Last Saturday, 19 guest researchers from different research institutes in Dresden and their spouses and partners spent an adventurous day exploring the heights above the Kirnitzschtal in the ‘Sächsische Schweiz’ (Saxon Switzerland) on a circular route around the ‘Affensteine’ (monkey stones), with stops at the ‘Idagrotte’ (Ida’s grotto) and ‘Carolafelsen’ (Carola’s rock) viewpoints on our way.
We met at 10 a.m. inside the main station and used public transport (suburban train S1 to Bad Schandau and bus no. 241 towards Hinterhermsdorf) to reach our trailhead, the ‘Beuthenfall’ in the Kirnitzschtal.
As a first highlight on our train to Bad Schandau, which was crowded with other day trippers like us, a stag party made for some great entertainment and very literally allowed our group to “get in touch” with the German locals… ;-) The groom-to-be, in full make-up and dressed in a neon-pink short dress, a green feather boa and sturdy knee-high socks(!), roamed the train with his highly motivated group of male friends. His challenge was to collect as many kisses and donations as possible. Laid-back as our group was, we all ‘supported’ the groom-to-be and joined in the fun, which made him rather successful, to say the least! His friends provided some chanting and banter, and importantly were well-equipped with lipsticks and cameras to document all the (many many) lipstick marks received.
Once we had recovered from the laughter on the train, after having each and every one found a seat on the bus and reached the ‘Beuthenfall’, it was time for a group shot – a good idea to do this early on, it turned out! Then we started our way up the hills which turned out to include many wooden stairs, which for some reason appeared to get steeper and steeper, until we finally reached our first stop. By that time, everybody had more than warmed up, resulting in no complaints whatsoever about the cloudy sky and pleasant temperatures (for a hike!) of around 17 degrees…! :-) At the ‘Idagrotte’, a natural cave and platform, which is part of the ‘Frienstein’ rock formation, we had a well-deserved first rest and thoroughly enjoyed the breather and some light snacks, topped off with a beautiful view over the Kirnitzschtal.
When we continued on, our tour temporarily took an unexpected turn and became more of an adventure than we had planned: Within just the few minutes that it took us all to climb back out of the Idagrotte, our group had suddenly split up in two. Unaware of the separation, one part of the group with about 12 internationals took a wrong turn. It took almost half an hour for the mishap to become detected, because each of the groups tried – in vain – to catch up with the other, both in full belief that the respective others were only slightly ahead of them! Once the mistake had been found out, the detoured had to turn back and eventually joined up with the rest of the group. Luckily the entire group took it with a laugh and agreed that the landscape made the extra mile (and the wait, respectively) worth it. At the Affensteinplateau, the group was happily reunited and we had reached our main resting point, with another fantastic view to the South and a breathtaking backdrop to take more photos.
On our way back to Beuthenfall, where the bus picked us up again later, we only stopped briefly one last time at the high point of our hike, the ‘Carolafelsen’, because the clouds had thickened and temperatures dropped noticeably after our long break on the plateau. After the last lookout, our route lead us right down into the adventurous ‘Wilde Hölle’, a steep rocky path narrowly lined by rock walls, which required us to step carefully and had us ducking and climbing over rocks, iron stairs and holding onto iron handles in some places. The pictures taken in ‘Wilde Hölle’ are proof not only of the impressive rock formations on display, but also of the good group spirit and cooperative effort. Looking back at the bottom, the Wilde Hölle was deemed another definite highlight and, on top of being great fun, a nice challenge before we reached our finish line for the day.
Heading back to the city on another crowded train, as if to round up our hiking story, we caught one last glimpse of the stag party from earlier in the day (who stood waiting at Stadt Wehlen station when our train passed through). Exhausted but happy on the ride back, many of the group expressed their desire to do more hiking tours in the future, some claiming that “most researchers do not get enough exercise anyway” – well, we don’t know about that last bit…! But we certainly agree that the hike was absolutely worth the effort and are looking forward to do another hiking tour in this area soon!