Episode 01 – The Benediktenwand in Bavaria, Germany
Our first destination is the Benediktenwand in the Bavarian Prealps. According to an old folk tale, the mighty mountain ridge rests on four golden columns and contains a vast trove of treasure. We’d like to take a closer look.
1,801 metres high and situated directly on the edge of the Alps, the mountain promises climbers breath-taking views and photo opportunities. We reach the small village of Arzbach around evening, and spend our first night at the campsite, for a change. Perhaps that’s not so adventurous, but it guarantees us a secure place to leave our stuff while we climb.
Eight in the morning. During the night fat drops of Alpine rain hammered against the walls of our tent. It was a long night, but not exactly restful. ‘Hopefully our shoes won’t be soaking wet underneath the trailer, at least,’ we thought. This vain hope was crushed with a single peep out of the tent. Somehow we had managed to park the trailer above a small dip in the grass, so that a large puddle of water had formed beneath it.
But our plan to climb the mountain leaves no time for sulking. We want to reach the peak by midday and decamp as early as possible. With three heavy rucksacks holding about nine litres of water and our camera equipment, among other things, we set off about nine. The first hundred metres are incredibly idyllic. With each breath we draw in the scent of the dense forest. The gravel crunches lightly under our feet, and the birds sing in the treetops.
After about an hour the forest thins out, giving way to a wide, flat expanse of grass with a narrow gravel path that will lead us past a mountain pasture, numerous cows and Bavarian Warmbloods to the foot of the Benediktenwand and up towards the peak.
Grabbing hold of branches to steady ourselves as we go, we climb the narrow, stony path. After a few hundred metres in elevation, we come across a small mountain waterfall, a convenient place to catch our breath and fill our bottles with crystal-clear water. It takes three hours longer than planned to climb the first 1,500 metres in elevation, as there’s plenty to photograph along the way. We were supposed to reach the peak two hours ago.
About 2pm the clouds begin to gather, and wafts of mist hover only a few centimetres above the ground. The clouds shift rapidly. We find a suitable viewpoint barely two hundred metres away from the mountaintop to set up our tripod and camera, positioning the camera towards the cross on the summit to take a time-lapse photograph. Click. Click. Click. As our camera eagerly snaps picture after picture, we share half a loaf of bread, a large hunk of Alpine cheese and a salami.
We pack our things and scale the final few metres to the peak. Through the gaps in the clouds we glimpse an indescribable view over the Prealps. We feel a sense of boundless freedom. We choose an alternative route for the way back, stopping off in a nearby meadow. Our toes stub uncomfortably against the ends of our shoes as we climb down, pushing and burning. Thinking of cold beer in the meadow, we grit our teeth.
Peter and Robin set the pace. Suddenly there’s a rustling sound in the nearby undergrowth. Slowly, we turn our heads – carefully, as it might be an animal we don’t want to scare off. In fact, less than ten metres from us in the dense, dark-green shrubbery, are three large, magnificent ibexes, gazing at us curiously. Lucas gingerly removes his camera and approaches the animals. The stones crunch slightly under his soles, and we hold our breath. The ibexes’ large horns tower out of the thick undergrowth, offering an impressive sight. ‘Click’ – a photo. ‘Click’ – another one. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along very often, and we spend a good quarter of an hour taking photos. Until the ibexes turn their backs and return to the blockfield on the hillside.
Hissssss! Fresh beer and a warm room are waiting for us on the meadow. We eat, drink and laugh into the early evening, completely losing track of time. We estimate that there are about three hours of daylight left, and decamp immediately. At a crossing not far from the meadow is a signpost telling us that it will take five hours to get back to the valley. We have no torches or any other source of light. Or a map. Our clothes are designed for a warm summer stroll, not for spending a night in the woods. We have no choice: we have to get back to our car, preferably before the sun goes down.
After a while Robin falls behind. His legs are in agony after ten hours of walking, and he can’t carry the rucksack any more. According to our calculations, we have another three hours to go. We’re in the middle of the mountains. The path underneath our feet is so narrow that we can hardly make it out in the twilight, and the stones covered by so many walkers before us are slippery. Peter is carrying Robin’s rucksack, while Lucas tries to get his bearings. Robin pulls himself together, then we find a wider forest path and follow it down the mountain.
‘Don’t stay in the mountains after dark’
We have no idea where we are. We don’t even know whether we’re on the right hillside, or walking into the right valley. The landlady gave us some words of advice when we set off, but now her warning ‘don’t stay in the mountains after dark or you might never be found’ is the only thing whirring around in our heads. The sentence runs through our heads in an endless loop, especially as we can no longer persuade ourselves that night isn’t about to fall. It already has. The moon appears, our only light source, and the forest resounds with its nightly music. The night drives us on and makes us forget our aches and pains. While we spent hours with our cameras and enjoying the beauty of nature on the way up, we’re now entirely focused on walking. There’s only one thing we want: to get back.
‘There! A sign!’ shouts Lucas.
‘Two more hours! We’re going the right way.’ Unsure whether to be relieved that we’re on the right path or disappointed by how much time is left, we continue. It starts to rain. The path broadens into a wide forest road and the slope evens out. The trees around us start to thin, and more moonlight shines through the branches. Finally we reach a crossroads we recognise. ‘This is where we turned right before – we’ve gone in a big circle,’ says Peter. ‘We’re almost there.’ It was a close shave, although it didn’t have to be – we were naïve, and actually got off pretty lightly.
After another hour, soaked to the skin, we reach the car. It’s half ten. All in all we were walking for thirteen hours. Nobody has ever been happier to drive back to a campsite through a rainy night as we were that evening.