3 day hike on the Soonwaldsteig
Finally, our first time thru hiking! For this special adventure we have decided to hike the Soonwaldsteig.The Soonwaldsteig is a 85km long trail in the Soonwald-Region, between Hunsrück and Nahe in Rhineland Palatinate. The trail mostly avoids villages and instead leads through forests and fields - a trail as wild as you can get it in Germany.
Along the trail are several "Trekking-Camps", Camping spots with very basic amenities like a firepit and a compost toilet, that can be booked on the Soonwaldsteig-Website. There you are officially allowed to camp in a tent out in the forest, which you normally can't do in Germany. Also on the trail are multiple castle ruins and natural highlights to make the hike worthwhile. In one of the castles you can even set up your camp for a small fee!
While the original trail suggests six trail sections, we rearranged them to make it a four day trek. Unfortunately we had to leave the trail after 3 days already, but we'll get to that later.
With the currently still ongoing corona crisis the trekking camps are currently closed. That means it is currently only possible to do day hikes.
The official start of the trail is in the small but pretty town of Kirn. From the town square the trail leads out of the town and then already starts is first ascent towards Kallenfels. In this are there are some rocky outcrops visible which have castle ruins on them. We found those pretty amazing. Then the trail starts meandering up and down the hills before finally leading up to the Schloss Wartenstein. This castle is actually not a ruin. Instead it has a little museum, and a wonderful view across the valley. And, maybe even more importantly the last flush toilet you'll see on the trail for a few days.
From there the trail keeps leading up on hills and then back down in the valley. Coupled with the hot weather those ups and downs were draining our energy fast. After a while the trail crosses the little river Hahnenbach and continues on the opposite side of the valley. Here there are some information boards and relics from times when there was a mine for slate. Soon after that we could finally see our destination for the day, the "Schmidtburg".
The path led us almost completely around the hill the castle stands on before finally reaching the gates.
Once inside we went to search the castle bailiff, who then assigned us a spot to pitch our tent and collected a fee of a few euros. So we pitched our tent and then cooked a light dinner, and then went off to explore the castle a little.
Once inside we went to search the castle bailiff, who then assigned us a spot to pitch our tent and collected a fee of a few euros. So we pitched our tent, cooked a light dinner (mashed potatoes, which unfortunately tasted like nothing), and then went off to explore the castle a little more.
Camping inside an old ruine was somewhat exiting and we definitely can recommend the stay at the Schmidtburg. Since this is not an official camp site the appliances obviously are absolutely basic, but if you are considering to do this hike this shouldn't keep you off. Biggest advantage over the other trekking camps on the trail is, that there is actual running water available at one spot outside the ruine. However, you definitely should boil or filter it before drinking.
After an eventful night due to some very loud music in camps around the castle and in the surrounding forest, we started into the second day of our adventure.
And we started the wrong way. Instead of the path towards Camp Alteburg, we ended up following the marked path leading to the Soonwaldsteig from the nearest village. We noticed about 1.5km in, and turned around right away. That little detour endet up adding about 3km to the day, which would now total around 22km.
The Soonwaldsteig now followed the Hahnenbach river on a "Wasser-Erlebnispfad". The area is a pretty flat walk, the nature serene and extremely green. So much vegetation, it is really beautiful. This section would make for a great walk with children too.
Once the trail separates from the river it starts leading up and down hills again, and passes a few little peaks with great views. In some places, for example at the Teufelsfels, there are even towers built to give a even better view across the surrounding forests. We also crossed a section where many rocks and small boulders littered the path - a "Felsenmeer". Here people had stacked up rocks into little piles, that was pretty cute.
While walking we noticed the weather turning more gray. After a very steep ascent we reached a plateau with a view across the Hunsrück. And here we also saw great big black clouds moving right towards us. So we packed up and kept moving, but that didn't really make a difference. Just a few minutes later the rain started pouring, and we pulled out our rainjackets and our newly home made rain kilts.
We continued on our way and soon reached Burg Koppenstein. Here we met another pair of hikers who were sheltering from the rain. We had a quick chat and all concluded that it wasn't likely to stop raining anytime soon. The other couple were on their way to Camp Ellerspring, one further than we had to walk. While we had only 5 more kilometers to go, they had another 10 to do. We soon continued on our way because at least moving along kept us warm. Luckily the overall temperature wasn't too low, so we weren't cold or anything.
Just a short while later we saw a "Feuersalamander" (a black amphibian lizard with yellow spotts) - the first of these we had seen in the wild in our whole lives. We were super fascinated. While we were watching it and took pictures, the other couple overtook us again.
By now the constant rain had switched to a lighter drizzle and we were confident it would stop raining by the time we reached our camp for the day - the trekking camp Alteburg. And alas, it did! We first missed the path to the camp, as you only get GPS coordinates and we hadn't plugged the exact coordinates in. But we soon realized our mistake and backtracked until we saw a path meandering off into the forest. Around a corner we found the camp on a clearing.
