Hiking the Austrian Alps

Trail Routine
By Joe Keith
  |  Gorp.com
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That first day was wonderfully typical of the week. Each morning, weather permitting, we set off with daypacks up into the mountains. At the top we traversed along the ridges, like across some dinosaur's spine, with tiny villages deep below on either side and the glacial peaks of southern Austria and Italy rising above us to the south. Even at close to 3,000 meters, the mountain ridges were still grass covered, and at times, aside from the precipitous drop-off and the occasional lederhosen-clad hiker who passed us smiling, I felt like I was in the Scottish highlands, wading through rich purple heather and past sheep placidly grazing around us.

After hiking through the morning, we usually stopped in for lunch at some mountain inn packed with local clientele. There we would feast on the infamous Austrian Wienerschnitzel, or lamb, or trout (vegetarians be warned, it is hard to avoid meat in Austria) capped off with cake and more of the regional Weissbeir. Not exactly a handful of trail mix. Afterwards, we would loosen the belt on our hiking shorts and continue on, slowly and contentedly making our descent into the next village — our bags and more Weissbier awaiting.

The only break in our routine was on the few days that it rained. When the skies opened, about a half-dozen of us left the mountains temporarily behind and caught a bus for the Northern Lake district (located just minutes from Salzburg), where we got a tour of different cultural traditions in the region. (Or as our Austrian guide, Greti, put it —"willage life.") And while not a peak climb into the clouds of the Alps, it was interesting —at least once we got past the 'traditional hut,' with its wax museum replica of an early Nordic feast.

First, we visited a local gun maker on his farm, where I never felt more like a tourist then when I almost blew my shoulder off trying to fire one of his traditional performance muskets that dates back to the late 18th century. The last thing I remember was seeing everyone holding their ears as I squeezed the trigger. When I regained my bearings, I was facing the opposite direction and hanging onto the gun with one hand. Amidst peals of laughter, I tried to explain that the barrel must have been slippery, but the gunmaker just kept laughing. "And that is the one for the children," he said.

Luckily, I had a chance to salvage some of my dignity at our next stop — a local schnapps distillery. There I managed to take home first prize at a blind schnapps-tasting contest. (Although, come to think about it, that may not be something to be too proud of.) Either way, I returned to the mountains the next morning with a sore shoulder and a trophy bottle of the distiller's best homemade schnapps.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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