The truth about hiking in Georgia – Mestia to Ushguli

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For several years now I have wanted to visit Republic of Georgia. During my other travels people have told me incredible stories about how nice and welcoming the Georgian people are so I wanted to experience that myself, hoping in that they would expire me and make me more positive and open as well. What I discovered was not exactly what I expected, but more about that soon….

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I also could not wait to explore the Caucasian mountains.I read somewhere that Caucasian mountains are like Swiss mountains, but a lot more remote, wild and untouched. This kind of comparison is rises high expectations and I was not disappointed in the beauty of the mountains in Svaneti. The valleys were as green as the Swiss alps and in the horizon you could see the white peaks sparking. I saw both Mt. Ushba, Laila and Tetnuldi.

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Famous Mt. Ushba – one of the most difficult climbs in Caucasus

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Everywhere I looked I could see peaks that I was immediately tempted to climb and in the evening I found myself trying to figure out where one could hike in order to summit them. In the valleys the rivers were filled with ice-cold water from the glaciers and the waterfalls were sliding down from the sides of the green mountains. The main difference from the swiss alps are the paths. The paths in Svaneti are wild, and quite often you find yourself fighting through long grass and pushes. The terrain is less rocky and often wet and muddy.

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Our first guesthouse, this one had an outside toilet and shower – Zahbeshi village

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Oh and we made some friends along the way, this dog was always following the first hiker so when a couple passed us, he abandoned us.
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This bridge was washed away in 2017, we were glad to see that it was rebuilt in 2018!

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Streets of Adishi

It truly is wild, and then when you are approaching one of the old Svaneti mountain villages you feel like going back in time. It is inspiring to see how simple life these people live in these villages. Electricity comes and goes, food is made on fire stove. The daily tasks contain men making firewood, women cooking, children chaining the cows to the stables with dogs and a stick. When there is free time children play outside and not with their phones og tablets. Small girls and boys ride horses instead of bicycles as it was the most natural way of getting around. The older children look after the younger ones, and often more than one generations and families live together. It was nice to experience this time travel.

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The wild “streets” of Svanetian villages
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  The view of our second Guesthouse – Adishi village. This is a quite small village, but we had luck with out guesthouse, they were quite nice and the food was really good…

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Svaneti and Georgian hospitality

Sadly the Svaneti people did not seem to be friendly or welcoming at all. Maybe they were for 10 -15 years ago?? Because there must be something in these stories I have heard from other travelers? Or was I really that unlucky with my experience? I do not think so, I think the tourism has opened the eyes of Svaneti people to money but money and friendship do not mix well together. During my four-day hike we stayed overnight in five different guest houses and not ONCE was I asked where we were from. Mostly our host did not even try to communicate with us (with one exception in the travel in house in Mestia, but I think here the owner is Russian and not Georgian). In most cases we spent hours in their homes without even knowing the name of our host or nothing else about the family we stayed with 😦 I know it’s hard to communicate when you don’t speak the language, but Chinese people were always very nice to me…Anyways, do not expect questions like “Did you sleep well?”, or “Where do you head today?” .. I don’t know.. but I did not feel welcome at all…In some cases they were actually rude. In a restaurant in Mestia, we waited for our food over an hour, so then I asked them if they forgot our order. The waiter, simply said that he did not know, and that everyone wait more than an hour for their food so I should just be patient. Perhaps Svaneti is not where the Georgian Hospitality Reputation comes from?  

Mestia to Ushguli – Some advice

Moving on to the hiking. I did a lot of research about possible hikes in the Svaneti area before flying down there. I wanted to climb some nice peaks and from the pictures I had seen it seemed that the possibilities should be endless, but the information online (and in Mestia or Tbilisi) is very limited when it comes to climbing peaks. Unless you want to climb one of the famous peaks like Kazpeki that is. If anyone knows a good research about hiking other 4000m mountains in Svaneti please share!!

