Cookoo clocks and werewolves! Der Schwarzwald covers a large area in southwest Germany; and beside fancy alarm clocks and fairy tales, there lies thousands of kilometers of tree laden hiking trails.
I was fresh out of my employment in the Arctic; looking to get outdoors in the greenery of southern Europe. The desire to attempt something novel stirred within myself. I had bought a hammock and a sleeping bag, and packed what I thought was necessary to hike solo over a few hundred kilometers. Here we go!
Starting at Phorzheim, I eventually covered about 130km hiking along the Westweg. Not the full distance, allowing me an excuse to go back and complete the trail at some point.
Here is the data collected from my Suunto watch for anyone interested:
distance / elevation gained / total duration
Day 1 – 24.1km / 558m / 9h55m
Day 2 – 26.7km / 576m / 11h48m
Day 3 – 23.7km / 1080m / 12h35m
Day 4 – 9.1km / 387m / 6h41m
Day 5 – rest
Day 6 – 24.7km / 531m / 9h47m
Day 7 – 25.1km / 554m / 8hr18m
Day 8 – fin
On being unprepared…
My body is much more use to cycling, running, or dog sledding. I cannot say that I am an expert hiker, given that the last time I went on a thorough hike was maybe 10 years ago. I didn’t need to worry about directions too much, there were plenty of route markers. Although I would have confidence in my navigational skills. Also, anyone can walk can they not – that’s what legs are for!? The lessons I learnt are mainly what I should have taken with me, rather than inherit skills.
Firstly, take only what is necessary! This may seem obvious, but when hiking a long way you will be carry all your stuff on your back: also a long way. I sent some of my belongings ahead via post on day two, about 5kg (my plans changed last minute but my backpack did not). I would say my pack the first day was around 25-30kg – way too heavy. It was still too much after that; but I made it through the days, only slightly beaten.
Secondly, bring the right equipment. I had a few cold nights, as it was Spring and the weather hadn’t become too jolly just yet. I had also opted for a hammock and reindeer skin combination as my bedding. The hammock and the reindeer skin, it turned out, were slightly too small – leading to a quite uncomfortable few nights sleep. Couple this with a sleeping bag meant for temperatures 15°c warmer and you have yourself a good alarm clock at around 3-4am! To take away – thoroughly test questionable equipment beforehand.
There is obviously much to improve on within my multi-day hiking skill set, but these lessons will not be forgetten (neither will the muscle aches and cold toes). There is nothing like putting your body through a few tests to get the adventure feeling flowing, right?
One night I opted for this tiny hut as accommodation, as the rain was due in the morning. I couldn’t lie straight but atleast I was dry!
Overall, I had zero problems sleeping outdoors. I’m too sure whether wild camping is allowed here. But it was increbily easy to find a couple of trees to support my hammock in the mass of forests. A tent could easily be pitched somewhere, although it was quite hilly for the most part. The locals I spoke to thought I was ‘brave’ – translated “stupid” – to be camping outdoors that time of years – they were not wrong. I avoided the National Parks, but they weren’t extensive. The trails were quiet this time of year, and the shorter days make it easier to find some peace and seclusion.
There were plenty of guesthouses and hotels at each town throughout the trail, so staying somewhere everynight is a possibility. When I go back, I may ditch the sleeping equipment and choose this option. This would make it less of a challenge, but perhaps 500% more comfortable.
Somewhat dissapointingly, I did not meet any of my favourite fairy tale characters during the night. I did see plenty of birds and some deer, and a pine marten, something I had never seen before, who had a good look at my trudging along. Here’s a bad photo I got of his inquisitive face.
The trail is split between 12 sections, each about 20km in length. These Golden Arches mark the beginning of each, with an overview of the next leg of the hike, informative and encouraging! The beginning of the trail is quite densely populated, but after half a day of walking you find more scarcely populated valleys amongst rolling hills, covered instead with the dense forests.
Enjoying the sunshine
I was gifted with some glorious weather in the beginning. Glorious and uncomfortable, as it was too hot. I had been living in minus temperatures 4000 miles north only a few days before, so these complaints are justified. It was beautiful however. Endless sky and endless trees. I found a lot of joy and peace here, even if my backpack was rather heavy.
There seemes a fine mist ever present oved the mildly distant hills. Dust, or some air pollution, arising over the valleys causing a ever growing haze not far into the distance. More than I would have liked and expected. But what could one expect in central Europe. Perhaps the dust is natural?
