To conquer an eight-thousand-metre peak requires experience, courage, perfect condition, a lot of time and more. We conquered seven sublime peaks in one day on our ridge hike. “King Arber” enthroned at the end of the tour. Text: Christian Haas, photos: Frank Heuer
Goldsteig Trail: Hiking in the Bavarian Forest
“What do we have here? A Bavarian pineapple!” Johannes Matt takes hold of the waist-high plant at the edge of the path, sniffs it and explains to the astonished small group: “Officially, the plant is called Forest Hainsimse or Marbel, but the perennial is reminiscent of the tropical fruit, hence the nickname,” explains the area supervisor for the Arber region, a kind of nature park ranger. “You can even eat the stalk! Who wants to?”
Even though after three and a half hours of hiking our stomachs sag a little, we decline with thanks. We prefer to pick blueberries, which grow everywhere. We also want to have a snack at the nearby 1,262 metre high Heugstatt. There are only huts on the last third of the tour (the “Chamer Hütte” below Mount Kleiner Arber), or if you accept small descents like from here to the hut “Berghütte Schareben”.
We’ll save that. Also because the thousand-metre peak in the middle of the main Arber ridge – already the fifth today, by the way – has an inviting summit plateau. Instead of rock and stone as elsewhere on the mountain, a wonderful meadow interspersed with shrubs and tree islands beckons, which was long used as a pasture for young cattle.
The summit cross is also different: made of branches knotted with ropes, it looks really modest. It is nowhere near as massive as the steel XXL representatives yesterday on the Kleiner Riedelstein or earlier on the Mühlriegel. Alternative flair is also exuded by the dishevelled Tibetan prayer flags that flutter in the summer wind on their fastening cords.
Over Springy Forest Floor
We sit down on the meadow and enjoy the view into the Zellertal valley and far beyond towards the south. To the west we see the route covered today including the previous peaks Mühlriegel, Ödriegel, Schwarzeck and Reischflecksattel (which you pass below). And in the distance you can make out the “Kötztinger Hütte” hut, where we started yesterday to “warm up”.
„The cherry on the cake of the region!“
As Stephan Frisch, head of the Arrach tourist information office, had announced: “The cherry on the cake of the region!” It has to be said: that was not an exaggeration. The ridge hike on the Kaitersberg provided high spirits with its views, the rocky-mossy forest paths and the mystical smoke tubes, around 40-metre-high rock needles. When we arrived at the Eck ski and hiking car park late in the afternoon, we wanted to move on immediately.
For the “eight thousand”, however, you should plan a whole day, i.e. start in the morning. We also had an appointment with Johannes. But there’s no real need for a guide, as the snaking trail symbol of the Goldsteig, Germany’s longest certified long-distance hiking trail, is regularly emblazoned on beech trees, spruces and the like.
You can hardly miss the varied trail, which sometimes runs over slightly springy forest soil, occasionally over stones and rarely over forest roads. But Johannes enriches the tour with historical, social, cheerful background stories. He knows a lot about nature anyway.
Without Johannes, we would not know that one of the largest bat winter quarters in Europe is located in the Silberberg near Bodenmais or that an otter once fell into a photo trap up on the mountain saddle, far away from any fish hunting grounds. Without him, we would not have found any capercaillie signs either. He, however, spotted a bright, dry, tiny thing on a tree stump. “Look, the winter output of a female.” Questioning looks. “Month-old excrement!”
The capercaillie is the largest bird in the Bavarian Forest and enjoys the greatest attention. “Although the population is stable, it is not exhilarating either,” says Johannes. “Moreover, there are too many males. We found stress hormones in various excrements.” People also cause them stress. Therefore, much is being done to protect Europe’s largest chicken bird.
Everything for the Capercaillie
Johannes’ colleague in the Upper Bavarian Forest Nature Park, Anette Lafaire, is particularly committed: “Since hikers and tourers away from the routes drive the animals away, there is a trail ban in protected zones from the beginning of November to the end of June. However, we do not impose suspensions or penalties.”
The principle of “education instead of prohibitions” determines the nature park’s work. The focus is on guided tours, flyers, information boards. Lynx and peregrine falcon often turn up there, too, real sympathetic figures. “It would be better not to focus only on the sexy species,” says Johannes, “but that is difficult in communication. On the other hand, other species are also protected.”
It’s on in Lamer Winkel
The bird song backdrop is at times orchestral: robins, chiffchaffs, song thrushes and others warble in the most beautiful Dolby Surround. This can be enjoyed because there are no interfering noises from civilisation. Roads, houses, industrial areas – all far away.
„All trends reach the Bavarian Forest a few years later“
If you walk the 16-kilometre ridge trail from Bergsattel Eck to the Großer Arber, you will cross one or two hiking trails, sometimes a cross-country ski trail, sometimes a forest road, that’s it. Also barely visible: cyclists. Stephan says: “All trends reach the Bavarian Forest a few years later. Which also has advantages. You know what you’re in for”.
It's obvious what he’s talking about: the topic of eMTBs, which is causing major worries elsewhere. Not here. There was and is enough time to create extra tours off the main hiking trails.
Trail Running: For the tough ones
The Lamer Winkel region is at the forefront of another trend: trail running. Nationally known events and own trail markings underline this. In fact, continuous runners are panting towards you. Most hikers, on the other hand, set a moderate pace. No mountaineering skills are required for this moderately difficult tour. But stamina is needed to master the approximately seven-hour route, including 1,040 metres of ascent.
The route goes up in principle, but also down again and again. And from one top view to the next: for example, to the paragliding paradise of Großer Osser or over to the Czech National Park Šumava, which alludes to the wind rustling in the spruces.
After a snack, we march uphill over root paths to the 1,285 metre high Enzian. In this area, and even more so at the Kleiner Arber, it becomes visible what hurricanes – and subsequently the bark beetles – do. In 2007, hurricane Kyrill wreaked havoc here, shaving areas and leaving behind tree skeletons. One consequence: hardly any shade. As there are hardly any springs, we appreciate our water provisions.
First Orchids, Then the Großer Arber
Johannes would like to see the removal of age-old railway sleepers that pave the orchid- and arnica-lined ascent to the Großer Arber and whose tar smell is undeniable. That would not change anything about the steepness of the final. Nor does the fact that the King of the Bavarian Forest, at 1,456 metres, is Bavaria’s number one outside the Alps, but not in terms of nature experience.
The “Königshof” is used in many ways: here radar domes reminiscent of giant ice spheres, there transmission masts, parking spaces used by the military and ski slopes and circular routes used by excursionists. Right next to the mountain station is the traditional “Arberschutzhaus” (refuge), where we spend the night.
Good job, because one thing is truly regal up here: the view at sunset. All the more so when it is doused with Bärwurz, probably the best-known schnapps speciality of the region. Anette warned us: “You have to drink at least two, the first one just doesn’t taste right.”