Hiking Calmont (in Winter)
A few weeks ago, my husband and I had a discussion about the topography of the Eifel. Twice a week, I drive to a city over an hour away where I teach a couple of university courses. I’ve noticed, especially the past couple of weeks when we had snow, that there are spots along my drive where the weather is much more severe. So, we got into this topic of the Eifel’s topography and realized that along my route I drive over a pretty decent amount of elevation changes. My husband, who is very research oriented, got way deeper into the geography of the area and was looking at all of these different maps. He noticed that there was a place where the hills of the Eifel basically met the Mosel river. It looked to him like there might be a really nice view in this area as there was a drastic elevation difference, plus it seemed to be on a pretty tight loop in the river. He’s a gifted photographer, though he only does it for fun, and he thought maybe he could get some nice pictures here, so we decided to make an afternoon of it. Little did we know, this particular spot is a VERY popular destination for photographers.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it all the way to the top because I had a panic attack.
Let me explain…
We didn’t have any idea what we were up against when we headed out to Bremm. We knew the Eifel hills backed up to the Mosel River but not much else. We did a few Google searches and saw lots of really beautiful pictures from this particular spot on top of one of the hills. We got an idea of how to get to it, grabbed our coats, and hopped in the car. That’s literally all we knew. We’ve gone hiking in the Eifel before. We’ve done all kinds of trails along the Eifelsteig; we figured this would be the same. Just a lovely walk with lovely views. Not quite.
We didn’t know exactly where to go, so we just got into Bremm and then started following streets through the village that headed up the hill. We eventually started seeing signs for the Gipfelkreuz (which means “cross at the summit”) and we knew that was where all of the other people were taking pictures from. So, we zig-zagged up this road for maybe a mile or so, not far, and then we came to a tight, 180 degree, curve that had a walking path. We parked the car on the shoulder to take a look around. There was a sign that said the Gipfelkreuz was 2.5 kilometers away, and we thought, “Oh, that’s not bad at all!”
So, here you can get an idea of the area. Now, we didn’t do this entire hike. If you look towards the bottom center of the picture, you’ll see that zig-zag road I mentioned. We parked at the last curve you can see and hiked through the trees to eventually pick up that blue trail. You can see, even from here, that this really is an interesting spot. This hill, called Calmont, is massive – especially next to the river down in the valley. And the river’s loop is extremely narrow, so you don’t need a drone or a helicopter or any other flying device to be able to actually see the loop.
The hike started out fine. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground, but it was a thick powdery snow. We had to watch our footing a little bit because there were some slick patches where other people had worn down the snow, but the trail was wide and the slope was relatively mild.
The more we walked, the steeper the trail became. But it was still easy going for the most part. And it didn’t take long for the views to start.
Up until this point, the trail had been wide, and there had been bushes and small plants bordering the edge. But there came a point where the trail suddenly got very steep. And that border disappeared. We were walking at the top of a vineyard that was very high up, very steep, and right on the edge of the trail. No guardrails. No safety of any kind.
That’s an edge right there. Or what I like to call – a freaking cliff. You can’t even see the slope beyond it because it’s basically just straight down. And because there was snow on the ground, I was nervous about getting too close and slipping to my death.
My husband, however, thought I was a total weenie. He was skipping along, tip toeing to the edge, running and sliding in the snow, all while I’m walking like grandma 10 feet behind and begging him to walk on the inside of the trail. The thing is, it was a beautiful – absolutely breathtaking – walk, but I wasn’t prepared for how steep the climb was going to be and how close the trail was going to be to the edge of the hills.
What you’ve seen in the pictures so far is child’s play compared to what came toward the very end of the hike. See, we started a bit late in the afternoon, and I was walking so slowly (because I was terrified of plunging to my death) that my husband pulled up the GPS on his phone so that we would know how much longer we needed to walk. We didn’t want to get stuck out there in the dark, so we wanted to make sure that we timed it right so that the sun didn’t set before we got back to the car. Well, when the GPS said we had only 10 minutes left to walk, the path changed. Drastically. It got so narrow that only one person could walk on it at a time, and you almost had to walk with one foot in front of the other. There was a wall of earth on one side and a drop-off on the other side. My husband kept telling me not to look down and to just walk forwards, which I did, but my head really started to mess with me at that point. That stretch was only 15 feet or so, and when I got across it, I grabbed onto the lone tree that stood there. The path directly in front of me was not a walking path but a climbing path. I had very steep drop-offs to my side, and while the snow was gone from the ground at this point, I started to get vertigo.
Now before you think I’m exaggerating, here is what we found out after we got home. Calmont, the hill we were climbing, is 1,240 feet tall. No one is totally sure how steep it is, but the numbers range between a 50 and 75 degree slope. And it is the steepest vineyard in all of Europe.
This place is not for the faint of heart.
Which is exactly why we didn’t make it to the top. With just 7 minutes to go, we were at a point where the trail was so steep that I was touching my hands to the ground in front of me as we walked. My husband was behind me, to catch me if I slipped, but after we rounded a corner and saw that the final stretch was even steeper than what we had just climbed – and the fact that however high we went, we would have to climb back down – I called it. My head was swimming. My chest was tight.
We turned around.
Unfortunately, the pictures just don’t do it justice. What you can’t really tell in this picture is that my husband is only a few feet away. But the trail was so steep that I was quite a bit higher than he was.
If you want to get a better idea what the trail is like, take a look at this video. It’s in German, but it has really nice footage that captures the area much better than my pictures do.
Needless to say, I was a very happy girl when we got back to that wide path with no cliffs – and even happier when we got to the car.
My husband has lived in the Eifel his whole life, and he had never been here. He was actually quite surprised that he had never even heard of it before. And that’s because it is an exceptionally amazing part of the river with some of the prettiest views I’ve seen yet. (I say “exceptional” because, let’s face it, everything along the Mosel is amazing.)
If you’re an avid hiker or just up for a challenge, take the time to come out here. But do it in the dead of summer when there’s no snow or leaves on the ground. And mentally prepare yourself for the slope.
*Correction – don’t hike this in the dead of summer. We watched a short documentary about Calmont in which they said the name “Calmont” translates to “heißer Berg” or “hot mountain.” The Romans named it such because the hill is made out of slate, and when the sun shines on it, it heats up like a Texas parking lot in August. They’ve recorded temperatures here up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit!
As frightening as this was for me, we plan on going back later this year to try it again. My husband offered to find a way to get to the Gipfelkreuz from the top of the hill – meaning we wouldn’t have to hike up the side of the mountain (I don’t care what my husband says. This thing is a mountain!) – but somehow that just feels like cheating.
On a final note, I totally get the German obsession with hiking shoes now. I always kind of scoffed at them in the stores, but on the way back down, between shouts of, “This isn’t hiking, it’s mountain climbing!” and “Do you realize we are like one inch away from death?!” I heard myself call out to my husband, “So, you know how you never know what to give me for gifts?…….”