Höllental, Germany


Trip Taken: 2005

The day following our little tour of Freiburg, we headed off to go hiking in Höllental, which was the point of our trip to this southern part of Germany. Ever since I read about the Höllental in my guide book, I had to see it for myself. Literally translated into Hell’s Valley, it was ironically described as ‘wildly romantic’ and ‘incredibly scenic’. This duality of beautiful and hellish seemed fascinating to me and I had to see this for myself.

We woke up extra early to eat a hardy breakfast, make our picnic lunch, and get a head start on the trail. I was in charge of the breakfast. We bought all the ingredients for the breakfast and our picnic lunch at the Saturday market during the day before. I made a rice porridge with dried shredded pork and simple cucumber julienne. It has to be one of the most disastrous meals I have ever made. The basmati rice was too long and hard for rice porridge. It came out very grainy and the cucumber was too salty and wet. At least the dried shredded pork went over okay. After our quick breakfast, we made simple sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Himmelreich

The starting point of the trail is at Himmelreich, which we arrived at by taking a regional train from Freiburg. The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is a funny place to start the trek through Hell’s Valley. Himmelreich is a small town so it wasn’t too long before we lost sight of the last building. We walked through a lot of light green fields that slowly turned from yellow to snow fields. As soon as the snow started to appear, the actual trail appeared. It took us to the side of the freeway that was built to pass through Hell’s Valley. Once we got on the trail, the air grew colder and the snow got thicker. It was quite a difference between the green fields of Himmelreich and the golden aura of fall foliage of Freiburg. The running rivulets were partially frozen and thick icicles hung from the cliff face. Around near the Hirschsprung, we stopped and took our lunch. This place was where it was said that a buck jumped across the narrowest point of the valley. The sandwiches were definitely just pure sustenance. We sat on the cold snow in our winter gear and I wished that we had something warm to eat instead of cold deli meats.

Posthalde

After walking for the better part of the morning, we reached what seemed like the end of the trail. The path led through a small tunnel on the cliff face. And the only way around seemed to be against the car barrier along the Autobahn. Well, we decided to go ahead and walk along the barrier. Opinions be damned and all. Although, I did imagine what kind of thoughts the German drivers had when they saw four youths walking along the barrier. After passing even more fields, we met an older German couple that was making the trek from the opposite direction. My friend Balazs and I spoke some German so we tried to communicate the obstacle but I think he had more luck communicating than I did. We said our goodbyes and kept going.

We soon got to a freeway underpass. I was instantly reminded of the first Terminator where Sarah Connor and the father, Kyle, were hiding. I also had a glimpse of what it would be like to roleplay as a bum. After we went under the underpass, we saw a Best Western and the Posthalde. The Posthalde is some sort of hunting lodge to my recollection. There seemed to be a nice restaurant that I was on the fence about whether to suggest eating a hot meal there or not. I decided against it. We took our bathroom break here and rested for a bit. It was a little past two o’clock and we wanted to get to the train station at Hinterzarten before the sun set.

Ravenna Gorge

The rest of the trail went behind the Posthalde and into a place called the Ravenna Gorge. This probably has to be the most beautiful place in our entire hike. The beginning of the trail to gorge had sun beams that hit the snow in just the right places. It was if halos of light surrounded us amid the green pine trees. The icicles were hung all around us.

As if that wasn’t enough, as we actually entered the gorge, the sunlight couldn’t reach any part of it. Instead, it created a scene that was gone through a blue light filter. This was the winter wonderland those songwriters, poets, and artists talked about. Shades of gradient blue covered the snow, ice, and treed. The air was stiff and clean. It was one of the most perfect winter moments I could ever remember.

Hinterzarten

Coming out of Ravenna Gorge, the sun was setting and we only saw a large snow field in front of us. We were a bit afraid of walking in the dark. It was December and the sun set early in the winter days. We played around in the snow a bit and wished we had a sled. The small long hills looked perfect for sledding. After walking for a few more minutes, we saw the train tracks. Hallelujah, we’re on the right path. We just followed the trail against the tracks and hoped we would get to Hinterzarten soon.

By around 4pm, we finally reached Hinterzarten. It was a small town much like Himmelreich. By this time, we were entirely exhausted and just glad to have gotten to a train station before sunset. We hiked a good eight hours in the snow. I don’t know how my friends felt about the hike, but it was definitely one of the most memorable winter experiences in my life, and maybe even one of the most memorable in Germany.

Parting Words

By the end of our one day hike, my socks were entirely wet from the hike. Good thing we stayed the night since I was able to change socks when we boarded the train out of there. I think the good people who transferred at Karlsruhe didn’t think me changing socks was such a good idea. So a good tip to take away from all this while hiking is: bring extra socks!

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.