I flew to Germany the day before the Classic; from Heathrow to Stuttgart. I was collected by Miel and some friends who drove down from The Netherlands to our destination outside Immenstadt in Allgäu. When I walked out of the airport building I lost internet connection entirely. No wifi or data until I arrived back at Munich airport the following Saturday. I have no idea what happened. A number of people inspected my phone and found no reason for this. But hey ho, these things happen. We arrived at Base Camp a couple of hours later and checked in. Each Classic participant receives a trekking passport, a map of the trail and reusable rubbish bag. Caring for the environment is paramount on these treks and littering is punishable by expulsion from the event. I kept my fjällräven safety tabard from the trek in Denmark so brought that with me. The camp was set up around an outdoor pool and wash building beside Lake Kleiner Alpsee which translates simply as small alpine lake. An unimaginative but befitting name. Our first night’s pitch was in a low lying meadow on the bank of the lake with an awe inspiring mountain view.
Monique and her gorgeous dog Laika joined us shortly after we arrived. And she and I went into Immenstadt town to park her car before returning for our first night under canvas. As darkness fell I started to feel anxious and that familiar home sickness I experienced on my first night in Denmark. We walked back to Camp just before the heavens opened and it poured and poured heavily for quite some time. I sat feeling really horrid and wishing I could message home to say hello. When the rain let up we mad a break for our tents and I was relieved to find the footprint I’d bought had helped keep my gear dry (including my down sleeping bag). Thank goodness for that footprint. The field was soaked, my hiking boots sunk into the ground around my toes as we quietly squelched our way to bed. By the morning the soggy ground had somehow absorbed one of my tent pegs. I scoured the ground but to no avail. It was swallowed up into the mud mush.
Wednesday (Day 1)
I felt like we were climbing into the clouds
After packing up tents and kit for our three days trekking we were cheered on our way by a group of traditional alphorn pipers. The rain splashed on but didn’t dampen the excitement as everyone fitted their boots and weighed their rucksacks. My bag was a personal best low weight for me at 12.5kg. A fantastic start compared to last years 14kg. It gave me a confidence boost. With water and food for day one we set off onto the trail. The deep resonant sound of the pipers echoed through the valley as we began our soggy trek skywards into the mountains.
Almost as soon as we left base Camp we were climbing significantly through the town, beside the lake and then up, up, up for 8 straight km. The weather was unrelenting and visibility reduced with every meter gained in elevation. It wasn’t cold, I hiked in shorts, warmed by the continuous climb. As we rambled up that first morning I saw a grey heron on the mountainside and gold finches darting in the tree tops. I felt like we were climbing into the clouds. Most of the first day we climbed, then walked along narrow ridges surrounded by dense fog and the tops of dark fir trees rising beside our path.
A lovely woman called Vera noticed I was struggling with the steep assent and suggested I slow my pace. Such a simple suggestion, but one that hadn’t occurred to me. My natural instinct is to push through hard stretches and keep up with my group but this led to me stopping every minute to catch my breath. I am not a natural hill walker! The best lesson I took from this trek was Vera’s advice to slow my assent. I forced myself to take smaller steps and it worked wonders, slowly plodding one step in front of the other. I was able to very slowly continue on without getting tired and needing to stop. I cannot recommend this enough if you struggle with hiking elevation.
The landscape was beautiful and mysterious. Throughout the day we were heard traditional cow bells clanging out from their owners necks. The cows grazed the hidden slopes surrounding us. And dotted in the haze ahead were tiny neon Fjällräven tabards, orange dots attached to rucksacks further up the path.
By the time I reached the first checkpoint at an alpine hut I was very soggy and thoroughly chilled. Most people stoped to cook lunch or warm up inside the hut where they sold cold meets and hot chips. I sat on a bench beneath a soaked canopy to boil water for my Real Turmat chilli con carne. At this point I was shivering with the cold and struggled to open the bag. Although not the best chilli in the world it was certainly a warming meal.
