Running the Wendelstein in the Bavarian Alps
Any time your route planning incorporates a summit that is served by a gondola or a cog rail, you know you’re in for a good day, right? I’d been staying in Bad Aibling while I was visiting the W.L. GORE® offices in Feldkirchen, Germany, and had time over the weekend for some proper tourism before heading to Friedrichshafen for the Eurobike convention. I’d been considering spending the day in München, when Patric Gördes, who works on the product marketing team, and is an accomplished trail runner, suggested that I climb Mount Wendelstein from Bad Feilnbach, instead.
To Patric, maybe, this was no big deal. Just a typical Sunday climb of the highest peak in the region. For me, well, I like trail running and fast hiking. But I usually pick routes that are steep and technical, and less than 10km total. A quick look at an online map of what Patric had suggested showed that the hike to Wendelstein was going to be somewhere between 15 and 20km, roundtrip, with 1300-1400m elevation gain. But I was instantly taken with the idea of spending the day on the trails, instead of my original plan putting in a road run and heading to the city. So I double checked the route information, packed an extra water bottle, and committed to the work, even though the distance was going to be beyond my normal efforts. (And yes, I was excited to see that Mount Wendelstein has both a gondola AND a cog rail, and a church, just in case things go very, very wrong, I suppose. It had to be good…)
As much as I was glad for a day on the trails, I was also looking forward to using GORE® wear in the region in which its product development team lives and works. In many ways, the experiences of running, hiking or cycling are almost universal, but it is always a special thing to be able to use products in the area in which they are developed, and see everything through the personal experiences of the product developers. Like riding Santa Cruz mountain bikes, with Santa Cruz Bicycles engineers, in Santa Cruz, CA. It’s a global brand, with global success and product viability at the highest levels, but somehow everything resonates a little more on their home turf.
I was seeing this run/fast hike in the same terms from a GORE® perspective. I’d brought with me a mix of kit from their trail running and cycling collections, including X-Run Ultra shorts and long sleeve jersey, and an X-Running cap, but also their Velocity compression socks (good compression, thin material, fast-drying), and the ONE GORE-TEX® Pro jacket. The jacket was probably overkill for the conditions, compared to the Shakedry offerings, but it’s my absolute favorite to travel with, for its range of use and durability, so that’s what I had.
Towards the top: It always gets more technical
If you’ve climbed enough peaks, you know: it’s rare that a trail gets less technical or less steep as you get toward the top. The Wendelstein climb is no exception. It starts out with wider, well built, well maintained trails as you follow the Jenbach river south. The grades are gradual, save for a few undulations. After that, save for one stretch of road, things get increasingly steep and more technical pretty much all the way to the top, with a brief stretch of electrified fence being one of the only, ahem, shocking surprises.
For whatever reason, I tend to match my effort to the terrain. Running on flat roads doesn’t much capture my imagination, so I tend to take it easy when the terrain is easy. But the opposite is also true: when the terrain is hard, I tend to lift my effort to match, and maximize the experience. In this way, I knew it would be a day of starting easy, and ending with a hard push to the summit. The climb went according to expectation, save for one missed turn, and the top portions were really enjoyable in a steep, rocky sort of way.
Less expected was how fun the descent became, as a thunderstorm rolled in and made everything a little more slippery, especially the well-worn rock faces on the most heavily used sections of the trail accessible from various parking areas along the route. As I was already feeling some from the climb, the moisture made the descent an exercise in technical proficiency, with most foot placements requiring a good bit of precision and a bit more of the kind of flexibility and adaptability that good trail descending already requires.
Finding the reward: dressing for success
Typically, for me, the reward of a workout is in the work itself, and the focus that it brings, and this day was no exception. It came as no surprise that the GORE® wear I’d chosen performed as expected: very well. I’ve especially become a fan of GORE® socks, but to highlight that only shows how much I’ve come to rely on and expect the consistent performance of a GORE-TEX® jacket and the other kit. Through wet and dry conditions and a variety of temperatures, I was comfortable all day.
And I did manage to lift my head and take in a some of the scenery, as well. The waterfalls along the Jenbach are as plentiful as are cows in the pastures farther up the hill, and everything seems alarmingly lush and green for the end of summer, at least to a Colorado resident. But it’s the views from the peak that dominate, for sure, whether that’s looking back down the switchbacks of the mountain’s southern face and out toward Austria, or looking back north toward the Bad Feilnback trailhead, Feldkirchen and München.
So, you know, if you find yourself near München with a day to kill and the idea to put in a trail run or fast hike, this route is easy to recommend. Bring your GORE® kit, and an extra water bottle.