It started when the kids, walking along the creek, looked up at the highest peak they could see above the trees.
“Dad, can we climb that one?”
We talked about how it would not be easy but that we would see if it was possible. We asked our hotelier couple for advice and he told us the name of the peak was Brünnstein. In halting English, he mentioned that it was “dirty” along the way and that we should drive closer to the peak before starting out, for the “kinder”. He is a father of four as well and understands the limits of smaller lags. He suggested we park in a lot closer to the peak.
So we loaded up in the car on a bright morning and wound through tiny towns on our slow climb in elevation. It was an easy, weekend morning and people were out for drives, and bike rides. As you enter a town, clinging to the hillside, a radar display would show your speed. Cafe tables were within inches of the road. We passed a wedding reception full of guests sitting outside and sunning under a large cafe canopy. We continued to drive higher.
We finally found a parking lot and this detailed hiking map. Good work by the Bavarians! We would be tackling about a 2000 foot elevation gain over 5 kilometers each way. An ambitious effort for our clan. The sign references Brünnsteinhaus and we guessed that the summit of Brünnstein was just past this “haus”.
The path climbed above the parking lot and over well-engineered drainage culverts. We watched our car disappear through the trees. Emerging into a view of the valley and the towns we’d driven through, a few mountain bikers labored slowly past us.
Will found a “walking” stick right away. We trod up to a sign that directed two different paths to Brünnsteinhaus. The trail numbers were clearly delineated and adequately marked along the way. Decision time. Should we go the faster way (likely steeper) or the slower way (likely less challenging)? We made up our minds to go steeper on the way up.
The kids got out ahead of us and conspired together.
We entered into a darker path besieged by tree roots and denser foliage filtering out the available light. I stowed my sunglasses.
We frequently encountered barbed wire at turn points. Wooden steps were built to allow hikers access over the barbed wire. We discussed the fun of tetanus shots and encouraged the kiddos to take care. The barbed wire keeps the grazing cattle from wandering. Over a rise, we spotted a deer that bounded away. The patterns of our shoe soles filled more and more with the adhesive mud.
Frequent breaks kept us all in the game. Here’s Will really getting into one of those short breaks.
Of course, our small ones had brought their Harry Potter wands. Sometimes you have to do quite a few spells when you are out in woods. You have to constantly be prepared to fight off any lurking bandits.
With the muddy trail too narrow for two-abreast hiking, big brother stayed out in front. I was the same way as a kid. If a smaller sibling got out there, it was a race.
Ascending slowly on the narrow trail, we moved aside for another couple and heard a native English speaker! It was the first one we’d heard. A short conversation revealed he was a Colorado native now living in Munich. His German wife looked at us and said, “Why are you here?” I loved that. I think she meant why were we Americans in a non-touristy area normally reserved for Germans. Perhaps we were the bandits ruining the party!
A hiking couple, passing us on the way down, stopped to try and communicate something to us. I picked out, that around the next “sale” was something at least a “meter” long that we should be careful for. It could “poke” the kinder. I was grateful but as he walked away, a bit unclear if it was a sharp root, barbed wire or a large snake. We warned the kids, rather generically, and continued on the steepening trail with Dad in front. Around the corner, we found what he was attempting to get across. The narrow path was pinched between a rocky face on one side and a drop off down the slope on the other. A 3-4 meter cable was anchored into the rock for hikers. We started on the cable gingerly as a Middle Eastern couple waited behind us. She was in a head shawl and modest dress of some type (an abaya?). At a few points, you had to cling to the cable and try your footing in various spots to ensure a strong foothold. A small plaque mentioned a name and a date. Had someone passed away here?! We kept the kids marshalled into the cable and away from the dropoff. Luke had slid his hand along the cable and had cut himself. The helpful hiker had benn trying to warn us about a sharp wire sticking out of the cable at one point. After some trying moments, we all emerged safely into the light of an opening in the trail. The boys stumbled off the trail through mud and manure, the girls carefully picked their way through. Luke’s hand was bleeding so we bandaged him up. The kids understandably felt torn between a confident self-reliance that they’d overcome that section and a wariness of coming down this same way. We took a break and noticed the Middle Eastern couple must have turned back. We tried to calm down the mama bear. I didn’t blame her one bit.