In general to me hiking in Svaneti seemed a little more developed than hiking in China (where hiking trails were not marked at all or you are forced to hike stairs”) but here too there were many peaks without names and basically only couple of semi marked hiking trails. And as there are no mountain huts (Guest houses are not mountain huts, they are houses in small mountain villages) you really need to bring a tent and be self-sufficient if you want to explore the peaks and get away from the few established trails filled with other hikers. Another option would be to hire a local mountain guide, as there seem to be mountain guides out there who advertise hikes to mountains that are off the beaten path.

www.caucasus-trekking.com has a very good description of the hike and the gpx track. The site basically contains all you need to know in order to do the hike, so I will not repeat the directions here, but I think the following points could be useful if you want to do the hike:

  • The hike is doable in three days, if you combine the first and second day to one day.
  • Download the gpx track in advance there is no internet in the villages.
  • I would also say that I found the trail from Zhabeshi – Adishi the pettiest, but Adishi – Iprali was also very beautiful.
  • If you are running low on time try to drop the last part of the trail Iprali – Ushguli and get a taxi from Iprali to Mestia. This part was my least favorite one.
  • About the river crossing between Adishi and Iprali . The river is could, and when I say could I mean could as in that you can’t feel your toes for five minutes afterwards. Do not try to cross the river barefoot or in flip flops. I saw that going wrong when I was there. Bar foot takes too much time. I did it with trainers, tried to be fast and I still could not feel my toes afterwards. Also, I saw a guy miss his flip flops, so that did not work well either. Oh and use walking poles or at least try to find some stick the day before so that you can use it for balance.. you really want to be fast when crossing that river. Of Course you can take a horse, that is the most comfortable way, but 20 Lari is quite expensive for 20 meters, if you ask me..
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this poor girl had hard time crossing the river barefoot..
  • It is fine to drink the tap water in the guesthouses. You do not need to buy bottled water.
  • The paths in the forest tend to get really muddy so I would advise to hike in proper hiking shoes, but I saw a lot of people doing it in sneakers and they survived 😉
  • Bring enough cash with you, plus a little extra. We paid 50 lari per night per person (including dinner and breakfast), but prices have increased a lot during the last years and I think they will continue to do so.
  • Don’t expect very friendly hosts in the guest houses. You might be lucky, but it is better to manage your expectations.
  • You will not be walking alone, this trail is very popular (at least in high season) and you will at times walk in queue, unless you bring your own tent and can start before everybody else.

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    As you can see there were a lot of us crossing the river
  • The days are not too long, we were mostly in the guesthouses around 14:00 -15:00 so take your time to enjoy the views.
  • Buy enough lunch from 4 days before you start (You can get bread and sausages in Mestia), the only thing you can buy in the villages is some chocolate, beer and coke. Some guest houses provide lunch packages (we only got one from one) but they are often way too small to cover the whole day.

All in all I really liked the nature in Svaneti and the pictures on this blog are just a fraction of my camera roll. It really was beautiful. I would like to go back, but that would require more planning, and more camping and equipment. All the villages are building new guest houses/ hotels so I expect there to be even more tourist in the years to come. Hopefully there will be more trails too and mountain huts which would ease the hikes to the peaks. The potential is there, but as there is not much culture for hiking, this may take time.

 

Trust or not to Trust the Weather Forecast – Hiking Thaneller 2 341 m

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At times it feels like looking at the weather forecast has become my new hobby 😀 While other people spend their time checking for Facebook updates, I spend my time on checking the weather forecast for different parts of the Alps! 😀 (Btw, I still trust the Norwegian weather app yr.no the most)

This weekend I had not been been hiking for the two past weekends and was quite desperate, but again the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms and rain in the mountains for the weekend to come. The question was, should I trust the forecast or not?? In the end I decided not to do so, and went hiking anyways! I was off course ready for rain and we had decided that if the weather turns stormy we will turn around.

So we got up at 5:30, took the 6:35 train from Hbf and headed to Heiterwang to conquer Thaneller (2341m). First of all I must say I was totally surprised that I could use the Bayern ticket the whole way, as Heiterwang is in Austria. So this was a pleasant surprise. After 2 hours and 15 Minutes we were there. The weather was perfect, 23 degrees and sunny. Still, I was a little worried because the rain was supposed to start after 12:00, hence we had quite fast pace for the first two hours.

The path from Heiterwang is not hard to find and it is a nice path through the forest and across several green meadows. If the sky is clear you can spot the peak already form the train station (It is the highest one).

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This is the peak, but you have to go around to the right, before you start the accent

 

After two hours, a rocky gravel path starts and heads to the right. We were not aware of this, but in fact you have to go to the right side of Thaneller to get to the peak. This was a little disappointing for us, as it felt that we were almost there as the peak was so near, but instead of heading right up the wall we needed to follow the path approx 30 minutes direction Reutte and decent approximately 150 hm down into a valley, where the real accent started.  From the valley we followed a zigzag gravel path direction a rocky wall.  When we meet the wall, the most fun part of the hike started. There is some scrambling and some iron ropes, but no equipment is needed. From this point we thought the peak was quite close, but in fact It took us another 1h 30 minutes to reach the peak.

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THE WALL , the path follows the left side

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The view from the peak was really worth the struggle. Plansee changed its colors from blue to green as the sun hit it and the white clouds made the view to the lakes mysterious and idyllic at the same time:

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One happy mountaingirl

As always we took our time on the peak and stayed approximately for an hour enjoying the sun, the view and the calmness of Thalneller. From the peak, we could actually see all the way to Hohenschwangau. We could also easily spot Säuling, so it was cool to spot it and know that we have been on top of it :D:D You can read about our hike to Säuling here.

We went down the same scrambling path as we came up, but choose a different path down in the valley to Heiterwang because I find it boring to go up and down the same path and that way we did not have to climb 150 m up again 🙂 It was a really nice path that followed the river for some time so we could fill up our water bottles and then turned into a forest road which was very enjoyable to walk down to Heiterwang. I would not choose this path up to Thanleller, because upwards it would be too boring to walk the forest road, but downhill after a heavy hike, it was perfect!

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The fog got to us on the way down, but we did not really mind after the view we had from the peak.

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I have made a GPS track of the whole trail available on Outdooractive.

We got to Heiterwang at 17:50 and had some time to kill before the next train at 18:38. So we saw everything there was to see of Heiterwang, which is not much. We could not even find a place where you could buy a beer 😦 In other words, there is no point to spend time in Heiterwang, there is just nothing to see! But we used the waiting time to do some stretching and yoga exercises, so the passed fast.

In conclusion, don’t trust the weather app 100%. At least I am glad I did not this weekend. I even know people who were braver than me and went for Alpspitze – a peak that I have planned to do for a month now! Perhaps later this month I can finally stand on top of it!

Until the next hike. Now I’m off for some boulderfun 🙂

 

Schöttelkarspitze – a hike that has it all.

Schöttelkarspitze hike, via the Soiuernhaus hut, really has it all. The peak itself is just above 2000 m, and the hike up is not easy, but also not too hard. The ridge is a little exposed, but unless you are really afraid of highs you will be fine. We had actually planned to do both Soiernspitze and Schöttelkarspitze, but that would have been a really long hike for one day. And as the last bus back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen leaves at 19:51, it would also mean not having time for long breaks on the top of the peaks! Therefore we decided to do only Schöttelkarspitze this time, have a long break and nice lunch on the top of the peak and then head down to Soiernhaus for beer and a swim in the Soiernsee. This was my second time in the area. I spotted this mountain for the first time during our winter hike and since then it has been on my list. Now that I have done it and been to the peak, I find it super crazy that some people did it during winter with lots of snow! I guess there are some people out there who like taking bigger risks than I do…

We started out from Krün. The first 1000 m are more or less in forest on a dirt trail. We were glad for that because the trees offered some protection from the sun. It was quite steep so I got a good workout, trying to keep up the speed of our super fast group. The trail got less steep after we got out of the forest at that point we could easily spot Schöttelkarspitze as it is so pointy!

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The view that meets you when you get out of the forest
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Schöttelkarspitze from the distance
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Getting closer 😀

Before getting to it however, we had to hike up to a peak called Seinskof. Well, actually did not go to the peak and its cross, but had a lunch on a ridge, not far away from Seinskof. After Seinskof you can choose if you want to take the upper path over the ridge or a lower path that is not so exposed. If you ask me upper path is so worth it, and it wasn’t really exposed. I mean, there was a little scrambling for couple of meters but that was all. And the views were most certainly better than on the lower path, but it’s nice to have an option to avoid the ridge for the less adventurous ;).

 

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Chilling on the peak, 0h what a view.

