Sometimes, you just need to get away from your routine, from comfortable commutes from work to home, to TV and the bed.
When work got a bit much, I brought my gear for an overnight hike, went out to a mountain, slept under the stars…
It all may sound easy in that introduction; it all may sound strange – and it was both of that. And more.
Going out to a hike after work, first of all, only worked well enough because I did not have to bring too many things into work, so that I could leave those there and come with my hiking backpack and gear.
And it worked because work ended early enough that Friday, during the longest days of the year, that I still had hours of daylight when I arrived where I wanted to go.
Where I went was, once again, the Sarstein at the Hallstatt lake.
It takes a few hours to get there from Vienna, but it is easy enough to reach. And having been there before, I know that I can – or at least, should be able to – get up and over this mountain within the course of half a day, find a place to sleep on top.
Not to forget that conditions shouldn’t be problematic… or so I thought.
When I finally got out of the local train at Steeg-Gosau to start the hike, everything looked good.
There were still a few hours of sunlight left, late as it was in the day already. Temperatures were balmy.
The mountain looked invitingly lush with vegetation, glowing in the late sun. It did not look like snow should be a problem here anymore.
Since the last time – and only the last, of several times – I had hiked across this mountain, I finally know the best trail to hike up from the village, to avoid as much as possible of the pass road there (and not try to get up on a route that map apps show as the preferable trail, but that doesn’t actually exist).
Between knowledge of the path and the last of the daylight, the hike up was easy.
Having been there often enough, it was strange to recognize paths, and to recognize places that had stopped me before, when I tried to climb up the mountain in snow.
It was good going. Finally, something physical to forget more and more of the everyday stress.
Enjoying the Dark of Night
Into the night. Out with the headlamp, on along the trail.
Nights are a peculiar time to be out hiking. Visibility reduces to the shine of one’s headlamp. It focuses the mind beautifully, like a meditation, I find.
Until I was fetching water from a creek the trail comes past and suddenly heard something behind me.
I never saw anything, but that focuses the mind very well, but very differently, with adrenaline pumping.
It looked like I had come along the path up very nicely, approaching the meadow of the Sarstein Alm, where the real climb above the tree line begins. Things took a different turn there.
From the valley floor, it may have looked as if all the snow up top had gone.
Well, that wasn’t the case.
On the steepest sections of the mountain, lots of snow remained. And that was where I was now, in the darkness, approaching midnight.
Through that snow, I had to trudge and find my way.
The path was invisible; hardly anyone – but at least, some few people – had gone here before.
The snow was at just the right stage, at least: hard enough to not sink in deeply, soft enough to have a good grip in the slope and not slide down.
Still, often enough, it seemed better to climb over and across the dwarf pines growing there.
Always, I had to have a look at previous tracks and the virtual track of the path on my GPS watch to make sure I was, more or less, on the right way up.
That was slow and exhausting – and I was still trying to record some of it on video, for once using my “vlog camera” on a gimbal for that. The things you try doing as a YouTuber ;)
A Spot for the Night
Up somewhere near the summit, still below it, there was a patch of ground without snow.
The decision to stop there for the night was easy; it was way too late to continue and looked like the trail would continue with lots of snow.
Better to stop and put up the bivy where a good chance presents itself.
It was late, indeed. And for some added frustration, I had lost the gimbal’s joystick button that I had only just re-purchased and put on it that morning.
Still, time to sleep.
Stars, Enormity… and Peace
Into the sleeping bag, settling down – and looking up, there were a billion stars visible above.
It was a night like I hadn’t seen in ages.
Having had quite enough thoughts of mortality and futility, the enormity of the night sky should have driven home all those points of how small we are, how little any life matters. All that.
Instead, staring up at the stars, I only felt amazed and at peace. Elated to be there, see that.
It was not a good sleep.
Short, with the sun coming up early. Interrupted when wind came up from the valleys to whip the bivy’s shell so that I had weird dreams before it woke me up.
The strong physical exertion of such an activity makes me able to work with less sleep, though.
So, in the early light of the sunrise, seeing more of where the trail would go – and seeing the cross at the summit right up the next slope – I packed everything and set out to continue.
A look at the bivouac spot – No signs of my presence last night whatsoever, good! – and on I went.
All the top of the mountain, until its plateau descends into forest again, was still almost completely covered in snow.
Again, the path was only visible on my GPS watch. (The Suunto 7, which I recharged overnight, by the way.)
The snow, at least, remained “hike-able”: soft enough to have good grip, hard enough to not sink in deeply.
Views… Front of Feet, Far Around
In the daylight, it was all easier to see, at least. And the views around were amazing, too!
The drudge through snow continued for long.
The Sarstein may not be the tallest mountain or the toughest to hike, but it still takes its time to get across. With enough snow, especially so.
With a view towards the Dachstein massif, the path continued on, slowly descending.
Into ground with less snow, more dwarf pines.
To the Sarsteinhütte mountain hut, and then onto the forested slopes – without snow – down to Obertraun.
Back to Civilization
I finished this billion-star night and started into the day in a way that I have come to really appreciate in that area: Taking the train only to Bad Ischl at first.
There, I make a stop for breakfast at the Café Zauner, in elegant circumstances that the Austrian imperial family had already approved of.
The contrast this provides is great.
It is strange to go from a bivy on a mountain to a breakfast at a café, but it is both also a nice reminder of the way life is:
Full of contradictions, and all the better for them, when lived to the fullest, with care.