Yesterday’s walk around the lake, surrounded on all sides by towering peaks had given us an appetite for higher altitude conquest. It was with mild pragmatism therefore that we caught the cable car some way up into the lofty mountains, clad in our most appropriate walking attire.
We hadn’t really planned for it, though. When we were packing, we’d kind of decided that a sightseeing holiday was what we were after, and that we would leave the mountains for another time. Thus, “clad in our most appropriate walking attire” ended up meaning jeans and trainers and so, we decided, not being the most experienced alpine mountaineers anyhow, we shouldn’t try anything too challenging.
The paths were divided into three difficulties: leicht (German for ‘easy’), mittel (‘middle’) and schwer (‘hard’). There’s something a bit defeatist or lazy about taking a route which you know has been labelled ‘easy’, and it was with a slight sense of pride and a cautious sense of adventure that we plumped for mittel. A little red mittel line would guide us safely around a couple of peaks, onto another, and then down, past an Alm (a funny log cabin rest stop thing which serves beer, cakes and other stuff), then past an attractive waterfall, safely home again.
It started out quite well. The mountain paths are reassuringly well-signed; barely a few metres passes without a brightly-coloured mark on a rock patting you on the back and telling you you’re going the right way, and presumably therefore holding the suspicious 3D picture-map the right way up. Who needs contours, grid references or boring bearings when you’ve got a leaflet with a painting of the landscape on?
The one thing the Austrian tourist information hasn’t quite mastered is the numbering of paths. Every path has a number—so far so good—but with one critical oversight: almost all of them are numbered 413. Always being on the right path is of little reassurance under these circumstances.
The path to the top was a little hairy, but nothing really untoward. We had lunch on a peak below the summit which has the prestigious honour of being the first snow-capped mountain I’ve ever climbed, though really there were only a few largeish lumps of snow which had somehow, by luck, hiding in a shadow, compaction or plain magic evaded the melt which made this peak look grassy from anywhere other than on it, stood next to one of the lumps of snow, with your eyes carefully screwed up such that all you could see was the lump of snow. The views were breathtaking, the distances, heights and general scale incomprehensible and awe-inspiring, and it all stretched as far as the eye could see, to the properly snow-topped mountains on the horizon.
But eventually, the inadequacy of adjectives, human comprehension and digital cameras thoroughly demonstrated by the awe-inspiring avalanche of perception from our vantage point, we had to go down. Apart from anything else, we were getting a bit chilly with all the sitting around eating.
Going down was also on a friendly, red mittel path. But whoever classified that bit of path as mittel can have my mittel finger. Fucking mittel it was not.
There was one part where a sheer rock face had been fitted with a thick rope. First, you navigate a snaking sliver of wet, slippery rock; to the right, impenetrable mountain, to the left thousands of feet of bone-crunching descent. Then, the rope turns sharply left and downwards, and you descend a near-vertical set of natural steps in the rock, each far too large to actually step down, of course, and each covered in a subtly different array of sharp bits, hard bits and slippy bits, all able to deal horrible, “British tourist killed walking in Alps” death in a variety of intriguing ways, most of which ended with you rolling limply down a few thousand feet of bone-crunching descent.
I’m not sure I’ve ever hung on to a rope so tightly. And, what would’ve been terrifying in proper, Vibram-soled walking boots, we were navigating in idiot tourist footwear. Dammit.
Unfortunately for the baying press, we didn’t die. Though I did get my jeans slightly muddy.
I am basically Edmund Hillary.