Bad Wiessee hike


After competing in the Wallberg Berglauf the day before, I had a full day left in the Tegernsee region before my 600km drive back to Luxembourg. And while there were heavy rains all throughout the day, I was determined to not let it go to waste – it would be a shame to be in the mountains (even though it was only the less jagged foothills of the Alps) and not climb something.

[osm_map_v3 map_center=”47.705,11.697″ zoom=”12″ width=”100%” height=”450″ file_list=”../../../../wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Bad-Wiessee-hike.gpx”]

I ended up hiking 33km in total, with some limited running thrown in to increase the pace a little. This was only possible a couple of times, conditions being the grade (the first few kilometers out of Bad Wiessee were quite steep) and whether or not I was holding an umbrella (it was raining that heavily). After covering 20km and starting to get tired, I  thought it was more prudent to skip running altogether.

For the first 50 minutes, I followed Breitenbach, a small river, into the forested slopes on the west side of Tegernsee. In the first hour, I covered just over 400m of elevation. Over the next half hour, the trail gradually got less steep and contoured around the hills in a southerly direction towards Aueralm. This part of the climb had been signposted near the trailhead as taking 3.5 hours; and initially it looked like I would match that time. It seems that I made good progress further up.


I didn’t stop at Aueralm, but instead headed on towards the first peak that was signposted. Fockenstein (1564m) was supposed to be one hour away. I made it to the top three quarters of an hour later; but most of that wasn’t pleasant: at first the going was still quite relaxed, but then the winds picked up. For a while I was heading straight into the wind, so the umbrella definitely helped in sheltering me. Further up, I was seeing the effects of recent snowmelt: the grassy path was soaked, any exposed stone was dangerously slippery, and all bare earth had been turned into a mudfest.I was wearing my Brooks Cascadia 8 trail runners, and they don’t do too well in slippery conditions. Furthermore, they’re not water-proof in any way, so my feet got wet in no time. At least the advantage of a shoe that is not water-proof is that due to the foot generating heat, any water that enters has a chance to get out again.


My navigation was limited to the signposts that were present at any trail intersection. I had safely tucked my brand new cell phone into two layers of ziplock bags and wasn’t going to risk having it get wet just to look at a GPS map – I didn’t have any solid destination in mind, anyway.

I hiked down the same way I’d come up for some 25 minutes, and then continued South. There had been signs for “Kampen (1594m)”, so I’d decided I would try this next. On the final ascent however, with some 300m of elevation to go, I had a one-person safety meeting. The trail was getting quite steep and snowed over; and conditions would probably not improve. Therefore, if I had to come down the same way, I’d be looking at a lot of slippery footing. “Not worth it”, I concluded.



So I headed back down and followed a larger and less steep trail towards “Seekarkreuz”. The going here was quite monotonous – a steady grind that climbed slowly but steadily on a narrow forest / gravel road. But as I increased in elevation, I encountered more and more snow. Also, as the snow was saturated with he falling rain, no matter how careful I was, each contact with it meant my feet got wet. After three successive snow fields and conditions further up looking to worsen, I decided to once again turn around. This was at around 1430m.


With two out of three summit attempts foiled, I decided it was time to head back to the valley. I’d already covered close to 20km of distance by this point. At the next intersection there was a small single trail going down towards Bad Wiessee along “Söllbach”; but I decided against this option; again because of the slippery conditions of the trails. Instead, I backtracked on the wider paths towards Aueralm, by which time I’d done 25km in slightly over 4h40. From here, I had two options: head down the same way I’d come up, or take a different road that looked steeper. I opted for the latter because I thought it would be faster. And it was at first, dropping me down towards Tegernsee quite efficiently.

However, when I exited the forest I found myself south of my hotel, which meant I had to follow the sea shore for a couple of kilometers to get back to my hotel. In the end, I reached it after a total of 33km. The hike down from Aueralm had taken 8km, a saving of a whopping kilometer compared to the 9km ascend.


The final tally for the day was exactly 6 hours on my feet. Since I had done no sitting breaks, my GPS watch had recorded a “moving time” of 5h43. My average pace was 10:55min/km, or 10:24 when only considering the moving time. Elevation-wise, my Garmin 910XT recorded 1399m of total elevation gain.

