People keep saying that outdoors experiences are as good as therapy for one’s mental health. And wonder why people would climb mountains while putting great athletes on pedestals.
Where does that leave a normal person with some outdoors interests, but no particular inclination to do anything noteworthy for others?
When I recently lost a job, rather suddenly and meanly, it at least left me with the time to finally make it out into the mountains again. And with a need to get away from it all for a little bit.
The route I chose to take was one that I had done various times before, but knew to be somewhat challenging with the remaining snow.
The trail, that is, leading from the Gmunden railway station over the slope of the Grünberg, to the Laudachsee lake and over the Hohe Scharte to a circle around the Traunstein.
Paths Not Taken
This path would have also offered a chance (or several options) to make it up the Traunstein, should that have looked really enticing.
The next morning, I would see a few people head that way – but since then, there have also been warnings against that climb because several accidents have happened in the time since.
It did not look that enticing to me. In fact, the trails I was on were already dicey enough…
Plans and Luck – and Darkness
The plan was to extend my path a bit to a low peak I had not yet been at, and that should offer a nice spot for an overnight bivouac: the Katzenstein.
It’s basically just a detour from the Hohe Scharte, close to a mountain ridge – but it is a path I had not taken before.
I actually got lucky with the weather; rain and storm were in the forecast but all I experienced was a few minutes of light rain, some fog, some wind, but nothing too bad. Good choice, then, to have taken that chance.
The way I had left, getting to my start in the afternoon, meant that I would – as so often before – be hiking into the night, though.
Darkness fell as I was only just climbing up the Grünberg. The path remained visible for a bit, but then it was time for the headlamp to come out.
As usual in spring-like times – though the end of February being spring-like is not exactly normal – the snow was already gone on the southerly slopes.
Getting over towards the Laudachsee lake, towards the eastern slopes around the Traunstein, snow still piled deep, though.
My snowshoes, broken during a second attempt at climbing up the Sarstein through deep snow, were at home and, as expected, not entirely necessary.
Other than expected, though I really should have expected it, the climb up towards the Hohe Scharte was difficult both to find and to do.
Climbing In the Snow
With all the snow, there are some parts where snow has broken off and rolled down, then settled into hard drifts that are really good to climb. There, you don’t break into the snow and get good footholds.
Unfortunately, there are other parts where you will break through the snow. At one point, I suddenly found myself sitting on my ass, feet dangling, staring at the snowy slope right in front of me…
And the slope is steep there. And the path, so completely covered that it is only possible to follow a route on a navigation device, some orientation skills and mountain trail-honed common sense of oneself, to find the way up.
All that gets particularly “fun” – read: dicey – when the slope is steep, the GPS is lost (and at one point, the compass also stopped showing the bearing), the path goes somewhere between rocks close to vertical.
Every step then needs to be kicked into the snow. While you punch into the snow. Hold on for dear life to any icy ledges of snow that might hold. Climb from tree to tree to pull yourself up, hope you won’t sink deeply into snow around the trees, get caught on the wood should you slide back down again.
The Challenge and the “Therapy”
Suicidal? No. Dangerous? Definitely.
Should I not have made it back, slid down somewhere, I would have hated it.
Did I have reason to trust my skills and endurance? Yes… and it did all work out.
And the danger, the challenge – reduced as I kept it, as well as I could – has its own therapeutic effect:
When every step needs to be placed well, every step is exhausting, then every step leads away from the everyday troubles just experienced.
It all makes for – literal and metaphorical – distancing.
A Retreat and a Mountain Night
I did not make it over to the Katzenstein; there were parts of the path that became rather too difficult and dangerous to follow in the conditions I found myself in. And I felt no particular need to test my luck any further.
So, I turned back, found myself a nice sleeping spot, and bivouacked there for the night.
Sleeping outside in the cold is yet another nice bit of “therapy.”
Cold, crisp mountain air. A sleeping bag and pad that are insulating enough to keep warm. A spot for sleeping that is level enough to be comfortable!
The extraordinariness of it all makes for different views; the slight discomfort makes grateful for what you have…
… and the glorious view the next morning did its part in making happy.
New Morning Challenges
The climb back down was on less of a slope, but it had iced-over so much that it was still necessary to take care with every step, to pick the path well.
There was still enough difference in the snow that some walking was easy, much of it could have led to a slip and a long slide down the mountain slope, a lot of it led to difficult steps, sinking deep into soft spots.
My DJI Spark had some issues that morning, lost a propeller, came crashing down – and at least crashed right back into my lap.
The road back would have been long, but just as I found myself wondering if I should really walk all the way back, someone stopped to ask if he should give me a ride.
So I did, visited some friends in town, and still caught the next train back home.
Things have looked different since then, even as the challenge I am facing now is still going to be a challenge – as you can easily see if you follow my YouTube channel, beginning from my talking about this little overnighter…