Monday, 18 February 2013

Altenau Cross-Country Skiing Route

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Length 11.4 km (7.1 miles), terrain hilly

For more running routes, see Route List.

When you can't beat 'em, join 'em, the old American saying goes. It's been getting too slippery to run lately, so I decided to switch my sports. I took the day off and drove to the Harz Mountains, a 3-hour drive from where I live in Hamburg, Germany.

So, just for fun, here's a route over the snowy cross-country skiing trails of Altenau, my favorite Harz Mountains village. The old silver-mining town lies at the foot of the biggest hills in this small, low mountain range. Along the hills east of town is a network of cross-country trails of various levels of difficulty.
Along the Altenau trails
I'll just throw the three main trails together here, and describe them in one go. They can be done in 3 or 4 hours. And then, in the evening, you can go up to Altenau's spa, the Heisser Brocken, to recover in its saunas and salt water pools.

For me, this last trip to Altenau was a jubilee homecoming: 30 years prior, I came here to put on a pair of cross-country skis for the first time. Now I would re-ski those same routes.

Altenau is quiet and a bit off the beaten track, unlike the higher Harz roads between Torfhaus and Braunlage, which are absolutely overrun on winter weekends, with overflowing trail parking lots. In Altenau, you always have lots of open, quiet trails in every direction.
Typical cross-country trail signs in the Harz
There are a few places in Altenau where you could park and hike up to the trails from town. I'll choose the one right in the town center, at the main bus stop, at the roundabout, across from Moock's Hotel. There is a parking lot next to the bus stop, if you're not staying in a hotel nearby with its own parking.

NOTE: You can also start from a parking lot just east of town on the L504 road to Torfhaus, across from the wooden "Altenauer Loipe" sign, or from the parking lot at the end of Kleine Oker street in town. And if you add an extra ski-trail to the trip, you can also start from the Rose downhill ski slope, at the top end of the ski lift.

You will need to walk up a path to the Mühlenberg hill to the east, so grab your skis and let's go!
The old silver-mining village of Altenau
Just south of the bus stop, walk up Am Mühlenberg street, past the Alte Mühle Hotel and uphill, past a few houses. Just before the last house, a trail begins, going further uphill via some steps.

When you get up to the hill, it flattens out. You can put your skis on here, but the real cross-country track doesn't start right here. After about 200 meters, you'll see the "Loipen Start" signs at the start of the prepared tracks, called Loipen in German.
View over the Mühlenberg trail. The start is off to the left side.
You are now up on the Mühlenberg, and one track loops the open hilltop. This is an easy (blue) track. The most difficult track (black) is called the Tischlertal Loipe, which connects into the Mühlenberg on the north. And a third loipe of medium difficulty (red), the Kunstberg, connects in from the south.

You'll see a sign for the Loipen Start, straight ahead. Just get into the track and start heading southeast, going gradually uphill. The Tischlertal Loipe actually includes the Mühlenberg- and Kunstberg-Loipen, too. So, everywhere we go, you'll see signs for the Tischlertal trail as well as one or both of the others. Think of them as sub-trails of the Tischlertal trail.

Heading eastwards over the meadows, you see the outline of the Wolfswarte hill and its cliffs along the eastern horizon. The track will turn a few times, going lightly uphill towards the woods. It will then go into the woods, where the Tischlertal track turns left and the others turn right. This is where the real fun part of the trail begins, giving it its "black" rating.

So turn left and you'll do your first downhill, where it turns to the left, at the bottom of the curve, going over a little stream.

Unfortunately, you now have to go up a steep section: the hardest climb of the day.
Looking back down the steep spot
At the top, you'll definitely need to catch your breath. The track now goes to the left and soon starts heading downhill while turning some corners. In fact, the whole Tischlertal course does a constant up- and downhill for the next few kilometers.
The Tischlertal ski center huts
It will curve into a meadow with a couple of wooden huts, which make up the town's alpine center, used for running competitions and biathlons. You'll then have to climb a pretty steep hill again, before the trail heads towards the L504 road. The trail will go downhill to the road, then turn away, only to go downhill to the road again. It will repeat this several times.

Finally, the trail turns away from the road for good, goes up past a hunter's stand in a clearing and then goes down a steep spot (watch for the warning sign) to go over a bridge again. On my last trip here, I wiped-out on this spot and landed on my face, not exactly a clever idea. On another trip, I broke a ski not far away. This is one exciting loipe!
The author checking with the camera if his head is still on...
After the bridge, Tischlertal meets up with the Kunstberg track again, and they both head south through the woods for a short time, going up a small hill.
The stream along the Tischlertal
The tracks make a 90-degree turn to the right and now go down a long, but not too steep downhill, which is fun for medium-experienced skiers.

At the end of that downhill run, it turns sharply left, and then to the right, to come out onto the Kunstberg hilltop meadows.

NOTE: At the last turn before going to the meadows, there is a left-turn marked  with a blue "Skiwanderweg" (unprepared ski trail) sign, with a fairly steep downhill section. You can follow it to the Rose ski slope if you want to add some extra distance to the trip.
The Kunstberg trail
The Kunstberg has a nice lookout above town and of the Rose ski area. It then goes to another high spot with a sharp, short downhill run before going lightly back uphill towards the woods again.

Back in the woods, the track meets up with the way we came previously, but then turns left and leads back to the Mühlenberg trail. You will now come back out onto its own open meadows again, skiing along the hill's southern end, towards the starting point.

There is a house back near the Loipen Start, and a small loop of the trail that goes up the hill behind the house, which is fun when there is enough snow.

So now, you just head back to where the steps lead back to town, take off your skis and head right over to the Heisse Brocken saunas!

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