Pico de la Zarza, Fuerteventura (#3)

Hiking, KMV, Running, Trail

As a former competitive sprinter, I find that I still strive on challenges, and attempting to beat the clock.

With my GPS watch troubles on my second ascent of Pico de la Zarza two days prior that prevented not just a comparison to my previous effort but also others; and the knowledge that so far I hadn’t had perfect conditions, it was clear that there was still a challenge to be had before we were heading back to cold and wet Luxembourg.

With my first ascent on Tuesday in about 1h14 and the second ascent on Thursday in approximately 1h11, that left Saturday as the final opportunity to attack the Pico de la Zarza climb segment on Strava. Short of running a race, I suppose Strava is the next best thing to measuring yourself against other people and making sure you’re putting in a real effort. In this specific case, my 1h14 ascent time would have landed me on 6th place on the leaderboard, while my sub-1h11 time would have put me on #4. As of late March 2015 there were a handful people in this 1h10 to 1h15 range, and I figured that ascending faster than 1h10 was possible. This all pales of course to the leader of the board who is a lot faster, and ascended in just over 48 minutes. So really, the challenge for Saturday was “#2 or bust”.

Of course conditions were still not perfect – I set off at 11:24, which was both a little too close to the copious breakfast I’d had and exactly during the warmest phase of the day. I’m to blame for over-indulging on the hotel buffet, and since the wife wanted to check out the beach at the base of the climb and wanted to get going I couldn’t easily wait a few more hours. But at least the high winds from previous days had abated and there were no dark clouds in sight.

As a matter of fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all as I set off; and before I’d even covered the first two kilometers I’d already emptied most of my first bottle of water.

I still managed to be about two minutes faster on the two initial kilometers than during my first attempt four days ago. I tried to run as much as I could, but whenever my heart rate reached 170 to 175 beats I thought I’d be more prudent to power hike. Unfortunately, that meant that I hiked the majority of the steep stuff.

Compared to my two previous attempts, the trail was somewhat busier, and on the way up I passed maybe 10 people. It was a little reassuring that even though I felt that I was moving slow (walking rather than running), I was still moving faster than Joe Average. Of course those “average” people probably had some choice words amongst themselves for the crazy guy moving past them and never even stopping once to “enjoy the view”.  To each their own.

After 30 minutes, I’d covered 3.7km; which translates to almost half the distance.  Elevation-wise, my watch logged me at about 350m of elevation (or about 380m of gain since the start). Some quick mental calculations confirmed that I should be able to finish under 1h10. I also realized that two days prior, I couldn’t have covered 400m of elevation by this point in time; because I was moving faster today yet hadn’t reached that number. I guess barometric elevation numbers on the 910XT can be off quite a bit when heading into changing weather.

After 45 minutes, I reached the plateau where the rocky track turns into brown earth and a few green shrubs start to show. It is almost level for a bit and then descends a little. I was able to hit a nice 5:30min/km pace for a few minutes, but then of course the final ascent started.

I was feeling quite depleted, and despite wanting to push, my heart rate just wouldn’t let me. For most of the remainder of the climb, I was steadily hovering around 175bpm even when walking. I suppose doing this kind of effort three times in a week was taking its toll.

I finally made it to the top in 1h06:33; fast enough to be #2 on the segment but a humbling 18 minutes behind #1.

There were a few people at the top, including a couple sitting just next to the stone pillar that marks the highpoint. Quite why people always insist to do their food break in the prime spot that other people want to get to (to merely tag, or to capture on photo) even though there’s plenty of space around is something I still haven’t understood.

I turned around and bounded down the trail. And as I write this and deliberately choose the term “bound”, I still have a smile on my face because running down the initial kilometer was quite enjoyable. First of all because the climb was finally over and moving forward suddenly felt so easy; but also because moving fast over uneven terrain produces an exciting adrenaline rush. Too bad a full time job and a history of injuries that I need to manage mean I can’t do too much of said bounding down a mountain.

At one point, I still stopped to smell the flowers, though. Often it’s just a meaningless proverb, but with the absence of wind the smell of the flowers hung in the air, testament of the arrival of spring and the rain fall these slopes had seen lately.

I continued down trail, almost without a break this time around, and hit a few kilometers in 6min/km pace. A far cry from what real ultra runners can do on a downhill, but I’ll take what I can get.

I arrived back at the car about 1h55 after setting off, for a 49 minute descent.

Pico de la Zarza, Fuerteventura (#2)

Hiking, KMV, Running, Trail

Two days after my walk/run up Pico de la Zarza, the achilles tendon was slowly getting manageable again and I was pondering another run or hike. For a while, I was telling myself that I was too tired for a big effort; but then decided to just go for it anyway.

While packing my running backpack, I decided to go lighter this time. On the first ascent I’d worn shorts and a shirt and carried both a merino wool long-sleeve top and a rain jacket / wind breaker, but for this second attempt I’d chosen to forgo those extra layers.

On the highway to Morro Jable, I could see that the mountain peaks were shrouded in clouds, some of which seemed to threaten rain. Alas, I thought it was too late in the day to drive back to the hotel and get more clothes, so I decided to just wing it – I had plastic bags for my cell phone, camera and valuables and a little rain wouldn’t hurt me.

I parked the car at the same spot and set off on exactly the same route as two days before. The first two thirds of the ascent were still under blue skies and sunshine, but I was heading into grey clouds. The wind was even stronger than two days prior. At the beach in Costa Calma, wind speeds of up to 35km/h had been predicted for the day, but I’m sure the numbers on the unprotected mountain slopes were higher.

As such, moving up and into a strong headwind was hard work; but nevertheless I was pushing harder and moving faster than on the first ascent. I managed to climb about 400m of elevation in the first half hour, and after one hour I had gone up almost 800m. Again, not a bad number considering my vertical kilometer ambitions later this year.

I was running the level stuff and the descents (of which there weren’t many) and power walking (or merely walking, depending on how strong of an adversary the wind was at that moment) all of the inclines. At times, I was walking in a crouched over position to offer less of an obstacle to the wind. According to real-time data on my watch, I was moving at a speed of around 8:00 per km at first, and then slowing down to about 9:00 per km towards the end.


After an hour and close to 800m of cumulative ascent I was on the final switchbacks, and the weather had become really unpleasant. The sun was now hidden by clouds, and the wind felt like a full-on storm. I was only wearing running tights and a flimsy sleeveless top, so pretty much the only thing that provided warmth was my running backpack; and the fact that by moving at a high level of effort my body was producing quite a lot of heat.


Clearly, this wasn’t the time or place to sit down for an extended rest, or to slip and injure myself. However, I was feeling pretty safe in the knowledge that I was less than an hour from civilization, and in the unlikely event of an accident I was in an area with full cell phone reception. If really needed a rescue 4×4 could probably make it most of the way up.

But still, even though I was feeling quite safe and the risk level was not very high in the grand scheme of things (compared to some climb in the Alps, for example), I still felt like I was operating on a fairly thin margin during the final ten minutes of the climb. My hands were starting to feel a little numb from the cold wind and of course I was aware that if the clouds held rain or produced lightning, that I would be fairly exposed.


I reached the top in around 1 hour and 10 minutes, 4 minutes faster than two days prior even if the headwind made things harder. I was quite happy with that; and after a few quick pictures and a few seconds of video I turned around and started back down.

Once more, I was running most of the descent. The headwind had now mostly become a tailwind; and since I still didn’t want to sprint down the mountain and ruin both my achilles tendon and my quads, I now had to  brake both against the descent and the tailwind. I managed to reach a speed of under 6 minutes per kilometer at least once, even though I stopped a few times to turn around to look at the storm clouds that were now engulfing the mountain top.


The clouds now covered about half of the entire descent, and for a while I felt like I was being chased by them. Fortunately, the closer I got to the beach, the more hospitable the weather became. Still, with one exception I hadn’t seen anyone else head up while I was on the mountain; and I’m sure there was a reason for that.


By the time I reached the car, in a little over 2 hours round trip time including the few photo stops, I felt quite elated; almost as if I had gotten away with something. I guess this kind of thrill is what alpinists go looking for in their mountain climbs; and certainly produced more lasting memories than spending a couple of hours at the pool or beach.

Unfortunately, back at the hotel either my Garmin 910XT or Garmin Express refused to cooperate and despite multiple rescue attempts the activity on my watch vanished before it was successfully transferred to the computer (or the internet). I’m less than thrilled with Garmin, because it’s not the first time this has happened to me, and according to internet forums it has been happening to other people all the way back to 2012.

