Sunday, 29 January 2017

Sonnenloipe Cross-Country Trail, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany

Click here for route map
Length 4.1 km (2.5 miles), terrain: small hills, 77 meters rise
Connects into the 8-km Spiegelthalerloipe for more distance

It got wintery in Germany again, so instead of risking my neck sliding along the streets in my running shoes, I switched sports and headed out to the cross-country skiing trails in the nearby Harz Mountains. Everyone who has tried cross-country knows that it's the perfect winter sport for every trail runner: out in nature with no lift-lines or big crowds, just you and the white hills stretching out to every horizon.
Frosty bushes along the trail
And another great thing is it exercises your arms as much as your legs. So it's even better training than running, you can't beat that!

So I headed to the old mining town of Clausthal-Zellerfeld with two other runners looking for winter trails. We found it in the wonderful, prepared cross-country tracks heading out from town. The snow was deep and in perfect condition, the sky was blue and the town was charming: it was heaven!
Sonnenloipe trail sign
The first track that we tried was the Sonnenloipe (Sun track), a 4-kilometer-long, fairly easy trail that connects into the harder, 8-km Spiegelthal trail. This route describes the Sonnenloipe alone, but can easily be extended by following the red markers for the Spiegelthal trail.

Unusual for Germany, the Harz towns were built of wood, and Clausthal-Zellerfeld's wooden houses give it a feel of being in another country. The town's mines once made it rich, as you can see from the two huge churches, but the mines are now history, and the town has fallen into a Snow-White sleep, kept alive by a bit of tourism and a small technical university.
In town
The Sonnenloipe is at the north end of town. The entrance is at the turn-in for a pair of supermarkets, Aldi and Rewe. The turn-in is just before the route-241 road leaves town to head north to Goslar.

Immediately after turning into the driveway for the supermarkets, you'll see a smaller way branch off it to the right, and then head parallel to the parking lot up the hill. In just 200 meters, you're at the trailhead. The Sonnenloipe trail is well-marked. It's a fairly easy trail, so it's marked in blue signs (medium trails are in red, and hard trails are marked in black). Usually there is one direction which is the right way around, so there aren't too many encounters underway. 
At the top of the first downhill
Just turn right and follow the blue track-markers northwards as they count-down the kilometers till the end. After a hundred meters, you'll come to the first long downhill spot, which ends in a fairly sharp left-hand turn. A bit of a surprise for beginners.
On the trail
Then it flattens out for a while, then crosses a dip where a stream flows in warmer weather. Just enjoy the sun glittering off the snow crystals and the seemingly endless fields and woods. This is pure nature!
Another downhill spot
Cross-country skiing is easy to learn, although you can expect to spend a lot of time falling on your butt on the first weekend. But after that, you're on your way. We had one beginner with us, but she was ready to confront every new challenge, and she ended up mastering each track we tried, including some harder ones on the following day.

The Sonnenloipe trail continues with a few zi-zags between the fields. Just after the 3-kilometer-mark, you'll come to a wooden farm-shed. This is where the 8-kilometer Spiegelthal trail takes off for a lot more adventure (it's a red trail), heading off to the right.
Runners at the shed
If the Sonnenloipe is enough for you, just follow the signs pointing to the left, which will take you towards some houses on a hilltop, and next to them a sledding hill with a little ski lift, just south of the trail, across Spiegelthaler Stra├če.

Head up the tracks to the hill next to the houses, then it's all downhill from there to the starting place. Now there's a substitute for running that doesn't feel second-class to the real thing!
Successful end of a cross-country day in the Harz!

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