Saturday, 7 January 2012

Winter trip in the Black Forest: The hike

Ursula and I set off hiking after visiting the fantastic bathroom museum in Schiltach. She would accompany me for only one night and one day whereas I would continue northward on the Mittelweg up to Pforzheim and then back southward on the Ostweg. We had just one hour of daylight left and made it to a nice stealth campsite even with a little table, a bench and a spring next to it. These accessories were really important as we had brought Swiss cheese fondue and a little bottle of red wine for dinner. And then we sat there at freezing temperatures in the complete dark in the Black forest and enjoyed our sumptuous dinner.

Next morning we set off early and arrived on top of a mountain just in time for a glorious sun rise above a lake of fog in the valleys. Absolutely fantastic view! But the day turned out to be slower than expected.... There was much more snow than we had thought.... We arrived much later in Freudenstadt than planned. Ursula went back home and I rushed to Aldi's to do more shopping. I eventually hiked out of Freudenstadt in the dark. I had to camp close to civilisation and despite the winter weather there were still people out jogging making stealth camping a bit risky... but nobody detected my tent.

Unfortunately I had not realised that a storm warning had been issued for the next night. I had planned to camp in or next to a shelter that was indicated on my maps but when I arrived there in the last rays of daylight I found out that it was more a house than a shelter and telling from the smoke coming out of the chimney people were actually staying there! I did not have much choice but hiking on which brought me on top of a 900 m mountain - very exposed, but luckily there was an open shelter. I deliberated whether I should set up my tent inside the huge shelter and luckily decided for it! During the night the weather got worse and worse: I could hear the wind howling with storm force and saw to my great horror that my tent started to get covered in snow - inside the shelter!!!! When I woke up in the morning everything inside the shelter was covered with about 5 cm of snow and outside there was at least 30 cm of fresh powder snow with the storm still going on.

The storm turned into a thunderstorm and I must admit that I have never experienced thunder and lightning in a snow storm before. When the whiteout had disappeared I hiked in a beautiful and untouched winter land scape but the snow slowed down my progress and in the end I had to take a train for the last km into Pforzheim. In Pforzheim all three long-distance routes through the Black Forest converge: Westweg, Mittelweg and Ostweg. Pforzheim has been completely destroyed in WWII and is now about one of the ugliest German cities I have ever seen. I lacks any charm and the only interesting thing to see there is the jewellery museum. But this was my one and only day in a bed on this trip.Unfortunately, couchsurfing has failed me in Pforzheim and therefore I had booked myself into a B&B.

The next day was the 31st of December and I definitely wanted to avoid the noise of the fireworks by camping in the forest which turned out to be more difficult than expected. I was still very close to Pforzheim and although I was at least 2 km from the next village I was still woken up by the noise of the fireworks at midnight. Happy new year then! Lighting the fireworks must have been a big problem that night as the weather had changed dramatically from subfreezing temperatures and snow to 14 degrees Celsius and rain!!! Of course my rain jacket had failed me again and I had arrived soaking wet at my shelter. This drastic temperature change led to a complete snow melt and turned the trails into mud pools - and flooded the rivers. I started 2012 with hiking in spring like temperatures....

Mark stone
The rest of my hike on the Ostweg was a wet and damp affair - luckily I could camp a lot inside shelters which reduced condensation in the tent and made packing in the morning so much more comfortable. But I came across a last highlight in Calw: The Hermann Hesse Museum. Although I am not the biggest fan of this author I learnt a lot and really enjoyed this informative little museum that kept me busy for almost 2 hours! I spent my last night in a shelter again because there was another storm warning. The wind was blowing my tent around even inside the shelter! When I broke camp in the morning before sunrise I was nearly caught by a logging truck but luckily the forest workers had probably not expected a lunatic camping in the storm and I could escape undetected. At least the train trip back to Berlin turned out to be uneventful...

This trip had been a test trip for an extended winter camping trip in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the US. And unfortunately I had to realise that my gear set up is not to this challenge: My winter sleeping bag and a new cell foam mat are so bulky that I had to switch to an old, very big backpack in order to even fit everything in. My new Integral Designs rain jacket had leaked like a sieve and does not even deserve the name rain jacket! I do not understand why it has gotten so many positive reviews. And on top of that all my WM Puma sleeping bag which is rated down to almost arctic temperatures was just about adequate because all the dampness reduced its warming capacities. I have to think about some serious gear adjustments before I can tackle months long winter trips...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Stealth Camping" combined with setting up in the dark is always good because there is a surprise in the morning when you get to view the environment for the first time.