Friday, October 2, 2009

Via Alpina Day 2: Meilerhütte to Knorrhütte

Meiler h%C3%BCtte, Looking Back From the North

<< Previous Week: Via Alpina, Munich to Meilerhütte

Meiler hütte stands on the border of Germany and Austria. When I say that, I mean it quite literally; there is a border signpost at the corner of the porch. If it truly marks the border, I may have slept with my head in Germany and my feet in Austria.

Mornings here are dry and quiet: dry because there is no water to wash in or drink, quiet because everybody else knows this and sleeps at the next hut. I don't mind, really. It's an endearing little place, just a touch more rustic than usual. Perhaps for that reason I don't mind putting up with the little inconveniences.

I am awake by 6:00 and am the first hiker at breakfast. I am still on American time. Breakfast is unremarkable -- the standard thin slices of meat, cheese, bread and jam. I buy a liter of water to get me through my first hour of hiking and head out into the fog at 7:30.

Schachenhaus_Bayern_GermanyAfter a picture or two, I am off down the hill at a good speedy clip. It's 50 degrees and foggy. Great hiking weather, so long as it doesn't start raining. My legs feel terrific, not a bit sore from yesterday. My thigh muscles hold up well and, very quickly, Schachenhaus comes into view on the next plateau. A tiny, wooden castle built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria stands nearby, looking like a matchstick house from my cliff-top vantage. The castle was built in the late 1860's and was used for festivities of one sort or another. Fifteen minutes of knee-busting descent and I am at the door of the castle but it turns out that I have missed the open season. This is unfortunate, as I would have liked to have seen the elaborate "Turkish Room". I console myself with a vigorous cold-water rub down in the restroom of the humble Schachenhaus and fill my water bottle for the next leg of my hike. Outside, by the picnic tables, I can feel the sun's high-altitude rays stinging my shoulders as the water dries off in the chilly breeze. It is too early for a snack, only 8:30, so I pull on my shirt, strap on my pack and head down the hill toward Bock-Hütte, the next way station along the trail.

Bock-hutte on the Via AlpinaThe fog has cleared by now but I am down in the pines. The air is warmer, still very humid, and the misty dampness has left its droplets on a thriving fauna of moss and clover. I pass a gang of six young mushroom hunters as they climb up the hill. At this early hour they are already goofing around like they've been drinking. Perhaps they're just glad to be out of the city, young men showing off for their girls.

Around the bend, a carved wooden sign points the way to "Bock-Hutte". I am taking my time in these woods, taking pictures of moss and anything else that catches my eye. At quarter past ten I come to the hut, a small log cabin with two picnic tables on a little front porch. This might have been my lunch stop had I gotten a later start. Instead, I stop for a tall glass of buttermilk and eat the remaining plums from yesterday. I am making good time, despite the frequent stops, so I sit for twenty minutes and jot down a few notes before continuing.

It is amazing how quickly one adjusts to life on the trail. It was only two days ago that I was clumsily negotiating my way from Munich. Now it feels like I've been here forever, like I picked up again where my last hike ended. But my last hike was in Sweden on the Kungsleden, and that feels like ages ago. As nice as it was to have a change of scenery, I prefer the drama of the Alps to the tundra of the arctic.

The going is flat for the next forty minutes or so. I continue to make good time but, once back in the woods, am dogged by frequent mountain bikers who consider this path their own. They are polite but require the right of way, so I find myself always stepping aside. I don't enjoy walking on mountain bike trails. Thankfully, it has been my experience that trails like this are few and far between.

Waterfall and Mountains near Bock-Hutte, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, GermanyAn hour or so into the hike I notice a waterfall on the other side of a wide ravine to my left. It stays in sight and within thirty minutes I am level with it, across a wooded gorge. It appears to pour out of a cave and down a sheer cliff, hundreds of feet into the forest below. Above the streaming water, through a notch in the ridge, I see a snow covered mountain. It may be a corner of the massive Zugspitz, a mountain that towers over the local landscape but which I have not yet seen because of the cloudy weather. I don't really know if this is Zugspitz. I will have to ask.

