Frankenweg – Franconian Way – Part 1

How do you quantify new beginnings? How do you measure the excitement, the joy, the trepidation and also the apprehension and fear, that always seem to come along with the new. I have no answers to these questions, but I am aware, sometimes painfully so, that the only way to go, always….is forward. You can’t be stuck and you shouldn’t return to what wasn’t working…even if it means that sometimes the path forward might be a solitary one. It is what it is and it’ll all somehow end up being ok….I promise.

The Franconian Way (Frankenweg) is another long-distance hiking path that starts at the northern edge of Bavaria, in a place where several long-distance paths converge, it is aptly called the ‘hiking hub’ (Wanderdrehkreuz) in Blankenstein/ Untereisenstein. The Franconian Way covers some of the most amazing natural sights and beautiful walking that can be found north of the Alps and spans a length of roughly 520km or 323mi. And it’s my project for 2021 – since I still can’t really go travel and hike where I want to (like most of us 🙁 ).

Day 0: Blankenstein – somewhere in the woods (~3.5km)

It’s been a while since I’ve done this….actually packed a backpack for an overnight stay and several days of hiking, but it turns out it’s like riding a bike – you might get rusty, but you never quite forget the routine. And it’s such a familiar routine, like slipping back into warm, comfortable shoes.
On the afternoon of Good Friday I made my way (slowly, slowly, through varous means of transportation) to Blankenstein, a place I’ve been to before, seemingly in another life. At a spot next to the river, right next to the former border between East and West Germany, is a place where several long-distance hiking paths come together and this is where, almost 3 years ago I started the Franconian Mountain Trail (Fränkischer Gebirgsweg) – it seems surreal.

The circumstances of course couldn’t be more different, I couldn’t be more different…it’s always funny how day to day nothing seems to change, yet when you look back, everything is different. But I digress….

I didn’t spend much time at the monument, because it was already late in the day and getting chilly. So I crossed the bridge and of course the trail doesn’t waste any time shattering your illusions about it being an easy stroll….and immediately heads uphill. Thankfully it’s a beautiful day, even though it is pretty cold for the beginning of April, but the climb warms me up real fast. And it’s over faster than I expected anyway, taking me to a lookout tower with a spiral (see-through) staircase and some pretty nice views from the top. It’s super windy up here so I don’t really spend much time on top, before heading back down the way I came, retracing my steps almost to the bottom of the hill and then cutting across on some old dead-end gravel road to set up shelter for the night.

The sunset, while obstructed by trees, is still breathtaking, deep red, crystal clear air, it’ll be a cold night. After enjoying some hot cup noodles I snuggle into my trusted quilt (ahhhh, feels like home) and listen to some Podcast until it gets dark. Hiker midnight is here before I know it and I drift off to sleep, eager to really start the journey in the morning.

Day 2: somewhere in the woods – Prinz-Luitpold Turm (~25km)

The night was colder than expected and I’m also pretty sure I didn’t eat enough the evening before to keep the furnace burning and thus keep me warm. Ah well, it’s all a learning curve, even after so many years of doing this. I wake up early, as usual, but am slow to move in the cold morning. But of course, eventually, I do. It’s switchbacks down the hillside, back to the official trail, and then some easy walking in a gorge along a stream. There are a few people out and about, even this early in the morning, and I stop to have a nice conversation with a few local ladies. They’re all amazed at how someone would voluntarily sleep out in the cold, carrying everything on thir backs – it’s the same conversation I’ve had many times, and it still makes me smile – and one of the ladies offers up her vacation rental, should I not find a suitable place to stay tonigh. I politely decline, but faith in humanity is restored again by the kindness of strangers…eery little bit helps.

Further along the trail takes a morbidly hilarious turn when I pass through HELL (Hölle) on my way, yes that is the actual name of the settlement….but I gotta say, if hell looks like this, i wouldn’t mind being stuck there.

