01 May 2015

Brandenberg Training Day

Voldöpper Spitze panorama

Jakob and I are planning a long hike for later in the summer, and figured we’d better do some hiking now to get to know each other better.

Last year I discovered southern trails of the Brandenberg Alps as a great spring training ground. I started doing two hikes in one day, simply turning around when I ran into snow, and rambling up a nearby trail. I really enjoyed the process then, and I thought it would be great to do with Jakob. For one thing, it “simulates” a much longer hiking day. Some people just can’t hike more than 4 hours! Let’s see if Jakob is still smiling (even faintly) after Hike Two!

The Weather Gods must have been listening in, because this startling memo was found in a search of their archives at the end of the Third Age:

RE: Hikers on May Day (EMEA/Alpine)

...Parsimonn, I think we'll go with your "taking us for granted" theory and let
them have it this time. I hope your ideas of "widespread revitalization of
belief" and a corresponding increase in subscriptions will follow. Aflak already
loaded the water cannons and we're set for Friday. Pensieve reveals Munich
residents with high hopes/plans, these are ideal candidates. See you at

So yeah, Friday turned out to be the worst weather day in a month. But darn it, I was boxed in! Jakob periodically tried to make me see reason, bringing forecasts, pressure maps, police blotter reports of hypothermic people getting lost, but I became steely-eyed: my thighs wouldn’t survive another round of office cheesecake without the invigorating injection of painful hiking, wet though it may be! Picking up my impulse, Jakob became…well, fatalistic is the wrong word. But he was ready!

So we set out from Munich at 6:45 in a slashing, angry rainstorm. Jakob brought breakfast, these amazing rolls which I insisted on calling biscuits for their dense nutrition. Bread baked with cheese and actual chunklets of bacon inside (bacon!). They were very good and sustained us through the day, much like Tolkien’s Lembas cakes.

First we drove to Schönau and it’s quirky one-car parking lot. In a surrealistic start to the day, we passed a brass band by the barn, and then a collection of local people somehow creating a bonfire in the rain in the middle of the settlement. Later, the band would play, and their eerie recollection of bygone eras serenaded us up the mountain.

On the way up I amused myself by imagining I had to drive a car up this “road,” constantly spinning out and inevitably ending up in a ravine 300 meters below. “It’s not a road,” insisted Jakob factually. But eventually he got into the game, wondering about the appropriate width of a vehicle to survive the nightmarish ascent. Speaking of cars, later, Jakob noticed a disturbing design flaw in the rear wheel case of my Toyota: a boxy compartment that seemed to have no other purpose than to catch and hold mud and small rocks! Indeed, as we examined it we saw that it had already succeeded in this mission, holding a small cachement of…mud and small rocks! Now as I write, comfortably ensconsed in bed, I’m apprehensive about how often I’m carrying these undesirable burdens down in the basement. There are problems of DNA evidence, and so forth.

But we enjoyed our hike up the steep, steep road slash trail. We passed the usually-friendly cluster of houses at an opening in the forest, then continued up a steep ravine leading to the Ascherjöchl (1458 m). At the joch, we found fairly deep snow, decorating the whole ridge. At this point we thought we might not make it to the Heuberg summit, darn! But oh well, we’d continue until we were outright stopped.

Looking to the Rofan

Jakob on top

This area was fun. We had a long, often level romp along the ridge crest, enlivened by tantalizing glimpses of the ridge above when the thick clouds allowed it. Jakob remarked on the strange way nearby objects looked in the mist. Their sharpness in contrast to everything else provoked a sense of unreality. I noticed it too, as he appeared alarmingly sharp against the generalized gray backdrop. Were he to float away into the mist, smiling, I wouldn’t have the right to be surprised later. (“Well you said he looked strange, didn’t you?”).

