Full moon snow shoe tour? It sounded so exciting that our reporters immediately set off for the Allgäu Alps. In the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park, they were out on a limb and enjoyed the extra portion of endorphins. Text by Christian Haas, photos by Frank Heuer
Full moon snow shoe tour
Michael Schott's promise sounds a bit full-bodied. Rather like a full moon? On three to four winter dates, the 58-year-old guide from Bolsterlang advertises the “Horn Tour by Full Moon”. The state-certified ski and mountain guide can predict its maximum extent, ergo brightness, for the night, but not whether the weather will cooperate.
Everything is possible between cloudless and overcast, including fog and snow flurries. It's a bit like being on safari: you know that the object of desire is out there, but you don't know if and when it will be sighted. On the other hand, events with an element of surprise always feel more intense than those where everything is set in stone.
No-show? Not to date
Of course, no one wants to experience a “bad” surprise in the form of a “lunar no-show”. But a complete no-show, Michael said in advance, is very rare. “I've been offering full moon tours for seven years now,” he says on the phone, “and so far it's mostly worked out great. Apart from that, every weather condition has its charm”. Let's see which one it has for us …
Sunshine galore at the “Boden” hut
While the weather had been capricious in the preceding days and nights, the omens could not have been better on this late February Sunday. A clear sky stretches over the Nagelfluhkette Nature Park, shrouded in white, the thermometer climbs well above zero – which will of course change again after sunset.
The tipping point is around 5:00 pm, when the sun seasonally starts to set. To enjoy a cappuccino without freezing on the terrace of the “Boden” hut above the parish village of Balderschwang, its radiance is just enough.
It gets cosier inside, where innkeeper Matthias Lenz has prepared a fine snack platter (Brettljause) with cheese, bacon, horseradish and crusty bread. Actually, we could sink into the rustic and contemporary guest room – with a view of the open fire and/or fine brandy glasses (the sauna and mountain hotel bed a few metres away are also tempting).
But Michael urges haste. After all, he wants to go even higher with us to experience the perfect sunset from a lofty vantage point. With snow shoes.
Ready, sunset, go
So we get in the car, which we park a few bends later at Germany's highest pass, the Riedbergpass, at an altitude of 1,407 metres. While for most winter sports enthusiasts the active part of the day ends at half past five, for us it is just beginning.
We get into the snow shoes Michael brought with him, stow the avalanche shovel, probes and LWS equipment in the backpacks, fix the gaiters so that no snow gets under the trouser legs or into the edges of the shoes, especially when going downhill, grab the hiking poles – and off we go.
Perfect timing: a few minutes later we are standing in the snow above the mountain road, watching the sun disappear behind the mountains in slow motion and ever more glaring orange.
The “blue hour” is brightly coloured
What a spectacle! With lasting light effects in the "blue hour". It would be more appropriately called "colourful hour", as red, purple and blue tones provide a grand illumination of the summit skyline. The headlamps stay in the luggage for another hour or two.
Correct technique: Nice and wide-legged
Two hills further on, Michael tells us something about the area, for example about the ups and downs of the ski lift expansion plans on the nearby Riedberger Horn and about the use of the emergency transceivers, which he urges us to use despite the current low avalanche risk. His reasoning: “It's like buckling up in a car, you just do it. If something did happen, it would be too late for that.”
All right, it doesn't hurt, just as little as the tips on gait optimisation (“always keep your legs wide so that you don't get caught on your trousers with your spikes”).
You'll soon get the hang of it, as well as the ideal rhythm, which can take you across snow-covered meadows, unprepared ski slopes or through woods dominated by spruce, silver fir and copper beech. It's practical that you don't sink in so much thanks to the large tread surface!
Important: Stay on the track
This way, you still manage two to three kilometres per hour. Faster than making new tracks, at any rate. The route is always uphill, with a total of 300 metres in altitude. We don't meet any people on the tour, but the many tracks reveal that quite a few people have been out and about since the last fresh snow, especially tourers.
It seems tempting to lay new tracks in wilder terrain, but Michael stops it: “Not only for safety reasons, but also for nature conservation reasons. Wild animals need their retreats.” Sounds convincing, and it is.
