An email to our indefatigable Hon Meets Secretary, HMS Peri and god bless all etc., produced the instant response to “go for it”. Having just joined the Deutscher Alpinverein, DAV, I thought that a meet in the Schwarzwald during Oktoberfest might be a good opportunity to cement friendly relations with our continental comrades before poor old Britannia became the isolated pariah of Europe. My new Freiburg friends were initially puzzled as to why British climbers might want to travel so far to sample their miniscule local crags when the extended delights of the Bregaglia, Handegg or even the sandstones of the Pfalz or Saxony were within reach. I replied that we Brits have very short attention spans and even less stamina, which is why little lumps of gritstone such as Stanage or Bowden Doors are so popular, but the overarching reason for why CC members might be interested in coming was the prospect of cheap beer at less than €2 a bottle and/or cream and cherry gateaux.And so it came to pass that an eclectic cross section of 15 or so members turned up at the extremely well appointed Ramshalde Hütte in the middle of the Hochschwarzwald or High Forest over the last weekend in September. As Meet Co-ordinator (MC) I had decided, wrongly as I found out, that this would coincide with the commencement of the famous extended drinking festival Oktoberfest so beer should be the priority over guides or climbing information, and wasn’t unduly surprised when two crates of the local brew disappeared within a few minutes of people arriving. The HMS sadly missed out having chosen to fly in from the black hole of Manchester Airport only arriving with the MC three or four hours late to find the hut resounding to contented snoring and a large collection of empties.
We did climb though, and despite a fairly pessimistic forecast managed to visit and enjoy a good selection of the crags dotted around the Forest. Some of us, no names of course, mainly those more used to the well protected limestone of their natural winter haunts further south, found the distance between the bolts a trifle disconcerting at first, but the quality of the rock and the availability of wire and cam friendly cracks soon won most over.
Sadly, many of our DAV friends, unlike the CC attendees, actually had to go to work, but we were honoured to have the outgoing President of the Freiburg section, Jakob, with his charming partner Julia, and Chris to show us around on the first day at the complex collection of crags above Oberried known as Gefälls, so many thanks to them. In fact, in many ways the style of climbing is very British, the igneous outcrops of the western Highlands come to mind, but amongst trees as opposed to heather and midges. The local ethic, certainly on the older established routes is to replace the original peg protection with bolts and bolted lower offs. Despite my earlier personal comments on grades, members soon adapted and were climbing to their usual standard, mostly concentrated in the 5s to 7s. It would be invidious to name star performers individually but highlights, if not for the victims, were Bob Peters dangling off a 3+ in the pouring rain, Mark Courtiour’s immaculate lead of a 2+ on the same crag and watching the struggles of various teams on what should have been a classic 5 which the local expert, the MC no less, inadvertently misidentified for an evil 7 with a scorpion finish on greasy rock. However we all survived, egos only slightly bruised.I think most of us on the meet would agree that the Schwarzwald is not an area of huge importance on the world scale but there are many compensations. We had the crags largely to ourselves, the climbing was enjoyable, in beautiful wooded surroundings overlooking deep valleys with the distant Alps to the South and the wide Rhine Valley to the West. We ate and drank extremely well, evenings were very congenial with teams returning from the rocks fired up by the climbing but even more over the cost of beer in the local supermarkets. The £4+ pint seemed a long way away. A traditional end of meet BBQ took place with Mr Watson et al braving the elements, determined to make maximum use of the sophisticated construction that is a feature of every hut in these parts. Meals out were also very popular, although the Black Forest Gateau seemed very elusive. Mr Sanders took the epicure’s prize for the largest roast hog hock.
Some of us even took advantage of the excellent facility provided by the regional tourist association of free public transport by both train and bus for visitors staying in paid accommodation, part funded by a mere €2 a week surcharge on hut fees. The DAV also generously allowed us to pay the same dues as their members, something that the CC might well reciprocate if and when we invite them back to experience our own esoteric seacliffs and outcrops.
Already there are plans afoot for further visits to some of the outlying areas of Germany and the nearby Jura. As a first foray for a meet away from the recognized mountain and limestone playgrounds I think our Oktoberfest could be considered a success. My thanks go to all those who made the effort to come, to the DAV for letting us use their superbly appointed hut and to my partner Ellen who, I have to admit, handled virtually all of the admin and organisation and whose linguistic skills proved invaluable. I hope that this meet might be a precursor to closer ties with our European neighbours. These days we seem to be much more prepared to travel to climb so perhaps building a closer relationship with other clubs beyond this sceptred isle will benefit everyone.
For those making the longish trek to the central and eastern Swiss Alps or across into Italy via Luxembourg and the Rhine Valley the Schwarzwald provides an excellent stopover for a day or two. Wild camping or parking up via one of the many secluded forest tracks is tolerated. Also, if the weather forces a retreat from the Bernina or the Grindelwald region, it is only a couple of hours drive to the Forest. Freiburg is apparently the sunniest city in Germany and there are many fine breweries to choose from!