Bike-packing up the Highest Mountain in Northern Germany.

Part One

Since I've turned my hand to gravel biking with my old Galaxy, I've had in mind to take it to it's logical conclusion and go Bike-packing as well. To the south of me are the Harz mountains, a region of heavily forested hills and valleys, with the highest peak at 1141m high. Interestingly as well, the old East/West German border ran through the middle of the park. The highest peak, The Brocken, was in the old east and it's summit contained a listening post. The summit of the Brocken was a tempting target to aim for, so I sat down and started to plan.

It might seem a little perverse to take an old Super Galaxy and ditch the racks and panniers, before strapping all manner of bags on, but it made for a super lightweight touring rig and as I found out at the end of day one, it was a hell of a lot more wind resistant.

So using open street maps, I plotted a route south through a mix of forests and quite country roads. For a 100km, I hardly saw a soul or any traffic as the sun shone down and the bike sailed along.

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Everywhere I rode on this first day, there were fields of Rape seed in full bloom and against the spring sun it was a really beautiful sight.

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I also crossed the famous Mittleland canal, that is one of the main transportation arteries in this corner of Germany.

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After 100km, I hit the outskirts of Hildeshiem where I joined onto the Innerste radweg, a long distance cycle track from Hannover to the edge of the Harz mountains. This was where I discovered that despite what I thought was meticulous planning, I'd failed to actually put this part of the route into my Garmin. No worries thought I, this is a recognised cycleway, surely it will be meticulously signposted. Sadly not, and for the next 60km I was left cursing every wrong turn and switchback. I also spent far to much time cycling on the roads, which was not at all pleasant. Coupled with a really strong headwind, these 60km were some of the most unpleasant I've done. Finally after 160km, as the light was failing, I reached the campsite at the edge of the Harz mountains.

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The next morning started bright and early as I prepared for summit day. The first 15km were on excellent off-road gravel tracks, before an unpleasant 15km grind on the road as we headed uphill onto the main plateau.

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At 560km high, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, with the largest wooden church in Germany, completed in the 1600's was an ideal second breakfast stop.

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From there, it was back onto the forest tracks as we wound our way ever higher and on to Torfhaus, the start of the track to the Brocken.

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At Torfhaus, you can normally look across and see the summit of the Brocken, but sadly not today as a big cloud was sat on the top. It was also bitterly cold after the last days of sunshine and heat.

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chriswoody

chriswoody

Guru
Location
Northern Germany
Part Two

So there are a number of tracks that wind there way up the Brocken, all through gorgeous woodland and for the most part, gravel. As long as you respect the walkers, there is no problem cycling these tracks. On one side there is also a normal tarmaced road going all the way to the summit. Most of the tracks meet this at some point. After 6 hours and 900metres of lung busting ascent, from last nights campsite, I reached the summit. The top was completely shrouded in cloud and bitterly cold. I sheltered in the lee of the hotel building whilst I put on every layer of clothing I had. Then I took my turn at taking a photo at the Broken Stein to crown my achievement.

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As well as the road to the summit, there is also the famous steam train that winds it's way slowly to the top. German mountains are
completely different to the wild and remote places I'm used to in Britain!

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After coffee and cake in the cafe, it was time to point the bike downhill and off I set. For 4km, I followed the tarmac road down and weaved between the hordes of walkers. A fast and enjoyable time. Then I turned left and back into the solitude of the forest. I was essentially following the old East/West border downhill and one of the most amazing reminders were these old concrete sleepers. They are everywhere and were laid to facilitate the soviet tanks
patrolling the old border.

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On the flat, they were not to hard to weave between, but on the steep downhill sections, they were a complete nightmare. It's hard to see from this picture, but this section of downhill was very steep and long, and the whole way, I had to ride between the sleepers, because my tires were forever getting trapped in those rectangular holes.