The next few hours are kind of a blur….just ambling along, up hills and down the other side, seeing some wildlife and lots of people…but nothing really stands out in my memory on this stretch, until I get to Naila, the only biggish town today and am able to buy some extra woolly socks to keep my feet warm tonight (hopefully). Continuing on the trail gets boring for a while, just crossing fields and agricultural use areas, until the last climb for the day is before me.

One more big push and I’m on the hilltop at Prinz-Luitpold Trum, a lookout tower with see-through metal steps (nope, not going up there…), a closed up hut and a few benches and a picnic table. There’s a lot of open area for camping, but it’s also kind of exposed, making me worried for the wind chill tonight…but alas, what can you do. After typical April weather all day – rain, sun, hail, sun, snow, sun, wind, repeat – I mentally prepare myself for another unpredictable night. Some cheesy pasta warms me from the inside and sooner than I anticipated, I’m once again snuggled in, double layer of warm socks on my feet.

Day 3: Prinz-Luitpold Turm – Zeyern (32km)

Waking up after a not as freezing night is such a good feeling. The sun was even peeking through the clouds, making it a little easier to get up and get moving. Still, there was frost on the tent – in April. Since it was Easter Sunday, there were quite a few people already moving about even this early in the morning, which is always a little awkward when you’re crawling out of a tent looking like a homeless person….
It took a while to get everything packed, I tried to let the tent dry out a bit in the sunlight while having coffee and some crunchy breakfast stuff. By the time I finally got a move on it was almost 10am, VERY late for me.

The walk was pretty non-distinct today, easy terrain, slightly undulating, through fields and woods, up hills and down again. Nothing remarkable, but it was a beautiful day to be out walking, so it was nice. One little area kind of made me sad, because it was a huge clear cut with piles and piles of sawdust and shredded wood. Kinda felt like walking through an alien landscape and thankfully didn’t last long.

The miles sort of walked themselves today, just cruising along the trail, and before I knew it I had hit the 30km mark – woohoo. Walking into the sunset with some nice views and epic lighting, I managed to reach Zeyern and the main road just as it was getting dark. I timed it perfectly, too, because not even 15 minutes after I got there my friend showed up to give me a ride. We got some burgers and fries, always a treat after a long day of walking, and I collapsed into exhausted sleep at her place -thanks Jo 😀

The first stretch on the Frankenweg started out promising and I’m excited for what’s coming up. Until next time…keeping you posted…

Frankenalb Panoramaweg – Panorama hike through the franconian hills

Time is a curious thing, sometimes it seems to fly, sometimes a moment feels like forever. And it’s the one thing that however much we try, we will never be able to influence the passage of time.

It’s been a few months since I’ve even thought about this page, let alone writing something insightful or entertaining, for whoever out there might still be reading my musings. Life has somehow gotten in the way and I’ve been otherwise occupied. As much as the world has been brought to a standstill in this global pandemic, hiking is one of the few activities unaffected by this annoying virus – except for location concerns.

So I’ve been mostly exploring my local trails, staying close to home, while stil trying to get out into nature and away from everything. One loop trail that is close to my home is the roughly km/30mi ‘Frankenalb Panoramaweg’. Located about 45 min east or Nuremberg it’s easily accessible and still in parts vaguely remote.

I didn’t start at the actual starting point (Lichtenegg) but rather left my car at one spot, walking to my parents house for an overnight stay, picking up the trail on the next day, returning to my car. Since it’s a loop, it really doesn’t matter where you decide to hop on it.

Day 1: Kucha Рabove F̦rrenbach (approx. 14.5km)

I got a late start, because OF COURSE, just as I was about to turn off my work laptop, my boss URGENTLY needed something….Murphy’s law. But I did manage to grab my headlamp and start walking just before 4pm with a little over 2 hours of daylight left. I’m lucky enough to have friends and family in the area, so I was able to leave my car in a safe spot and get back to it the next day.