As if as a reward, an eagle owl calls out in the distance. Or was it a pygmy owl? Michael tells us that the Nagelfluhkette is home to golden eagles, black grouse and Europe's smallest owl.
Starry hours with a special guest
Following the call of the wilderness, we trudge after our guide. Even if no real path is discernible, he knows it. Wordlessly, almost meditatively, we follow in his big footprints. Below us sparkling snow crystals, above us first hundreds, then tens of thousands of twinkling stars.
Here the Big Dipper, there Cassiopeia and Orion. But besides the well-known trio, there are so many other constellations. Michael names a few. Just like some of the peaks that stand out from the silhouetted landscape, first and foremost the Grünten.
No blah blah. There is something meditative about walking
South of the “guardian of the Allgäu”, Oberstdorf sets light accents, among others with the flashing red lights of the long Nebelhorn cable car and the brightly lit World Cup ski jumps. In the valley, wispy fog rolls in (Michael: “Slight inversion! But that won't affect us up here.”), providing special effects.
The fog wants to be observed for longer during a break on a plateau with a 270-degree panorama. Only then do we notice how quiet it is when we are not walking. Because unlike new snow, the tough old snow makes a lot of noise. It cracks with every step – a conversation stopper.
Never mind, we just keep stopping. To speak as well as to be silent. The infinite view doesn't need any big words anyway.
“No tour is the same,” Michael breaks the silence. “On the one hand, because of the group constellation. Sometimes it's families with children who sign up, sometimes pensioners, sometimes real sports enthusiasts. And on the other hand, the weather and snow vary, from powdery fresh snow to rather tough snow like today.”
The routes also differ. The prioritised group option takes the gondola up to the Riedberger Horn and continues on foot to the Großer Ochsenkopf and, after a stop for refreshments, down to the valley.
Moon phase show
Today's tour leads beyond the mountain station and mountain restaurants to the lonely Wannenkopf. And shortly before we reach the geographical high point at 1,712 metres, we experience the visual one: how the moon first lights up as a bright slit above the mountain range in the east and then morphs into an ever larger and brighter “bishop's cap” until it hovers above the mountains like a circular lantern. How big it seems. But above all: so yellow. Like a pancake that you want to grab from the sky and put on your plate …
After another break to admire the moon at the summit cross, we start the way back, on a slightly changed route and in an almost euphoric mood. Which is clearly thanks to the moon. As we slowly descend, it slowly rises, bathing the winter landscape in a mystical, steel-blue light. That's when night becomes day.
We don't talk much, everyone soaks up the unique atmosphere. Even though we have been on our feet for almost five hours now, we feel full of energy when we arrive at the almost empty car park. No question: Michael clearly kept his promise.
- Dates: one each in January, February, March.
- Duration: around 5.5 hours.
- 55 euros with Hörnerdörfer Card, otherwise 59 euros.
- Four to ten participants, individual tours are also possible after consultation
- More information at hoernerdoerfer.de (only in German)
More snow shoe tours
Upper Bavaria: On the Stierkopf (bull's head)
One of the most beautiful snowshoe tours in the Ammergau Alps! After starting in Unterammergau, you cross the three peaks of the Hörnle and then reach the summit destination, the 1,535 metre high Stierkopf. The tour lasts four hours and involves about 850 metres of altitude. Stop for refreshments at the Hörnlehütte. The rating “Ski Mountaineering Environmentally Friendly”. The starting point can be reached by public transport.
ammergauer-alpen.de (only in German)
An easy and popular tour for snow shoe hikers leads to the Schönkahler, 1,687 metres high. The terrain is flat and the route is identified as environmentally friendly. You start at the hikers' car park in the Achtal, south of Pfronten in the direction of the Tannheimer Tal. From there the tour is well signposted. Duration: about three hours, ascent: just under 700 metres in altitude.
allgaeu.de (only in German)
Fichtel Mountains: Panorama Tour
The easy, five-kilometre taster tour starts at the “Am Kellerhaus” hikers' car park in Wülfersreuth near Bischofsgrün. You make a circuit over wide meadows and through dense forest. There are impressive views to the northwest of the Franconian Forest and to the east of the Ochsenkopf. Ascent only 130 metres. Refreshment stops at the “Waldgasthof Schweinsbach” and in Wülfersreuth.