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At the bottom was this memorial to re-unification day, then it was on to Braunlage and a well deserved beer. In total, over 70km of riding and well over a kilometre of climbing!

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I camped the night at Braunlage, the showers at the campsite were most welcoming. Then the next morning, it was off into the forest again. After an
initial steep downhill on gravel, I was distinctly unimpressed to be faced with a 3km, 180m climb. Today was meant to be all about going downhill! However when I finally reached the top, I then was faced with 8km of pure downhill through the most beautiful forest I'd travel. Even when I gained the road, it was a really quite and smooth country road that wound downhill for a further 8km. Finally after 35km from the campsite, most of which was downhill, I reached the train station that marked the end of my adventures in the Harz. A thoroughly exhausting but exhilarating trip, I can't wait for the next one.









 
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chriswoody

chriswoody

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Location
Northern Germany
Thanks for this Chris. I will be coming to ride Brocken before the summer.
Sounds like a good plan. Have you an idea where you want to ride yet? I shamelessly stole some of my route from this guy:

http://www.plus-fort.de/bikepacking-brocken-harz/

He has his Strava tracks on his website which I found useful with my planning. I don't have enough interest in Strava to work out how to add my routes though. In all honesty though, the vast majority of the routes in the area are cyclable and if your bike-packing with a light load, then hauling your bike over the short sections that aren't, is no big deal.

No pictures of where r you slept during your ride?
There's a photo of my tent pitched at Camping Innerstetalsperre in the first part of my post?

The forests round here have wild boar and wolves, as well as not allowing wild camping. So I was more than happy to kip in proper campsites and grab a good shower. I had been thinking of grabbing a quick mid ride kip on the Brocken, but the temperatures were in the low single digits, without the wind chill factor, so I happily passed that one up!

Here's a photo as well of the Brocken summit I took a few years ago on a clearer day. It clearly shows some of the soviet era buildings that are on the top, though the weather station and train station can't be seen.

Summit006.jpg
 
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chriswoody

chriswoody

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Location
Northern Germany
Thanks @HobbesOnTour, It was and it wasn't my first bikepacking. Let me explain!

As you've probably guessed from the fact I'm riding my old Super Galaxy, I've done a lot of traditional touring in the past, with front and rear panniers and kit bungeed to the top of the rack. However, I also spent nearly twenty years working as an outdoor instructor. So I was always into adventurous trips, be it mountaineering, sea kayaking or remote backpacking. I'd always pack according to how I was traveling, so for example, my sea kayak trips would always have a wine bladder, from those cardboard boxes of wine, tucked under the seat!

So when I first came across the term bikepacking earlier this year, it was one of those light bulb moments. I knew about light weight camping from mountaineering, where it makes sense to eschew some luxuries in order to be able to move fast and efficiently. Taking that concept and transferring it to off road riding made sense to me. Have a lighter more manoeuvrable bike, would open up more opportunities for off-road riding and enable me to cover more ground in a day.

Already having the kit from my old mountaineering days certainly helped, the one area I struggled was the rear saddle bag. Modern bike packing bags are shaped to fit modern frames that have a lot of seat tube showing, I just didn't have enough seat tube available to fit the mounting systems. If you look closely you will see I used an old Ortlieb dry bag clasped around the post and an old webbing strap from somewhere to tighten it up against the bottom of the seat rails, it worked a treat. On the front I used a Topeak front loader and in the frame a Topeak midloader.

So yes, this was the first time I had bikepacked,in this sense of the word, I found it really fitted the style of riding I undertook on this trip and made a lot of sense. Kit wise, the one thing I was really missing was my windproof fleece gloves. Ironic, given I easily had the room to fit them in! Even given my experience and background, I underestimated how cold it was going to be on the Brocken. I was in pieces coming down and was craving a hill to warm back up! My sleeping system also took up too much room, I need a lighter, smaller sleep mat and a better sleeping bag. All things easily fixable though and I will definitely be bike packing again.

https://bikepacking.com/locations/europe/ has some fantastic routes and I'm itching to try some out.
 
