Down from the Wurmberg

Alarm at seven, breakfast at eight. I remember that I have two bananas here, left over from home, and decide to have a toasted bread slice with choco and then banana slices on top. It’s a small banana, but also a small slice, so the pieces are about 15 mm thick, takes some coordination to eat without spilling. The trick is to make the sticky Nutella layer thick enough to hold the slices in place! We discuss the hiking options and decide to take the funicular in Braunlage, which will take us up to the 971 high top of the Wurmberg. Wurm means worm and berg mountain, but I have no idea what connects the two.. 9 € for an adult, 15 min to the top, which when we arrive is in the middle of a cloud. No panoramic views today, but I suppose also less hikers in this weather, I’ll count it a win. It’s about 10:30 when we set out, we take a small path away from the top and immediately we’re alone. It’s not raining exactly, but it’s a bit wet so I put on my bright red rain poncho. It looks quite silly, but it protects my camera back pack and the camera with zoom lens that I carry on my self made harness, plus it’s a lot less sweaty, so I decided long ago to choose practicality over elegance in this particular case.

We go down and down on narrow trails, following the RideWithGPS trail that I made this morning. It chimes at me when we need to make a turn and then says what to do, I can just understand it when I carry the phone in my pants pocket. Today’s apparel is softshell pants, a sleeveless plus long sleeved woolen layer, a synthetic fleece and a body warmer, I’m quite comfortable now, even though the temp must be near freezing. After a few ‘Now turn left’ and ‘Now take a slight right’, etc. we come to an old concrete road, cutting a straight line through the landscape. Running parallel to it is a wide strip of very young forest and shrubs and I conjecture that this might be part of the Iron Curtain, the former boundary between East and West Germany. Road signs soon tell us that we’re walking on the Ehemaliges Kolonnenweg (or ‘former convoy road’), an access road for the border on the eastern side. My first reaction is to feel the weirdness of it, cutting a line through a country and declaring it a border nobody can cross. On second thought, I realize this exact same thing is still going on elsewhere, it seems to be a very human thing to do.

We have lunch (bread with ham and cheese) on a bench near the Toter Weg (‘road of the dead’), which is a traditional name for roads leading to a graveyard. In this case it’s oddly apt for other reasons, as this whole area is covered in dead spruces. Many still standing up, all gray and losing their bark. Many have fallen or are being cut, leaving a bizarre landscape of cut trunks. Some Googling during lunch clears up the mystery: these spruces were planted for their wood in monoculture landscapes. They’re all quite old and vulnerable because they’re not really suited for the climate, so when a few big storms in the winter of 2018 came by, a lot were felled and many damaged. A few dry and hot summers allowed the bark beetle to flourish, taking down many of the others.

Though it looks weird, the recovery is ongoing, new growth is already poking up in many places and the forestry managers are making sure that the new mixed forests are better adapted to the climate. Mostly, they leave the process to continue naturally, only intervening if the falling trees might pose a danger (near roads) or if they need to protect neighboring patches against the beetle.

It continues to drizzle on and off, while we make our way down to the tiny Kalte Bode stream. We regularly hear the horn of the steam locomotive driving up to the Brocken mountain top nearby and indeed I see on the map that the tracks pass us just across the valley. Sometimes we can even hear the distinct rattling of the wheels on the metal beams. It’s only when climbing out of the valley that we can actually spot it: the steam trail looks just like the cartoons. We continue towards Braunlage, following again the Kolonnenweg. I use the big camera with zoom lens to photograph a few animals: a frog in the middle of the road, a small bird flitting around the fallen trees and a squirrel enjoying a meal of pine nuts. When hiking, I leave the zoom lens on the camera, though I have a 24 mm with me in the backpack. For landscape and atmosphere photographs I use an iPhone 13, which has three lenses and is more or less adequate for that purpose. Not as good as the 24 mm lens, but by using the phone I can avoid the fuss of having to swap lenses. Leaving the zoom lens on and carrying it underneath the poncho means that I can react quite quickly when I have too. Even if I only use it a few times per day for animal photography, the photos always look great, so it’s worth it.

We’re back at the car at three, it’s always such a good feeling to take off the hiking boots.. We stop by the Edeka grocery store on the way back to the apartment, for dinner (Thüringer sausages, mashed potatoes and baked mushrooms) and enjoy a quiet evening. A glass of fine champagne and chips as aperitive, then lots of picture sorting and writing for me, while Arne cooks. Don’t feel sorry for him, he’s happy that I stay out of the way. Our calves are really stiff, tomorrow we’ll take a break from walking and find something cultural to do !

The statistics of today’s hike: distance 13.6km / ascent 214m / max ascent grade 14.3% / descent 607m / max descent grade -18.3%. That last one is on the Kolonnenweg, it cuts straight through the landscape like a Roman road.

Perhaps a hausrotschwanz (Phoenicurus ochruros) ?
A jay (German: Häher)
A Eurasian squirrel. They’re most often reddish, but also appear in this black variety.
Common frog. Apparently, they come in a great variety of shades.

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