So, no exact numbers, no GPS tracks to post, no Strava segment times. I’ll survive, 10 years ago nobody even thought of having any of this data or social sharing aspects of running; but it would still be nice to have these things.

Pico de la Zarza, Fuerteventura

Hiking, KMV, Running, Trail

We’re currently vacationing on Fuerteventura. I set out once more to ascend the island highpoint, Pico de la Zarza (807m) – for the third time on our third stay on the island.

I parked my rental car just off the roundabout on the FV-2 highway. This is the start of the main Strava segment, and also the most logical point to start the hike since on the other side of the road there’s only the beach and not much elevation change. From the roundabout, a side road goes up quite steeply to a large hotel complex. This 200m climb on a sidewalk is shared with tourists returning from the shops or the beach. A runner gets funny looks, because regular tourists at this hotel have probably grown to hate this incline that is between their leisurely day at the beach and eating and drinking themselves silly at the buffet.

On the first intersection I turned left and followed the road past the large hotel. After about 900m, I left paved ground and started following a rocky dirt road on the right. At this point a few cars of hikers or runners that didn’t want to climb the initial 50m of elevation on pavement were parked.

From here on, there would be no more intersections. The road got steeper over the course of the next kilometer on crushed black rocks. 2km into the climb, the first 200m of elevation were behind me. I was already feeling quite thirsty – on the entire climb there’s no shade, and the mid-day sun was beating down.


Next up is a short downhill, during which the entire rest of the trail comes into view. The good news (?) is that it’s all uphill. Unfortunately, there was a strong headwind that made fast forward progress quite hard.

I walked more often than I ran – basically, at this point in time with my fitness being the way it is, I can’t run any strong incline without may heart rate going into unsustainable regions above 170 beats.


Nevertheless, I was making reasonable progress. From km2 to abou km5.5, the trail is mostly a rough Jeep track. At that point, the road levels from a while and there starts to be some plant life. The ground is softer as well, and I could see a few muddy spots, testament to the rain that we had seen the past two days.


At km6, the final climb starts. At first, there’s still a wide track, which gradually narrows. At the beginning of the narrower switchbacks, I was now 1 hour into the climb. Up to here, I had covered about 680m of elevation (according to the realtime data on my Garmin).


The remainder of the climb turned out to be slower than expected, because the track had become quite muddy. Combined with the irregular rocky steps, this made for more work than I had expected. I made it to the top in 1 hour 14 minutes, pretty much the time I had anticipated.


Since I’d already been there twice, I only spent a little time at the peak and then turned around. From here on out, I was able to run most of the way down. Pain in my achilles and a lack of large-scale downhill running made me wary of powering down the mountain, so my “run” entailed quite a lot of braking for a pace of only around 6-7 minutes per km.


Strava recorded a total segment time (up and down) of 2 hours 8 minutes; 855m of elevation change and 14.8km of total distance.

Given my lack of regular training, the high wind and comparatively warm temperatures, I’m quite happy with the time, even though there’s still a lot of potential for improvement.

In light of my upcoming goal (the KMV in Chamonix), being able to cover slightly less than 700m of elevation in one hour is encouraging; especially since that amount of climbing took place over more than 6km; whereas Chamonix only has half of that for the equivalent vertical. At the same time, I’m more than a little concerned by my achilles troubles and the way the left foot felt the day after this climb.

Combining a photo assignment with a walk (1/May/2014)

Hiking, Photography

The newspaper had assigned me to cover a cycle race on May 1st, which is a legal holiday in Luxembourg. The 27e Grand Prix OST Manufaktur was scheduled to start at 14:30 and the first riders were supposed to cross the finish line around 17:40. In between, they were to cover 13 laps of 9.3km each. Over three hours  from start to finish is quite a long time from a photography perspective, knowing that these races tend to be quite unspectacular when only viewed from the finish line where there’s only a brief moment of action and then fifteen minutes of waiting for the next loop to be completed.

But 9.3km is quite doable on foot in three hours, even when taking into account some photography; so instead of hanging around the finish line or driving out to a few interesting spots I decided to hike one loop and hit all of the interesting spots along the way.