Thanks @HobbesOnTour, It was and it wasn't my first bikepacking. Let me explain!

As you've probably guessed from the fact I'm riding my old Super Galaxy, I've done a lot of traditional touring in the past, with front and rear panniers and kit bungeed to the top of the rack. However, I also spent nearly twenty years working as an outdoor instructor. So I was always into adventurous trips, be it mountaineering, sea kayaking or remote backpacking. I'd always pack according to how I was traveling, so for example, my sea kayak trips would always have a wine bladder, from those cardboard boxes of wine, tucked under the seat!

So when I first came across the term bikepacking earlier this year, it was one of those light bulb moments. I knew about light weight camping from mountaineering, where it makes sense to eschew some luxuries in order to be able to move fast and efficiently. Taking that concept and transferring it to off road riding made sense to me. Have a lighter more manoeuvrable bike, would open up more opportunities for off-road riding and enable me to cover more ground in a day.

Already having the kit from my old mountaineering days certainly helped, the one area I struggled was the rear saddle bag. Modern bike packing bags are shaped to fit modern frames that have a lot of seat tube showing, I just didn't have enough seat tube available to fit the mounting systems. If you look closely you will see I used an old Ortlieb dry bag clasped around the post and an old webbing strap from somewhere to tighten it up against the bottom of the seat rails, it worked a treat. On the front I used a Topeak front loader and in the frame a Topeak midloader.

So yes, this was the first time I had bikepacked,in this sense of the word, I found it really fitted the style of riding I undertook on this trip and made a lot of sense. Kit wise, the one thing I was really missing was my windproof fleece gloves. Ironic, given I easily had the room to fit them in! Even given my experience and background, I underestimated how cold it was going to be on the Brocken. I was in pieces coming down and was craving a hill to warm back up! My sleeping system also took up too much room, I need a lighter, smaller sleep mat and a better sleeping bag. All things easily fixable though and I will definitely be bike packing again.

https://bikepacking.com/locations/europe/ has some fantastic routes and I'm itching to try some out.
Thanks for the detailed reply, Chris.

I can see how your previous experiences all dovetailed nicely for this one.
I'm intrigued by bikepackers and what exactly they bring, or don't bring.

I read something once where somebody said something like"It's a bike trip, so pack for a bike trip", whereas I think I'm more of a camper who happens to travel on a bike.

I've looked at some of those bikepacking routes. I can't speak for Germany, but some of the ones around me in NL & Belgium are actually hiking paths, most definitely not multi-use. I can imagine a lot of resentment if they become popular with bikes.

In any case, I'll look forward to your next adventure.
 
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chriswoody

chriswoody

Guru
Location
Northern Germany
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chriswoody

chriswoody

Guru
Location
Northern Germany
So for @Johan and anyone else interested in following this ride, these are the gpx tracks I created on Ride with gps:

Hildersheim to Campsite on the edge of the Harz (Day 1)

Campsite to the summit of the Brocken (Day 2)

Brocken Summit to the Campsite in Braunlage (Day 2)

Braunlage Campsite to the Train station (Day 3)

I've not included the 100km from my house to Hildersheim because I doubt anyone will want to come to my place to start their ride! You'll need to follow the link in my previous post if you want to have the gpx track for the entire Innerste Radweg from Hannover.

The last link contains an error as well, apologies, but I thought that I had plotted a route to the train station in Herzburg, however when I cycled there, I belatedly realised Herzburg has two train stations and inevitably, I was at the wrong one. So if anyone actually wants to go there you'll need to modify the track accordingly.
 

Baldy

Well-Known Member
Location
ALVA
Oh, that brought back memories, I was stationed in Hildershiem back in the eighties. Used to go to the Harz quite often but we couldn't go up the Brocken as it was still in the east zone in thought days. Great cross country skiing.
 
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