A thick blanket of snow has settled over the northern Black Forest. Up here near Aichelberg, the world now seems quieter - as if packed in absorbent cotton. Ideal for a snowshoe hike, thinks Black Forest guide Jürgen Rust and shows us a real insider tip.

For the first hundred meters we hear only the crunching of the snow under our shoes - no one wants to disturb the silence. The world around us is white. The trunks of the meter-high trees are covered by a thin layer of ice. Their branches bend under the heavy hoods of snow. Nothing can be seen of the forest floor itself. It is buried under a soft, white layer. Small waves in the snow indicate bushes and small trees. I wonder if small animals are hibernating under them. I'm just about to ask our guide Jürgen Rust this question when a large pile of snow plops onto my head. 

Laughing, Jürgen comes forward from behind the tree he has just shaken. He has been a Black Forest guide for ten years and still has a lot of fun doing it. "Here in the northern Black Forest, the six-kilometer Aichelberg Trail is a real insider tip," the guide reveals to us, "only locals are on the trail here, if at all." And indeed, we seem to have the forest to ourselves on our two-hour tour. Only by the tracks in the snow can we see who else is hopping and jumping through the forest besides us.

The basics

Be sure to wear warm, waterproof shoes. Snow shoes are not real shoes at all. They are plastic frames about 20 centimeters wide and 60 centimeters long that you strap under your hiking boots. Thanks to the so-called front prongs or claws on the underside of the frame, you have a firm grip both uphill and downhill. Now still the two telescopic poles adjusted to hip height and then we look at Jürgen expectantly. "Just walk normally, just more wide-legged than usual," he instructs and off we go. And indeed, it is quite easy. Positive extra: using the poles makes the relaxed walk feel twice as sporty. 

We plow through the forest in small curves. I can't get enough of the white wonder. As a city kid from the north, snow is a rare and mostly short pleasure for me. If my hands didn't get so cold when taking photos without gloves, I would stop at every corner and take a picture. Of the long icicles, for example, that have formed on the piles of wood at the edge of the path or the spruce trees coated as if with icing. But so I go completely in this moment, enjoy the spectacle of nature and the almost steady, meditative walking.

23,000 kilometers

During a tea break, Jürgen draws our attention to the signposts that are attached to the trees at regular intervals. Since he has led us so purposefully through the forest, I didn't even notice them before, but now I see them everywhere. "There are over 23,000 kilometers of hiking trails in the Black Forest," our guide tells us. And you shouldn't leave them, especially in winter, so that you don't disturb the animals' winter rest. "And look here, all the markers have a name. If you give this to the emergency call, the rescue immediately knows where the help-seeker is." "So you could go hiking without a guide without worrying, right?" asks Felix. "Sure," nods Jürgen, "but you only see what you know, and we guides know quite a bit."    

As if to prove it, Jürgen points into the forest with his telescopic stick. Herringbone patterns are carved into the trunk of several closely spaced pines: "This is how resin used to be extracted," he explains. After the bark was cut off, an elongated drip groove was carved, with cuts running diagonally upward from the left and right. As a wound reaction, the pines released resin, which was collected with a glass at the bottom of the carvings. "Harzerei" was an important source of income for the poor mountain towns at that time. During World War I, several thousand kilograms were extracted here in the northern Black Forest." "But there is another reason why you should walk with us Black Forest guides," Jürgen says. Quick as a flash, he pulls his stick up and bumps a branch loaded with snow with it: "You just have more fun with us." 

The Black Forest Guides from the Black Forest Nature Park Central/North offer tours all year round. From adventure tours in summer to sunrise snowshoe tours in winter, there is something for every taste and every condition. More info is available here.


Copyright cover photo: The Aichelberg Trail in the northern Black Forest is a real insider tip © TMBW/ Anna Monterroso Carneiro

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