Oktoberfest – good preparations?

So I realised today that it is wayyyy too long since I updated my blog, but I have been really busy. Poor excuse I know, but it is true. Some of it has been work, some of it has been play, some of it (but not nearly enough :o) has actually been training, but I know as I sit here now that I am in not nearly good enough shape, and that with just three weeks to go that it is too late to do a significant amount about it.

In the last month in fact, I have been away four times, which is nigh on crazy. I have been to Cannes (work, mostly, with a smattering of nightlife thrown in too :)); San Francisco (well Santa Rosa in fact, and most definitely not work :)); the North East of England (Great North Run weekend, but no running for me); and then Munich last week for the Oktoberfest. Now I’ve decided to blame my son Dan for last one, as it is in fact his fault, which seems as good a reason to blame someone as any!

If you have followed this blog since last year, you may know that I went to the Oktoberfest then too. On that occasion there was a (somewhat puny admittedly) excuse, in that I was also en route to climb the Zugspitze, and the Oktoberfest was a nice little prelude (and indeed postscript :)) to that little foray. It ended up in a drunken mess of course, but I did not have a trip to Island Peak facing me, and so I could, I trust, be forgiven a little letting down of the few strands of hair that I have remaining.

So when I was there last year, amongst the several drunken texts I sent was one to Dan, which went along the lines of “I promise to bring you next time”. Well two months ago I thought I had got away with that one, as I was starting to ramp up my training programme for Island Peak. He of course hadn’t forgotten at all, just like I wouldn’t when have done when I was a 20 year old who fancied going to the Oktoberfest a lot. So when he said those immortal words “Daaaaaaaaaaaddddddddd?”, I knew there was only one result. I had my arm well and truly twisted right up my back, probably.

I shall post only picture here, one of he and me. It is about the most sensible one that I have.

Do not ask me if I am wearing lederhosen!!

Anyway, we had a belting time. If anyone reading this is thinking even slightly as to whether going to the Oktoberfest is a good idea, I’d say only one thing – go. It is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on, and I probably made the same statement last year too, and if I did, then it must definitely be true. We spent three days there, which was more than enough, believe me. Sang our heads off, drank every part of our bodies off, and just had a blast. We even went and did a cultural tour of Munich whilst there too! It makes me very happy to be able to have such a great time with Dan – I am a lucky Dad indeed.

I have now been back for three days, and spent one of those (well a few hours of one of them) back in the gym. Good idea, I thought – not, said my body. It is quite simply frightening how much inside a week you go backwards. I have to push myself now or I will regret things badly in a few weeks time (I go in just three weeks time now!!). Trouble is, in the meantime, I am away in Paris for the rest of this week (work, almost entirely, but probably a bit of socialising thrown in for good measure :)), and then back for just two days before I go to Dallas for six days (work, sometimes, some golf, and some probably very serious socialising thrown in whether I like it or not – I should tell you about ‘the carrot’ at Bob’s Steakhouse sometime!).

I am also very very close to having all of my kit for the trip. Trouble is, that ‘all of my kit’ is probably more than twice the weight that I am going to be able to take. Time for some serious sorting to be done in my spare time! More of that in my next post.

Anyway – the blog is back………the preparations, of (mixed) sorts, are ongoing too. I am now seriously excited about it – in a very mixed and balanced way this time though – more of that next time too – and soon, I promise.

Zugspitze Part 2

So the next morning having been awake for a little while, at 6.30 in the morning the sound of accordion and guitar were heard outside the bedroom door, followed by a very cheery cry of “Aufstehen”, or “wake up”. This was rather nice actually, and if you look at the video in the link I have posted below you get to know exactly what it is like:

http://www.alpenverein-muenchen-oberland.de/huetten__wege/bewirtschaftete_huetten/uebersicht/reintalangerhuette/video

The guy who talks there in the video, Simon, runs the place, and it was he who I then encountered at 6.30 in the morning, and the news he delivered was not, sadly, ‘music’ to my ears. He said that there was already about 25cm of fresh snow lying at a height of 2,000m, but that worse, there was expected about 1 metre (!) during the day, and that we “must go down”. This was awful. I knew he was right, and had to listen and respect what he said, but it was so sad to have come so far to do the Zugspitze, to find out that you couldn’t go there at all, despite being already half way. Sometimes though you just have to respect the mountain and the conditions, and there was no choice.

