Schwemmkanalkriteriumposted by polylux on Feb. 1, 2019, 2:39 p.m.
We finally did our long-planned bike trip along the Schwarzenberg Canal (de: Schwarzenbergscher Schwemmkanal cz: Schwarzenberský plavební kanál), a canal system used to raft wood from the Bohemian Forest to the Danube (via other rivers). We stayed overnight somewhere deep in the vast forest on a small clearing and continued via Germany back to our starting point on the next day.
A good year prior to the actual trip I stumbled upon the German Wikipedia article about the canal system. Curious about the construction itself, I kept on reading when I eventually found out that the present remains of the canal are now accompanied by a hiking and bike trail.
Always looking for great destinations I immediately started planning a trip along the trail. The proposed tour starts in a small corner of Germany, leads into the Czech Republic and ends in Austria - all the way in a slight downward slope. Around fifty kilometers in total.
"Good starting point for our trip", was my first thought. Obviously we'd be doing it reversed to have a constant climb. Another important point to me was the idea to stay overnight in the vast Bohemian forest and make it a two day trip. Hence I looked for ways to extend the route and find possible locations for a camp. A pivotal element in the former canal system is the Plöckensteinersee wiki (de), an impounded glacial lake that provided most of the water for the rafting. A great place to set up a camp for many reasons: the lake apparently lies well above the canal which will give us a nice climb finish for day one. It is also quite a detour from the proposed route, hence fitting for a two day trip extension. And finally it'd be a great setting for a night outdoors.
The next day would then start with a great long downhill passage back to the canal where we'd follow it into Bavaria and then back to our starting point in one of Upper Austria's northernmost corners. With this rough sketch I turned to my usual suspects of tour buddies who were unsurprisingly immediately hooked.
Finally the trip drew near and the buddies arrived the evening before. After a - well, not too unexpectedly - long night, many drinks and short sleep, we attached the equipment to the bikes and made our way to the Mühlkreisbahn, a branch railway line that would get us to Aigen-Schlägl, terminal station and starting point for the tour. The village was wisely chosen as it is home to a great brewery and restaurant - something we'd definitely crave for on our return the next day.
En route to Aigen-Schlaegl - ...still recovering from the night before.
Off at the line's terminal stop and a quick restock on supplies, we had a last Leberkässemmel snack on the village's main square. Right after leaving Aigen-Schlägl steep climbs welcomed us to our tour all the way up to the Czech-Austrian border. A few hundred meters after crossing it, a rather spacious crossing of two regional bike paths framed the entrance to the canal.
At The Canal - Get moving to dodge these super-size horse flies
Along the Canal
This is also the point where the vast Bohemian forest unfolds in front of you and a small gravel path accompanying the canal drags you further in. Following the meanders soon made us lose our general orientation: after quite some time we reached a tavern, surprised to find all prices in euros. We've been back on the Austrian side of the border for about an hour.
Ahead of time, we settled for some snacks and refreshing beers, enjoying the view, replenishing our water supplies.
Oh hey, a tavern! - Wonder they serve beers?
A couple of hops boosts later we continued our path along the canal. The following section of the route had increased bike traffic due to the proximity to the Lipno lake, one of the largest tourist/recreational regions of CZ and a lot of "ahois" exchanged with czech bikesters. In general the canal path is a lot of fun to ride even for longer distances - it is mostly shaded by the forest (big plus for hot summer days) and is broad enough to allow for side-by-side riding and chit-chatting in group rides.
West of Nová Pec on the western end of the Lipno lake the canal diverts back deeper into the Bohemian forest. The small hamlet of Jelení is home to one of the most prominent structures of the canal: in order to cross an inevitable hill along its course, the waterway is conducted through a tunnel over the distance of about half a kilometer. The tunnel itself being inaccessible we had to take the road over the hill (spoiler: steep climb!) and then take a left to get back to the canal. Right after that the 'famous' upper portal of the tunnel can be found where we took a small break to scout around and peek into the structure.
A couple of kilometers after, at some rather nondescript crossroads we left the canal for this day and entered the looong climb towards the canal's main water source - the Plöckensteinersee.
At the Lake
The impounded lake is accessed via an exhaustive climb to about 1100 meters ASL. What an amazing and rewarding place as we got there in the late afternoon finding the lake and its mountainous backdrop enfolded in a slowly setting sun. We decided to stay for a while and have a quick snack at one of the wooden benches and tables around the waterside. Though being very inviting, we resisted the urge to dive into the lake as it is strictly forbidden and a park ranger station only about 50 meters away. The ranger station was also the reason we discarded the lake as a possible camping site as wild camping is generally forbidden and we didn't want to risk being woken by an officer the next morning. Usually astronomic fees are charged for that in European national parks.
Lake Ploeckenstein - Enjoying the great scenery around the lake
Instead, we turned the bikes around and went back a bit along the path we had previously climbed. Not too far away from the lake is one of the rare spots where it is allowed to pitch a tent.
Get Set for the Night
We put up our tents at Koňský vrch, ('Horse Peak') and decided to use a small wooden shelter with a bench and table in it to serve as our kitchen, dining and living room. The designated tour chef nearly brought his entire kitchen equipment and fridge contents with him, additionally we had some bottles of wine and a 'cask' of Lagavulin. We had a great dinner of fresh pasta carbonara with well accompanying wines, followed by crêpes as dessert and a fine glass of whiskey to top the evening off. Just as you would expect a night out in the wilderness. :)
Fully stuffed by the main course already, we kept the ingredients for the crêpes for the breakfast and went straight on to the Lagavulin.
On the trail next to our dining room the last visitors made their way back as night drew near. Around 9pm the last hikers passed by, then we had the forest all to ourselves. What an amazing feeling. With no roads, no settlements, nothing nearby it is absolutely dark and quiet - just animals and a starry sky.
We allowed ourselves another glass of whiskey as we enjoyed the warm and silent night.
The following day started quite early. Not that we were fully rested but the sun hit us quite early and started to heat up the tents. The tour chef got up ahead of us, by the time we tumbled out of our shelters he got already back with fresh water from a nearby spring.
Back at the refuge we were quite happy to have kept the crêpes for this day as they made for a perfect breakfast. We knew the trip for the day was a bit shorter and mostly downhill so we took our time enjoying the sunny morning and having good laughs about the night before.
Breakfast and the Tour Chef - Credit where credit's due
Once packed, we made our way back to the canal route. The track there meanders nicely around Vàclavova Hora peak, slowly and steadily into Germany. At some point we found out that we were actually following the infamous EuroVelo 13 aka Iron Curtain Trail for some time, a trans-european bike trail running from Scandinavia all the way across Europe up to the Black Sea. Closing in on the Czech-German border was already visible from afar: still the remnants of the past were clearly there. Wide open and perceptible 'dead' areas then made sure to have a clear line-of-sight on whatever wanted to cross borders there. If you ever want to see the good reasons for a united Europe, go there.
After about another kilometer of no-man's-land, the Bavarian village of Haidmühle appears, expectedly offering heaps of taverns. We crossed it to get onto the Adalbert Stifter Route, a solid gravel path running along a former railway line. This got us all the way to Frauenberg where we decided to follow some more gravel paths back into Austria instead of riding along the more busy federal road.
Navigating through the dense forest and crossing the German-Austrian border we finally found ourselves in the village of Schwarzenberg. From there, there's no alternative but to use the federal road back - which wasn't really an issue as we had only light traffic. Passing trough Klaffer and Ulrichsberg, we recognized the backside of the ridgeline we enjoyed the day before as the confining scene at the lake.
The appetite for a big meal grew big breezing trough the last kilometers of our trip. We entered Aigen-Schlägl aiming for the Stiftskeller - an excellent place to eat attached to the local brewery.
Refueling - Good and solid meals & drinks at the Stiftskeller
Fully stuffed we dragged our paunches and gear back to the railway where we enjoyed the cozy ride back to Linz. We rolled the last meters back reliving all the great and hilarious moments from the trip.
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