Running Alpine Paths

Finding Myself on the Path to Hell…

… and the way is up, because it’s the Höllkogel (“hell peak”) I’m talking about, and it’s the path to better.

Snow in the Crags, August 1, 2012
Snow in the Crags, August 1, 2012

The backs of my hands hurt. You can see a distinct line where the shirt began, and find another color again on my palms. Sunburn.

I was dehydrated enough I partially re-filled my water bottle with some of last winter’s leftover snow to melt and drink that; with the water I brought and begged for, I easily drank a gallon in total – and needed more. What I had initially brought with me was just one liter (less than one-third of a gallon).

Ascending, my heart rate was pushing right into the red.

Repeatedly, I wondered how I ever made it up during the mountain marathon earlier this month. I thought that it would make more sense to turn around and head back. Yet, I drudged on.

Often enough, I felt weak and slow – and yet, passed all the other hikers, sometimes even running. With the backpack I was carrying.

In other words: I had a fun day.

Having recently returned from a few days in Latvia (photography from Riga, here; report still on the to-do list), successfully participated in the mountain marathon around Lake Traun, and spent almost two weeks in Italy (we’ll get to that in a following post, too), my wife and I decided to head to the Salzkammergut again.

I decided to move up the Feuerkogel and the Höllkogel again, after the trouble ascending the first during the mountain marathon, and having climbed the latter once before.

Otherwise, in the usual flat part of the country where we live, I don’t exactly get in much hill training – there simply isn’t enough of them – and these peaks are some of the first, but tallest, at the very beginning of the Alps. In other words, they are already mountains, but they can still be run up; they don’t have to be climbed.

So what?, you may be thinking now. What’s it to me?

You don’t have to care. Certainly not about the little stupidities  I made. In fact, I’d very much appreciate it if you didn’t comment about them.

There’s also, though, the lessons that make such running adventures the perfect training for life:

For a bit of adventure, you don’t have to go to far-away places. Your own backyard, often even literally, can be enough. You just need to get into the spirit; go out and explore. The alpine meadows held lots of interesting plant life, by the way, including Wolf’s Bane (aconite, which is highly poisonous) and wild oregano (which is tasty). The Almrausch was flowering, the bees were buzzing about, and the dwarf mountain pines exuded their fine wild aroma…

A bit of sun, and plants holding on

In the course of a run, there are steep ascents that make you barely able to walk on, bringing you to the point of wanting to just leave it be, robbing you of what feels like all your energy – and you may not even know why you are stupid enough to just slough on, one foot in front of the other. But you do.

And then, there’s a sweeping view that rewards you for all the effort, a descent that is easily run, bounding from stone to stone – and even on the next ascent, you now know that there’s more, and still more, energy in you.

Sweeping Vistas

Over time, not only do these experiences add up. You also look around, and you see that people of all different ages and body shapes are able to at least go for a leisurely hike here. Doing more and more, you see that the effort you’re making, as leisurely or agonizing as it may be, brings you forward.

Where only too many people decide that they don’t have the energy for anything but passive TV consumption and junk food, and get into a spiral that reduces their energy, fitness, motivation,… ever more, you do the opposite.

Go out, find paths that are hard enough you may sometimes think that walking them is hellish but that lead to ever – better fitness, greater health, more experiences and knowledge, a better character – and walk them. Or even run.

Do it well, and the pain will disappear again. What you have learnt, however, will be with you.

Running Alpine Paths

And what's your take?