I walked back into the dormitory and gave the news to Heather, who felt the same as me. In fact everyone who was staying there in the room and in the hut, had to suffer the same fate – we were all to go down and not up that day. So after a nice if rather slower and more sombre breakfast than we would have chosen, it was on with every piece of waterproof kit that we had.

The view out outside was basically one of torrential rain, with no view of the mountain tops, but evidence of snow not far above us – what a change from the day before!

The view from the room - this was as much of the mountain as we would see all day

So we were about to head off when at this point I got the text from Darina and Paul to say that they had successfully summitted Kilimanjaro. And that was such fantastic news, and it lifted my spirits hugely. The trip down the mountain though was just plain wet, pure and simple, such an amazing contract to the day before. I did get to try my new waterproofs out though, which worked fantastically well:

A brave face outside the Reintalangerhutte before we headed off the 'wrong' way, down the mountain.

The walk down was easy, punctuated only by passing walkers from the hut heading the same sad way as us. An interesting moment was had half way down, when a German guy pointed to the river and saw his sleeping bag floating downstream. This was made all the more strange by virtue of the fact that this was Saturday and he had dropped it upstream two days before! He managed to fish it out, and looked very pleased with himself as a result. By the time we got down to the Partnachklamm, after maybe three hours or so, the effects of the torrential rain could be seen in full force.

The stream had become a massively noisy torrent....

The gorge was even more spectacular than the previous day, and the noise of the river that it now was made it even more incredible. No photograph that I could take or show here could do it justice, but you just had to stare open mouthed at the power of the whole thing. It was truly amazing. We reached the bottom of the mountain at about noon in the end, and stopped at a little restaurant for some outstanding Schnitzel (for me) and soup for Heather (she doesn’t eat mammals).

The food was outstanding, (as was everything I ate in Germany) and was washed down with a rather pleasant glass of Lowenbrau – it is amazing how wonderful it tastes over there – I never drink lager at all at home, it is just so gassy and tasteless to me – but this was wonderful.

So having reached Garmisch we looked for a place to stay, and stopped at the first place we came to, which was a lovely little hotel called the AlpenGruss, which we had passed on the way up.

Hotel Alpengruss, Garmisch-Partenkirchen - perfect!

With backpacks duly stashed it was straight out of the door again, and we were headed for only one thing – back to the mountain! Having not been able to climb the damn thing didn’t mean that we weren’t going to get to the top, and there was a cablecar somewhere, which we hoped would be operating. The owner of the hotel told us we had 20 minutes or so to catch it. So having found a train to take us to the other side of the mountain, by about 2.30pm we were hurtling up the mountain into the clouds on what is a stupidly scary cable car.

I am not brilliant with heights (why do I then love mountains so much?), and this ride was made more unnerving by the fact that you would be in blanket cloud with two feet of visibility one minute, and then momentarily it would clear and you would be some 2,000 feet or more up in the air. I learned afterwards that the gain that the cable car makes of 1,950 metres (and in a distance of only 4,450 metres) is the highest of all single section cable car journies. It was however hugely spectacular – the views to the Eibsee were breathtaking – it is the most ridiculous shade of green that you have ever seen. Here is some more info on the Eibsee too:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eibsee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eibsee_Cable_Car http://www.germany-tourism.de/ENG/destination_germany/master_tlregion-id151.htm

The incredible waters of the Eibsee at the foot of the Zugspitze

So the cable car took us to the very summit of the Zugspitze. The cable car station just looks like it shouldn’t or couldn’t have been built there. It perches so ridiculously precariously on the top of the mountain that it looks like it should collapse or fall off at any moment. Just looking over the side of the railings from the restaurant gave me vertigo.

The Zugspitze cable car station/restaurant - pretty it certainly is not.

So at the cable car station there was huge anounts of freash snow, and we realised just how impossible our attempts would have been even if we had been stupid enough to try to ignore the advice we had been given earlier that same morning. There is literally no way that it would have been possible. But, after all, we were there, and it was wonderful just to have that feeling you get when you are on top of a mountain. And this one, believe me, is very very special.

The top of the cable car station, 2,962 metres, the roof of Germany.

The difficulty that we would have faced in trying to get up to the top by our own means was evidenced by the fact that even to try to get to the summit itself, some 20 metres away from where we stood, was just impossible due to all the snow. But here is a picture of the summit itself:

The summit of the Zugspitze in the background - we never did get to stand at the very top itself due to the snow

We never did get to stand up there by the gold cross. To do so would have meant climbing down from those railings pictured above, and across an icy ledge with a 3,000 foot drop below and nothing to save you. Then you would have reached the ladder shown below:

The iron ladder leading to the very top. It was not going to happen sadly.

One slip from here and you would be dead, simple as that. It was an easy choice in the end not to go up there.

The top of the mountain straddles the border of Austria and Germany, and in the restuarant on the Austrian side of the mountain they were having their own Oktoberfest! I would have loved to have stayed and had a beer, but unfortunately that would have meant missing our cablecar down, as the last one was at 4.45pm – shame!

There was however a view of sorts of the glacier, the only one in Germany, and we were glad at least to have safety now on our side. For me it was a moment of pure reflection. I was very glad to be at the highest point in Germany, disappointed that I hadn’t got there under my own steam, but very glad to be safe, and respectful of the mountain and the elements, which will, if they decide to, always beat you in the end.

So we left via another cable car off the other side of the mountain, and then back into Garmisch via the funicular railway. The journey was ridiculously pretty, the area is totally beautiful, and I vowed, promised myself, that I would be back. What do they say in Slumdog Millionnaire – “it is written“?  – well I believe that it most certainly is.

Zugspitze

So having had a few days of beer at the Oktoberfest, it was a pleasure/delight and relief all rolled into one to wake up and be heading for the mountains.

The Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany, at 2,962 metres above sea level. It is located on the Austrianborder beside the town of Grainau in the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the federal-state of Bavaria. On the Austrian side lies the town of Ehrwald in the district of ReutteTyrol.

We headed off to Garmisch-Partenkirchen by train after an early start, and carried just what we needed for the next few days on our backs. I had booked us into an alpine hut, called the Reintalangerhutte, which was half way up the mountain, for the Friday night, and we would need to walk all day after arriving just to get there before nightfall.

Despite a bad weather forecast, we arrived into Garmisch-Partenkirchen with typical German efficiency exactly on schedule about an hour and twenty minutes after leaving Munich, into glorious sunshine. The winter clothing was heavy on our backs, but we were naturally glad of the beautiful conditions. Shortly after leaving the train station, and after getting stocked up with picnic supplies for the journey, we began the trek – and soon came upon the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics – the famous ski-jumping station – shown in the picture below in the background:

 

The Olympic Ski-Jumping slopes in Garmisch

 

By the time we were on our route at the base of the mountain itself it was around 11am, following a little bit of ‘ahem’ bad planning by me (in fact I had no idea which direction our route was going to take us at all, but ‘all’s well that ends well’, as they say:)). Stopping to ask someone how far away the Reintalangerhutte was, we were told six to seven hours, and so figured we’d need to move quickly to ensure getting there before darkness fell.

