NEWT reports

Newt 2008 took place in the Kaernten (Carinthia) region of Austria. This year's Newt started at the Villach Hauptbahnhof, just north of the Italian border, in Austria. I was thoroughly looking forward to a bit of pleasant mountain walking whether alone or leading a group, after I had waited nearly an hour I decided I was on my own this year, at least for the first couple of days, and after picking up some last minute provisions I started to head south. The day was fairly bright, and having taken a local train down to Godersdorf, I set off walking in a southerly direction, towards the border ridge between Austria and Slovenia. As I was walking through a tiny village I came across a spring-fed water trough set up explicitly for passing walkers or anyone who needed a drink - even a handy tin cup was supplied on a loose chain, most civilised and giving a friendly and welcoming air to the start of the walk. After a short while, at about 10.30 am, I left the road and started up a farm track towards the woods, and at this point it seemed ok to strip off my shorts and t-shirt and I continued naked for the rest of the day. The sky was blue with large white puffy clouds on the horizon, and even under the shade of the trees the temperature was amply warm as I strode up the trail through the forest. At first I easily followed the zig-zagging logging trail past one or two isolated farmhouses and then the trail disappeared into the forest and I had to make my way straight up through the steep undergrowth until I could break out onto the track which contoured the ridge on the north side. I paused here for a rest and to soak up the magnificent views across the Villach valley before setting off along the now gently undulating track, past an alm, or high alpine meadow, with several horses and their keepers partaking of an early lunch at their mountain hut. I was getting into an easy stride now as the trail shrunk and snaked along the shoulders of the ridge as the glorious day wore on. I crested a hilltop to find the view to the south open out before me as a panorama of steep and rocky crags serrated across the base of the sky. The lines of ridge and valley defining one another amidst the clouds of a changable but firmly summer sky. I descended to the valley on the west end of the ridge, and found myself at an isolated Jaegerhutte (hunting hut), which had fresh running water from a spring at the side of the trail. I decided, rather than to tramp down to a possibly disappointing and road-worthy civilisation in the base of the valley, to camp up here in the medium-high alpine regions instead. As I made myself comfortable I was joined by a local farmer and his son who were out to have a late-afternoon snack and a beer before their evening meal. I accepted the proffered home-made salami and bread and, in broken German/Austrian, we managed to communicate about the area. Apparently the area used to be quite dangerous not ten years earlier, with the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the ridge on which we were dining used to be a place which was good to avoid, unless you wanted to be hunted down by armed patrols of hostile soldiers, and shot. It's extraordinary to think about, when you're not involved in it I guess, what people will do for the sake of a few rocks, a bit of grass, and a flag, when basically most people just want to quietly get on with their own lives. Thankfully the evening wore on peacefully enough, and the night passed uneventfully too and in the morning I woke to the sound of mountain birds and that special early morning alpine sunlight caressing the treetops, layer by layer.

I headed down the easy trail to the border pass, and while it was a pleasant enough area, I was glad I'd decided to stay up the hill overnight as the road was wide and intermittently noisy, and the gasthof was in any case closed, so I couldn't even get a morning coffee for my trouble. I set off up the other side of the valley, and very soon lost the trail again having followed the trail markers faithfully, and found myself on very steep terrain trying to relocate the track through the forest. I re-found the trail and stuck to it like glue as it wound it's way around the trees and up the steeply wooded slope. Near the top of the hill, I passed my first textile walkers who, as usual, seemed surprised at meeting a naked walker halfway up the mountain but at the same time were friendly enough and smiled as we greeted each other in passing. Continuing upwards, eventually I reached the top of the ridge, and encountered several more small groups of people which had evidently just arrived via the chair lift from the other side. One couple followed me over the border into Slovenia and along the forest track for a while until I stopped and let them overtake me as I thought they probably didn't want to be looking at my back view the whole way along the ridge. They were friendly enough, and we met each other a couple of times again over the next hour or so. The view as I reached the summit of the ridge, and the meeting point of the three land borders of Austria, Italy and Slovenia, was magnificent. To the north lay the valley from which I had started walking yesterday, with the bulk of the Dobratsch mountain rising as a broad backcloth behind it. To the south were the jagged peaks of the Julian Alps, piercing into the clouds with their sharp eatures delineated clearly by the bright summer sunshine. To east and west the wooded ridge wound it's way across the horizon, like I was in the middle of a giant green whaleback. I stopped briefly here to soak in the view, but there were too many people and so I moved on, heading down towards the next border pass in the valley ahead. At one point I passed a gleeful boy and several young children being led up the hill by a young lady who appeared quite unperturbed by me as I passed by and wished her "Una Buona Giornata" (a good day) - she smiled broadly and replied "A Tante Sempre" (and the very same to you). It's pleasant little moments like this which can just make your day. I walked on and on through the forest, ever downwards, until I finally reached the border town of Unterthoerl. I camped just below the town, in between the railway lines and the motorway, before finding a good meal with a pleasant proprietress who spoke both Italian and Austrian/German, and a couple of very refreshing beers at a reasonable price. Fortunately I had my tent pitched just before the rainstorm broke and set in for the night.

