G3VGR Soonwaldsteig     Conclusion      

 

Conclusions

The Soonwaldsteig is the shortest trail I've walked in Germany, however, it is a little gem. Walking through Germany's forests is always a pleasurable experience for me and the Hunsrück is an excellent area for hiking, with the bonus of being easily reachable by train from the UK . The mainly dry and sunny September weather added to my enjoyment. Six days seems to be overkill for such a short trail and it can be comfortably reduced to 4 or 5 days. However, I was in no hurry and had plenty of time to stop and linger at various highlights along the trail, so six days were fine for me. Of course, the Soonwald can be included in a longer walk and would make a good extension for the original Saar-Hunsrück-Steig from Idar-Oberstein. As is typical on all German Premiumwanderwege, the signposting is very good indeed, negating the requirement for maps, compass etc. I did have one problem on day 2 due to missing signs for Burg Koppenstein, but this was easily resolved by checking with the Deuter App on my Phone. The walk was quite lonely, probably because I started the first stage on a Wednesday. I only saw one other person who looked like a thru-hiker and he was walking stage 2 in the opposite direction to me. Finding suitable accommodation and also providing for lunch presents a challenge, mainly due to the remoteness of the Soonwald. Accommodation prices were variable and I've noticed costs rising over the years. Most small hotels seem to charge around €50 per night nowadays, but the smaller pensions are usually priced under €30. I had contemplated camping along the trail, but decided against the extra weight penalty. I find it's a nicer experience to visit different small villages with friendly restaurants than eating a lonely meal of rehydrated food under a tarp in the woods. Fortunately, I am able to hold social conversations in German, so being able to interact with the locals adds immeasurably to the experience of hiking in Germany There are various "Wandern ohne Gepäck" packages available, but these are rarely available for solo walkers.

 

The Stages
Just like the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig, there isn't one bad or mediocre stage. The remoteness of some of the stage points (Simmerbach and Ellerspring) requires sufficient time to be available to make it to the next place of accommodation. Ordering a taxi from Ellerspring to Tiefenbach on stage 3 defeated me, resulting in a long walk instead. However stage 2 from Simmerbachtal was no problem due to me continuing on to Gemünden and thus avoiding the walk along the busy B241 from the normal endpoint of this stage to Gehlweiler. Similar problems occurred on a few of the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig stages, where the stage points were a distance away from available accommodation with no public transport available. There are very few useful bus connections near the Soonwaldsteig. All are infrequent with very little or no weekend service.

I enjoyed the scenery all along the trail. Some of the walking was quite sublime. However, both the section between Reinhardsmühle and Koppenstein and the walk down the Morgnbachtal were very impressive and will remain long in my memory.

Equipment
For this walk, I was determined to reduce my packweight to less than 5Kg. As my photographic equipment weighs around a Kilo, it meant drastic reductions would have to be made elsewhere. I discarded items that were deemed either unnecessary or had been unused on previous walks and also reduced the contents of my toiletry, laundry and first aid bags. Further gains were made by packing only one change of clothing instead of the normal two changes. Considering that most of the walking was through forests, which would shelter me from any high winds, I decided to use a poncho for wet weather, which replaced my rain jacket, overtrousers and pack cover. This decision was influenced by the blog of Keith Foskett, a long distance hiker, who recommends the use of a poncho and umbrella. I chose not to take my hiking umbrella as well as the poncho due to difficulty to reconciling its use with trekking poles. The poncho was only used once in light rain on the 5th stage, but it performed adequately. All these changes brought my base packweight down to under 5Kg. A new item was a merino wool baselayer This was very comfortable and a definite improvement over the synthetic tops I normally wear. However, I would still prefer my Rab Aeon tee shirts in hot weather. I also wore merino wool socks which were much more comfortable than the X-Socks I'd worn on the Querweg walk a few months previously.
Aftermath
Little did I know at the time of walking the Soonwaldsteig that this would be my last Fernwanderweg walk for quite a while. I didn't feel too fit in early 2016 and this was compounded by tearing a calf muscle in April, which gave persistent pain for the remainder of the year. The ongoing pain was later diagnosed as Peripheral Arterial Disease, which meant I would always suffer intermittent claudication in the right calf. Also my heart condition was worsening, resulting in breathlessness, fatigue and occasional dizziness, especially noticeable during uphill walking. The cardiac consultant diagnosed aortic stenosis and recommended an aortic valve replacement. Due to these issues, my plans for hill walking in the Montafonertal in July 2016 were cancelled and I had to settle for just a few days combining camping, photography and hiking in Waterfall Country during late September 2016. Getting old is no fun. To remain positive about the future after my impending heart surgery which was scheduled for early 2017, I started planning for a walking holiday to take after my recovery and immediately prior to the Hamradio rally at Friedrichshafen in July 2017. I was torn between returning to the Montafon for day walks in the Rätikon or walking the Altmühltal Panoramaweg. Due to concerns that my calf wouldn't hold up to 9 days on the Panoramaweg, a seventh visit to the Montafon seemed inviting, so I made travel arrangements to return to the Montafonertal for alpine walking and landscape photography.
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