Last Saturday saw another edition of the mountain marathon around the Traunsee lake (Bergmarathon Rund um den Traunsee). Around the time I would finish that whenever I participated, I had instead arrived in the area, prepared food and gear, and was headed for the mountains.
Not for running, not for bragging about a new personal record or celebrating a successful race in great heat, but to make new experiences, take pictures, collect stories.
I started out in Traunkirchen, where I have recently ended tours over the Sonnsteine peaks, to pass over those peaks in the other direction this time.
Looking out over the whole extent of the lake from the Kleiner Sonnstein, I considered myself lucky I didn’t have to race on that day. Not that I wouldn’t have liked to participate, but it focuses on the time so much that I find the story to go lacking; and it was a miserably hot day.
Not that I didn’t move through the heat myself, too, and with my backpack but without aid stations.
Having descended from the Sonnsteine down to Ebensee, it was up the Feuerkogel on the same path that the mountain marathon’s participants had taken earlier the same day, that I have also taken up a few times before.
At the top, however, it was time again to take the trail across the ‘plateau’ of the mountain range there, towards the Grosser Höllkogel peak.
First time in a while that I went there with hardly any snow around anymore; first time ever I only just went up as the sun was going down; first time also that I took my backpack with the gear for photography and a bivouac. (Not that these things – my Sony RX100, a miniature tripod, an Outdoor Research Helium Bivy, an ultralight Therm-a-rest, and a Mountain Hardwear UltraLamina sleeping bag – required the medium-size backpack ;) )
The day was still hot, the beginning of summer had the alpine meadows awash in flowers and buzzing with bees… and cows blocking the entrance of the path.
Night was falling, but the light lasted me all the way to the top of the Höllkogel at 1862 m.
In the trough at the beginning of the last ascent, it was already time to clear up the top of one of the few remaining snowfields to refill my water bottles with relatively clear slush and hope for it to melt soon enough; even having refilled them at any opportunity that had presented itself before, water needs were greater in that heat.
Funny to think of “last remaining” snowfields when the last time I went there, around a month ago, the whole mountain slope was still covered in snow and that plus not-so-good weather turned me back after a trek that had gone over more snow than rock.
And the time before that, it was the very beginning of the trail into the top plateau that already had me retreat, unable to locate the trail there under the snow pack.
With the remainder of the day’s light, I found a nice spot up top – I did remember correctly that there was relatively level ground there, fortunately – and set up camp.
Time to see what it feels like sleeping on top of a mountain, under the stars.
First, though, I waited for the night sky to get darker, and looked to do some astrophotography.
It was not too exciting, frankly, even with Venus and Jupiter still in proximity, but at least I did not have the moonlight disturbing the night sky – and I found out why when the moon started ‘rising’ from behind the mountains towards the (South)East, impressive like I had never seen it before.
Being on top of a mountain, in the middle of the highly developed and populous Europe, seeing the lights of settlements (and one alpine hut about 2 km away) around, but being in quiet surroundings with no one else around for quite a distance… it was fascinating and oh-so-calm. So many more peaks and valleys one could go and explore; so many views; so little that counts but to live and make the simple best of it.
My mind was racing anyways, but that’s just me.
With the thought that maybe I should try for photographing more starry skies later that night, already sheathed in my trusty jacket to protect from the wind which made things a little uncomfortably cool – nice as it was to feel the heat abate – I turned in, looking up at the stars from behind my bivy’s mosquito netting.
Memory tells me that I haven’t been finding sleep in that small and light bivy – Outdoor Research’s Helium Bivy – too comfortable, but it actually was. Not much room to toss and turn, sure, but lying on my back, putting my legs to the left or right when it felt better than to have them straight, it seems to have been good.
After all, I woke with a start, half a part of me thinking that the moon was still visible where it had been, so it couldn’t be much later, another part of my brain registering that the skies had become considerably lighter.
Had I missed the sunrise I wanted to see and photograph?
The view that greeted me showed I had awoken at just the right time…
… with a nice view all around…
… and I stayed to take more pictures of the developing sunrise with just the right amount of clouds to make it even more colorful.
I watched the mountains around eventually catch the first rays of sun on another scorching day.
I slowly packed and headed down… after a morning sip from the water that the snow had turned into. Not as clean as it had seemed, when I had drunk more of it, bit by bit, without filtering it… This is the Alps, though; it typically turns out alright here.
Next up, then, the descent back; a wait for the train before which I soaked my feet in the bracing cold water of the Traun river; and the trip back to my hon’.
Always good to do and see something new again – or something of the same, just in a different way – and then also see home and family life with more appreciation again.
No personal bests were achieved, no records broken – but there is another story to tell. Or at least to remember, as it’s unlikely to matter much to anyone other than me myself.
Still, now I wonder: What story will you tell, what memory make?