When I went back to Dresden in July to finish up some archival work and to celebrate my birthday, I stayed with German friends. One of them grew up just outside Dresden during the DDR and has fond memories of hiking with her family in the "Saxon Switzerland" (Sächsische Schweiz), so after a leisurely breakfast on Saturday we caught the train out to Bad Schandau, a famous spa town on the Elbe River. We took the ferry across the river and then rode on the only Strassenbahn in a German national park, the Kirnitzschtalbahn, to Beuthenfall. At exactly 1pm we set out into the woods and up.
Häntzschelstiege" (link has video). Among those attempting the 160m (525ft) ascent that afternoon, we were the only ones without helmets, harnesses, or gloves. My friend had made this climb so many times that she finds such accouterments unnecessary: the key was to hold on tightly and to only move one hand or foot at a time.
I won't lie: the climb was heart-pounding. It was, as my mother's family says, "truly dangerous." The edited, eight-and-a-half-minute video in the link above gives you an idea of the climb up the cliffs and crevices to the plateau above. Once on top, however, the paths were more or less level and the views were gorgeous. We took some photographs to celebrate our achievement and then hiked to a popular lookout point to eat lunch (left). It's hard to believe that whole area used to be under water.
Next on the agenda was the Idagrotte, a cave carved out of the sandstone first by water and then by wind. Eventually we came to the "never-ending" wooden staircase dooown off the plateau. We hiked across the valley and then up to the second largest arch in the park, known as the Kuhstall (Cowpen). After stopping for ice cream we clambered up the Himmelsleiter (Heaven's Ladder) to one more vista point, where a medieval castle once stood. (They apparently kept their cows in the formation below, hence the name.) I found the sight of so much green beautiful. Then it was time to walk down the windy slope back to the Kirnitzschtalbahn stop from which we had set out 4 hours earlier. It was 5pm, and we were spent, but what a wonderful afternoon it had been!