After Seinskof the hike was just pure joy. On the peak itself we had a long break, the only thing that got us moving was the thought of a cold beer in the hut and a nice referencing swim to wash off all the sun lotion. We could spot the hut from the peak and had therefore no trouble with finding the right direction. The way down was on a curvy, rocky path, so hiking poles were nice to have (I really do not know how I managed to hike without them for so many years).

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Soiernsee

At the hut we were not sure how much time we could use on a swim and food. We were told by some local mountain rangers that we would need 3 hours to get to Krün. That meant we had only about 30 minutes in the hut. Therefore we had to choose between beer or a swim. I chose the beer this time. Some of my friends went for a swim and could report that the water was refreshingly cold (Read cold :D). After beer/food/swim, we started to head down to Krün, kind of in a hurry, not wanting to miss the last bus.

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Shortly after we started our descent we came to a way cross where we needed to choose between an upper path (to the left) or lower path (to the right). The signs said that both paths would take the same amount of time, so we went for the upper path – Lakaiensteig via the Fischbachalm. This path was very nice, not steep and we had a scenic view to a long and loud waterfall which the other path seemed to cross.

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On our path we also crossed some small mountain rivers where I dipped my head into the cold mountain water, to get rid of some of the sweat and sun lotion. Oh what an amazing feeling! We also filled our water bottles since we forgot to do that in the hut.  Not long into the decent, we met a young couple who were going camping in the area. I was a little jealous at the moment, but it rained a lot that night, so I hope they had a good tent.

After approximately one and a half hour the path ended in a road, the same road we would have walked when taking the lower route. We followed this road for one hour to Krün and missed the 6 o’ clock bus with 15 minutes. That was actually not a problem at all, we just sat and enjoined the sun and the rest of the food we had left by Isar for an hour. Unfortunately Isar was really cold, so swimming was not an option.

We then walked to Krün and were kind of surprised how many restaurants this small place has. If we would have known that I guess we would have skipped chilling by the Isar and had some pizza instead. I am glad we did not know. Sitting by Isar, looking at sunset and stretching a bit was quality time. At least for me.

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My friend Anna has posted a GPS track of the hike here, together with instructions of what bus and train to take from Munich.

Already at the hut it was decided that we will come back to this nice area, perhaps for an overnight hike, perhaps with a tent?  I can not wait!

Now I am getting ready for some adventures in Norway, so stay tuned 🙂

Säuling (2047m) – A mountain that has been on my list since I moved to Germany.

I remember the very first time I went to Füssen and to Schloss Neuschwanstein. It was back in 2015 and we had just moved to Germany. We were standing on Marienbrücke when I saw Säuling, as a big pyramid in the sunset. I remember telling Elias that we need to find out what that mountain is called and hike it! Eventually we did find out what it was called, but it took me two and half years to finally stand on top of it. Therefore it was a little special to stand on top of Säuling today. It just had been on my list for so long!

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Just couple of words about the Säuling itself. You can hike if from German side or from Austrian side. Or do like us, and hike if from one country to another. We Started from Pflach in Austria and ended in Füssen in Germany. I did not know that one could take Bayern ticket the whole way to Reute im Tirol and Pflach, so that was a nice surprise 🙂  From Pflach we used 2 hours to Säulinghaus. It is a nice hut to take a small break before the really steep ascent to the Säuling peak. We used 40 minutes from the hut to the peak. The weather was perfect, but we were not sure how much snow there could still be. Luckily there was almost none, because this hike would be very difficult to do with snow.

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After a nice lunch and some selfies on the top, we started our descent to Neuschwanstein. I must say, I did not expect the descent to be so steep and so long. Therefore I recommend to start and end the hike in Pflach instead of hiking down to Neuschwanstein and taking the train from Füssen. That is unless you really want to see the castle. We had already seen the castle plenty of times so in retrospective I think it would have been nice to avoid all the tourist and the super slow train from Füssen to Munich. A map of the route is available on outdooractive here.

Säuling in not the only hike that can be started from Füssen, Branderschrofen is also a nice hike that has a hut and is not as long as Säuling. From Branderschrofen you will also have a very nice view to Säuling. I wrote a small post about it here.

