In July of 2006 a small group got together to walk from Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, through the thinnest part of Austria and on to the Italian border - naked. This was the NEWT, or Naked European Walking Tour, and was planned as a repeat of a similar walk I had completed alone in 2005 and described on the http://www.naktiv.net web site. We started at 9am on July 1st from the bahnhof (train station) at Garmisch and set off beside the river towards the Mittenwald forest, discarding our clothes as we each felt comfortable along the route, between the town and the entrance to the Partenklamm gorge. The gorge cost 2 Euros each to walk through, and I paid for all of us so as to speed up the process. Although the lady behind the cash desk looked a bit bemused, she seemed fairly comfortable with the sight of 7 naked men queueing up at her counter. Another punter, one of a mixed group of clothed men and women hovering nearby, requested to take a photograph of this unusual sight, and curiosity satisfied, we set off up the cold, dark gorge. The water churned through the tight rocky confines, waterfalls sprayed from high above in the distant sunlight as we followed the winding trail carved from the eastern side of the gorge walls, just above the raging torrent below. The cool air blew freshly over our naked skin. We passed several groups of people in the gorge, one girl looking back as she held her mother's hand, another couple squealed with surprise as they noticed us, but no-one appeared overly concerned, even this close to such a major tourist town as Garmisch. After a while we left the gorge, having survived the 'blooding' of our naked walk - our first encounters with textiles (people wearing clothes), and certainly not our last. We continued alongside the river, passing a pair of women on the opposite bank who waved encouragingly to us as they took photographs of this perhaps unusual sight.
All of us were experienced naked hikers but this was our first trip together. We were an interesting mix of people from different countries: including Britain, France, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States of America. Our professions were equally varied including a librarian, an ex-prison officer, a grounds- and handy-man for a castle estate, a programmer and author, a translator and an unemployed wastrel. Although the average age was near 50, we ranged right up to 76! Extraordinary though it might seem, at 46, I appeared to be the baby of the group. An unrelenting grind up the Kalbersteig, winding through the trees, gained most of our height for that day. Konrad, the Swiss Bear, carried David's old and heavy cotton Italian army rucksack for the steep sections, a mighty demonstration of solid mountain strength. We spent the day walking along forest trails below the Wetterstein, an enormous wall of limestone towering above the pine trees of the Mittenwald. Along the route we met several cyclists - a particularly pleasant encounter was one girl who rode through our group on her mountain bike giving us the thumbs up, and calling out enthusiastically and with a big grin: "Nice outfits!" After a pause for an apfelschoerle, (applejuice mixed with fizzy water, and very refreshing), at the Ferchensee gasthof next to an idyllic lake, we continued for another couple of hours and ended our days walk with dinner at the Gletscherschliff gasthof. Here we lost David, the American, the walk was too strenous for him, and his ancient army rucksack with very thin shoulder straps had proved most uncomfortable.
We camped next to the Isar, and the Austrian border, that night and the next day we dressed briefly to have breakfast at a cafe in Scharnitz before continuing our naked walk in the forest to the east. Both Christian and Konrad had a rather smart alternative to the shorts the rest of us were wearing, this was a cloth wrap, nearly a lightweight skirt. This enabled them to dress/undress in fractions of a second with no interuption to walking. Those of us wearing shorts (when encountering gasthofs, villages and the like) had to stop, remove our rucksacks, step in or out of our shorts, risking tripping over, and having stowed away our shorts, re-shoulder our rucksacks and continue walking. The wrap was a far more elegant solution, to the repeated performance, altogether. Walking through the forest, we approached a bridge across the roaring river below. The clanging of a herd of cow bells rang through the air, slowly drowned by the noise of more than 100 young people cheering a boy crossing the river by walking across a Tyrolean traverse (a single rope strung across the gorge). This was a new experience for most of us, being naked in front of so many people, but we just took it in our stride and set off across the bridge. We walked past the lines of teenagers to a round of cheering and much jocularity, the entire group seemed very relaxed at our unexpected intrusion. A man ran after us to film us briefly, to ask us what we were doing, and looked almost disappointed when we answered "We're just out for a pleasant walk." On this baking hot Sunday in July we met many more people on the trail up the Karwendel valley. Mostly mountain bikers, with a mix of small walking groups, families or couples, and individual sporty types too. One couple asked us where all the women were, and sadly we had to reply that none had chosen to accompany us on this particular trip - perhaps next time? The route continued up the long valley, past monumental cliffs and towering mountains soaring from the thick forests below. The phrase: "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" came to mind, as we tramped remourselessly along the long made-up trail, for hours, sweat dripping from all over, from all of us. We finally stopped at the Kastenalm, a high mountain pasture used in the summer for milk cows, which offered a menu of cheese and bread, meat and bread, or cheese and meat and bread. Simple fare, but we were all glad of it. The cool beer quenched our thirsty throats from the long days march. We decided to not go any further today, but to camp nearby amongst the trees near where the stones overflowed onto the flat plains when the spring thaw melted the snow and burst the river bank.