The path started in the middle of the village, quickly climbing up over fields and through patches of wood, nothing spectaculat, but diverse enough to never get boring. The walking came easy, it just felt so good to get outside and get moving, even if the path led through various small settlements and on pavement for more time than I usually like. Some ups, some downs, some steep, some gentle, always moving along with the setting sun.

I made it up one pretty steep (but thankfully short) climb just as it went full dark. Getting out my headlamp I had some trouble finding the path on the other side of some open area, but quickly adjusted and tackled the last descent. I actually enjoy hiking in the dark a lot, especially through the woods when I feel like I’m the only humanoid moving through the realm of the forest creatures. I usually walk without a headlamp, because the moon is almost always bright enough to see where you’re going….just trusting your feet and your instincts.

I made it down the descent and immediately climbed back up the other side of the valley, just as steep, not quite as far up. At the point where the trail met itself I veered off towards another little village, getting to my parents’ house for a well-deserved dinner around 8pm.

Day 2: Happurg – Kucha (approx. 25km)

Feeling rested the next morning and just a tiny bit sore, my mom gave me a ride to Happurg, another random point on the trail, to start the second day of my hike, And what a start it was….the path immediately climbed up, out of the valley towards the top of Deckersberg hill, where the water reservoir used to be for the power plant in Happurg. The woods were beautiful this early in the morning, the sunlight streaming and slanting, making everything more vibrant and just feel so … alive. There were a few people out walking around the water reservoir, getting some exercise and enjoying the first real day of Spring.

I continued on, over fields, through woods, along roads and through villages. Nothing really spectacular again, but it just felt nice to walk, to move, to make progress. One nice feature was the natural water funnel that the path crosses, giving you access to some much needed water and a soothing soundtrack while taking a break.

I made it back to my car by 5pm, driving back to my parents’ house for another night, so I was set up properly to finish the trail on the next day.

Day 3: Lichtenegg – Happurg (approx. 15km)

It got cold in the night, the fog was slow to lift in the morning. With ice on the ground I started on my final day for this hike, covering the remaining 15km of the trail with relative ease. there were a few climbs thrown in (because OF COURSE) but the scenery was so amazing I didn’t mind. This stretch is easily the most beautiful, with gnarly trees, towering rock formations and a soft cover of leaves underfoot.

It’s also the busiest and most popular section of the trail, and it being Sunday, the crowds were out in force. Especially in the last few stretches, I saw as many people in a few km as I encountered all of last year while hiking. It made for a pretty jarring contrast to the relative solitude of the prior days and kinda sent my mood into the shitter, to be honest.

But it was nice to finish the trail with a walk along the lakeshore – even though you had to dodge SO MANY PEOPLE – and it felt like an accomplishment to complete another hiking trail, albeit a small one.

I don’t know how y’all are getting on, but this ongoing global halt due to the pandemic is starting to really mess with my head, my emotions, my motivation….which might be one of the reasons why I just can’t seem to get these posts out more regularly. There’s still stuff happening, trails to be explored, experiences shared, just be patient with me.

Until next time….keeping you posted…

Zweitälersteig – Two-Valley-Trail in the Black Forest – Day 3

After a very relaxing day off eating and hanging out with Cat, she once again went out of her way to help me and dropped me off in the exact spot where I had stopped two days before – the ‘murder cabin’. It was still pretty creepy and after saying goodbye to my friend (not for long though, stay tuned), I quickly headed onwards, tackling the first climb of the day. It was a mix of forest roads, single trail, but always steep and unrelenting. It was slow going in the morning, but I enjoyed trudging upwards and listening to podcasts. Along the way I passed several devotional shrines depicting the last walk of Jesus. Makes sense, because at the top of the hill is an actual chapel, only accessible on foot, where they still hold special services occasionally. I passed several older men doing some repair work and renovations of the shrines and it always baffles me, how religion can make people so devoted to something. I mean, here’s this myth of an old white dude that no-one has ever seen, who supposedly sits on a cloud and knows everything and is responsible for all existence. He is benevolent (but only to those who believe in him) and supposedly at the end of life there’s a great reward waiting for you, if you behave. Don’t get me wrong, i think if you believe in christian values and live your life according to them, I respect that. But more often than not, these values are interpreted in a way and twisted so that they benefit old white dudes, oppressing others and validating horrible acts against ‘non-believers’. Because….’religion’, you know? I guess I just have an issue with organized religion that seeks to exclude others simply by perpetuationg the ‘belief’ that their way is the right way.

