Westweg Day 1: Pforzheim – Birkenfeld
It can be said that the Westweg trail through Schwartzwald (Black Forest) is the origin of all German long-distance hiking trails, becoming the first designated path of its kind back in 1900. Since then, the trail has grown to cover a distance of 177 miles (285 kilometers) — starting in Pforzheim in the north and ending in Basel in the south.
Dave and I were aware of the existence of Black Forest for a while. Between my geography classes long long time ago, and TV series Grimm in which several of the characters traveled to Black Forest to recover a valuable artifact, we would be able to pinpoint it on the map but if you asked us just three days ago, we would not be able to name any of the trails that cross the forest, and we would tell you we had no immediate plans to hike in the area. It’s incredible how quickly things can chance.
Three days ago, Dave and I arrived to Le Châble, small Swiss town near well known ski resort Verbier. It was our first day on The Haute Route, one of the most scenic treks in Europe. We intended to spend a night at Le Châble and continue on walking the trail. Two things happened that night. The cold we were both fighting took a turn for worse and instead of much needed rest we coughed our lungs out and a prediction of seven-day-long streak of severe thunderstorms showed up on our weather forecast. We live in Seattle so we know how to put a rain jacket on. Rain would not easily derail our plans to hike a trail we were both super excited about but lightening is a beast we both prefer not to cross a path with, and especially not high on the exposed mountain ridges. Plan B was needed.
After a day of researching a variety of trekking options, plan B landed us on a train to Pforzheim, the beginning of the Westweg trail. We chose it for several reasons. The weather was perfect. Not too hot. Not too cold. Not much rain predicted. It’s length would allow us to hike the entire trail. Several other treks competed for our attention but most of them were simply too long for us to complete this year. Our time in Europe is running out and so the third thing that really spoke for Westweg Trail was the simplicity of the transportation to the trailhead which merely meant hopping on a train and making few connections. The entire process could have been completed in one day. We took a break Basel, city known for many internationally renowned museums, oldest Swiss university, and commitment to humanism, and arrived to Pforzheim shortly after noon the day after we started the trip.
From Pforzheim we followed signs and red blazes to Kupferhammer, a twenty minute walk to where the trail officially starts at a large gate. There are 12 of these gates along the trail and at each you can collect a stamp. Those who collect all 12 stamps will receive a gift from the trail association. I stamped my wander card and we set out for the adventure.
Today was just a short walk to warm up our legs. We walked slightly over three miles to a small town Birkenfeld where we booked a room. We were happy to hear camping was permitted along the trail, there are even some very simple shelters available and we hope to use them as much as we can but today we still had some planning to do and we needed wi-fi for that purpose.
It was a simple walk taking us through a green belt to small town and then dropping to another green belt before we emerged at our destination. After weeks in the Corsica and in the Alps where every step had to be watched I appreciated the ease of the terrain, the simple act of putting one leg in front of another while letting my eyes wander and my mind to relax.
Westweg Trail was not on my list of trails to hike in any near future, I admit that, but I’m excited to be here non the less. It’s a trail we haven’t heard much about and we haven’t seen a gazillion of pictures of, and so every day will be a surprise. I like that a lot.
NOTES: August 19, 2019
Information Center in Basel does not have much information about the trail at all. They offered us a map of the forest, which was not detailed enough, did not indicate where the trail leads through, and it was in German.
Information center in Pforzheim has tons of information about the trail, including a brochure with the trail facts (available in English) and a more detailed map which is available for purchase for €12.99 They also have a brochure with all available accommodation along the trail. They would write down names and phone numbers if you have a particular place in mind, or you can purchase the booklet for €7.50
We secured cheap room in Birkenfeld in hotel Taormina. The lady at the reception desk did not speak English so check in was quite interesting but we managed.
There is a full size grocery store in Birkenfeld. Prices are reasonable if you need to resupply.