Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter trip in Franconia: Fraenkischer Gebirgsweg

I had to leave Berlin to attend my parents wedding anniversary and decided to combine that trip with another winter test hike. This time I chose one of the new certified long-distance trails in Franconia called "Fraenkischer Gebirgsweg" (Franconian mountain trail). Don't take the "mountain" trail too literally - the trail just rises over 1,000 meters only a couple of times. But that suited me right as snow fall had been predicted and I did not want to carry around snow shoes. As I visited parents and friends and did a lot of sightseeing before my hike I did not want to carry any cumbersome gear at all and therefore left my trekking poles and an extra cell foam mat at home. Temperatures were supposed to be cold, too and therefore I decided to hike only three days and two nights. I might sound like a wuss but I am renting this nice and warm room in Berlin now - why should I then stay outside and freeze my ass off in my tent?

Anyways, my short hike started in Pegnitz and ended in Bayreuth from where I took the train back to Berlin. I stepped out of the train in Pegnitz at 7.30 in the morning just before sunrise - and immediately started freezing. Stupidly enough I had brought my Platypus bottle with a drinking hose and within half an hour of hiking the water in the hose was frozen solid... On the positive side though the weather was brilliant: very cold, but blue sky with even the sun shining. I hiked into a glorious sunrise and a solidly frozen forest. Everything was icicled - even my nose....

The trail was nice enough - usually well marked, nice views and little attractions like show caves, castles and museums, but of course everything was closed now in the middle of winter. At least there was some open air modern art sculpture exhibition in the middle of nowhere. I made good progress but night was approaching too soon and I had to find a campsite. One of the downsides of hiking in Franconia is the lack of shelters. In the Black Forest there had been shelters almost everywhere and it had been relatively easy to plan an overnight stop there in bad weather. But no such luck on the Gebirgsweg - I had to camp in the forest which was no problem as it wasn't raining or snowing or windy. Still the night seemed endless. It gets completely dark at 5.30 pm and even with setting up camp, dinking around and cooking you are done with everything by 7 pm. As it was so cold I had no choice but to crawl into my sleeping bag and try to sleep - until 6.30 next morning... This is a long time in a tent at - 10 C.

I started hiking next morning with the first daylight at 7.30 am. The light was fantastic and I enjoyed a great sunrise again - but I would have enjoyed it even more if it had been 10 degrees warmer. The cold was getting to me, especially since I had planned to spend 3 long days completely outside without any warming break in civilisation. As long as I was moving things were not too bad, but as soon as I took a break I started shivering. I sort of started dreading my second cold night out... I had planned my next campsite ahead in a nice big forested area. Well, the area was nice and forested but I had not taken into consideration that the motorway 2 km away sounded like next door. Also I had overlooked the fact that there was a busy train line going through that forest with train traffic till 1 am in the morning. I had to hike much further in the pitch dark before I found a quieter camp site in the woods and thank God for ear plugs.

Again I was lying inside my sleeping bag at 7 pm looking forward to a long night. At least I did not get sleep deprived on that trip. Although I had brought a very adequate winter sleeping bag for that trip, a Western Mountaineering Puma, it was just about warm enough. I always seem to have the same problem: After a couple of days of use the down gets damp and starts clumping, especially on the back of the sleeping bag where there is less down to start with. Lucky are those you can sleep on their backs because it will not bother them, but I am a side sleeper and as soon as I turn around to go to sleep I wake up again because my back gets cold. To make things worse I woke up and realised that the upper front side of my sleeping bag was almost soaking wet. First I suspected I had been drooling in my sleep, but then it dawned on me that this was condensation from my breath. Sleeping in a fetal position brings a lot of problems....

I was happy about the prospect to spend the next night in my warm bed in Berlin again! My tent was frozen solid when I packed it up as was my water bottle. Ice cold muesli with ice cold water for breakfast - what a treat! But I only had to hike half a day to Bayreuth where I would do some sightseeing and thawing before I took the train back to Berlin. Unfortunately I visited the unheated and ice cold castle of Bayreuth - so much for thawing out. Still it had been a nice trip. Due to the cold but sunny weather I had enjoyed some brilliant views. But I also had to find out that my winter equipment needs some more improving...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is approaching 40 degrees here so it is the perfect time to read about serious winter hiking. I will practice "back sleeping" as it is obviously a good skill to have.
D