Anyway, it was still nice to reach the top of the hill, utilising the benches set in front of the chapel to take a break and enjoy the view. I made some Ramen (of course) and watched people come and go, lots of families out for a nice morning’s walk.

I headed out again, climbing a little more, then descending again, just to climb some more. After the first climb of the morning, the trail pretty much went up and own and up and down all day, nice undulation terrain, always offering some spectacular views on the hilltops. I walked through forest, over open meadown, along a golf course, through more forest, the scenery ever changing and it was great walking, nice soft forest floor mixed with the occasional gravel road and even the remanants of an old (Roman?) roadway. The hiking itself just kind of flowed today, I felt strong, capable, and oh so hungry. I finished an entire bag of crispy, seasoned peanuts, ate some bars, candy, and I was still hungry. What’s going on today? Along the trail I passed several huts of varying degrees of comfort, from a almost-fallen-down dilapidated shed to an amazingly cozy cabin with benches stored inside and a fireplace out front. I was trying to take my time today, but I just felt like walking, continually moving along until I reached my destination for the night, which I did….at 5pm. Welp. It didn’t really make much sense to keep moving on, because I was going to meet up with Cat in the morning, and there were only 6km between the little tiny hut where I was at and our meeting point. Oh well, guess it gave me enough time to enjoy the view.

Over the next few hours a lot of mountain bikers made it up the hill to the hut, some stayed, some chatted, some didn’t, but eventually everyone moved on, leaving the place to me by about 7pm. Some kind amazing soul had somehow dragged an old wooden door up this hill and I used it to construct a sleeping platform. Million star hotel, can’t be beat really. I made some dinner, watched the beautiful sunset and listened to the birds and creatures of the night taking over the forest again, an owl hooting in the distence. It got colder again as the evening progressed, but I drifted off to sleep pretty soon, snuggled up in my quilt.

Tomorrow, the longest day yet is about to happen, keeping you posted….

Zweitälersteig – Two-Valley-Trail in the Black Forest – Day 2

It was cold last night..oh so cold. I woke up constantly, because of some draft or other hitting a sensitive area of my body, giving me chills. Clearly, I’m not used to this lifestyle anymore. I remember clearly a time when I woke up in almost freezing temps and heading out in shorts…oh well, what to do about it.
I did wake up fully with the first light, as usual, but I stayed snuggled up in my quilt until I saw the sun peeking into the valley. As I sat up I was greeted with a pristine morning, clear air, sunshine and a tiny bird twitching its tail and hopping back and forth right in front of my little shelter. Not a bad way to wake up…beats an alarm clock any day.
I packed up slowly, grabbed a cereal bar for breakfast and started walking downhill along a small river. There were some waterfalls not too far into my day and a pretty steady descent for the first hour, followed by some roadwalking. Along this road I suddenly heard yelling, pretty insistent, just before I was almost run over by a pretty big dog. I guess pupper wanted to see who was walking by his territory and came charging up. I stood stock still (he startled me and also…he was BIG) until he was appparently satisfied I wasn’t a threat and decided to listen to his owner’s calls. Phew…

