Salzburg City Break: Untersberg

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Even though I had been planning a pure city break, I simply couldn’t resist the call of the mountains. Salzburg Card also includes a cable car lift to the nearby Mount Untersberg, so that’s where I headed after the Hellbrunn tour – much to the dismay of my poor knees.

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The top station of Unterbergsbahn is practically right next to the first summit. There were hilariously many tourists wearing their best summer dresses and flip flops, hopping and skipping around, yelling “Woooooo!” into the wind, and posing heroically for carefully staged photos. But not me, oh no. Since I am A True Hiker™, after all, I left them behind and kept going on the actual hiking trail. Possibly not my best move.

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Some parts of the trail were super steep with lots and lots of stairs that sometimes ran through tiny caves. There were cables and railings in the most difficult spots, but I probably didn’t hang onto them desperately enough. The weather was nice and dry, but the dripping water in the caves had made some of the wooden stairs deceptively slippery. As you might have guessed, my murderous shoes immediately took advantage of the opportunity.

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My foot slipped on the stairs and I slid the rest of the way down in style, on my arse. I also managed to hurt both my palms, which started to bleed and soon got swollen from colourful bruises. Still didn’t roll over the edge, though, ha! Excellent shoes in every aspect, but they might work better as ice skates.

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The way back was less eventful but more scary. The throbbing pain rendered my hands pretty much useless, and I couldn’t grab onto any of the railings. Afraid of slipping down again, I probably made some kind of a new record in slowness while balancing back on the stairs. To cheer myself up, I had a dorky picture of myself taken at the same spot where everyone else had theirs taken, too. I mean… I did have fun, though.

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Hiking in Tirol, Day 4: Foggy as F

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On Sunday morning I felt re-energized enough to go back to the mountains. The lift up to Mount Ahorn was like diving into the fog: up in two kilometres, the visibility was only a few dozens of metres. My plan was to take a quick tour of the nature park before returning down to the valley.

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It hardly comes as a surprise that while strutting along the path in the fog, I somehow managed to miss a sign and took a wrong turn somewhere. When I realised I was on a longer route than originally intended, I though I might as well keep going. At least the route markers were pretty visible.

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My shoes were put to the test when I had to cross a river blocking the path. Balancing on the stones, I delved ankle-deep in the water, but my socks stayed 100% dry! Impressed and delighted by that, I was almost ready to forgive the sneaky bastards for their murder attempt on Friday.

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I passed by a mountain restaurant, but didn’t even stop for hot chocolate. For once, I was up early, so I wanted to see how close to the Ahornspitze summit (2970 m) I could get. (Spoiler: not very close)

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Skeletons laying by the side of the path started casting shadows on my carefree hike. Eventually, a huge chunk of snow blocked my way. I could no longer see any route markers, and I wasn’t quite stupid enough to follow in the footsteps of a mystery dumbass ahead of me. At the same time, freezing rain started to fall and made the decision to quit a little bit easier.

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Oh, the frustration of having to turn back! An old friend once told me about “the bucket theory”, though. “You are born with a full bucket of luck and an empty bucket of experience. You’d better fill up your bucket of experience before your bucket of luck runs out.” The original context of the theory had something to do with skydiving, but why wouldn’t it apply to mountaineering, too. I didn’t test the depth of my luck bucket that day.

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Slogging back down, my shoes tried to assassinate me again: tilted, wet stones proved extremely slippery. I still didn’t get hurt, though, so the second murder attempt was as unsuccessful as the first.

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The ticket I had bought also included a lift to Mount Penken, so I obviously had to get all my money’s worth and went up there, too. The views of the valley from the top of Penken are supposed to be the best of them all, but visibility hadn’t gotten any better by Sunday afternoon.

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After my Ahorn defeat, I was already tired. When I started feeling cold, too, I returned to the valley quite soon.Although many might skip a trip to the top entirely in foggy weather, I found the eery atmosphere well worth the effort. I had already had a nice dose of the scenery on the previous days, anyway.

Hiking in Tirol, Day 2: Reaching the Summit

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_1267Cows, cows, cows! Dedicated to Andrew :)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hiking in Tirol, day 1: Sloth vs. Harakiri-Hill

I have been thinking about starting a blog for a long time, but putting plans swiftly into action has never been my strongest suit. However, now I feel like I’m going to burst if I don’t start writing immediately. All the procrastination is driving me crazy. So, here it is, the unfinished and unpolished blog of an unfinished and unpolished person!

I write and take pictures in order to get myself to go on small adventures, to inch away from my comfort zone. I am not a spontaneous person, nor am I an experienced hiker or a hardcore solo traveller. That is why it only seems fitting to kickstart this blog by writing about my spontaneous solo trip to the Austrian Alps. I wasn’t planning on travelling abroad at all this summer, but when I happened to get multiple consecutive days off work around the Finnish Midsummer, I decided to book the flights at a few weeks’ notice.

IMG_1025Sunrise from a bus window – Paimio, Finland

I sat through bus rides, flights and train trips for almost twelve hours, until late Thursday afternoon, when I finally got to step outside in the scorching heat of Tirol. My base camp was to be in Mayrhofen, which is a small town in the Zillertal valley, surrounded by the Alps and tons of hiking trails. In winter the valley is packed with skiing tourists, but in June it was quite peaceful with affordable accommodation options.

IMG_1034The modest view from my balcony at B&B Scheulinghof

I dropped off my backpack at the hotel, picked up some snacks and went off to explore the nearby hiking routes. Having had barely slept for three hours, my mind was no longer at its sharpest, and somehow I ended up on a steep climb up the encouragingly-named Harakiri-Hill.

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I pushed myself painfully higher up the hill, until I was rewarded with the most wonderful sight of them all: wild strawberries! With a fresh spring in my step, I followed the path through shaded forests and open areas with increasingly beautiful views.

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After 1.5 hours of hiking, I reached a small restaurant with a breathtaking terrace view. However, at that point I had already helped myself to such generous amounts of peanuts and cheese that rolling back down the hill would have been a viable option. A sign pointing at the top of Mount Penken threatened me with 2.5 more hours of climbing, mosquitoes had found me, and shadows had started to stretch over the valley. I decided to skip the restaurant and the summit, and started making my way back to Mayrhofen.

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Did not get lost even once. For a mere half day at the destination, I managed to do a lot. Surely a successful start to the holiday!