I felt like a snail, slowly traveling the trail with my house on my back
The first day was tough but fantastic. I managed to keep moving on continuous assents and dramatic descents. Whilst trekking I prefer to find my pace and stop only briefly, keeping my rucksack on my back. I felt like a snail, slowly traveling the trail with my house on my back. The Bavarian mountains were incredible. We were unable to appreciate the view until the following day when the cloud lifted, however, the remoteness and height of our path was phenomenal. I hadn’t spent time in mountains since family holidays as a child and the magnitude of this location really fuelled me through the difficult areas of this trek.
By the end of the day we were faced with a long traversing descent into a valley campsite. I arrived much later than I predicted and could not focus on anything but getting set up for the night. I slowly pulled up my tent and boiled water for Beef an Potato stew, by far my favourite dehydrated meal. I settled down early in my little tent, very ready for sleep.
Thursday (Day 2)
Day two dawned bight and early and dry. The sun shone down on us as we packed up dew soaked tents and deflated sleeping mats. It turns out I can’t improvise gluten free porridge. the water and porridge did something awful, separated and burned onto the bottom of my titanium cooking pot. Oh dear. I defaulted to my home made granola with chocolate chunks. It’s firmly my camping breakfast staple.
We set off out of camp 2 once again as a team. Now with Katrin who completed the Fjällräven Polar Expedition and walked the whole of Classic Germany in Chelsea boots. Unbelievable! The girl has serious skills. I met many more friendly hikers as we continued our walk, some from as far afield as the US and Korea. I met Michael from America on our second day on trail and we both compared sheepish notes on our country’s embarrassing political stances.
The Thursday morning trail took us again higher into the mountains. But more gradually, enabling us to enjoy the scenery and take in the amazing park around us. High ridges where the ground fell steeply either side of the narrow path and then down to streams before ascending back up into the peaks. The first checkpoint was right beside a steep climb beside a ski lift. If anyone was in any doubt about how high we were!
My pace was so slow during the climbs that people stopped to ask if I was okay. After our lunch stop we reached a very steep descent down through a muddy forrest which was exceptionally slippy following the previous days rain. I managed to slip slightly once as I traversed over a fallen tree branch. It was hard not to imagine the terrifying result of one wrong foot fall on that path. I felt quietly triumphant arriving at the second night’s camp.
I learnt a painful lesson when erecting my tent at camp. You can put the outer up first if you use the footprint. The pole fits into four elastic corners of the footprint and then the other waterproof shell can be hooked over the pole structure. It must be clipped in place at one end, then the middle and lastly the other end. I tried clipping the middle section last and snapped the plastic holding joint and almost dislocated my shoulder. Luckily there are plenty of tie lines on my tent so I haven’t missed the piece that broke. I spent the evening with Monique and Laika in the sunshine before the rest of the gang returned from a nearby hut and we celebrated our adventure with fresh popcorn provided by Fjällräven Sophie.
Friday (Day 3)
Slow and steady and I’ll make it
Friday was another fresh morning. The sun shone over our campsite and warmed us in our tents. I packed up promptly as usual and sat in the morning glow waiting for the group. It was nice to trek as a group, we all found our natural pace each day and met up at breaks and checkpoints. Jeroen surprised us all with delicious cured sausage at checkpoint 1 and Luc kept us going with dried mango. Dried mango is a must have hiking snack.
By lunchtime I was walking with Jeroen, Michael and Katrin. We stopped at our last hut for fresh meals for the boys and dehydrated ones for Katrin and I. We met another English girl at the hut and it took me by surprise. I was so used to meeting people from The Netherlands and Germany it was a shock to hear a home accent. We made our way with increasing speed on the final stretch of our trek, marching down from the mountains back to the Lake and our Base Camp. I felt relieved when we turned a corner and found a familiar path ahead, leading to our Fjällräven set up. With our pass’s signed and stamped, we set down our rucksacks for the final time.
The German Classic was a fantastic event. It was hard and tiring and at points I thought I’d never reach the next check point. Completing it has given me a new confidence in my ability. Slow and steady and I’ll make it. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And remember to stop and breathe in the view.