A little more roadwalking, a little more downhill, crossing a road, and then….oof, the first uphill of the day. It was all still in shadows, a trail climbing in a ravine, always next to a stream. Beautiful, but also pretty cold. I was in shorts and just refused to stop to put on layers, I just kept moving. Uphill always warms you up quick enough anyway. It wasn’t too long before I made to the top of the first uphill push, taking a break on a conveniently placed bench by some huge boulders. I finished my breakfast bar, had some water and then continued on climbing some more.
Across another road, saying hi to the construction workers there, then up some more on wide forest roads. I mostly find these super boring to walk, but it gave me a chance to call my mom, chatting with her a bit to pass the time. Not too long after I hit the last uphill push, conveniently marked with a pretty cheeky sign. It basically says that if you can manage the uphill climb to the hut in less than a half hour, you do not need to see a doctor yet…albeit in the very heavy dialect of the region. I lived in the area for about 3 years, so I was fine understanding it, others might have a slightly more difficult time of it. The switchbacks weren’t bad at all, they reminded me of the PCT again, and needless to say I managed the climb just fine…in about 15 minutes I was standing at the top.

The hut was closed of course, but there were some benches outside, a running well and even a self-service station with a few drinks available for purchase. All that was left was beer though, and I didn’t really want that, so I made do with water. But….I found a power outlet and used the time I took for lunch to charge my phone…..ah, what would the modern hiker do without technology. I made some Ramen (yes, I STILL love to eat it) and just enjoyed the view and the sun drying my drenched shirt. A few people came by, but I didn’t feel like chatting, so after about an hour I packed my stuff and continued on.
The trail led into the woods, no more views sadly, and then all of a sudden turned sharply downward. And somehow, what had been amazing trail so far, turned into almost a bouldering experience. Barely marked, very, very steep and rocky, it was NO FUN doing that with a heavy pack. What shold have taken me 30 minutes max turned into almost triple that. I dropped about 520m/ 1760ft within two miles. Weaving around rocks, trying to find sure footing while being pushed downhill by my pack, I was pretty exhausted by the time I made it to the bottom. Legs slightly shaking, I stumbled further along, enjoying the trail leveling out again.

It was hot out today, the sun blazing down mercilessly as the afternoon progressed. At least the next few miles were level walking, along the river through a valley and a very stretched-out village within it. I decided to take a breather around 5pm. I was out of water at that point, the source next to an abandoned creepy (murdery) cabin was just a dirty trickle with a bunch of trash. And that’s when the difference between backpacking in Germany and backpacking in true wilderness was most obvious. If I had been on a trail somewhere in true wilderness, with nothing you’d consider civilization around for miles and miles….I probably would have put on my big girl panties and sucked it up, struggled up the last climb of the day with yucky water from a nasty stream. BUT, since I was literally in a town, had cell service and within a half hour drive of my friend….I caved…and called her. She was kind enough to come rescue me, giving me shelter for the night, pleanty of water and a nice meal….and great company. Thanks Cat :-* !
So after a pretty amazing, hard, long, hot and sweaty day, slightly sunburned, I was in an actual bed for the night. But….I was determined to keep walking. How that turned out…I’m keeping you posted!

Zweitälersteig – Two-Valley-Trail in the Black Forest – Day 1

To get away from the craziness that has spread across the globe in a matter of weeks, and to retrieve whatever measure of calm and serenity I could, I decided to make the most of a two-week vacation (that I was supposed to spend hiking a portion of the PCT) on a hiking trail in the Black Forest. I really don’t know anymore if I want to classify a 110km/ 66mi long trail as long-distance, because it just feels like such an attainable goal for me now.

But it is classified as a long-distance hike and a “Qualitätsweg wanderbares Deutschland”, a sort of quality stamp awarded to trails that fit vertain criteria, so I guess I’ll go with it and declare that I thru-hiked a long-distance trail during the 2020 pandemic…(adhering to the social distancing regulations, pretty much spending 5 days in the woods avoiding people as much as I could).

