Hautes Fagnes: two-day trek along Helle and Soor
What do you do when you have two days off in a row, your son is with you and you both really want to take off together with the tent? Right, a little hike! We chose the High Fens as our area of action. Sasha - he will be 8 at the end of November - had never been there before and standing on the highest point in Belgium really appealed to him.
Day 1 - Botrange > Bivouac de la Bergerie
Date: Sunday 31/10/2021 Distance: 16,5 km Ascent: 123m / Descent: 339m Weather: Morning: misty, 7°C, Afternoon: cloudy 11°C, Evening: rein, 6°C
A little after ten we are at the Signal de Botrange. I let Sasha sprint up the steps of the artificial hill and show him the Tranchot pyramid from there. This is the column behind the Butte Baltia that marks the actual Botrange. A few metres further on, for the same reason, is an inconspicuous stone of Prussian manufacture, dating from the time when the East Cantons were still in German-Prussian hands.
It is foggy and there is a strong, fresh wind blowing. We pull the hoods over our heads and put on gloves. Via the viewpoint over the Fagne Wallonne we walk the usual way to Trois Bornes where we find an old Belgian-Prussian border stone. Earlier on there was still a lot of people on the trail, but at the Trois Bornes most of them turn left in the direction of Baraque Michel.
Sasha and I follow the course of the Helle downstream. The duckboard paths in this part are still in good condition, so we progress quickly. Here and there, however, we have to work our way through mud and swampy terrain. This is also the main reason why we do not go via Noir Flohai: the access to it is quite difficult in these conditions.
At the Marie-Anne Libert bridge I let Sasha choose: either we continue straight ahead along the Helle. There are few, if any, boardwalks on the way to the Herzogenhügel and that makes the marshy terrain very tough. Even for adults, this is a difficult part of the hike. The other option is to cross the bridge and walk quickly and easily to the Herzogenhügel via a wide forest path. You'll never guess it, but Sasha chooses option 1! To make sure he knows what's ahead, I explain to him the difficulty of the terrein that awaits us over the next two kilometres. We are going for it!
Halfway through the struggle, we stop to regain strength. But then the hardest part is still to come, at the bottom of the Petit Bongard. It takes us one and a half hours to get to the end of the deciduous forest. Not helped by a fallen tree on the steep bank of the Helle that blocks the path. Without a trekking backpack this is less of a problem, but now it's a struggle. Sasha tells me off about my swearing several times.
Instead of heading towards Herzogenhügel and the Grand Bongard, we take a path that turns left around the Petit Bongard, towards Geitzbusch. This brings us to the eastern flank of the Fagne des Deux Séries. The duckboard path is in good condition there and we progress well. Sasha - understandably - begins to tire. We stop at the hunting tower on the corner of the Allée du Grand Fossé. The breaks will now follow at a rapid pace. Sasha is exhausted, but nevertheless keeps going. The campfire planned for tonight in the bivouac area gives him the courage to continue.
At around 5pm we reach an abandoned hut about 2 kilometres from the bivouac zone. Here we follow a path along the Fossé d'Eupen, a man-made ditch that was meant to divert water from the Gileppe basin to the Soor. In this way, Eupen's textile manufacturers wanted to outdo their competitors from Verviers. We have to walk the last few hundred metres with our headlamp, because it has quickly become dark, partly due to the threatening rain clouds.
There are a few tents in the bivouac area, but still enough space to lie down peacefully. A couple of Germans offer us their place. They are about to leave. Their comrade has apparently just been picked up by an ambulance and their hiking trip is over. The young man in question had injured himself quite badly with an axe. Half an hour later, two work colleagues also arrive at the bivouac area. In the meantime, it has been raining cats and dogs. With the tarp that a colleague brought along, we make a shelter above the campfire. Sasha goes to bed with a full stomach and satisfied that he has had his campfire. We talk some more, but lack of dry wood to keep the fire going makes us return to our tents. By 10pm the last drops are falling.
Day 2 - Bivouac de la Bergerie > Eupen
Date: Monday 01/11/2021 Distance: 11,2 km Ascent: 66m / Descent: 260m Weather: Sunny, 11°C
Slept fantastically well. Only, because of the new winter hour, Sasha wakes up shortly after five and can't help telling me he can't sleep any more. I try to convince him to just close his eyes and think of something nice, but it only works for a short while. It must be about 7 when I finally crawl out of my comfortable sleeping bag. Sasha is already outside fiddling with a firesteel. In the meantime I make sure everything is packed. The tent is quite dirty this morning. The heavy rain last night also left quite a bit of mud splattered on the tent. I put the tent away dirty. There is no point in trying to get the tent clean here. That's work for home.
My colleagues and us end up going our separate ways. We go to Eupen, they go to the car parked at Baraque Michel. After the soldiers' memorial, we turn right and follow a forest road, then turn right again and descend into the Soor valley. The foliage of the deciduous forest is of course beautiful with all those autumn colours. After crossing the Pont de Bergscheid, we now follow the tarmac road along the river to the Soor bivouac area. The light is beautiful and reminds me of my hike in February, then also with sunshine, but also with a layer of snow.
We come to the monument for the deceased workers of the Soor tunnel. The tunnel was built here in the 1950s to allow excess water from the Soor to drain into the Gileppe reservoir. A storm and accompanying flood became fatal for 6 workers and an aid worker. The flood of July 2021 must have been similar. Then, the water rose in the entire region at a rapid pace. Regularly, we see witnesses to the power of the water: here and there, trees and branches are washed against other trees. This becomes even clearer when we walk into Eupen and see damage everywhere. The whole Unterstadt was badly hit. Sasha is visibly touched and impressed. Especially when I tell him that 37 people died in the disaster.
The climb to the Oberstadt is quite steep. Sasha uses his last bit of strength to walk to the station. A little refreshment makes up for this.
We took the train to Verviers and there bus 390 towards Rocherath. The bus stops at the Signal de Botrange. From Eupen, there are trains to Liège and Brussels every hour.
Would you also like to try this beautiful hike? Download the GPX of it here: