A Story of Boots and Slippers

The following is more like a whimsical “side story”, and I originally published it on my (now deleted) Blogger blog but wanted to preserve it – so here it is for your enjoyment. :)

The last hike before I left Germany brought me to the beautifully situated Gotzenalm (link is German only, sorry) high above lake Königssee* in Bavaria’s Nationalpark Berchtesgaden. If there’s one thing I miss about Germany (not talking about the friends and relatives), it’s this region without doubt, and the old mountains with their peaks and the lakes, rivers and creeks in and around it.

Mountain photo at Landtalgraben in Bavaria's Nationalpark Berchtesgaden
Looking down into Landtalgraben and the valley above Obersee from Hochgschirr saddle, Nationalpark Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. October 2010.

Driving to Nationalpark Berchtesgaden from my apartment in Burghausen always took around 1.5 hours (depending on where exactly I’d go, obviously) – and when driving, I usually only wore some sandals or running shoes, but obviously not my hiking boots. Unfortunately, on that day, I had my hiking boots in my apartment (because they needed some cleaning and care) and not in the trunk of my car, where they usually live – and I forgot them at home. And that day, I was only wearing sandals. :P

The Königssee village at the mouth of the lake is a very solely touristic place with all kinds of restaurants, souvenir and outdoor/recreation shops – and for the first time, I was thankful for that: the only reasonable thing to do was to buy new hiking boots. And that’s what I did (the old ones were actually due for replacement sooner or later, anyway). So 15 minutes later than planned, Toni and me mounted the cable car that would comfortably bring us to the starting point of our 2-day hike, the “Mittelstation” of the Jennerbahn cable car. (there are other ways to do this: one can drive to “Hinterbrand” and park the car there, it’s only a 10-15 minutes walk to “Mittelstation” – however, since I hadn’t really planned where to go the following day, I wanted to keep as many options as possible, and that meant parking down by Königssee.)

It was around noon by then, and the hike to Gotzenalm (want to know what the weather is like there, right now? They have a webcam!) takes about 3.5 hours (relaxed hiking), and as I was sitting in the little cabin of the cable car with Toni I was thinking how I would have all the time in the world to make photos, enjoy the splendid views from the “Feuerpalven” vista point down to St. Bartholomä and the lake, make some photos in evening light, and so on.

Now when you stay over night in an alpine hostel like the Springlkaser hut (German only again, sorry again) at Gotzenalm, there’s some rules you have to abide, like bringing your own sleeping bag, and not wearing boots in the dormitories. The latter requires that you bring some slippers, obviously – and as I sat longer in the small cabin of the cable car, I realized that I had also forgotten my slippers at home. Great!

Around my estimated time, I reached Gotzenalm via the Mittelstation of the Jennerbahn cable car, Königsbachalm and Unterer Hirschenlauf. The worst part of the hike is the short but steep section up to the pastures on a forest road. That section is in the shade in the afternoon (thankfully!) and when you reach the top, the pastures of Gotzenalm, bathed in warm afternoon light, stretch out in front of you, with marvelous views towards the mountains all around.

Gotzenalm -- Germany
The pastures of Gotzenalm, with the Springlkaser hostel. In the distance, snow-covered, is Hochkönig and the Übergossene Alm. This was in October, so the Larch trees had begun to turn colors.

The owner of the Gotzenalm didn’t have any slippers to lend, but he had some very cheap “things” made from fabric, with a thin rubber sole. Which is good enough if you stay indoors anyway. I took off my hiking boots to check out the room I had reserved for Toni and me (hiking with a dog is a bit of a problem: you always have to make reservations because the hostels do not allow dogs in all rooms and the dormitories) and then went outside again with just the camera, to stroll around the area without the load of the backpack. I left the slippers in the wardrobe’s special “shoe room” (where the hiking boots can be stored warm to dry overnight).

I returned for dinner – and the slippers were gone. Apparently, my “shoe karma” was not very positive that day, and I should have been more alert by then already.

