in which Matt and I climbed a mountain childlishly selected (in part) for its inadvertently humourous name, reached the summit after very nearly turning back 15 minutes from the top, and successfully sprinted for a train without a clue where the train station even was.
As anyone who knows me on this side of the Atlantic is well aware, I am constantly looking for an excuse to go to the Alps, particularly if it involves hiking. Today very happily presented a wonderful excuse: perfect weather. It’s been warm all week. And today was set to be clear skies and sunny. What better excuse could there be?!? Besides, as has been noted here, I have a general goal of getting to the Alps at least once a month and my February options were fading fast. A suitable victim, in the form of fellow Erlangen teaching assistant Matt, was found, and we met bright and early this morning at 7 at the Nuremberg train station. Kudos to Matt for catching a 6 am train. And we set off on the 7:08 train to Munich, one I know quite well by now.
Our route was set, and upon arrival, with 40 minutes to change trains, we stopped by a nearby Aldi and bought provisions (standard hiking food: water, chocolate (best with nuts), some fruit, and something salty, plus sandwich material for lunch). And we caught our 9:32 train to Murnau, where we would change for Unterammergau, from where we planned to set off. En route, however, our plans changed when another hike in my hiking book caught our eyes. I wish I could say it was because it came more highly recommended (it did!), but what really caught our attention were not the beautiful vistas or nice description. No, in a dazzling display of childish humour, we chose it for the name: Wank. I kid you not. Of course, the German is pronounced Vahnk, but seriously-could you pass up a trip to Wank. Better yet, it was accessible from the train we were already on, saving us a transfer, and claimed to be accessible in winter. We were sold. So, we stayed on until Garmisch, where we tried to orient ourselves, despite our complete lack of map (had I known what our plans would turn out to be, I would have brought the map that I have), which turned out to be slightly problematic. My book (the ever trustworthy Mit Bahn and Bus in die Münchner Berge) told us to take a bus from the train station to a small village called Schlatten, but it being Saturday, service was pretty sporadic (and we potentially missed a bus by literally minutes), so, with a quick glance at the map and gauging the distance to be about 3-4 km, we set out in the direction of the starting point. Though this turned out to be a slight fail, as we didn’t have a proper map.
After many moments of self-doubt and even at one point nearly turning back, we pressed on and successfully, after a good 1.5 hours of walking, navigated ourselves to the base of our route. Ende gut, alles gut. And, with a glance at the sign (and a chuckle or two), we headed out.
From just over a kilometer in, it was clear that the views were going to be quite satisfactory (see initial picture). And they just kept improving.
We continued on up through a forest, along a most pleasant trail, occasionally dotted with snow. Of course, the higher up we got, the bigger the snow patches became, until finally, we saw now more patches of earth. But for the most part, the trail was extremely walkable, and we made excellent time, more or less taking the time my book recommended for the route. The weather was gorgeous–in fact, it was almost too warm and too sunny. Which are excellent problems to have. Particularly when it is still February.
At one point, the trail was so kind to warn us of the risk we were taking. And not just in German, but in English! Well, sort of. Though honestly, if I spoke not a word of German, I am not sure the English would really be more helpful…
The further up we got, however, the more difficult things became. The snow seemed to get deeper, and at one point, the trail led through an area where footprints sunk deep, deep, deep into the snow. As we traced them, we frequently found ourselves thigh-deep (though more often just slightly deeper than knee-deep). Almost with the peak in site, Matt and I very nearly lost all hope of reaching it and very nearly turned back. I kept pushing–let’s just get around this corner, around this bend, see what’s over this point. And after some struggling, it briefly seemed to let up.
We saw a man coming down the mountain and I stopped him to ask a few questions–most specifically, if he knew which of the potential hills around us was our actual goal. As he responded, I was struck by his accent. Reasonably well-trained in Bavaria, I at first subconsciously assumed it was that. But it quickly occurred to me, that though he had a healthy dose of a Bavarian accent, including a bit of the sing-song tone, there was something else. Could I be hearing it correctly? He sounded positively English! As we thanked him, I inquired where he was from. He pointed down the hill, then asked, “unless you mean originally?” Yes, I responded. He asked what I thought. Not wanting to inadvertently offend, I declined to guess. England, he said, at which point, we switched to English. Sort of silly for three native English speakers to be standing atop a hill in Bavaria conversing in Bavarian-twinged German. We wished him well, and continued to plod on ahead. It really was just 15 minutes away. But as we pressed on, I found myself twice nearly to my waist in snow. Literally. Again, we nearly despaired and turned back. But suddenly, I spied the makings of a trail. Could it be?
Indeed, it was. And Matt and I went down the hill a bit and joined up with a trail up, where we finally came to our goal for the day: Wank, a peak of 1780 m. Not too shabby.
The views were spectacular.
Needless to say, I was quite satisfied. And delighted. And overall, very happy. The general case when I am in the Alps.
There was also time for a quick chuckle at the unfortunately named rest-stop at the summit.
And we continued to enjoy the peaks as we ate our sandwiches at the summit. Stunning, simply stunning. I know I keep saying that, but I have almost no words. I think everyone knows that I am have fallen hard and fast for the Alps. It’s a (hopefully) unending love affair.
Matt and I even prevailed upon a random passerby to document our success.
And with that, our mission was half-accomplished, and it was time to head down. And so we did. Along a snowy and sometimes icy path. Matt and I had very different strategies for tackling the long way down. I took small, cautious steps. Matt took big ones that often had him scrambling. And falling. Which was somewhat hilarious, until near the end, when a late fall drew a small amount of blood. But to the base we made it, without any major problems. We found ourselves in the Partenkirchen side of the city, on an adorable street where I had never been before. It was utterly charming.
We headed into a small restaurant and enjoyed beers (well, after Matt cleaned up his hand) and then we headed off in the direction of the train station, with about 35 minutes to our desired train. Well, we might have, had we any clue where it actually was. Of course, normal people would just ask for directions, but I have the stereotypically male trait of absolutely HATING to ask for directions. So we tried a bit of sleuthing (following bus stops for a bus headed to the train station). But this wasn’t getting us terribly far. So I gave up, wandered into a gas station, and asked the attendant. Straight until the next traffic light, turn left. Okay, easy enough. Still, we had no clue how far it would be. 15 minutes to go. We did that, walking increasingly quickly, until Matt announced we had 7 minutes. A random sign pointed us down another street and we started to run. Literally. And then we came to a fork in the road. I picked one of the ways, mostly random, but we seriously had no idea. With just a few minutes left, we were about to give up. Yet, suddenly it seemed we really were about there, somehow. Resume the running. Yes! We were right. And we ran directly onto the train, where we caught our breath, and I realized my face was completely red. From sunburn, a bit, but mostly from our final sprint. But, Ende gut, alles gut. We had made it. And we enjoyed our remaining journey–from Garmisch to Munich to Nuremberg–with a sense of complete satisfaction, before parting ways–Matt, to Erlangen. And me to home.
The best part? It is only February 27. With spectacular weather and snowy, but not impassable trails, it is very clear that it will be a most marvelous spring. One spent, to the greatest extent possible, in the Alps. Beginning, oh… next weekend! When Lydia, my sister, comes for a visit.