The path works its way around the ravine and joins the waterfall's tributary stream. I follow its gravel bed through the woods to Reintelangerhütte, or simply Angerhütte for short. Angerhütte is a three-storey building with a concrete patio and a blue tarp to shelter me from the sun. It is a beautiful hut with red cedar shingles and first floor stonework but the tarp, and the Tibetan prayer flags, give it a shotgun-shack appearance. Regardless, the staff is friendly and lunch isReintalangerhutte, Germany exceptional: penne with a slice of tender pork au jus. I finish it off with a glass of carbonated apple juice and a apple strudel. It is just the thing to get me back on my feet for the final uphill push. I briefly consider staying for the night but most of the other visitors are bicyclists. I prefer to meet hikers and am hoping to find someone who is hiking my own trail. It would be nice to have some temporary companions.

The waitress tells me that Knorr hutte is just an hour and a half away. It will be mostly uphill but I have plenty of time. It is not even 2:00 when I enter the forest again.

flowing stones near Knorr h%C3%BCtteLeaving Angerhütte, the trail starts ascending almost immediately. Once again, I am completely alone on the trail. The mountain bikers disappeared after Angerhütte, preferring the flat or rolling terrain to the steady, endless climb. Before I know it, I am above the tree line. I take it very slowly, stopping frequently to photograph the massive cliffs and bizarre flowing stones, like grout between patches of deep, green moss. The climb is hard but short, and I reach Knorrhutte by 3:30.

I take off my boots at the door and slip on my Crocs. The dining room is bustling with activity. Most hikers have come up a different way from myself, and many are heading to Zugspitz. I am already too late to reserve a bed, so I will have to sleep on the floor. "Notlager", they call it, or "emergency camp" as opposed to "matratzenlager" or "mattress camp". I have slept in notlager in many huts. Invariably, I always get more privacy and better rest, so I am never concerned about showing up late. 3:30, however, is not late at all. It will be a crowded night.

I find a table that is mostly empty and write for a while in my notebook. I snack on apple strudel, and before long I find myself sharing the table with an American woman named Carol and her German companions -- all men. She is also a member of the Cliffs Along Via Alpina Red Trail near KnorrhutteAustrian Alpine Club, UK Branch. She thought she was the only American who even knew that this club existed. I tell her about my friend Charles who is also a member. Besides him, I know of no others. It is fun to talk with another American who shares my passion for the alps. Conversation flows easily for a good hour. She is a retired district attorney. She loves these mountains. She has been meeting her German companions in this region for over twenty years. Her husband stays at home in San Francisco. Like my wife, he doesn't enjoy hiking vacations.

A German Lieutenant joins us and, after a drink or two, he waxes philosophical about his upcoming tour of duty in Kosovo. "Military men do not make good police," he says. He is well educated and worldly. He clearly has mixed feelings about his responsibilities and we spend a pleasant hour talking with, and learning from, him.

By 7:00 the table is crowded with a dozen people all drinking, telling stories and joking. A young computer programmer named Volker tries to translate the German jokes for us -- they don't translate well. Wendy and John, a quiet couple from Munich, blush at Volker's humor. They smile pleasantly but do not say much. Much of the conversation is in English, for my benefit and Carol's. She speaks no more German than I do. It is an enjoyable evening, on par with some of my best times in Knorrhütte, Via Alpina, Bayern Germanyalpine huts. I drink radlers (beer and lemonade) rather than full-strength beer so that I won't be too dehydrated tonight and tomorrow. I order a kaiserschmarrn and offer some to my new friends who all decline politely. It is an eggy pancake covered in jam and powdered sugar, one of my favorite local desserts but often too much for one person to eat.

I am assigned a sleeping place around 8:00. This turns out to be a thin mattress in a nook in the hallway outside of one of the rooms. I return to the table and we raise the roof until ten PM. Then we all head off to our respective sleeping places, very likely to never cross paths again.

Next time: Coburger hütte

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simeon, I enjoyed reading your posts about your Alpine tours, truly great blog. Shame you never got round to complete this trip's description.


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