The next day started with a steep climb to yet another high summer pasture. Doug and I set off first, and this steady 76 year old from New Zealand soon showed me what a mountain pace was. I had to ask him to slow down a bit, and he simply said this was his normal steady pace and "What's the problem...?" We continued up and up, and were met by a couple of young women coming down the track. They pleasantly returned our morning greetings, and just as they were going around corner, I noticed one had pulled out her camera to try to snap a photo of us as we went out of sight. I stopped and called out: "Would you like a photo?", "Yes, indeed!" she replied (in German). So we stopped and waited as she walked back up towards us and took a photo of these 2 naked men who had passed her on the track. "Don't worry", she said, "they won't get on to the Internet!". "It really doesn't matter", we replied, "and may we take a photo too?", "Of course!" she said. So Doug took a photo with my camera, of me standing next to the dressed girl with her friend behind, at which point 2 lads approached from above at the same time, and took a photo of all of us together. Their boyfriends, I imagined, were probably a bit surprised to see their girlfriends talking to 2 naked men, but seemed quite relaxed too. It was such a simple exchange, both parties were simply recording an interesting encounter and enjoying the novelty. We carried on, and after some time reached the Hallerangeralm. This was set in a a broadening of the valley running east and west, with towering limestones ridges to the south and to the north. The grandeur of the place was awe inspiring. The Hallerangeralm itself was a small cluster of buildings perched on the remains a central glacier moraine in the middle of the valley, with a stupendous longtitudinal view in 2 directions, with steep ridges to both sides. We stopped here for an early lunch.
I had wanted to continue along the main valley but Konrad was very insistent we went over the steep col to the south, and I conceded it because it looked like a pleasant enough route, so we changed course. I felt that it was right for members of the group to be able to contribute to the route planning but in hindsight I should perhaps have stood my ground. The route now crossed this high mountain pass, and climbed steeply up a loose scree slope of rock, with a vestige of snow in the coulouir. The snow was steep and blocked the path at the top of the slope for about 40 m. This meant that the group had to either turn back, or cross the snow using the remnants of footprints from previous walkers. One slip would mean sliding perhaps 50 m straight down the surface of the icy snow onto the broken rocks below. The sort of injuries to a naked person in those conditions didn't bear thinking about, even if one survived the slide. I don't think most people in the group, though worried by the crossing, can have quite realised how dangerous this truly was, because by the time I reached the snow crossing, most of the rest of the group had already crossed, so even had I wished to turn everyone around, I would have had a hard time convincing them to back-track their steps across the snow for a second time. Meanwhile a couple had crossed in the opposite direction, and they reassured me that the route on the other side was simple enough, even for naked hikers, and nowhere as steep as this side, so I reluctantly followed the group. The ensuing walk across the high plateau-like col, before descending to the Inn valley at it's narrowest point, was inspiring, and nearly made the perilous snow traverse worthwhile. The view from the far side, south onto high ridges overlooking the Inn valley was simply magnificent. We trudged down, losing all our hard gained height, to St. Magdelena, a gasthof which turned out to be closed, and then continued down the valley to the villages of the Inntal. We were becoming very tired as we tramped on, and a misunderstanding about the route, which way everyone was going, and how we would meet up again, led to us losing Doug for a short time. I think this was a major contributing factor to his decision to leave us the following day. The weather broke as we arrived in the village of Baumkirchen and we were lucky to find a friendly bar keeper who let us camp on her terrace while the thick and heavy rain stormed harmlessly above us. The number of flies here was abominable, but Christian le Couchon, (so called because he snored like a pig), rapidly racked up the highest number of squashed flies, even squashing one on the beer mat I had carefully laid atop my beer glass, (especially to keep the flies out).