Day 1
I left my house at 6am and drove for about three and a half hours to the start of my hike – Waldkirch, a small town nestled in between mountains, where I was able to leave my car and start this adventure off with an immediate climb up to one of the tallest mountains in the Black Forest region in southwestern Germany, the Kandel, which stands at just above 1.200m/4,000ft and is easily recognizable because of its bald peak and almost perfect triangular shape. I had walked up to its peak before and remembered how beautiful it was in this area. It was a moderate climb, just strenuous enough to get my heart racing. I climbed for about 3 hours to reach my first milestone, Thomashütte, a small wooden hut perched on top of a rock that offered amazing views of Waldkirch and the Rhine valley. I always love that moment when you look back to where you came from that day and can appreciate how much can be accomplished in just a short while. You are always capable of doing more than you think, in the end, it’s a mental game, not a physical one…

Especially when you know there’s something waiting for you at the end of that long uphill climb, or someONE, as it were 😀 I was lucky to have a wonderful friend coming out to meet me at the hut, bringing some water and snacks, as well as her wonderful company, of course. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and it was wonderful to catch up. I feel so lucky having friendships where you don’t have to question your affection for one another and it doesn’t matter if weeks go by without the necessity of constant chatter….you just pick up where you left off, as if time and distance in between meetings didn’t even happen. We spent a good hour just lounging around in the sun, chatting and enjoying the view, with the occasional group of people walking by, some quiet, some obnoxious.

After a while we decided to keep on moving up the trail and it was nice having some company for a short stretch, the last uphill climb to the top of Kandel. There’s not much up there except a huge parking lot and a hotel (which is closed now of course) – and functioning bathrooms….always a nice treat when you’re out adventuring. There was a small truck selling food and drinks, but I didn’t buy anything….gotta eat that food weight, otherwise your pack will never get any lighter.

As the evening progressed all of the people crowded around the fire and on the benches close by gradually went home. I made some dinner, journaled, looked at what the trail would bring the next day and when it got too cold to sit outside (and the fire went out) I snuggled up in my fluffy quilt and went to sleep. I felt right back at home, doing what I do best, letting the world and its crazyness pass by on its own.

Tomorrow will be a lot more uphill, and also a lot of descent…Keeping you posted,,,

PCT Day 75: Am I done?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Manter Creek & Tentsite (1959.1) – Somewhere next to a tree (1972.3): 13.2 miles / 678.9 total miles walked

I woke up in the dark, around 5:30, while it was still pretty cold. I did manage to hike out in shorts though, anticipating the hot day ahead. By the faint glow of my headlamp, I made my way up the 2000ft climb. Soon, it was light enough to see, even though the sun didn’t quite reach my freezing fave and legs yet.

Continue reading “PCT Day 75: Am I done?”

PCT Day 74: Back in the desert

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Junction to Outfitter (1952.2) – Manter Creek & Tentsite (1959.1): 7.1 miles / 665.6 total miles walked

The night in the trailer was more restful than I had hoped, so I woke up pretty refreshed around 7am. I went inside where Scott had already made coffee. We chatted for a while, until Sink came by, when the conversation naturally focused on her again.

Continue reading “PCT Day 74: Back in the desert”

PCT Day 73: On to sunnier climes

Monday, 17 September 2018

Mammoth Lakes – Kennedy Meadows: 0 miles

We got up early to catch the bus. It all went very smoothly, with a transfer in Bishop.

I was able to see Mt. Whitney briefly from a distance, a bittersweet feeling for sure. Someday I will be up there, I know it. Just not this year….

After a few hours we reached Inyokern and the heat of the desert. We were immediately picked up by Scott and Kendra (of Kennedy Meadows Grumpy Bear’s fame) and treated to a delicious lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant.

Afterwards we ran some errands and then headed to a local bar for a few drinks.

Another few hours passed and we then went to their house, had excellent dinner and said hi to two beautiful horses. The night was spent in a trailer in front of their house.

Thank you so much for all your hospitality and help, Kendra and Scott, you are amazing people!

Tomorrow we head back to the trail.

Keeping you posted…