It was our first trekking camp ever visited and we loved it. When we arrived, there was no one there yet, so we chose the best place to set up our tent. We then inspected the compost toilet and the fireplace, then I prepared dinner while Tim started to collect wood to try and start a fire. But pretty much as soon as he had collected a pile that might have lasted us for a bit, and our dinner was hot and steaming, it started raining again. So we took our things and fled to our tent.
Later in the evening a camp warden came by and brought bottled water that we could buy from him, since there was no source of clean water anywhere close by. We hadn't expected that but were very happy to get fresh water, instead of the stuff we had filtered from a river earlier in the day.
Other than that we spent the rest of the evening mostly holed up in our tent. Only one other couple showed up on our campsite, even though the camp had supposedly been fully booked.
One major issue that you need to factor into your planning before starting your hike on the Soonwaldsteig trail is, that there is only very limited water supply on or along side the trail. Contrary to many other trails in germany the Soonwaldsteig trail is hardly ever passing through villages and there are also only few streams. Since there are no official campgrounds you also cannot expect to find water at the trekking camps. We therefore strongly recommend you to bring additional water with you, even if the extra weight in the backpack hurts. You should also bring a filter system, like the Sawyer Mini, or water purification tablets (e.g. Micropur).
Since recently there has been a network with "open taps" established by the Soonwald tourism provider. That means that there are now publicly accessible water taps available at buildings alongside or near the trail. This is a service that is provided by private persons, inns and the muncipalities.
The map with those open taps can be found on the website of the Soonwaldsteig:
We got up early to start into the longest section we had planned along the Soonwaldsteig. The trail would lead us towards Rheinböllen - in the worst case scenario we could drop out there if we felt too tired - and then from there onwards towards the Emmerichshütte and then finally the Forsthaus Lauschhütte, where we could put up our tent.
The morning started fairly wet and cold - but that was mostly due to our still wet clothes from the rain the day before. Today the weather looked to be dry, which was a relief. But our coffee brewing method of powdered coffee in tea bags didn't quite work out as we had hoped, so it was basically just hot water that was supposed to get us up and going.
After a first steep ascent we already reached our first milestone today: the Alteburg, yet another a tower made from rocks, that afforded a great view across the trees. Despite the scheduled 30km today we absolutely had to climb it to see for ourselves.
Afterwards the path led through nice forests mostly beside the main forest roads on smaller paths, once again giving us a bit of a wilderness feeling that we hadn't quite expected. The height profile for thist first section of todays trail was mostly fairly flat, but slowly ascending towards the nature reserves "Glashütter Wiesen" and then the forest reserve Schwappelbruch. Here in the swampy areas we found the first water of the day but it was very brackish and not really suitable for drinking, so we were very glad to have bought some water the day before from the camp warden. In this region the path followed wider trails and forest roads, which helped for speedy progress. Sooner than expected we started the first real ascent of the day towards the Schanzerkopf.
Upon reaching the Schanzerkopf, at 643m high, we had walked about half of todays planned kilometers. So far we were feeling pretty good, and we had been faster than expected, so we took the time for a nice lunch of Wraps and Peanut Butter and then just sat down for a while. Only when getting up to walk again we felt our knees ache a little bit, a clear sign of our bodies that we should have trained a bit more for this multi day hiking experiment.
Continuing on, the trail led through an area littered with wind turbines. We had never been so close up with these things and were pretty fascinated by sheer size of these things - as well as the dull swooshing sounds they made when the rotors slowly turn. Through yet another forest reserve the trail then steeply descendeds and leads towards Rheinböllen.
Arriving there we still felt fit, and thinking that we had already walked two thirds of the way, we concluded that it wouldn't be a problem walking to the Lauschhütte after all.
We ascended on the other side of the valley, reaching the Emmerichshütte, a tourist restaurant. A lot of people sat around and watched us curiously as we walked by with our big backpacks. Around here I noticed my knees hurting for the first time, but didn't think too much of it. By now we started to feel tired, but we still had quite a few kilometers to go. We started looking at the signs announcing the next milestones more closely. And realized that they were misliding. The kilometers given just didn't correctly add up. We pulled ourselves together and walked on. Now I realized that my shoes were starting to fall apart. Being completely wet the day before and then dried up real fast due to the sun today seeme to have destroyed the glue that kept the soles to the leather body of the shoe.
My now hurting knees and the shoes falling apart didn't really help my motiviation and we were just extremely glad when we finally reached the Lauschhütte. There we paid for our camping spot, but decided to have drink before actually setting up camp.
Sitting there we discussed how we would continue. I was worried about both my knees and the shoes. The super nice staff of the Lauschhütte tried to help us and took my shoes with them to glue them back together. That didn't quite work though. So in the end we decided to skip the last section and instead hitch a ride with a staff member to Bingen that same night.
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