Shortly after beginning our trek up the Reintal Valley (there are two routes up the mountain, the Hollerental, or the Reintal – we picked the easier route in case the weeather got bad on us), we came upon the Partnachklamm. This is a deep and amazingly beautiful gorge, about half a mile long, which takes you up and through onto the base of the Zugspitze. Some information on it here below:

http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partnachklamm&ei=bP2xTOL6G9GSjAfN4aytDQ&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q7gEwAA&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dpartnachklamm%2Bwikipedia%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den

It was stunningly beautiful, and it came as a total surprise. Here are some pictures in the gorge itself:

 

At the start of the Partnachklamm - the 'Nach' is the name of the river

 

Part of the path plunges you into total darkness, and then you are out to the incredibly loud torrents of water flowing from the mountain. It is glacial meltwater, and an incredible shade of blue. It is literally one of the most stunning things I have ever seen.

Coming out from the gorge and its noise was a revelation, all of a sudden the river became quieter, and the place was beautiful.  A few reviews that I had read beforehand had said that the Zugspitze was not an attractive mountain – they were wrong – take it from me it is stunning. Here are a few piccies from the other side of the gorge:

 

A beautiful day for a walk....

 

 

The mountain starts to come into view....

 

 

And this was where we stopped for lunch - glorious!

 

From here the walk began to get much steeper, and we walked for another four hours or so, the path following the river all the way. The weather was so hot all the way, probably 25 or so celsius, and very warm for climbing uphill. I was very glad of my Camelback, and went through almost three litres of water. We passed huge waterfalls and saw the river in almost every stage, albeit it was clearly a very quiet time of year for it – in the spring after the snows melt it must be totally incredible. I made a note at this point I think to say that I needed to come back here, I was engrossed and awestruck by the majesty of this place, it just felt really special.

At about 4pm, and earlier than we expected, we came to our mountain hut. It was bigger than I expected it to be, and quite imposing. It was at about 1,600 metres, or 5,200 feet, basically about half way up as far as ascent of the Zugspitze was concerned.

 

The Reintalangerhutte, Reintal Valley, Wetterstein Alps

 

The hut sleeps about 60 people in total I believe. The best way I could describe it was to be very, well ‘German’. The chap who runs the place, Simon, did an excellent job, and also speaks English, which was certainly a blessing, even though I can get by in my pidgin German. The accommodation is basic, but clean, and was certainly very welcome.

 

Dormitory sleeping arrangements, Zugspizte style - this room slept 20 or so

 

After a hearty dinner, and a few glasses of beer, it was off to bed. We were to be woken by the staff at 6.30am for the trek to the summit. Before we went off, the weather outside turned wet and cold all of a sudden. I spent what I can only describe as a fitful night listening to the rain, and was awake by 4. I was rather worried that at the altitude we were at, that the path might become tricky higher up. And by morning, sadly, that was to prove very much the case.

(….to be continued….)

Oktoberfest!

So I have almost recovered now from the Oktoberfest, having been now back home for over a week. I still have bruises, am still tired, but the hangover has at last gone. Just. What will not fade ever is the memory of it all. It was utterly fantastic, and way way better than I expected it to be.

For those who don’t know, Oktoberfest is a 16- to 18-day festival held each year in MunichBavariaGermany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and the world’s largest fair, with more than 6 million people attending every year. This year I think they had 6.4 million people. It is a combination of a massive fairground, and massive beer tents, holding between 6,000 and 10,000 people each. The drinking starts at breakfast time and continues until everyone cannot drink anymore, which for some is by lunchtime.

