Inspired by a hiking map and the successful warmup walk on Thursday, I decided to raise the stakes for Friday. The day did not turn out quite as I had planned.
In the morning, my only shorts were still dripping wet from last night’s wash, and I had completely forgotten to pack a hat. To protect myself from sun- and heatstroke, I started the day by shopping in some of the numerous sports stores in Mayrhofen. Deciding between different options took me a couple minutes too long, and as a result, I had to wait for a later train to the town of Zell am Ziller.
Once I got to the Zell railway station, I still had to find the Rosenalmbahn cable car station. The walk took longer than expected, especially because the infamous “shortcuts” I followed just took me to a bunch of cul-de-sacs. I conveniently got to the lower station five minutes after the employees had left for their lunch break, so I had to wait for an extra half hour before the cable car took me to the heights of 1744 metres.
At the upper station of Rosenalm, the first thing I noticed was the delightful sound of cowbells echoing between the hills. The air up there was still warm, but it felt fresher than the heat down in the valley. I started making my way up the well-marked trail. The plan was to hike for a few hours and return to the cable car before it closed down for the day.
I had bought my first pair of real hiking boots only a week before the trip, so I hadn’t had a chance to break them in properly. Fortunately, I got to cool down my feet in tiny streams along the way. That still didn’t stop the blisters from beginning to form.
Every small delay I had accumulated before noon meant that while I was still making my way up in the afternoon, the smart locals were already coming back down. I couldn’t bear to stick to my original plan of just a couple hours of walking, though. When I saw the small patches of snow and the trail that kept getting steeper and narrower, I knew I just had to reach the summit!
The good thing about my own stupidity and all the delays was that after the first hour, I didn’t see a soul anymore, if you don’t count the random goats along the way. I don’t know if there is anything better than enjoying mountain views in the best possible company: all by yourself! I just kept walking, thinking about everything or nothing, I cannot even remember anymore. It was the closest I have ever come to a zen state of mind.
The trail kept getting steeper. I passed by a pile of broken walking sticks, and occasionally sunk ankle deep into snow. Finally, the Kreuzjoch summit was looming ahead of me at 2558 metres.
I had a short lunch break and pondered which way down I would pick. Every single one of the cable cars surrounding the mountains would be closing within an hour, so there was no need to rush anymore; I would have to walk all the way down to the valley in any case. My knees were cracking at the mere thought of that.
I glanced at the map and randomly chose another way down, which turned out slightly more challenging than I had hoped. Huge masses of snow covered parts of the marked trail running along a steep edge. I wasn’t always sure how deep the snow was, if I would sink in there, or if a misstep would send the whole thing crumbling down. However, I had already walked down for a relatively long way, and the thought of returning back up to Kreuzjoch seemed impossible. I had to find a way around the most suspicious spots, which required some actual hands-on climbing.
After the small scares, the route I chose was quite rewarding. The trail became easier to walk, meandering down flower-covered hills. Then, my shoes made their first murder attempt when I stumbled on the laces that had come undone by themselves. Fortunately for me, unfortunately for the sneaky shoes, the timing was off and I didn’t go tumbling down the edge.
I had another scare when I ran into two dogs roaming freely around the hills. At first they barked at me from a distance, no big deal. All of a sudden, they were right next to me, growling with their teeth exposed. I closed my eyes, tried to talk to them in a soothing voice, and prepared to feel them dig deep into my calves. As suddenly as they had appeared, the vengeful beasts turned into happy tail-waggers and disappeared. Either they decided a lone sloth was not a huge threat to anyone, or then my sun-marinated stench ruined their appetite.
The last stage of the route trailed through a peaceful forest. Down in the village of Gmünd, I was surprised again: the village seemed practically abandoned, and the last bus to civilization had already left 1.5 hours ago. I was left stranded, 25 kilometres from my hotel. I started walking along the narrow mountain road, trying not to get run over by the speeding cars. There didn’t seem to be a decent hitch-hiking spot anywhere in sight, the sun was slowly setting, and I hadn’t even packed a reflector.
I was already silently panicking inside, when a German knight in a shining BMW mercifully picked me up and gave me a ride back to the Zell am Ziller train station. It was half past nine in the evening. I had checked the timetable, and the last train to Mayrhofen was supposed to leave in thirty minutes. Too bad I had looked at the wrong schedule – it wasn’t the last train, it was the last bus! While I was waiting on the railroad side of the station, I saw a bus pass me by on the other side and disappear into the darkness.
At that point, I was so fed up I didn’t even consider hunting down a taxi anymore. F it, might as well walk the last 10 kilometres while at it! There were no lights for most of the way, but the sound of the Ziller river kept me on the right track. I eventually made it back to the hotel well past midnight. To sum up the day: 13 hours of walking, a total of over 2 kilometres of altitude differences, and completely destroyed knees and feet. But hey, at least I saw some fireflies in the darkness.