We climbed through dripping latschen tunnels on steep and slippery trails. Finally we met our outright stoppage: a long snow slope that would have to be traversed, then persistent snow cover on further steep ground to the summit. But in the way that an ancient warrior values “a good death,” we felt this was a good and fair spot to go back. For elevation training we’d racked up 900 meters (1550 - 650). That was more than we thought at the time. We glumly thought we’d only climbed 700 meters, and Jakob said “I guess we could do a third hike,” with an air of despondent nobility.

We sat for a while at one of the shuttered houses on the way down, happy to have some general views. Jakob told an amazing four-part story of broken arms and hard bicycle lessons. You can’t make this stuff up! We realized we’d be highly compatible hiking partners and so this objective of our trip could be checked off (coldly, by our social worker, Frau Beschriebenbiek, she of the tight bun, along with us for the day despite the high heels). Back at the car we enjoyed a bacon biscuit, gulped some water, and headed out again. This time we parked at the Krummsee and walked through a campground, aiming for the west ridge of the Voldöpper Spitze.

We followed our noses up hidden stairs and wet fields, glad that the rain had stopped for a few minutes. We found a road and signs pointing to the summit. At one point, the steepening trail led through what looked to my weary Pacific Northwestern eyes like an industrial-scale clear cut. Two men came down, appearing very dashing and technical with shiny black hiking poles, and matching shiny black pant, glove and hat. As they passed, I wanted to point out to Jakob the extreme value of poles, well-used on steep and slippery ground. But he was the first to notice that these individuals were using the poles purely as a decorative florish! They did none of the weight bearing, the cushioning, the testing of mud-slope that I expected from a seasoned or technical use of the equipment!

I was scandalized.

This, I get?

Jakob has a towel

Someone. Iz prepared.

On the Voldöpper Spitze

Hmpf. Well, let’s move on.

The relentless ridge trail was tiring me out. Here, typical of engineers, we attempted to gauge our relative levels of tiredness against objective measures of fitness. For example, Jakob’s thighs were “feelin’ fine” because he rides his bike a lot. But the downhill muscles were untrained. I lamented that my thighs were “not entirely okay,” having withered somewhat with the predations of a long winter. A long cheesecake winter, true, but anyway, where was I?

I evolved a plan to pound my thighs by riding the bike 15 minutes, running for 45 minutes to an hour, then biking hard for 30 minutes more. That way, I’d get the efficient cardiovascular workout I sought with running, and then I’d render my thighs into a phalanx of knotted muscle with the bike!

Temporarily lost in this vision of pumping thighs, I didn’t notice until it was too late that we’d wandered into a zombie trap. Here we were, in the cloud forest on a steep and lonely ridge, now surrounded by a welter of aluminum cans hanging from strings, one of which I’d just bashed into.

Jakob’s eyes swirled with complex emotions, and a low moan seemed to rise from below us in the forest. But then we decided it must have been foolish kids. Hpmf. We weren’t going to die. Naturally we moved on to discuss our favorite zombie movies, of which we had many.

On the ground

This kept us busy until we saw the summit bald poking above. A thrilling final ascent, and we were on top. The clouds relented somewhat and we could see across the valley to the Zillertal Alps, still deep in snow. We abandoned this crowded summit for a kind of duplicate or prototype summit nearby. The rain started up again, and our chosen sitting-bench was covered in rank puddles! What to do! Here, Jakob remembered he had a towel. “Well deploy it then, it is precisely the right moment!” I boomed. To prevent further outbursts he complied and wow, it was amazing what joy a dry bench to sit on brought us both. With our umbrellas against the now southwesterly lashing of the rain, we had a few minutes of pleasure wrung from wet mountains on the Voldöpper Spitze. This gave us another 925 meters of elevation gain, which put us at a total of 1830.

A third hike? Hardly necessary.

We repaired to Munich for pizza and were joined by Kris and the boys, who had spent the afternoon mesmerized by ancient games like “Q-bert” and “Crystal Castles” in a historical video game exhibition.

Thanks to Jakob for a fun day out!

Heading down