Hello, all, and thank you for your patience! As you know, my last post saw me taking a much-needed break after a difficult start. The following day, I took a lovely breakfast followed by a virtually flat, totally painless walk through alpine fields and huts that served fresh alpine dairy products, in which I was sure to indulge myself. Towards the end of that day, rain moved in off the mountains and I ducked into a hut to shield myself from the weather and have a bite to eat. While there, I watched to shrouded figures moving to join me in the hut through the fog and rain. A few minutes later, I was surprised to hear an American accent. This is how I met Carsten, who is actually German but whose English is excellent. He invited me back to his place a few hours’ walk away, which I gratefully accepted. Once there, I enjoyed excellent conversation with him and his wife Claudia over a wonderful spaghetti dinner and pear schnapps until nearly midnight when we decided, by mutual consensus, that it was time for sleep. They are the first hosts I have had on the Via.
Following this, I entered Berchtesgaden National Park, a truly spectacular area for hiking. This is the area where the Nazi party gifted Hitler with what later became known as the ‘Eagle’s Nest,’ a diplomatic HQ for Hitler during WWII. The mountains here rise steeply from the ground into dizzying heights, and while there was still some snow over some of the passes, there was not enough to make finding my way difficult. I was annoyed, however, because part of the mapped route of the trail brought me to a mountain lake that had to be crossed by boat which upsets me greatly as a walker. Nevertheless, the ride was nice, and in the course of conversation with a fellow rider, I learned that just a few days before I left for Europe, a major storm dumped nearly two meters of snow throughout the alps, which explains why huts that are routinely open by June 1 were still closed.
Every long-distance trail has a certain rhythm, and once you’ve found it, things go much more smoothly. The rhythm on the Via had been elusive to me, but from this point on, things finally began to settle into a routine. Get up, climb, eat, sleep, repeat. Often, I found the climbs to be so physically demanding that in the afternoons, I would stop somewhere for a break–a cup of coffee, a pastry, a beer, or sometimes, just sitting. One day, as I was indulging in some mid-afternoon eats, a gentleman with a backpack pointed directly at me, walked over, and asked which trail I was doing. Like calls out to like, so for the next half hour, I talked to Ralf, who was walking the Maximilienweg (a trail named for King Maximilien who wanted to see the mountains so, he set off on a hiking tour of the Bavarian Alps. The trail follows his footsteps.) It was great talking to a fellow distance hiker, and just before we parted ways, Ralf handed me €20 and said, ‘It can’t hurt me to lose it, but it will help you a lot.’ I was very touched.
Throughout all of this, I have gradually been taking a good look at many Bavarian highlights here in southern Germany. One day, I was extremely pleased to discover that the trail goes right past the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, a place that I had often wanted to see after seeing it on postcards and in paintings. This castle was built by Ludwig II who, in a stroke of genius and prophetic foresight, used the vast fortune his family had acquired to increase employment throughout Bavaria and boost the local economy by investing money in massive construction projects with the intended, and ultimately successful, result of increasing tourism to help local economies. Okay, okay, he was actually a romantic who spent so much money on his fantasies that he a usurper was able to get him declared mentally insane. Several days later, the king drowned under mysterious circumstances. In spite of the swarms of tourists, it was a real treat getting to see it in real life, and I took my time soaking in the local castles and medieval squares, and even had a Ludwig beer to cheer the famous king.
All of this leads me to yesterday, which started out with perfect weather as I headed into the Allgäu Alps. This beautiful area is well-loved by backpackers, so there was relatively little danger of getting lost. However, there were many huge climbs, and areas where the trail was quite steep and poorly maintained as well as snow and a real risk of falling. Of course, these risks are usually accompanied by incredible views, which I also had. In the late afternoon, I had lunch and considered that the gathering clouds would probably mean rain the following day. An hour later, I was made to understand that they did mean rain now. I plowed through a hailstorm with a flurry of other hikers to a hut situated on an exposed ridge where we all took cover from the storm. It was early evening, and I was about 16 km from finishing the Purple trail, but the weather was terrible. I considered staying, but it is a holiday weekend here in Germany, and the hut was fully booked. I had a cup of tea and played guitar for awhile to stay out of the rain, but in the end, I didn’t see that I had much of a choice–I was going to have to camp, and I was going to have to get off of that exposed ridge.
This is where experience, physical fitness, and a little derring-do won the day. It was about six o’clock when I took off, and I moved fast. The trail stayed along exposed areas almost the entire way, and rain was intermittent. Each turn and pass in the trail led to more incredible views, but I pushed on until at last, I arrived at a ski lift and could see the end of the Purple Via–the town of Oberstdorf–below. I took off on the road leading into town just as the heavens opened drenching everything below and screaming like a banshee, ‘VIA! VIA!’
Of course, when I got into town, the guesthouses were all closed, and no one cared about a drenched, wild-looking backpacker. I had a beer and listened to a traditional German band play Bavarian drinking songs, then unrolled my sleeping quilt under a bus station to await the morning. Happily, the tourist office was able to find me a much-needed guesthouse and I was also able to find an internet cafe so that I don’t have to keep you in the dark.
I had a number of really awesome pictures that I was going to insert, but this cafe is lame and won’t upload them, plus the guy at the front is no help whatsoever. So, sorry, but you’ll have to wait.
Thanks for reading!
Daniel ‘Cloudwalker’ Liu