Distance 43,8 km
Elevation gain 1889m
Low gain 1889m
Highest point 1363m (Hohneck)
Route on Outdooractive
It was the first time I visited the Vosges mountains, and the first time I did a multi day winter hike in the mountains. Something that was truly missing in my hiking experience, I realize now. The Vosges are middle-high mountains, situated in the East of France. It’s the first chain of mountains worth mentioning if you travel from Belgium to the Alps. In the East, the charming valley of the Rhine river, divides the Vosges from the Black Forest, a similar middle-high mountain chain. I’m told that the Vosges’ primary rock types are granite and sandstone, but I didn’t get to see any of those.
Robbe, Jochem and I spent a Sunday evening loading the car. Not an easy thing to do: trying to fit five big backpacks and pairs of snowshoes into a single car, while keeping seatings for five big guys. We rented the extra necessary equipment: RAB and Birdland cold weather down sleeping bags and MSR snowshoes. K2/De Kampeerder, the Antwerp based expert store for hiking gear, provided us the gear. Check out their website: www.kampeerder.be. Meanwhile the two others, Sam and Sam, where playing a volleyball match in Brussels. After their match we picked them up and drove to Thionville, France, where we stayed for the night.
Early in the morning we left the village. At noon we arrived at the starting point: Col De La Schlucht, Vosges. We were welcomed by a bright sun and a clear sky, that accompanied us during the entire hike.
Day 1 – 9,6km
At noon we left the parking lot nearby Col De La Schlucht on our regular hiking boots. The first part of our hike took us from Col De La Schlucht to the Hohneck, the third highest mountain from the Vosges with a height of 1363m. At the peak of the Hohneck it was time to try on the snowshoes, continue the trail over the crowded ski resort Kastelberg, and go down towards the Refuge De Rainkopf. Here we made a steep descent through the woods, to the lake of Blanchemer. There were few trails and no paths visible. Quite a challenge to end the first hiking day.
Down at the Lac Du Blanchemer we made camp and set up our tents on the 90 cm deep layer of snow. Not a pleasure thing to do with nearly frozen hands, I can assure you. We build a very welcome campfire at the Chalet de Blanchemer, while in the meantime, the temperature was as low as -5°C at 8:30 PM. Coming from a moderate maritime climate ourselves, we we’re heading straight into a very cold night.
Day 2 – 17.3 Km
Our alarm clock woke us up at 7 AM, and the entire tent appeared to be frozen. We quickly got dressed and entered the cabin. After a savoury breakfast of nuts, salami and cheese, that we carried with us, and some freshly brewed coffee, we departed again at 8:30 AM. We climbed through the woods, to the Col between the Rainkopf and the Rothenbachkopf. We walked along the Rothenbachkopf and Le Schweisel before going down through ferme auberge Shaffert to the village Kruth.
Once arrived in Kruth we took a well deserved hour to sit down and rest, at the stairs of the church. This allowed the tent to dry and for us to wait until the local store opened. Meanwhile we came to the painful conclusion that our faces were all sunburned. Yeah, sunscreen appears to be kind of important when you hike in snowy landscapes.
Around 3:30 PM we continued our hike, with a bottle of port, a brand new pack of coffee and some chocolate. The next one and a half hour were spent climbing towards abri Du Tal, where we ended our hike for the day around 5 PM.
Was it the Port? Or simply bad luck? Robbe managed to get a deep cut above his brow, when trying to split a rather sturdy branch with an ax. Luckily we brought a first aid kit with some adhesive strips. Something I always bring with me on hikes. That night we managed to sleep in a small, 5 square meter cabin, with five big, tall lads. Sam and Jochem slept on top of the picknick table, Robbe and Sam slept underneath and I was laying down in front of the door, next to the table. Around the abri Du Tal was a layer of 40 cm deep snow, and at 8 PM we measured -8°C. Would we be able to keep the abri warm enough for the night?
Day 3 – 16.7 Km
Oddly enough, we slept well and kept the cabin temperature up to a comfortable 19°C. Not a freezing night for us, this time. Around 9 AM we started our last hiking day and went to the village Wildenstein. Here we refreshed our drinking water with the help of a local, and brushed our teeth at the town hall. Accompanied by a fresh mint breath and clean, shiny teeth we left the village behind and headed North, to the Col De L’Etang. We ignored the paths and trails, and climbed straight towards the Col between the Rothenbachkopf and the Rainkopf.
At this point unfortunately one of my rented snowshoes broke. The broken snowshoe caused me to sink one foot deeply in the snow, with each step. It was an exhausting and frustrating day for me, making me appreciate more the fact that we were walking over compressed snow for most of the day. Later, when I returned the snowshoes to the store I was offered 25 euros as a compensation for the troubles. Incredible, I broke something and got offered a refund. I refused the refund anyway, as I was already happy that I didn’t needed to pay extra for the damages. But still, great service.
Now back to the end of the trail. We chose to hike along the top of the Rainkopf and Kastelberg, ignoring the Hohneck. At 4:20 PM we arrived happily, but extremely tired at the parking lot were the car was parked. This was possibly the most beautiful but also most exhausting multi day hike I had ever done.
After some rest we decided to drive to Nancy and rent an Airbnb for the night. In the center of the city we found a nice three bedroom apartment for a good price, where we were able to get a nice hot shower and relax in the suite. After dinner we drank a well earned glass of wine or beer and went to sleep. Staying up late and discovering Nancy’s night life wasn’t an option with the five of us being so exhausted.
Day 4 – Nancy
We woke up early and started exploring Nancy. At the market, at the Place Charles III, a nice chunk of mountain cheese was bought for on the road. We passed the Place Stanislas and had breakfast in a local bakery, close by this square. Later on it was time to start our drive back home.
The Vosges mountains are a stunning location to hike during the winter. Next time though, I’ll be avoiding the area around the Hohneck and Kastelberg. I’ll try to abandon the hardened snow paths entirely and make my next trip even more unique. I would love to hike along the top ridge of the Rothenbachkopf, Batteriekopf and the Le Schweisel, towards the Grand Ballon.
Hiking in the snow can become very comfortable with the right equipment: snowshoes, gaiters and good, watertight hiking boots are essential. Note though, that all extra activities like cooking, setting up the tents and so on, get a lot more intensive and exhausting during winter.
But in the end, I am already looking forward to the next winter hike.
Coming up next: How to pack for a three day winter hike!