Beer is drunk by the ‘mass’ or litre, and served by frauleins wearing traditional dress – the ‘dirndl’ as it is called. It costs about €8.80 a pop, or call it a tenner by the time you have given a tip. It is glorious! So here are some piccies for your delectation and delight -I have put on here only the ones that are suitable for a family audience, as it were:

 

"A beer tent", one of about 20 or so

 

So the above was taken at about 10am in the morning, before the crowds got going. Suffice to say it was bedlam by the evening. Here also is the inside of a tent, the decorations are amazing:

 

The inside of the Hacker-Pschorr tent, breakfast-time

 

Generally at about noon, the singing gets going. For the majority of the afternoon it is a mixture of singalong stuff ranging from oompah music to almost country music (“Take me home, Country Roads” was played I do not know how many times). Every fifteen minutes or so, no matter what is going on, you have the ubiquitous German toast of “Ein Prosit”. Here is an example if you don’t know it already:

The above is a fairly tame version I found on YouTube, but you get the idea.

If you are sensible, after a couple of beers or so, you go and get some fresh air and wander around the fair. It is massive – here is a picture taken from the big wheel, although much of what you can see seems to be beer tents from here:

 

From the Ferris Wheel, lunchtime, Tuesday, probably.

 

As the day goes on, if you are still capable, you get to experience an evening. I can only describe the evenings as completely and utterly insane. Imagine about 10,000 Jim Carreys at his wildest, on acid, and you are half way there. The music takes you from Abba to AC/DC, from Robbie Williams to Frank Sinatra, from “Sweet Caroline” to “Sweet Home Alabama”. You know the words to every song, and you sing your head off. You stand on the benches or on the table, because everyone else is doing the same, and you act like a demented drunken idiot, because in fact that is exactly what you are.

Somehow amongst the hats, the chicken (best chicken I have ever tasted by the way, strange but true), the lederhosen, the singing, the endless litres of beer, the funny t-shirts, the dancing, and the most cosmopolitan atmosphere you will ever witness, everyone has the most fantastic time ever. The atmosphere is nothing short of brilliant, at every moment. Some more piccies for you:

 

Need to get this T Shirt

Ein prosit!

Sweet Caroline!

I have tried to upload Sweet Caroline on video – to give you a little idea of just how well we all can sing:), but it doesn’t seem to have worked – oh well, probably just as well!

I will leave the Oktoberfest for now, and then tell you about in my next post about the Zugspitze, which was certainly a tale of two distinct sets of weather, and a lesson in respect for mountains.

 

 

 

Paul and Darina – They Made It!!

I am now back from my travels from the Zugspitze and also the Oktoberfest, of which more later. This is a brief dedication to Paul and Darina, who for those of you who have followed this page for some time, will know were away last week on a trip to attempt to summit the world’s highest free standing mountain, a certain Mount Kilimanjaro.

Well I was the happiest person alive (apart from them, I am sure) last Saturday morning, to get the following text:

“We made it, summited today. Tired. Catch up later. Darina”

If I told you that I was choked with happiness to receive this, then it would be a huge understatement. I told Heather at the time (we were sat in a mountain hut watching the weather in Germany) and I could hardly get the words out of my mouth. It more than made up for my disappointment of not being able to climb up the Zugspitze that very same day (of which more in a later post too, it can wait).

So please go and see their blog (http://mykilimanjarotrek.blogspot.com), donate some money to multiple sclerosis, or just enjoy the fact that they did it. It is wonderful, it really is.

I consider myself very very lucky to have come across two people as lovely as Darina and Paul. And I did so via this blog. They are simply two of the nicest, most genuine people you could ever meet.

I just knew that they would summit, and I hoped and prayed for them and their safe travels. To get that message was fantastic, and I look forward to hear more about their adventures when they return – they are right now I believe enjoying a very well earned safari, somewhere in the Serengeti.

So to Paul and Darina – well done my friends. You have been to a sacred place, where few will ever tread. It is the roof of Africa, and one of the ‘seven summits’ (representing the highest peaks on the seven continents). At just short of 20,000 feet (and 45% of sea level oxygen) a place where you rely on all of your senses and strength at once to get you to succeed in an atmosphere which tells you that you shouldn’t.

I am massively massively happy for you.