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This was the first hike over 2000m in Germany this year, I’m happy to see there that the season is here and the snow is gone.

PS. My next hike is already planned and will be from Kufstein area, so stay tuned.

 

Hiking adventure in China – preparations part 1

Early January we started to plan vacation for this year. Only thing we knew was that we wanted to travel somewhere little further away this time, out of Europe. In the end we limited our destinations down to a list of four:

  • Indonesia
  • Mexico
  • China
  • Japan

These are all awesome destinations that I want to visit, but in 2017 it’s going to be China!!! This will not be my first time in China. I have been there two times before and I just loved it there both times. Last time I was there we hiked The Yellow Mountain – Huang Shan 1 864 m. Or to be honest I do not know if this counts as hiking because it was mostly just walking up stairs, endless stairs :D, but it was definitely a cool experience that made me appreciate more the untouched mountains and nature here in Europe.

Pics from 2013 – Huang Shan 1 864 m.

This time our goal is to hike a mountain that is not full of tourists and stairs. After a lot of googling we found that Four Sisters Mountains in the Sichuan province should be perfect for just that. The Four sister mountain or Mount Siguniang contains of four peaks: Daguniang Feng (Big Peak or 1st peak), Erguniang Feng (2nd peak), Sangungiang Feng (3rd peak), and Yaomei Feng (4th peak). The highest peak is Yaomei Feng is at 6250 meters. We are not that experienced in high altitude mountaineering (in fact I have been above 3000m only once), so we decided to go with the two lowest peaks- Daguniang Feng  5025 m and Erguniang Feng 5276 m. Still, I am sooo exited and I wanted to write a bit about the preparations we are doing now before we travel.

So first of all in order to travel to China you need a visa. That part is easy (but expensive I think it was 65 Euro per person).  The next step in the preparations was to find a travel agency that could organize a mountain guide for us. This was not that easy, but we found one and I will write a review about them after we have done the trip.

We still need to figure out what equipment to pack with us and how to pack it, because after the hike we want to travel around for two more weeks and so this is where it gets difficult. We also need to get some new lightweight equipment and we need to go to the doctors to get a prescription for altitude sickness just in case we need some…and make sure we have all the needed vaccines. Oh the dodo list is quite long 😀

Additional preparations I have done so far is to watch a move about hiking Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Afrika. The high meters we are going to do is approximately the same so this gave me an idea of what can be waiting us, what kind of equipment should we have and most important of all – how slow we have to walk ( It is reeealy slow).

We start out from Rilong Town at 3160m, not too fra from ChengduThe hike itself is planned to take 4-5 days (depending on if we will need an extra day for acclimatization). We will have a horse that will carry food and water + some of the equipment to the base-camp (around 4000m) and we will be a group of two + guide.

This is differently going to be one of the biggest adventures in my life so far and I am super exited. Stay tuned for more updates to come 🙂

When you end up on the wrong peak because you spotted a shortcut.

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You stand on the feet of the mountains and you spot an awesome peak. You are sure that this is the one you have planned to hike. After all, it matches with the descriptions or at least you make it match, because it looks so awesome and it is in the right direction 😀 Happy and ignorant you set of to the peak. It gets even better, you spot a shortcut! So you see the peak, you see a possible shortcut and you want to beat the guy in jeans in front of you to the peak! Off course you are going to take the steeper but faster shortcut!

I guess you by now have figured out where this story ends up. So the guy in jeans was actually very clever in following the path, because then he saw that the peak we were heading to was not the right one.

Ending up on a wrong peak, not too bad you say. Well, the problem was not actually that it was the wrong peak, but that the shortcut that we had taken did not let us climb the peak:(  To our defense, it would have been possible during summer. There was even a path to the peak, the problem was the snow. Because you see, what we did not know was that the path we had chosen had too much now on it for safe winter hiking. Now you are thinking how stupid is it possible to be right? Hiking on paths that are not suitable for winter hiking, during winter… No we are not that stupid, it is allays safety first so we turned around when we saw that the path was not safe. Cause  you know it is never to late to turn around.. But this makes this the third hike in a row where I do not make it to the peak!!! Be it the right one or the wrong one 😛 .