I asked the folks sitting in the dining room if someone might have accidentally taken them. After some 5 minutes of rather perplexed disbelief a fellow hiker entered the dining room – wearing my slippers! It turned out that he thought those were the hostel’s “community” slippers for anyone to take and use. :) I told him that he can buy his own, changed from my hiking boots to the slippers (leaving the hiking boots in the wardrobe, obviously), and ordered dinner.

I shared the table with a friendly couple and we had some beers and liquor together (it’s always great to share food, drink and stories with fellow hikers in these hostels). Around 9pm I left the dining room, went to my room to get my camera and the tiny featherweight tripod I carried with me on these hikes. I wanted to make some night photos and long exposures, particularly star trails. I should have paid more attention to the shoe karma thing: when I went to the wardrobe to put on my hiking boots, they were gone.

The hiking boots were gone! I had put them in a spot where no other boots were – and someone took them from there. Unbelievable! I was slightly pissed off now, because the best I could do without my boots, photography-wise, was to sneak around the house in slippers with a veeery thin rubber sole! (the Feuerpalven vista point is a 10 minute walk uphill from the Gotzenalm refuge – it’s just not very advisable to walk the narrow single-track trail in the dark with slippers…).

This is the point where you’re beginning to smell conspiracy. Most of the guests had witnessed the story with the slippers and the other guy, and of course I had told them the thing with the new hiking boots, and the shoe karma of that day. Was this a collaborative prank?! I went to bed, angry and anxious, hoping that the darn boots would reappear by morning, because I of course had intended to also make some sunrise photos.

When I woke up, the boots were not there. The sun rose without me making photos. I walked Toni around the hostel in these darn slippers. In the distance, I saw and heard the Black Grouse making their funny and cute sounds. Too far away to make photos – at least when you’re wearing darn slippers!

I had breakfast and was really angry that the boots were still not there when I was finished. I urged the owner of the hut to scour all rooms with me until we would find my boots. We didn’t. When we returned from the tour of all the rooms and dormitories, we passed through the wardrobe and… was I hallucinating?! My hiking boots! There they were!

I grabbed them. They were wet on the outside and warm on the inside. Some other guest had mistakenly put them on at night in the dark when he went to the other building (which has more rooms and dormitories). I started one hour later than expected towards the Landtal trench. Entering from Gotzenalm is nothing but spectacular, the trail leads through some wooded area and then swings around, high above Landtal trench.

Aerial trail II -- Landtalgraben, Nationalpark Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany
Aerial trail — high above Landtal (looking back towards where I came from for a more spectacular perspective;-)

As I slowly descended into Landtal, it appeared as if I had arrived just in time to meet a Ibex. And he slowly passed me by, allowed me to switch to the telephoto lens, and positioned himself proudly on a rock, posing for me. Without the shoe-lapses, I would never have seen him.

Ibex in the Landtal trench (Landtalgraben), Nationalpark Berchtesgaden. October 2010.

After this encounter, it was a slow and somewhat exhausting ascend towards Hochgschirr saddle. I had planned to hike to Kahlersberg from there, but the trail was steep, dizzying, and scary. I turned around and went back after the first 15 or so minutes. On the way back down, an elderly lady, at least 70 years or age or so, came towards me, going up – we exchanged a few words, and seeing her continue upwards I felt like a sissy. :) But being a sissy seemed less trouble than continuing on that scary trail despite the bad feeling and vertigo. There’s no shame in turning around and go back when you don’t feel safe, and after all, I had a plane to catch, to Southern California, only 9 days later!

*) literally translated “King’s Lake”, but more likely, the name has slowly evolved from “Kuno’s Lake” or “Kunig’s Lake” into it’s present-day name. According to the German Wikipedia article, the name “Bartholomäsee” was even more popular, historically – St. Bartholomä (Saint Bartholomew) is the name of the peninsula under Mount Watzmann’s east facing side.

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