The next day, although the landlady had said she would like to have a photo of the group of us in our walking kit, (knowing we were a group of naked hiders), she let out a good natured squeal as Russ and I both went to remove our shorts to oblige, (we weren't wearing anything else at that point). So it was back to the more traditional, dressed, group photo. We were sad to see Doug leave us this morning, and we set off up the other side of the Inn valley, behind Volders, down one more man. Rather than following the original route of a gentle path next to the river, we took an alternative route, this led instead to us getting lost high up a forest filled river gorge. Back-tracking out of here, we made our way up to a proper road, and followed this instead in zig-zags past a number of farm houses, tramping along the unforgiving tarmac. At one farmhouse the occupants laughed as we passed by and called out: "This is a very catholic land, you know!", but good humouredly and with broad smiles.
We lunched at the Voldertallhutte Naturefreundehaus and, after a good rest, we took a contouring route up to the huts on the side of the ridge. The gasthofs at this place were all closed and I reluctantly agreed we could go yet higher to another hut. We set off again, tramping along an easy forestry track, and came to a thin trail leading to a hut set on the side of a steep slope. The places the alpine farmers build their huts and houses are truly remarkable, nearly defying gravity, let alone considering all the snow in the winter they have to contend with. We watched as far below, in the valley we had just left, a family worked to gather in the hay from a field near the river. Next we set off for the long grind up the steep slope behind us, through fields of juniper, occassional flies would gather as we sweated our way up the hill. The air chilled, as the sun dipped behind the hill, which made the steady pace easier to bare. Finally we reached the contouring path which took us easily around to the Tulfeinalm. The view down to Innsbruck and up and down the Inntal, were stupendous in the late afternoon sunlight, and as the gasthof appeared closed we were happy to make ourselves comfortable on the available terrace. As with most exhausted walkers, once you stop, the kit just spreads all around, over all the available benches, chairs and tables. While we had expected the gasthof to be open, (they couldn't all be closed on the same day), and found it closed, we all pooled our available emergency rations, and had a hearty meal of salami, cheese, soup and tea. A kingly feast indeed. Just as we were getting comfortable and thinking about under which table to set our sleeping bags, along came the owner of the gasthof, and loudly demanded to know just "What the **** are you doing on my terrace? This is not a camping site!" We could not mollify the man, even when we bought a round of beer, so we packed up and set off to look for somewhere to camp for the night. As we trudged along the track, which contoured along the high ridge, the sun dipped behind the Karwendel to the north, a most beautiful sight. However we had more urgent business at hand, we had to find somewhere to sleep - the tumble of steep rocks was reminiscent of the top of Scafell and an ant would have a hard time finding a place to site a tent up here, at 2000m. I used my handy/mobile to call the operator to put me through to the hut marked on the map as another couple of kilometres along the ridge, to see if I could find out firstly if it was open, and secondly whether they had space for us. Fortunately our luck had improved, and the hut warden was friendly and welcoming, we all managed to just arrive at the hut at last light.
