Beating the Bug: A Hikers Tale.
A superb day in prospect
I first set foot on a mountain, (Brocken excepted), intent on hiking to it’s summit in October 2004 at the tender age of 56. That was at Mittenwald in Germany’s Bavarian Alpine region. Within a month I was back a little further North at Garmisch-Partenkirchen for more! And on arrival at that Bavarian town I was immediately awed by the mountain that dominated the skyline to the North West: the 1985m high Kramerspitz. That’s one for me, I said, but not yet as I had some things to work on. Primarily fitness, but also to try and get down from “obese” to at least just “overweight”. Too many years enjoying German food and bier in the thirty five years I’d been visiting the country for interests other than mountain hiking.
Bridge across gulley
Superb Autumn views
Well the morning of October 17th 2006, around two years later, saw me set out to do what I anticipated to be my hardest and longest mountain hike yet. In those two years I had crammed in eleven trips to the Bavarian mountains for day hikes: this one being my twelfth trip. I had worked hard on my fitness: 2006 alone had seen my mountain hikes and daily training walks in the UK accumulate 1650 miles and over 150,000 feet of height gain before I had stepped off the plane at Munich’s main airport the afternoon before. On a flight booked only a few days before on the basis of a superb Autumn day forecast for Tuesday 17th. Whilst I may have got off the plane a lot fitter than two years previously I had good reason to be thankful that I hadn’t been charged excess baggage for my still obese body! All my training work hadn’t seen even an ounce of reduction in weight: although I had been told that at least some of the fat must have been replaced by a substance I was unfamiliar with, something called “muscle”.
The alarm in my hotel room went off at 05.30, although my body still thought it was 04.30 UK time. And I felt lousy. A bug I’ve had for twenty years or more, (not detected by regular tests), had given me what feels like a mild dose of ‘flu, plus the pleasure of getting up to pee more than once an hour throughout the night. I was tired and dehydrated. But I consoled myself as I put on fresh clothes in my warm, comfortable ensuite hotel room that I was in a far better position than the very many people who attempt far harder mountain targets. And after they crawl out of a bivouac high up on icy cold slopes with none of the home comforts I was blessed with. The next of which for me was the on time 06.25 local bus from outside my Farchant hotel down to the starting point on the edge of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
I left the town onto the start of the easy track up towards the hutte at St Martins, (Grasberg), but something was wrong. Someone had built a wall across the track! I put on my headlight and realised it wasn’t a wall, it was just the start of the uphill bit. Thankfully after a while it began to feel like it was: a gentle climb up to around 1030m where I passed the hutte and headed onto a narrower track that continued until a left fork at 1450m. That 750m climb from the valley had seen my knees almost give way under me three times because of the bug wandering around my veins. Isotonic drink had helped and at the fork I stopped for a rest break and breakfast. But the onset of uncontrollable shivering on the mild and clear Autumn morning restricted breakfast to a couple of Paracetomol washed down with more Iso drink, and a stop lasting no more than two minutes. However on a day that was proving to be every bit as superb as I had hoped when booking my flight a few days before I was utterly determined to reach the summit of the Kramerspitz. And I told myself so out loud in case any part of me was doubting that, regardless of what the “bug” inside me wanted to do!
Getting onto the steeper ascent to the saddle after that left fork from the main track was a real turning point. I’ll never climb mountains, so I satisfy myself on the steeper sections I encounter on my routes. Better if there are some bits with a fixed wire rope for a few metres as I found on this route. So the adrenalin flowed and I kept a good pace up to the saddle, stopping every so often to view and photograph the beauty Mother Nature was allowing me to see in perfect Autumn light. From the saddle I knew there were some undulations: one very significant. And as I like to know exactly how much height gain I do on every hike, I started my mental arithmetic “game” of estimating how many metres I dropped at each undulation. Every metre down on an ascent is a metre I’ve got to climb again before the summit: and again on the descent if I use the same route.
Steep descent ahead Summit Cross!
My pace was surprising. Above my expectations when crawling out of bed earlier, but as usual still much too slow to walk with any group. Although I am quite happy on my own on the mountain tracks, and apart from another lone hiker who passed me at speed earlier I was destined to have the route to the summit to myself. After a few ups and downs I thought I had come to a dead end on top of a small kopf. But looking over the edge I could see a big and very steep descent, and then rather enjoyed the mixture of scrambling and stumbling on my Leki sticks that got me down to the small saddle at the bottom. Then it was mixed graded tracks over scree and small rocks, and ever nearer my goal, the summit cross that would undoubtedly be glinting over the roof of Garmisch-Partenkirchen all day. And then, there it was. A steep final climb up with Leki sticks and hands and I was able to touch that cross that I had been admiring from the valley for so long. A short prayer of thanks first, as is my usual custom. And then almost tears of joy as I surveyed the stupendous 360 degree panorama around me, as well as surveying the very nice young woman, (from Munich I found soon after), just about to join me after her hike up from the other side of the mountain.
View West from Summit
Impossible to beat the bug fully at this stage I rejected the thought of any food and instead had a pleasant conversation with the young lady: so nice, (and so polite), of her to compliment my still very bad German. Then I decided that having come all this way I really must get to the summit behind us, so I dropped a few metres and then half scrambled a few more back up to stand on that small piece of Bavarian rock. But all too soon the young lady left to head back the way she had come: and me too. Back across the scree field and then up that steep climb: again a mixture of Lekis and hands. With no embarrassment to me as a significantly older hiker, (more had joined me on the mountain by now), tackled that section without problem: I bet he’s been hiking these tracks for a lifetime I consoled myself with! But others had turned back at the top as I had seen earlier, two of these now asking me as I met them, how difficult was it? Maybe my stock reply of “if I can do it anyone can” needs revising when younger and slimmer hikers recoil slightly at the sight of an out of breath, white haired, overweight foreigner drenched in sweat and starting to smell quite ripe, getting up and down such sections when they don‘t. I love the very friendly Bavarians and most certainly do not want to upset them with my comments.
View NE from Katzenkopf
I reckon from the dozen or more people I now encountered there would be a few sick notes in Munich the next day, or maybe flexi time had allowed the other hikers to escape their offices into this classically superb Bavarian Autumn day. A day not finished for me as I got to the saddle and decided to climb the 80 metres or so up to point 1817m, known as the Katzenkopf to some. And the effort on the steep track was rewarded with a superb afternoon view to the surrounding mountains. From there I knew every metre was downhill: just as well as I was feeling very tired by now. But an uneventful descent saw me back on the valley floor ten hours after starting. My longest mountain hike yet and someway inside the time I anticipated when struggling up the lower tracks in the dark of the morning. And my calculations of every metre I had climbed, showed I was close to 1600m for the day: a new personal best.
That thought gave me the impetus to keep strolling, and just before the bus stop I passed a Stone Works making grave headstones. I checked briefly but thoroughly, and my name was on none of them! A very relieved smile came to my face, followed by an increase in pace to the bus stop in the happy knowledge that , for today at least, I had beaten that damn bug!
Bryan Benn, Kent, England.