Having come straight from the wide and bright white expanses of the frozen North, with an air quality in line with the lack of human presence, I could be slightly overstating the Black Forest’s uncleanliness. Nevertheless, it made me ponder the industrial grip society lays around beauties such as this forest – as is fashionable these days.
There was quite a few trees fallen over the path. Perhaps they are removed during the summer, perhaps not. Either way they were simple to hop around. I found the trails challenging, yet never too difficult or technical. An enjoyable combination.
I witnessed some logging throughout the forest. In places it was in order to create habitats suited more towards certain endangered species, yet I suspect most was for profit; with algorithms dictating how much and where the wood can be taken from. A sad sight for those who find peace and quiet among the slow growing woods – yet we need timber.
The paths were lined with lots of goats and quaint farms situated in the valleys. Food and water were not a worry. I passed somewhere to buy food atleast once or twice a day. And water was abundent in the hills from the streams or many springs. It was difficult to get lost, as the trail is marked the whole way, on trees and sign posts – ‘WW’ / ‘Westweg’. Frequently I came across places to rest with fireplaces and benches, and many huts or cabins with tables inside (I may have used one as an improntu bedroom one night, with a couple of long benches as a bed).
Spring almost sprung
On the forth day the blue sky dissapeared. Spring had begun, yet winter had not given up. There were snowy peaks further south and the higher I went. On the peaks, winds whipped chilly air across the tops of the forest, and I would hurry over the other side and back down into the blanket of fir. The temperatures dropped below freezing during the night, and without the sun, it didn’t rise much above it during the day.
Paths dissapeared briefly whilst summiting the larger hills, the guidance of sporadic red diamonds aided my route. The snow was well packed, so little trouble to walk over. Only a bit unsightly, being mudded and yet failing to melt wholely.
Clouds whisk over the plains from the west and the south, hunting the higher places on which to release themselves. A blessing for the plants and streams, but not so beneficial for myself. The advancing clouds comb the valleys, and although the swirling storm fronts are a magnificent sight, they soon steal all views from the traveller and light from above, leaving the experience wet and dull.
Thankfully I am not so adverse to comfort that I would endure 24 hours of wet snowfall, for little purpose other than to get wet. There was a little body of water named Mummelsee, with a very nice hotel built beside it. I stayed here two nights to shelter from the snow fall and rest my legs.
The comfort was extremely welcoming, and I was impressed at the quality of the abode. Bed, shower, spa, a roof, temperatures above 5°, good food, friendly service. These things seem yet elavated to supreme bliss to a weary traveller, particularly when received on escape from some frightful weather. The chance of stumbling upon such a place as warm as this, right as the heavens open, is a blessing in itself.
On the morning of my departure the hotel provides a whole loaf of freshly baked bread, gratis. Strapped atop my bag with a number of cured sausages, which are readily avaliable in this part of the world, as well as being delicious; I was ready to hit the (now wholey white) trail.
The end of the trip came when Spring sunk further back into winter. The temperatures were predicted to be falling to around freezing during the day, with chances of rain. Hiking during Spring does bring the danger of wet and cold weather. It was for the best though, as my legs were somewhere beyond tired. On times, bad weather is not always so bad.
I found a place to stay the night in Hausch, the next town, called Gasthaus Zur Blume. Here I stayed the night and caught a train in the morning. The owner gave me a pass for the regional trains that allows completely free travel (it is limited to the older, local trains and buses) around the entire Black Forest area, whilst you staying at an participants accommodation. It lasts during the day you depart, and so my train out of Germany was free. Success! The food at this Guesthouse was also worth noting, I shall return if I am ever in the area.
All in all, hiking through the Black Forest was an enjoyable experience. Although next time I would probably opt for a lighter load with paid accommodation. I would like to visit some of the famous public baths that are known in the area also. Perhaps I’d visit in summer so as not to be caught out by cold weather.
My experience was not the most comfortable, which was all my own fault. Yet it was challenging, and ‘educational’. As well as a good workout for the legs. I learnt a lot about hiking in a short period of time and had a good connection to nature despite being close to civilization. I would give my time here a 4/5 for all round fun and experience.
Where are the other long hiking trails hiding? Which country has the best hiking? If anyone has any tips on this stuff, let me know!