes, and this experience most notably, as it featured Hell Valley Gorge (Höllentalklamm in German). A group of 5 of us set off in the early morning from Freising to Garmisch, where we indulged like (Burger) Kings on fast food breakfast and maple syrup shots (too early for anything else), explored the quaint town of Garmisch, and finally met up with a colleague and true born-and-bred Bavarian who could double as professional hiking guide (thanks Claudia!). The hike began in Grainau, a neighboring mountain resort village, and initially consisted of a 2-hour intermediate trek to the entrance of the gorge (for full disclosure-there was an entrance, a 30 MINUTE LINE, and a 3 EUR fee to enter…). Once we had all paid, we walked through the 1000m gorge via mountain-carved tunnels, jutting catwalks, and slippery bridges until we made it to the sunshine bathed reservoir at the top. It was stunning, I highly recommend visiting, and if you want to experience it without the hike, visit Partnach Gorge in Garmisch. We stopped for snacks, photo opportunities, and to see how long each of us could stand to put our feet in the freezing mountain water (obviously the Bavarian won…). We trekked on to a ski resort (converted to a restaurant for summer) nestled between Austrian and German peaks. At this point we were about 4.5 hours into our journey, and with beer-in-hand, I naively thought we were done. We carried on-wards and upwards, seeing some of the best views I’ve seen to date (featured in pictures above) finally making our way down a few hours later, through a route less traveled (by people, but frequented by cows…) We stopped for a hearty dinner of various meats and käsespätzle (German Mac and Cheese) and made our way home crawling through weekend traffic on the autobahn; smelly, exhausted, and hiking-obsessed.
Erwald, Austria: Expert (9 hours)
Disclaimer: we did not opt to do an expert hike on our own accord, we made a mistake-and realized too late. We were not equipped for this hike, and it became abundantly clear whilst hugging the cliff edge, with our only hope being a rusty discontinuing and dilapidated metal wire attached by who I assume must be God to the mountain edge (the memory alone making my hands sweaty…Knees week, arms are heavy…). But let me start from the beginning- We started this hike on a beautiful Sunday, opting for the train in order to avoid Austria/Germany traffic on the way home. Our group (of about 7, average to intermediate hikers from TI) had chosen to do a more difficult hike, lasting around 8 hours, with a stop at Seebensee (the beautiful lake pictured above), and a promise to make it higher than 3000 meters. We didn’t have anyone guiding us-perhaps that was the problem- and once we arrived we set off on, little did we know at the time, the hardest hike of our lives. Jumping back to my introduction, we spent the first few hours hiking the steep woodland base, until reaching the treeline, where we quite suddenly transitioned from hiking to climbing the rocky peak using our hands. Some of us- myself and our French comrade Antoine- probably could have cried with fear if we were lesser people (or not surrounded by co-workers). But alas, we made it to the top, and then continued on to the lake to allow our heart rates to return to a normal pace. We then carried on to a mountain hotel and bar (Beer needed), where I thought we were almost finished, as it had been about 6 hours since we began- naivety striking me once again. We had to carry on to reach our goal of over 3000 meters, so away we went- climbing past the point of hard rock surfaces, and to the top where only pebbles and snow gathered (mind you, it was August). This was the most incredible view I have ever seen in my life. Maybe the mix of fear, adrenaline, and exhaustion multiplied my emotions, but it was breathtaking, and the pictures can’t do it justice. After a few minutes of admiration and breath-catching, we started our (extremely steep) descent, some of which we spent sliding crouched down, and eventually reaching a cable car some of us used to get back to where we started. We had one final beer (also needed) in Erwald looking out at the mountain we conquered, and made our way home.
Borrowed clothes: During the beginner hike, I wore my beat up converse (which now have paper-thin soles), my mom’s leggings, and my cherished “borrowed” Jack Jones tank top from my boyfriend. I managed to buy myself some hiking clothes that were more suitable as I progressed through the aforementioned levels, but I did have to borrow (and return) a fellow hiker’s walking stick during the Erwald hike, as my ankle (and soul) gave up on me amidst our descent (Thanks Benedikt!).
Pro travel tips:
- Invest in hiking shoes- sneakers won’t cut it, and in some cases can be very dangerous
- Stick to your own pace- I cannot stress this enough. I made this mistake in my first hike, by thinking I could stick it out with the elite, and I tuckered myself out far too quickly
- When hiking, pack snacks, drinks (dranks- mountain schnapps), a rain jacket (a light one you can fold away) and beer money J
- Bring your passport-hiking in Germany could very well end in Austria
- Check weather forecasts thoroughly, as conditions at the peak of a mountain may be very different than they appear