The man with the wheelbarrow
Some might think Klaus Auen has a screw loose. He just laughs about it. The backpack salesman at Globetrotter Cologne knows that all the screws in his favourite piece of equipment for long distance hikes are as tight as needed.
Headstrong but cool: This is how Klaus hiked across the Eifelsteig. | Photo: Archive Klaus Auen
Klaus Auen’s current favourite item is not available at Globetrotter. Neither in the store in Cologne where Klaus works, nor in the online shop. His most important equipment comes from the hardware store, because Klaus does his own thing with wheelbarrows. Last autumn, he wheeled the equipment – weighing almost 20 kilos – across the Ahrsteig, a long distance hiking trail. Over a distance of 120 kilometres, four days long, 4,000 metres of hight. “A first ascent,” assures Klaus with a smile. “Most people I met on the trail probably thought I had a screw loose! They might have been right.”
Klaus Auen, 52 years old, works in the backpack department. His basement is home to 18 models: six touring backpacks between 40 and 100 litres in size, four climbing backpacks, four daypacks, a ski backpack, a light running backpack and two haulbags for big wall climbing. But Klaus prefers to walks with a wheelbarrow of galvanised steel.
Klaus’ wheelbarrow career started in the spring of 2008. “I’m not kidding – the picture of a wheelbarrow appeared in my dream,” says Klaus. The vision took roots in his head and during hikes, he kept thinking about the idea. Klaus decided not to limit himself to interpreting his dream but made a project out of it. First he looked for the perfect wheelbarrow. There are large bowl-shaped wheelbarrows, heavy angular iron versions, sack carts, electric driven wheelbarrows, garden carts and and and – the choice is enormous. Klaus decided to take a tough but narrow version (often used to transport cement) named the Capito Eurocar, test winner in the magazine “Selbst ist der Mann” (The Handyman).
Wheelbarrow bogged down on the Eifelsteig
Klaus celebrated his wheelbarrow premier on the Eifelsteig trail in the autumn of 2008. Over a period of two weeks Klaus trundled along with his steel vehicle covering a distance of 350 kilometres through the low mountain range navigating narrow sections, wide high valleys, forests and swamps. His backpack, tent and mattress were securely tied in his wheelbarrow. A cumbersome trip. On the moor of Hohen Venn, he got his Capito bogged down. Klaus had to put his backpack on, pull the cart out of the mud, and – like Obelix and his menhir – carry it into a navigable area.
Ehm - quick question: How do you come up with such an idea?
“I wanted to get in contact with people,” explains Klaus. His strategy paid dividends. Almost every hiker talked to him about his wheelbarrow, he talked shop with every farmer. The hike became a hype. Newspapers wrote about the odd fellow. Even radio and television reported live from the Eifelsteig. More and more people wanted to accompany his tour. “It was a Forrest Gump feeling,” says Klaus.
But Klaus is equally active without his wheelbarrow and looks back on 40 years of mountaineering experience. When he was eleven years old, his parents took him on his first alpine tour up the Sustenhorn in Switzerland, 3,500 metres high. He started rock climbing when he was a teenager. From Godesberg, where he grew up, he could easily cycle to Stenzelberg to climb. He accomplished routes up to 6b, but finished his climbing career in his early twenties due to a training injury. So he relocated his playground into alpine terrain. Klaus has ascended 34 fourthousanders. The number is not so important for him, he prefers to cite Anderl Heckmair, the first to accomplish the north face of the Eiger: “The experience is all that counts.” Klaus has also climbed Montblanc – and in the afternoon, which is very uncommon. Lots of mountaineers passed him on their way down from the summit and he was alone on the peak. Klaus pitched his tent and enjoyed the sunset as well as a quiet night under a full moon.
Klaus has also often travelled through the Pamir range in Tajikistan and together with friends ascended Pik Korschenevskoy at an altitude of 7,100 metres. He has written a book about his experiences with avalanches, hostile conditions, extreme cold, elation at the peaks and total failure: “Dem Himmel nah”. Expeditions at the limit taught him fundamentals: “The honesty to admit weakness to yourself and to your friends is an important personal quality necessary to survive in the mountains. Failure is not only about weakness, but about the perception of nature and training a sixth sense to recognise possible dangers.”
From social education to the outdoor industry
Wheelbarrows and mountain peaks are only one side of Klaus’ life. He trained in social education and worked with children and the disabled. He worked in an outdoor shop in Bonn for 26 years, freelanced as photographer, outdoor and executive trainer. Klaus can also be spotted in his kayak or canoe, he loves cave tours, ice climbing, snow-shoe hikes, inline skating and extensive hiking trips. He has travelled through several countries in Asia, Arabia, America and Europe.
Eifeelgood - that’s it!
Despite all the globetrotting: “The Eifel is my home”, says Klaus, who was born in Bad Müstereifel. His pseudonym: Eifeelgood - a word game which describes his mood and his home. “The Eifel is so diverse. There are the Maars, volcanic craters filled with water. On the Hohen Venn I always feel as if I’m in the middle of Sweden. I have discovered traces of lynx and I could imagine that wolves will return soon.” And it’s only two hours away from the metropolis Cologne.
Next year, Klaus wants to manoeuvre his Capito through Switzerland. Across the Gotthard, Fruka, Nufensen, Susten and Grimsel. 200 kilometres on old mule tracks, 10,000 metres of total height gain. It sounds immensely tiring but it is fun, assures Klaus. And he adds philosophically: “Sometimes it is good to put some stones in front of yourself in order to experience the slowness.” Outdoor sports should not be so do-or-die, says Klaus. And Klaus’ new means of hiking is more than just a ballyhoo with a wheelbarrow. “I want to take breaks and experience nature with all my senses.”
At the event “GlobeTag Wandern” (GlobeTag hiking) on the 30 May, Klaus will be holding a workshop for long distance hikers in Globetrotter’s store in Cologne. On the 6 July, he is offering mountain training course. Furthermore, if they wish, customers are able to accompany his tours on home ground. Maybe Schamptall Schmitz will come along too. That is the name Klaus has lovingly christened his wheelbarrow companion.