The trail opened up further into more cattle grazing and we enjoyed cow bells. We rounded a corner and came upon a bench and a wooden carving of Jesus on the cross overlooking the valley.
Ana exclaimed, “Everytime I look at a cow they are pooping!” Later, Ana stepped in a cow-provided trail biscuit, “EEeww, get it off, get it off!” Will stepped in one a few minutes later, but didn’t seem to mind.
In a couple of areas, we traversed grates placed over steep sections of the trail. Twice, metal grates ferried us over small waterfalls. Then I caught a glimpse of the Brünnsteinhaus. Or rather, I saw what looked to be 40-50 people at tables on a kind of ledge. Had all these people hiked the way we’d come? How come many didn’t look sweaty at all? Hey, they’re cheating! How can you come out to the woods and end up with a huge beer like that guy has? Is this legal? Are we disturbing the entire mantra of getting out into nature when you end up enjoying a big slice of cake like that couple has over there? There were kids everywhere and we’d seen no kids on our trail up.
We sidled by tables full of folks enjoying the day and sat by a small playground on the hillside. Kids played, swung and giggled and we broke out our sandwiches. I looked up at the 200-300 vertical feet left to go to the summit. Were these people enjoying the veranda and the sunny tables and the beer going to continue on to the summit? I wasn’t sure our little tribe was going to have the energy either since we still had a long hike back down. We already had about 2.5 hours of strenuous hiking under our belt. This was quite challenging to my mindset as I realize I’ve always liked to go out into the woods and reach the summit, or the goal. I was more used to a crumpled-up PB&J and a Nalgene bottle of warm water with a great view. This was a mild earthquake to my assumptions.
Lisa and I discussed it, it was clear that wisdom must keep us from going higher on this sunny day where we’d spent a lot of energy on the way up.
Those beers over there and sitting at those tables was beginning to look pretty darn good.
After the kids played for a while, we decided to amble on over. We finally got a seat at a table with a magnificent view and we had enough Euros for our own beer and cake! Hmmm, these Europeans might be onto something with this concept. Refreshing local “weiss” beer too, after that challenging hike. Lisa said it was the best beer she’d ever tasted.
But, here in Europe, Visa is not everywhere you want to be! We were not surprised that the mountain house didn’t take credit cards but neither do several locations throughout our travels.
We laughed and recounted all our adventures on the way up and everyone seemed to walk a bit taller. But we also decided not to go back down the way we’d come! The Middle Eastern couple were there, evidently coming up another way.
Leaving Brünsteinhaus after a great rest, the sweat had begun to cool on my back. It was time to start moving again, into the late afternoon.
We stepped lightly across the grass of an alpine meadow and found the easier trails that others must have come up. We went slowly because the mountains were so breathtaking that we kept forgetting to watch our step. Others meandered across the meadow, taking other paths to their own destinations.
We stepped over the wooden steps of a barbed wire fence into a tiny corral. The trail took us within feet of a curious horse. The girls were delighted. Ana neighed to the horse who responded with his ears. We diverted our eyes as a family ahead of us helped a toddler use the facilities under a tree. We followed them and all discovered wild raspberries!
The longer path was indeed less steep. We sang a few songs and talked as a family to keep all of our minds in the game. Will began to sit down whenever we stopped. Lisa’s sock kept disappearing into her shoe. Someone’s foot was hurting, then it was someone else’s. We trudged a little slower and took more breaks. The girls were elated by the discovery of grazing horses on a hilltop. “Daddy, take some pictures!”
Our view of the valleys grew slowly flatter. Isn’t it interesting how the climb is always far more interesting than the easier descent?
That beautiful sight at the end of a hike finally emerged from the trees—our car!