Sternfels with the elusive Bärenbrunn Valley
When half a year ago in Feb. 2005 I prepared the Südpfalz Climbing Region Page one of the 14 regions eluded me. The place is called Bärenbrunner Tal (Bärenbrunn Valley) and somehow it couldn’t be found on any of my many maps of the area. I found Bärenbunner Mühle (Mill) and Bärenbrunner Hof (Farm) and since both seemed to be connected by a river I decided that this might be the place. One of the websites claimed that Bärenbrunner Hof was the climbing centre of the whole region so surely I couldn’t be wrong. Or could I? Out of the 14 listed climbing crags none could be found on the maps – even though they were called Pfaffenfels (Preacher’s Rock), Nonnenfels (Nun’s Rock), Klosterfels (Cloister Rock) or Kapellenfels (Chapel Rock) which would have indicated a monastery or the ruins thereof. But no, no ecclesial buildings anywhere near! I decided to have a look myself sometime.
Yesterday, June 28th 2005, the time had come. An intense heatwave (some humid 31° - 36° C – upper nineties/lower one hundreds) had been keeping everybody on edge – working in the afternoon was just about impossible, sleeping at night not much easier. I had decided to get up and to work as early as possible to be able to leave in mid to late afternoon. Over the hasty breakfast – hunger in such weather is also something which eludes me – the notion hit my mind that this would be the perfect setting to hunt for that hidden valley – those 14 cliffs exerted a strong attraction on me. I packed a daypack with lots of water and all of my cameras – and went to work On the radio they said they expected the hottest day of the year. And one of the longest…
I won’t get into details about the chores I had to do at work – I guess it suffices to say that nobody was really cooperative. Probably everybody was just waiting for the evening. At 4:30 p.m. I decided enough was enough and set out. The earlier you start, the earlier you get there, right? No, wrong. Two traffic jams blocked the motorways and I had to take the back route via Pirmasens. Moreover I decided on the wrong road and had endless numbers of trucks in front of me. But after 90 minutes I got to the town of Dahn and from there another 30min should take me to the valley.
The Valley – a First Climb
As I reached the last village at the mouth of the valley I knew I had come to the right place. Schindhard (the village) is dominated by a large cliff, Mülleräcker Berg and in the east several crags could be seen popping their heads above the forest canopy. A narrow road winds into the valley and at the end you reach Bärenbrunner Hof. A sign, a small restaurant, tents at the bases of two climbing cliffs, equipment everywhere – I was in the right place!
Sternfels during the scramble to the massif to its west.
I decided to tour the valley slopes starting at the (momentarily) less populated southern slopes. The overgrown trail started where I had parked my car and I bushwhacked my way up through the undergrowth. The slope was steep, it was still quite hot and soon I soaked with sweat. My “trail” took me to one of the climbing cliffs, Sternfels. As usual in Südpfalz I came across this cliff quite suddenly. They like to hide in the forest and suddenly spring at you from behind a tree. Towering several storeys high!
The one I was at showed some pro and is used for climbing. However, it also had a very steep trail to its upper part and I decided to see if I couldn’t reach the top with my poor scrambling means. I could but some UIAA II climbing was involved, too. The rock was solid enough and the sandstone offers enough handles. Reaching the top was easy, getting down much less so. Without a rope (and a place to fix it) I had to reach down with my long legs. On level ground I could easily have jumped but here on the steep slope that was out of the question. I only would have gained additional momentum to bang my head on the nearest tree or two.
I felt pretty silly sitting on my ledge and not able to climb down two meters. But in this articular place the many handles were round and wide – nothing to get a fix grip upon. Studying the rock I “found its weak spot” and got down. Bruised arms and legs and the sweat was coming down in sheets by now.
After that experience I headed for the ridge trying to follow it around Bärenbrunn Valley. I figured that from the ridge I would have the best (i.e. easiest) access to the other cliffs. I found a marked trail which led along a long set of large boulders which looked strikingly familiar. Had I been here before? A déjà vu? And sure enough the last of the boulders tickled my mind. I had taken a shot of it as it resembled a large table and now I know that I had even published that photo here on SP.
Table-like boulder - helped me to get back my orientation
But I knew from that last hike in February that getting down from the ridge was far from easy (see my Big Boot Bouldering TR - at that time I had got lost and hiked/scrambled/climbed down trail-lessly. This time I decided to stay on the trail but that would take me out of the valley into the next one to the north. It was getting late and I started to power-hike.
Down it goes into that northern valley. Oddly enough this looks familiar too. Another déjà vu? But this one reaches back further. Two years? And didn’t I shoot the twin tower pic here? Can this be? I didn’t know Bärenbrunn Valley but have been to all sides of it? The sun is setting so I accelerate and after a bend in the trail: Glasfelsen with its twin towers, Neyturm and Schlemmerturm.
From up close it looks much more impressive than in my memory. Now I get ambitious: seeing a steep trail to the side I decide to reach the top – or as fast as I can get.The ground is lose – I need the trees to steady myself but up it goes. With all the sweat on my arms every slip adds another dirt layer on myself – I’m starting to look like a walking zombie. But up, up, up! Finally I reach the ridge. I can jump a gap and am on the higher of the two towers, Schlemmerturm. It looks much less impressive than I thought and disappointedly I turn around and slide my way back down.
Various shots of Neyturm's twin towers
After a short while I reached Erfweiler, a town surrounded by cliffs. The sun was setting now so I didn’t get perfect shots. But once again I saw a cliff, Heegerturm, in the backyard of one of the houses. I wonder what it is like to grow up with a garden like this…
The remainder of the trail to Bärenbrunn Valley follows a bike path. It is easy to hike but views are scarce. And as the sun threw only few rays anymore my shots of the valley – after I reached it – are far from perfect either. I suppose I’ll have to return sometime soon.
Right now, as I’m writing this, the heat has cumulated and is exploding in one of our heavy thunderstorms. Maybe I should get out to get a shower…