Hiking the Austrian Alps
For my last day in the Alps, a few of us had made plans to try a more strenuous peak climb. Unfortunately, the night before we had gotten a bit carried away with a bottle of pear schnapps. After being treated to another extravagant meal of garlic soup, roast lamb, and yes, more Weissbier, the owner of the Gasthaus had brought out the schnapps as a welcoming gift. Four hours and several shots later, after being given an impromptu traditional Austrian dancing lesson from the owner and her staff, I stumbled back to my room and collapsed on top of my eiderdown.
The next and final morning, we managed to peel ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn and meet with one of the mountain guides from the area. He was only too happy to oblige us with more challenging terrain. Conveniently named Hans, he lead us patiently and sympathetically into the mountains, and towards the summit of"Geistein" (The Ghost Jewel) at 2607 meters. Hans was an incredible resource on the whole region. As we hiked, he gave us a passionate geography and history lesson on the mountains. He pointed out the largest glacier in the eastern Alps, a 6-mile icicle known as the Pasterze, and he showed us some of the harrowing mountain paths taken centuries earlier by people on various religious pilgrimages to the holy city of Rome.
It took us a good seven hours to wind our way up the backside of the mountain, but when we finally arrived at the peak, just in front of a small herd of ibex, it was well worth it. We sat in silence, looking down across the full length of the lush green Saalach valley with the Saalach river coursing through the trees all lit up red and yellow for autumn. Beyond that loomed what seemed to me all of the terrifyingly beautiful mountains of Europe. It was my last day in the Alps, and the highlight of my trip. "I think," said Hans, "this is the most beautiful time of the year." I wasn't about to argue. I was feeling as Ibsen had described it over a century earlier wonderfully lost.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication