At times, it’s good to follow in other’s footsteps… and then, to learn and do better.
Making a hobby of ultramarathon-like activities is a strange matter. Crazy to the ones who don’t do such things, they are likely to be too short, too slow, for those who want to see truly extreme feats of endurance.
A little extreme I may have become, though. For it was just four days after the previous, quickly aborted, look at whether it would still be possible to do the Glocknerrunde this year that I decided to head right back there…
… starting at 15:45 on Tuesday at Kaprun Kesselfall/Alpenhaus to end up in Kals at 5:45 early the next morning, having covered 42 km of distance, 2641 m of ascent and 2341 m of descent through that night.
Well, the weather had decided to take a quick break from its April-like changeability and put in a few days of higher temperature and stable conditions.
It didn’t look the part in the East of the country where I normally live (or in much of the North)…
… but the South and West, including most of the major mountain areas, was all blue skies and low wind.
I started the day off, actually, helping a friend with a little lap in another kind of marathon, the way through bureaucratic institutions, but then headed back to the Grossglockner area.
Changed and got ready at Kaprun Kesselfall, where I’d taken the bus up from and then run back down to, the last time I’d been here. Excited, starting the exertion, and perhaps a little anxious to get up past the first pass before the sun set completely, my heart rate did its darndest. Never so nice to see, but checked and re-checked and apparently quite normal in my case. The way up was nice yet again, passed rather too quickly even though I tried to rein myself in (and would have sworn I did).
When I set out, at 15:45, it was still some 3 hours to sunset, and it looked like I might even get some sunlight on the path along the upper reservoir.
Alas, the sun set behind the mountains towards the West too soon for that. Still, there were hardly any clouds and there was only low wind, this time. And, no snow where the path had already gotten lost in snow last time. Thus, it was easily possible to find and follow the path, and to see that the navigation worked beautifully then and there.
Farther up towards the first pass over a mountain, the Kapruner Törl, the snow was back. Or rather, still there. It was nicely hardened thanks to its thawing and re-freezing, though, so that it was possible to use the footsteps of the person who’d gone there before as steps, without constantly sinking in.
In fact, at various times during this outing (including right there at the beginning, at the very top, when the path went off in a direction it was not easy to follow), it was very helpful to have others’ tracks as another guideline, aside from waymarkings and the path itself, if they were visible and/or recognizable, and the route displayed on the Ambit2. (And maps, but we’ll get there later.)
Although admittedly, it got a bit strange when the footsteps in the snow, at a later pass, made the path look like a busy city street…
Following paths, steps, and the route displayed – and this time, the Ambit2 performed flawlessly, both for navigation and for the recording of the log – I got up to the Kapruner Törl, and this high up, there was still enough sunlight to see the mountain slopes and valley I’d need to cross next.
It got darker on the way down rather soon, time for packing out the headlamp and press on in its light. (In fact, knowing this would happen, I’d already put it on while resting at the Kapruner Törl.)
Soon, following the path became a game of hide and seek, looking to find the next marking while still at the one before, trying to make out the path in between – or just following what looked most like a path and went along the route displayed on the Ambit. As always, it was really easy in some cases and got fiendish at other times.
A starry sky, the likes of which I haven’t often seen just so, opened up above. (The stars over Shennong Valley were nice, but not nearly as many of them were visible to the naked eye. Here, however…)
Later, I got further up and the moon rose further, and its light joined in – and where the path was well-trodden, it became unnecessary to even use the headlamp. In fact, it often was easier to see the path in the moonlight alone.
Moving through a night, in and of itself, is a strange experience. It sounds so unnatural and bad (even as so many of us have come to party all night, as it gets illuminated ever more, and all that). It’s certainly not the healthiest thing to do, but there is a certain magic to it.
Sounds become more important, the senses are sharpened, smaller lights garner bigger attention. Here, especially, it was the sounds of water that wanted to be localized and interpreted, especially as the path crosses many a water course, from tiny trickles between rocks or grass to rushing mountain creeks and wide burbling stream beds.
On I went, moving and moving, slow but steady. To the sign that pointed the right place but the wrong way from how the route was set up, only to promptly lead to yet another sign that led to a detour along another path (because the original one went through an area that was declared off-limits for reasons of bird protection)…
Sometimes, the path was easy to see and walk, sometimes it was basically a jumble of boulders or a rocky stream bed through which to meander oneself, sometimes it was mainly snow – but then it came. The first part of the Silesia Höhenweg.
It was described as not being easy, and I quickly understood why, for a jumble of small boulders made it necessary to once again try finding the next waymarkers because the path itself was not usually visible, all while not turning an ankle. That wasn’t all that bad, though, and sometimes this was the path that was the nicest to follow by moonlight alone.
It is also, however, the main path I encountered that leads along the side of a mountain range – and the changing weather conditions had deposited a bit of snow in many parts here, as well, and also turned them hard, like in other places.
Now, however, it was necessary to get a foothold on the snow in order to traverse the snowfields lying over the path. Maybe it would have been easier had I at least brought my MicroSpikes, but I hadn’t, and I’m not sure it would have been easier even with them. The outermost layer of the snow was very hard, below it was very soft, so it would have been difficult anyways.
At times, I climbed around smaller snowfields, at times, it was not all that difficult to gain a foothold and balance along… and at other times, because the slope was so steep, it was necessary to stomp through the icy crust or even to also punch through with my fists it to hold on well. My hands still hurt from it as I write this, and I still slipped once and might well have, had I not managed to catch myself, slipped over the snow to tumble over the sharp rocks and end up in the freezing creek at the bottom.
So, when the branch-off that could either lead to the main section of the Höhenweg, even higher up, or to an immediate descent into the valley came up, I decided not to continue as planned.
That presented a different kind of problem, though: The beginning of that path down was covered by snow, it was not well marked, let alone visible, at the top, and of course it was not set up as a route in my GPS watch. So, out with the map and try to remember somewhat rusty skills of map use in the field. The path as recorded looks much more consistent than I felt I had been wandering around, but my skill still seemed to serve well-enough, anyways. After all, I’m here.
Down I went, along the stream into the villages, and to convictions that had crystallized during those two outings here:
Ultras all well and good, and I love to go out and explore, knowing that I’ll be able to do so pretty much on a whim.
It’s become clearer and clearer to me, though, that I myself need to not just propound, but live, a better balance myself.
Physical activity and capability can’t just be running, and running certainly shouldn’t be for (personal) records and (attention-getting) feats the way only too much of this ultra-like running (and “running”) is. I don’t want to even have to care about whether I finish a certain route or not, let alone in which time. It’s the experiences, the exploration, the learning and the development, that count.
I want to explore surroundings, develop skills, and motivate you to do the same. When it comes to exploratory lifestyle and learning life, not ultras! Walks can be quite enough, being active in daily life is much more important than just about any exercise in a gym (or outside, running) – but if I managed to make myself able to do these adventures on probably not more than 2-3 hours of running training per week, maybe you can also get yourself off the couch?
Ultimately, after all, we are all running an ultramarathon. Life itself.
And we shouldn’t just spend it following in other’s footsteps – even as those will be good guidelines, given that we all do want similar things, at the fundamental level – but doing it better, for us and the world. Perseverance and passion are needed there, perhaps, even more than when running. And there, in partnerships and raising children, working and needing to find better ways of (making a) living (a major theme of mine regarding The Ecology of Happiness), they are also even more difficult to uphold. But also, much more important.