Or should that be Mr Schneibstein? Because after two failed attempts to climb this mountain, this time it was personal!
My first attempt was back in 2009, not long after I moved to Munich. Not expecting to be here long, I was working my way through the ‘Lonely Planet Guide to Bavaria’ who recommended this route as something you might like to try on a Sunday afternoon. There was a natty little ‘size-of –a-postcard’ map to guide you. Wrong Lonely Planet. Wrong in so many ways. What the map failed to convey was the sheer scale and vastness of this great landscape, the breathtaking beauty of the Bechtesgarden range and just how exposed and vulnerable to changes in weather conditions Schneibstein is. Don’t do it unless you know what you are doing.
Attempt number one in May 2009 was halted even before we left the Karl von Stahl Hütte at base. Warned by the hut people that there was
“Too much snow, don’t even attempt it”
Anette, Emma, Scott and I ended up yomping around the Jenner foothills for 18km and getting lost there instead!
Attempt number 2 was with the lovely Charlotte Miller. Two years ago, also in May as part of a fun week-end exploring Bechtesgarden,
I had just received my new passport with my old name and had a strong sense of freedom and optimism. We hit the start of the climb in broad sunlight but promptly met a snow field. Un-deterred we tackled the first bit of scrambling excitedly, then met more snow fields, packed onto the path below. Although challenging, we managed to gain quite a lot of height stopping for an extremely scenic picnic where the grass stopped growing.
The views from this point were awesome and we spent most of our break in silence just breathing in that incredible air. An ibex jumped round the corner next to us and started to merrily chomp the grass. However, as we continued, it was not long before clouds enveloped us and we found ourselves in the middle of a snow storm. Thus it was, about 150m from the top we had to turn round and come back down.
Which brings me to July 2016 and, one would hope, being more ready than ever to tackle the Schneib. After all, only 2 weeks ago I climbed up mad King Ludwig’s back passage (as it were),’The Schachen route’ and came down the ‘Kälbersteig’ living to tell the tale. “I can face anything. Bring it on” I told myself the night before. I was so going to do this mountain.
My day began at 04.30. I didn’t need to get up that early but I couldn’t sleep. A mixture of excitement, nerves and anticipation helped me pack an enormous back pack at stupid O’ clock with supplies for 3 weeks and head out the door to pick up Sabine in the south of Munich. We left her flat at 07.00 but did not hit Schönau till 10.30 – lots of traffic on the A8 (first day of the German school holidays). We then had to queue for the Jenner chair lift (which conveniently takes you up the first 1200m) so didn’t actually start on our trail until 12.00. It was hot. Very hot.
I started off too fast and struggled more than I should have done with the first bit of scrambling. Breathing wrong, not warmed up properly, just not comfortable. However, I recovered quickly enough only to be faced with…..another bit of scrambling. This wasn’t right, surely? Those rocks weren’t there, last time I came. Ah, of course! They were covered in snow!
So it went on. Little bit of walking. Bit of stepping up Cornish-cliff-type-sections then the requirement to haul myself up on all fours with hands and feet. No steel ropes. No ladders. Just rock climbing. It was jolly hard work. But my breathing and walking rhythm got better. And the route was stunning. The abundance of flowers and their smell at this time of year was heady. It smelt like honey. Then a waft of pine. Just incredible. Pink campions, forget me nots, some gorgeous white thing Grandma used to have in her rockery at Buchanan Road……
Sabine was lovely. Patient and encouraging she only lost it with me once when, during a break, I nearly squashed an extremely rare flower! However, luckily for this deep blue lupin look-a-like Sabine pounced on me just in time to save it, only narrowly missing throwing me off the mountain from a rocky ledge.
We passed the snow field that Charlotte and I slid down on our butts during our descent a couple of years ago, now a section of exposed rocks. (Charlotte – what were we doing??!!) and then the point we reached where we had to turn back (the right decision).
Finally I was getting further ahead than I had ever gone before and the weather was still holding out. But I was slow, and finding it very hard. It was so steep. And rocky. And hot. And I could hardly make out where the path was. I didn’t dare stop to look at the view behind me. I could see up ahead, to the right, to the left and knew that I was becoming more and more exposed. Sabine, at this point had gone on ahead (she told me later that she did not think I would make it). The red circles in a white background painted onto strategic rocks on the path looked less and less like the welcoming sign of a high alpine path, guiding me toward nirvana and more and more like a kamakasi bandana leading me toward the Elysian fields! Where was this fu*#ing summit? And why was I finding it so hard when every logical thought told me that now, more than at any other time in my life, I should have been able to scale this 600m ascent really quite easily???
As I neared the top I was sure there would be at least a glimmer of the summit but no! Still it eluded me and the path just went on and on, yet more rocks to negotiate and still no sign of either the cross or of Sabine. Plod plod. Higher and higher.
And then, just before I neared my destination from nowhere I felt a great lump of emotion welling up inside me. Beginning in my stomach, working its way up quite quickly through my chest and into my head, it rushed to my face – “Please God no, I don’t want to cry, now really isn’t a good time” I pleaded. Just as quickly, with the next footstep in fact, the emotional tumult evaporated – it escaped through the top of my head and up into the sky above. Instead of blubbing like a wet weekend, I was left with a mere glistening of the eyes. Safe.
And suddenly there it was! One tiny little cross on a huge plateau and Sabine not that far away. It’s a cliché but sometimes clichés work – I felt as though I were on the top of the world. In every direction all I could see were mountains.
And sky. And mountains. And sky. From the summit, there was no indication of human existence at all. I zoned out for a while, completely absorbed in this moment then I started to explore the plateau and the biggest surprise of all.
To the South East I could see ‘Das Steinerne Meer’ literally, ‘The Stony Sea’. I’d read about this geological phenomenon but have never seen anything like it. It was staggeringly beautiful Like a sea!! Of stones!
Sabine and I could have stayed there much longer. I could have slept there. But – you guessed it – the clouds were forming so we decided to be sensible and head back the way we had come.
I’m not really sure how I got down. I think I flew! We had missed the last chair lift at 16.30 so had to descend Schneibstein and Jenner as well – total 1800m (personal best). With black clouds visible in the distance, not long after we started our descent, we heard thunder booming down the valley.
We had a fun-filled time. I lost my phone (but someone picked it up contacting Sabine to arrange collection); Sabine lost her expensive stick (then climbed back up the mountain to get it); we both nearly electrocuted ourselves pee-ing on an electric fence;a cow attacked my rucksack whilst I was attending to my blisters; we walked down wide open paths in the glorious Summer evening sunshine; through forests; past waterfalls; gurgling streams; Japanese tourists taking photos of slugs mating, finally scampering through the Schönau woods in the dark. I sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ at the top of my voice to keep my spirits up (a technique recommended by my mother when walking home alone at night through the dark streets of Walsall) and Sabine used her flashlight.
We finally sat down to drink our beer in a lovely little hut near the car park at 21.45.Not long after that, it started to rain.
I am currently reading ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed given to me by my good friend Beth Skelton. It’s a great book that deliciously describes how the thought processes and mental energy used when walking can absorb and heal a troubled mind. Strayed describes how her own journey along the California Pacific Trail helped her grieve and come to terms with the loss of her family, her geographical displacement, the end of a relationship and the death of a loved one.
Whatever it was that caused the emotional and psychological ‘moment’ I experienced as I neared the summit, when I got back to my flat at 01.45 I knew that I had finally looked it in the eye and taken it on.
July 31st 2016