A grey blanket hangs above.
Autumn’s leaves have fallen, exposing the bare trees.
Days are dark, dreary and cold.
Constant drizzle, rain and the first snow flakes fall.
Passengers wait for trains, their hands jammed into pockets.
Living in Germany, which I assume would be similar to living in other European countries, means experiencing the changes in season. Along with distinct patterns in weather throughout the year, one sees nature and natural life move through its annual life cycle. Growing up in Australia, and in Sydney in particular, this was a little different. Summers are harsh, winters are mild, rain can occur at any time and one always needs a backup plan because basically anything goes (from what I hear, this week hasn’t been too pleasant at all). Sydney sees its autumn beauty but changes are just a little less obvious overall, which makes me notice my surroundings here even more.
November days here are not pretty. November, just like the phase between childhood and puberty, is that ugly in-between period between autumn and winter; uncertain, insecure, vulnerable. The golden days of autumn have disappeared to leave a miserable tone of grey, days of rain and the onset of runny noses. Alongside the constant blanket of clouds, days gradually become shorter and with that, we see only short bursts of sunshine. Our happy source is seeking a warmer shelter.
And this seasonal thing, its powerful. Weather is contagious. These ugly November days cause people to become a little moodier, sluggish and cynical – everyone catches a case of the November blues. Although just around the corner, everyone longs for the first proper snow, for Advent and for the day of St. Nicholas – the distraction that is Christmas. When Winter shows its face, things change – the fresh snow hides the miserable greys and balances, so gracefully, upon naked tree branches. While rarely sunny, the winter sky is bright bringing a general buzz of winter warmth in the air.
Thankfully for us November is nearly through. On the days where I am stuck inside I like to ‘travel’ somewhere I’ve recently been – reliving the moments I have experienced throughout the year – to provide an escape from this dreariness, a reminder of what will come again once the winter has melted. One of my ‘adventures’ this week involved climbing a mountain.
Given the close proximity of our home to the alps, we try to fit in a weekend climb during the warmer months. One of climbs Alex and I conquered over the summer was Herzogstand mountain, located on the foothills of the Bavarian alps. With an elevation of 1,731m, and an altitude difference of 880m, Herzogstand mountain is situated between Kochelsee (Lake Kochel) and Walchensee (Lake Walchen) in Kochel.
While not a picturesque day, it was ideal for a climb – warm but not hot, sunny with the odd cover of cloud.
Given the late start to the day, we began our ascent at 14:00, with a recommended total hike time of 4.5 hours.
The trail was well-marked and was accompanied by wide, clear paths until the last half an hour to the peak. The climb began relatively steep, and stayed that way for about the first hour of the ascent. It was only upon our descent did we realise how steep it actually was – requiring us to walk sideways to prevent us from falling over. From then on it was a lot more comfortable – the gradient was steep enough for us to resume conversation and enjoy the surroundings.
Green pastures, grazing cows, alpine flora, streams and the only sounds coming from the crunch of our boots on the gravel and the echoes of clanging cow-bells.
Upon reaching the peak the view was breathtaking, with views of both Kochelsee, Wachelsee, the city of Kochel and the rolling mountains of Heimgarten to the other side. Upon reaching the peak we noticed how many people were also taking in the view, despite having passed only two couples on the climb up. Seeing the crowds dressed in jeans and sneakers made us, the sweaty, red-faced couple, realise that there must be a much more relaxed way up. And we were correct – given the popularity of Herzogstand mountain in Bavaria, a cable car runs from the other side of the mountain, arriving at the mountain-inn to make the peak accessible to many visitors.
An additional advantage of hiking throughout Germany is that it would be hard to find yourself in a situation of starvation. Small mountain-inns or Berghütte (mountain huts) are often conveniently dotted along hiking trails or rested close to mountain peaks, serving as a rest-stop for travellers and those working on the mountain pastures. Being in Germany, the meals offered are definitely hearty – with dumpling soups, a slow roasted piece of meat and apple strudel with vanilla sauce on rotation. I am usually the one munching on the carrot sticks I’ve packed, washing it down with either an Apfelschorle (Apple spritz with apple juice and sparkling water) or Bier (always refreshing at high altitude) – not wanting to have to roll back down the trail.
When hiking I am at peace – there is nothing more freeing for my mind and lungs than letting them inhale the clean air and depths of the mountains. Even if challenging, my mind solely focuses on the task at hand; the rock I must balance upon, or choosing the most stable route to take – allowing all other issues in my mind take a step back. What motivates me most is that each climb is different – from the types of trees outlining the mountain edge, to the animals found dwelling in their natural habitat. Reaching the peak is the final reward; the moment when I look back at what I have achieved, the moment I appreciate the miniature land below with a wide lens, and the moment I can allow myself to travel to the limitless skies. The peak is also somewhat spiritual for me; standing so tall above the chaos of the city makes me feels as if I am that one step closer to God. Nothing could be more simpler.
Upon reaching our car I unlaced my boots and turned off my stopwatch – 3.5 hours including a 30 minute pause – beating the clock makes it even more thrilling.
I hope this virtual escape has provided you with the distraction it has given me. I wonder where I will travel to this week….