To Paul and Darina: Hakuna Matata, you are both ‘Poa K’chisi Kama N’Dizi’! (that’s the limit of my Swahili I am afraid:))

Can’t wait to see a picture of the certificates.

Happy happy days:):):):)

Oktoberfest Tomorrow!

So tomorrow is the Oktoberfest!

I have been wanting to go to the Oktoberfest since like forever, and so tomorrow is my chance – it is going to be just great. The festival is now into its second week, and there is a webcam where you can watch the entrance to the site. It kept me amused today anyway:)

http://www.oktoberfest.de/en/webcam/live/

When all of the drinking is said and done (although that could be a while as I might enjoy it too much), then there will be the mountain, the Zugspitze. The journey will take us by train from Munich, complete with hangover, to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and then it is a walk to the mountain from there.

The mountain itself straddles the Austrian border, but is Germany’s highest mountain. I found this great set of three videos on Youtube which have great pictures, and so am posting them here and hope that it doesn’t infringe anything.

So here is the first:

And the second:

And the third:

How exciting are they? I guess we need to hire a harness and ‘stuff’ before we go up there – I cannot wait, and will post my own pictures and video in due course.

So for now – to Oktoberfest, and beyond!

Oh how I long for Kilimanjaro

So tonight I was reading Paul and Darina’s blog, as they leave tomorrow for that most wonderful of places. A link to their blog for those of you who haven’t seen it before is here:

http://mykilimanjarotrek.blogspot.com/2010/04/darinas-introduction.html

The very fact that they go tomorrow just made me hanker to be back there so badly. They say that Kilimanjaro never leaves you, and for me that will certainly be true. I sit here now in my kitchen and can see from my seat my Kilimanjaro certificate, a bottle of Kilimanjaro lager, a box of Kilimanjaro tea bags, and my Kilimanjaro fridge magnet – how could I forget!

Darina and Paul will be doing the Rongai route, same one as I took back in March (I cannot believe it is half a year since it all happened), which makes everything even more real. I know where they will be every night, what they will be going through, and wish that I was there as well. They fly to Africa tomorrow, and will be on their way up from the Rongai gate on Monday, thus summiting on Saturday morning. I hope they have the time of their lives – good luck to both of you!

Meantime, while they summit (and they will, I know they will) I will be on a mountain too, so I can’t complain too much:) Next Saturday I will be half way up the Zugspitze, and will be staying that day at Der Reintalangerhutte, a mountain hut half way up the mountain. It looks great – there is a weblink below:

http://www.alpenverein-muenchen-oberland.de/huetten__wege/bewirtschaftete_huetten/uebersicht/reintalangerhuette

Apparently the trek to there is about half a day from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where I will get to following the Oktoberfest, which I hope I survive!

And mountains are very much in my thoughts at the moment – no more actual plans right now, but Everest base camp is still very much in my thoughts. As I think I have said on previous occasions, I will never be a climber at all, but would love to just see it. I have a copy of this month’s Trek & Mountain magazine, and there are some 50 pages dedicated to the people have been there, from Mallory and Irvine onwards. It is inspiring stuff, and makes me want to do it badly. There is a lovely quote in the magazine by Bonita Norris, the youngest British woman (hardly a woman at 22) to have climbed Everest, who says that “Everest is a collection of experiences, having a summit to your name means nothing tangible, it is the silly memories that you take home with you, and how blessed you feel to have visited such a spectacular place.”

There are so many reasons that folks give for wanting to climb mountains, and ultimately every one of them is personal. It is what you yourself take away that matters, and what you want to get from them may not be what you expect. The feeling of “blessed” however, seems so fitting.

OK, so that’s all for now, here’s a little piccie from half way up the world’s highest free-standing mountain to remind me of what it was all about back in March, and also for Darina and Paul (this one was after the Second Cave and before Mawenzi, they will walk past this very spot on Tuesday next). Have fun you two!

Majesty at its finest:)