After a good nights sleep, with at least 3 Couchon snoring through the night, we set off down towards the Meissnerhutte for an early apfelschoerle, passing our first really grumpy looking couple along the way. Now we followed forestry routes and met several happy cyclists as they toiled up and we strolled down the tracks. One couple were particularly friendly and stopped to chat for a short while. Of course they asked us what we were doing, were we a nudist group, where we protesting, etc. but seemed quite content when we explained that we were just out for a pleasant walk, with none of the hot and sticky clothes that they were so clearly covered in. They understood what we meant, but would rather not join, for the moment, thank you very much, as the bicycle seats might not be quite so forgiving without the padding... We tramped on in a southerly direction and, apart from a stupid decision of mine which had a suitably retribution-like ending when the fence I was climbing over collapsed and the barbed wire tore my leg, the rest of the walk went fairly smoothly until we stopped for a late lunch at St. Kathrein. The storm clouds gathered depth above the trees around us and after a good rest we set off under a dark sky. We had just reached Tienzens, in 3 different groups, when the heavens opened and Russ, Chris, Christian and I scuttled into a barn for cover, Konrad was still nowhere to be seen. We later found he had been waiting 100 m away next to a nearby church the whole time. The rain pummelled down, and we made ourselves comfortable in the dry and dusty field barn. We were nearly comfortable. After an hour or so, the rain eased and we headed for Steinach. Because it was still raining and quite cool, I put up my umbrella and the other 2 wore their rain jackets. I've walked naked in snow, and in the rain too, but it was just a bit cool for me at that time, Christian was the only one game enough to continue naked. When we got to Steinach the rain just got heavier and we were lucky to find a friendly Pizza restarateur who found us all a room for the night.
The next day we set off and contoured through thick forests, in the narrowing valley past Stafflach and on to Gries am Brenner, before the last grunting climb up towards the Italian border. We had hardly seen a soul the whole day long, while walking, a huge difference from the Piccadilly Circus-like atmosphere of the Karwendel near Scharnitz of several days before. We reached the Sattelalm exhausted but happy. Our goal was in reach, just behind the trees ahead. The Sattelalm nestles on the Austrian/Italian border just beneath the Sattelberg, and has a stupendous view of the Wolfsdorn to the south east. Here we split into 2 teams. I stayed at the Satttelalm gasthof overnight with Russ and we finished the next day by descending to the Brenner pass train station and returning to Munich after a short walk the next day. The other 3 continued on to the Enzianhutte that evening, arriving tired but with some good mileage behind them, to get to Vipiteno at midday the following day. Of the team, 5 of us had reached the border, 2 of the original 7 had dropped out enroute, in part because of the pace, perhaps the walk had been a bit hard with a group who were not familiar with one another's strenghs and weaknesses, or characters. All in all though, NEWT 2006 was a superb mountain hike, through some of Europe's most fantastic mountain scenery, and we had all enjoyed the walking, as well as each others company, and to do it all naked was a very special feeling that is difficult to put into words.
Although a very, very few of the people we encountered expressed a silent disapproval of some kind, the vast majority were positively, and vocally, approving of the sight of our little group of naked men tramping along a busy mountain trail. One man tut-tutted at as he rode past on his bike, but I wasn't sure if it was the naked man he was disapproving of, or the probably non-colour-matching umbrella, (which was busy being a very efficient sun shade at the time). The vast majority of the women-folk were positively enthusiastic, not exactly what one might at first suspect, given society's general paranoia about nudity, but a pleasant and rewarding response all the same. Mostly, seeing a few naked people seemed to add a little spice to everyone's day, and perhaps to refresh their outlook on life for a short while. Christian, driving naked all the way from France to start the walk, was stopped enroute by the Italian police who thoroughly inspected his car and talked with him for perhaps 15 minutes, were not phased - on the contrary, they behaved courteously to this naked foreigner in their midst and finally waved him on and bade him a safe journey. Overwhelmingly the reaction we recieved from people, even considering their quite natural surprise, was positive and enthusiastic, and we weren't a pretty sight by anyone's standard. A good time was had by all.
What are you doing for the NEWT 2017 ?-)