Before we left for Austria, I was online with one of my favourite stores, Stanfords. The home of maps, for anywhere. So I was able to procure a set of maps for the area around Schladming, I was also able to enjoy evenings with maps spread out across the table, looking at routes, ridges and mountains. Finger tracing footpaths and tracks with strange German names and descriptions. I picture in my mind the places I want to visit, wondering how close to reality the walks I do will be. This holiday was not a disappointment, the whole area was a feast, for the eyes and for the walking. After we arrived, regrouped, and let Mondays rain wash away the blues, on Tuesday I headed for the Guttenberg Haus. To follow a route climbing up a steep valley at the Eastern end of the Dachstein group, even from the car park the views were good back across to the other side of the valley.
I started out alone on the path, which rambles through a small hamlet/farm, before leading into the woods and to the first hut of the day, a restaurant for the less serious climber. I hope the pregnant woman and old man who passed me were heading there, I didn’t see them the rest of the day and I was taking my time and setting a nice slow stroll of a pace as well as plenty of stops for pictures and gazing around.
The restaurant (I wish I knew its name) provided this bench, to try to trap unwary walkers. It would be too easy to sit and relax, to enjoy a glass of the cold mountain beer and sit on the terrace to enjoy the view. So I didn’t stop, I strolled coolly past and carried on out of the trees into the pit of the valley. Following the great gouge left by the snow melt.
The path climbs and zigzags to the left of this massive gully all the way to a glacial moraine. Views keep expanding, the air clears as the cloud lifts, and the true size of these hills becomes apparent. South the Alps stretch away further into Austria, well worth the effort of climbing up here. Despite the popularity of the area there seems to be space for everyone, and it wasn’t till higher up that I passed a group of school children heading for the hut for lunch. They cheated and had their bags taken up on the small cable-box(? See the picture) used for ferrying supplies.
As you climb the nature of the land changes, everything starts to hunker down in the shadows of the mountains. Things cling to small spaces to grow. You can see the way winter attacks the land, and then when the spring thaw arrives only the hardiest can regroup and spread into the spaces. The quiet of the track, broken by the children climbing up now from below me, glimpses of the track ahead make the world suddenly jump in to a new perspective, distances get distorted here.
Below me on the valley bottom I can just make out the hotel, the haze is lending everything down there a dreamy feel, colours are dissipated and the white of clouds and mountain tops mingles, I could sit an hour and watch the shades of the view change. Up ahead is the first glimpse of the hut, deceptively close, still a way to go. The edge of the moraine is above and still to be crossed.
There are some big lumps of rock up here, a palette of grey, green and white, spread in front of the blue sky that drifts with clouds. The odd gust of wind to make sure you are safe, all the while the metres click away behind, this was exactly what I wanted when I was looking a the maps those months ago. Slow time climbs with lots to see, shady woods and nosy rivers below, steep edges and open places above.
It’s a good place to stop for coffee, to regroup and get some information about conditions further up the track, and to simply enjoy the feeling of being here. The children arrived as I was drinking my coffee, but were shepherded into another room for their lunch, but they weren’t being noisy or troublesome, just happy to have made it. You can sleep here, and the hut forms part of a long distance trail through the area. And the hut also celebrates its One Hundredth Year this year (2014). The terrace is the only place to be on a day like today and to drown in the spectacle of peaks all around, near and far.
I left the hut to go on a bit further, clambering under a large lump of rock, along a track that wasn’t sure about itself, sometimes a royal road, other times barely a goat track, boulders and gulleys adding to the interest. Now though I had the world to myself, to look out and down on everything I had left that morning. Jane was down there somewhere, reading or strolling in town, probably casting the odd glance my way too.
I sat with my lunch for about thirty minutes, silent and happy, enjoying the moment. Nobody passed me, I had the path and the pass to myself, snow and mountains all around, a stiff breeze and a bright sun hardly hindered by the clouds lingering at this height. Time to head back, and see what it was like in reverse.
When I got back to the hut, I once again sat for a while on the deck, looking out over the valley, drank some cold Apfelsaft, and contemplated nothing except what was in front of me. Soon I’d be back down with the life of the town, better for having made the trip.
So I returned, feeling good about life, having climbed again in the Alps, not Mont Blanc but a brilliant walk, and so many amazing sights. The hut was warm and welcoming, good coffee and apple juice. A worthy marker for the trip. I was able to take lots of pictures (sorry) and take all the time I wanted to enjoy the whole experience. I will come this way again. Perhaps to stay overnight and walk on further, make a couple of days of mountain life, to just relax and enjoy the time spent looking and walking. Hope summer is good for everyone, take some time to sit and do nothing, it’s good for your soul.