Bikepacking the roof of Belgium

Three days of splendid weather. What else to do than to try a bikepacking trip over the GR56 trail in the east of Belgium? Up here at this time of the year the valleys of the small peat rivers turn into yellow flower carpets of Daffodils, the perfect time to head to the roof of Belgium.

This trip has been a little experiment for me as after a few multi day bike trips with friends from youth hostel to youth hostel, this was the first time I actually took my camping gear on my bike. As a seasoned lightweight hiker, it was not difficult to fit all the gear in a few bags on the bike, including almost 4 days worth of food. I didn’t find a safe spot on my bike for my camera though and finally took a small backpack along too, just for my camera and tripod. I’m still overthinking how to take fragile electronic equipment like a camera with me on a mountain bike while keeping it easily accessible, so I could leave the backpack behind in the future.

On a late afternoon I put my feet on the pedals, starting from Botrange, the highest point in Belgium. Red flags hung motionless along the nature reserve on this nearly windless day, indicating a prohibition of access because of the fire hazard by the recent drought of this year’s spring. No problem for me as the GR56 trail just swings along the edge of the nature reserve. Some nice single track followed along the Rur river and a steep ascend out of the valley to pass the little village of Monschau on German territory. Up in the Fuhrsbachtal valley I left the GR56 trail behind and biked into the military domain of Elsenborn. Warning signs along the border announced daily shooting exercises between 8AM and 5PM this week. I was safe to enter the military training area now this evening but became a bit worried for tomorrow morning as I had the plan to bivouac in the area. I was a bit upset too as on the website of the Belgian military free access and no single shooting activity at all was announced for this week, once again erroneous information on their website.

The Bieley rock outcrop offered a magnificent view over the Perlenbachtal valley. I made camp in the nearby forest. The next morning a thin layer of fog draped the valley and the Daffodils meadows where wrapped in a layer of frost. While breaking up camp I suddenly heard gun shots in the distance. It was exactly 8AM and the sounds of the shooting continued for at least one hour. Luckily my area was safe and I slowly left the military domain while enjoying the morning sunrays on the yellow flowered banks of the Perlenbach river. Later during the day I biked through the rather desolate Olefbachtal valley, followed by the valley of the Holzwarsche river with the latter definitely being the ice on the cake regarding the wildflowers.

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A bit too much asphalt to my taste appeared under the tires along the Our river and around Burg-Reuland. I finally found a nice bivouac spot at the edge of a forest about 10km before Sankt-Vith. I felt exhausted that evening after a day biking a distance of 88km through the hilly terrain, especially since this trip was the first time I touched my bike again after my return from Patagonia. Now I could finish the trip tomorrow after 3 days instead of the 4 days I had anticipated for.

The last day offered more pedaling through quiet forests, flowery meadows and some challenging single tracks. Finally I took an alternate route along the nature reserve of Hautes Fagnes where the GR56 follows some hiking trails forbidden for bikers. At the end of the day I returned back to Belgium’s highest point after a first nice bikepacking journey that definitely asks for more.

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Club H-A through a snow loaden Hautes Fagnes

Last weekend two groups of forum members from Hiking Advisor went for a snowshoe overnighter through the Belgian Hautes Fagnes. Me and five other enthusiasts chose a longer trip through the unspoilt valley of river Helle and along the burnt trees of Geitzbusch and Noir Flohay which are still standing like ghosts in the fenns after the wildfire of 2011. We broke trail once more along river Statte and had an exciting wild camp in the forest along this little river. The next day we ascended the plateau again through the valley of river Hoegne and searched our way through long lasting snowfall back to our starting point at Centre Nature near Belgians highest point of Signal de Botrange. It had been snowing a lot earlier during the week and snowshoes proved to be indispensable on the higher grounds. There is nothing better than spending the weekend in good company and in a wonderful surrounding to get in shape for my upcoming trip through Patagonia.

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