Had we followed that guy who hikes in jeans during winter (?!), we had seen the next sign that would have made it clear that we were heading to the wrong peak. We would perhaps also had seen the “normal” path to the (wrong) peak and who knows, perhaps we could have made it to the peak following that path, since that one did not cross a ridge.

There are several morals to this story:

  1. If somethings seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Do not underestimate people who hike in jeans.
  3. Do not get too carried away and forget to check you path with a map, even when you think you are heading in the right direction and you think you see your peak.

Nevertheless, I still consider this as a fun hiking experience and it was really exploring. Belive it or not, it can also be fun getting of the paths and playing around in the snow in the mountains 🙂 Would I do it again?.. no, because I like to make it to the peak!

PS. So the peak we wanted to do was called Lacherspitze (1 724 m)This would have been an easy winter hike of ca. 1000m high meters. The peak we almost did is called Kesselwand (1721m) I would go back for this one, since it did look awesome. Also there seemed to be good ski touring possibilities for beginners in that area so maybe I will go back and try out that too.

Some moments from our exploring:

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True exploring, can you see the excitement in Elias’s face?
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At the end of our shortcut there was a hole in the mountain
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I told you the shortcut was steep 😀

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Btw this weekend was the dav’s alpinflohmarkt and this was what I came back with. No crampons and no ice axe as you can see, but I got something for both summer and winter hiking 🙂

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I will go hiking again tomorrow, and try out some of the stuff I got 🙂

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Already looking for the next peak..

And the last hike of 2016 went to…

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Long time no see, have you been hiking? I have 😀 !

Between all these Christmas markets, Gluhwein evenings (I just can not get enough Gluhwein 😛 ) and Christmas parties, I finally found time and will to go hiking again. Originally I had a different hike planned but then life happened. I discovered that I had a concert ticket for a concert on Saturday night and that the weather was not looking too good for Sunday. Luckily my dear love managed to convince me to go on an easy hike on Saturday :).  Normally I am not hard to convince, but on Friday evening I was still feeling little hangover from a Christmas party we had at work and did really not feel liek going hiking on Saturday. Especially when I knew that I also had to go to a concert after the hike. Luckily my love did all the packing and preparations so I just needed to say yes!

Saturday morning of we were to the following hike:

Route: Flintsbach -Hohe Asten 1104 m – Riesenkopf 1338 m – Maiwand 1135 m-Hohe Asten 1104 m – Flintsbach

Time: depends on your speed, but approximately 3 hours to Riesenkopf  and 30 -40 min to Maiwand. 1,5 hour down from Hohe Asten.

Elevation gain: Approximately 1000m, little more it you do Maiwand.

Transport: approximately 1 hour by train from Munich direction Kufstein.

This hike is very easy, so it is perfect for a beginner or for a family – EXCEPT Maiwand! Maiwand peak is therefore optional. It is just for the more adventitious ones, because it requires surefootedness and that you are not afraid to climb a short wall using only rope. If you don’t feel up for it just go to Riesenkopf and back to the hut.

On Riesenkopf  we had a loong break and just enjoyed the sun.

img_20161210_113358No snow in December as you can see. Isn’t that strange? Is this how the winters from now on are going to look like? 😦

Here are some pictures from Maiwand. No extra equipment is needed. If you feel safer you can take a helmet with you, but there is no danger for loose rocks.

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We split the group into two and it was only four of us doing Maiwand in the end.

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You need to climb this short wall both on you way there and back. Somehow, the way back is much easier than the way down 😉

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Surefootedness is needed on this short but exposed ridge. If you look closely you can see the Maiwand peak on the background.

As you see there are two tricky parts to hiking Maiwand.

  1. The path to it is quite hard to find. Basically when you see the red sign saying “Nor for güpte” this is where you need to take to the right to do the pike. BTW, you can easily see Maiwand from Riesenkopf . After taking to the right at sign, you just need to try to keep going right the path is really not marked. But after a short while ( 5 – 8 mins) you can see the peak and you will know where to go.
  2.  There is a approximately 6 m high wall  where you have to rely on a rope to get down (see the pics in the slideshow). The rope is already there so you don’t need to bring your own.

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Hohe Asten is usually open the whole year and is a very nice hut for enjoining a beer with a nice view.

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What is your last hike of year 2016 and what hiking plans do you have for 2017??