With the forester Christian Schmidt I hike in the Bielatal on a part of the new trekking route Forststeig Elbsandstein. This is where the 100-kilometre-long cross-border trail through Saxon and Bohemian Switzerland shows its wild side.
I’m breathing heavy. In front of me someone wipes the sweat off his forehead with his hand. A woman stands behind me, straightens up, takes a deep breath. Slowly we walk half a kilometre up a narrow, steep forest aisle. The spring sun burns unusually hot. “We have reached the height”, calls forester Christian Schmidt to the eight participants from above, “now the fun factor comes to bear”. Wonderful, I guess. The adventure can begin.
I joined a guided short hike on the newly opened Elbsandstein forest footpath in the Bielatal not far from Ottomühle. In the morning Uwe Borrmeister of the Staatsbetrieb Sachsenforst and his partners cut a ribbon near the Pfaffenstein and officially released the first cross-border trekking route in the Elbsandsteingebirge.
It leads in seven daily stages from Schöna on the German-Czech border over 100 kilometres left of the Elbe through the Saxon and Bohemian Switzerland to Bad Schandau. 13 table mountains and more than a dozen vantage points – including Großer Zschirnstein, Hoher Schneeberg, Gohrisch and Papststein – are on the way.
Yellow brush marks the forest path Elbsandstein
Christian Schmidt leads us to the left into the forest. Aspe, his dachshund, which he holds on a leash, waves his tail. I have to search for a while until I recognize the yellow, vertical brushstroke on the tree that marks the forest path. If I was alone here, I’d have missed the turnoff.
For what comes now is not a path, but forest soil: original, natural, wild. It cracks under my shoes. I’m and into ankle-high blueberry bushes, climb over lying tree trunks and the earth rummaged through by wild boars. Suddenly I have a branch in my face. Two more eyes wouldn’t be bad now. A pair for the floor so as not to trip and a pair so as not to miss the next mark.
Trekking is hiking through impassable terrain
“We’re not going to clean up the forest path,” says Christian Schmidt. This is not an extended hiking trail, but a trekking path. Trekking stands for hiking through impassable terrain. The Forststeig is therefore only recommended to experienced hikers who are sure-footed. But a fellow hiker, who wants to write a book about the new trekking route, reassures me: “I have already walked some stretches of the Forststeig. This one’s the hardest.” The other ways are good to recognize and easier to find. Besides, after the 500th hiker, the ground is firm.
We walk further and further up a rock plateau through the Hinterer Großen Schaftwald, past birches and large sandstones. Aspen sniffs attentively on the ground. I recognize wild boar tracks on the left side of the slope and on the right side on the forest floor.
Forststeig also means: vantage points on their own
At a vantage point that has no officialist, because he was not cut free, we look through the branches into the Bielatal over to the Czech side. Single rock needles protrude from the dense forest. The sun makes the fresh spring green of maple, beech, birch and rowan shine. In front of us stands a striking rock tower. Below us it goes steeply down the slope at the edge. It’s absolutely quiet here. We have the view to ourselves. “That’s why you do this to yourself,” says the forester. I’m not sure whether he means trekking or his own strenuous forestry work. Whoever lands here enjoys the silence and gets their head free.
We meet the first hikers at the border plate, a vantage point that can also be reached via easy hiking trails. From here we can see Ostrov, a small town in the Czech Republic, through which the second stage of the forest trail leads. Climbing rocks lie in front of us: the big and the small border tower, the border needle, also the watchful forester we see well. The region on both sides of the Biela is known for its numerous climbing rocks, around 250 peaks can be climbed here.
Our way back runs along the firmly established Hiking trail100 metres downhill until we reach the wide Bielgrundweg, which brings us back to our starting point. The forest path, however, turns right here in the valley of the Biela and continues along old border paths and forest paths to the Rotsteinhütte. If I had my sleeping bag with me, I would spend the night in the trekking hut. Then the short wilderness adventure for today would be perfect. // Angela Zimmerling
Details of the Elbsandstein forestry trail
Start: Schöna train station
Destination: National Park railway station Bad Schandau
Length: 100 kilometers
Duration: 6 to 8 days, 7 recommended daily stages from 8.6 to 20 kilometers
Accommodation: 5 simply equipped trekking cabins (with compost toilet, seating, wood stove and firewood, no mattresses, no drinking water) and 3 bivouac sites with space for 5 two-man tents. A trekking ticket that is available from service partners and Sachsenforst must be validated. More comfortable accommodations in inns and holiday apartments can be reached via smaller detours. Camping in the forest is forbidden.
Opening hours: April to October
Note: demanding trekking route, only for experienced and sure-footed hikers
Website of Sachsenforst about Forststeig Elbsandstein
all photos in this blog article © Angela Zimmerling, ThielPR