The next morning I woke to find the sunshine streaming in through the tent flaps and illuminating the valley below. The grass was bright, bright, yellow and green and the day was fresh. By now I'd nearly given up on anyone joining me on the walk, but I had arranged as a third and final meeting place the Austrian/Italian border just south of the town, and so after a coffee at the gasthof I walked up the road to the border to see who, if anyone, would arrive. In fact, I met Humbert at the cafe lugging an enormous rucksack, and we both met Clifton at the border carrying a more practical rucksack. Humbert lives near Frankfurt and is a young and active naked runner with whom I'd previously exchanged emails, and Clifton is from New York and an active naked hiker who had booked his flight to Europe, specifically for the Newt, at the start of the year and I was glad to see he'd made it too. So, the Newt finally had some content, besides me, and this was a good thing. We had a last drink at the gasthof, and a brief discussion about the impending, and non-too promising and darkly looming, weather before setting off together along the trail which led us west out of the village. We were quickly joined by an elderly and friendly mushroom hunter, and we walked together for a short while before taking our seperate routes. We all three of us stripped off, putting our clothes in our rucksacks, and continued for most of the rest of the day hiking naked. We zig-zagged up the forest logging tracks, and after a while took the more direct and marked route through the trees, up and up. Although the sweat dripped from us as we toiled up the mountain trail, we were enjoying our naked excursion, and halfway up we were rewarded by a magnificent view over the valley from a wooden table and bench set on a small outcrop. The view from here was an inspiring sight, and one which motivated us to keep walking. We rejoined the trail and wound our way eventually to the top of the ridge, where the trees fell back to expose a pond below the high mountain alm with several summer farm buildings, just as the rain started. We dressed minimally to enter the alm, and were immediately offered a can of beer each by the farmer and his son who we passed while they were working on their barn. This unexpected and friendly bonus, improved the prospect of our brief lunch stop, as we hunkered under a sheltered wooden barn as the wind whistled around, and the rain dropped with enthusiasm. Refreshed, we set off once more and, having replenished our water supplies from the local spring we passed the large cast iron bell and follwed the trail as it peeled around the back of the ridge, accompanied by a light rain. We trundled along the easy track for a while before we had to leave it for a smaller trail which wound it's way past enormous ant hills of pine needles, and finally down the other side of the ridge, on and on, down and yet further down. We decried the loss of altitude as we knew we had to make it up later enroute. The forest darkened as the rain clouds crept across the sky, the moist path underfoot gave slightly with each step, softening the impact on our knees as we descended the trail towards the pass below. The heavens simply opened as we set off on the long climb up the hill towards what promised to be a manned mountain hut, with a dry bed and dinner, far above us, but we were uncertain as to whether it was open or not, and after about fifteen minutes of torrential rain, we decided caution was the better part of valour and that we should make camp at the pass instead, (better the deviil you know), so we turned back and in the midst of heavy rain pitched camp beside the hut at the pass, where at least we had running water, not that that was in short supply at the moment. While it had been raining hard, Humbert had met a hunter and his daughter in a 4x4 in the forest, and once we'd made camp, and were sitting down to a shared salami and biscuit meal in Humbert's enormous three-man tent, we thought we heard them beeping their car horn outside. Or it may have been the forest police wanting us to move on from our illegal campsite. None of us were game to leave the dry tent, and the occupants of the car were clearly not game enough to reciprocate from their dry vehicle, so we will never know. After dinner and a good chat we returned to our respective tents and hunkered in for the night. There's something very special about camping in the rain - the persistent pattering of rain drops on the material above you as you (hopefully) stay warm and dry in your little man-made cocoon - which is just as well, as it rained all night long.

The night passed uneventually, apart from the stray drip, and the next morning we packed up, during a brief lull in the rain, and set off up the hill in search of our mountain hut. It was still raining and a cool wind blew down the trail, and any thoughts of hiking naked were put aside as we simply wanted to reach the ridge with it's prospective shelter. After a couple of hours, we spied a wooden shape looming from the misty rain clouds, and we gratefully entered the Schoenwipfelhutte, dry and windless, and warm, inside. We fed on hot chocolate, and egg and bacon and potato, and wine, and a dry bed. It was like a little piece of heaven. The family were up here milking their cows for the summer, manning the hut as a profitable side-line to their traditional farming venture. They were all very friendly in that special mountain manner, where people appreciate the environment and the fortitude it takes to live in it. They were also clearly amused by our tales of naked hiking, and even though they may have been a little disbelieving at first, we were made very welcome by all three generations. It's an honour to be able to walk to a place like this, and to meet such friendly, honest and open people, and to be able to reciprocate such a feeling of mutual pleasure with the scenery, the position and the way of life, even while we all have slightly different expectations and perhaps daily live in otherwise wildly different lifestyles. As the rain continued to pummel down outside, we knew we weren't going anywhere else today, so we opened a bottle of wine, and whiled away the day chatting, playing cards and generally drying out. Towards late afternoon the sky cleared, the sun came out briefly, and the clouds parted for some superlative views of the Julian Alps to the south, just as the the cloudy mists clung to the tree covered slopes around us. The home made Gulasch was an experience to be savoured, and we did. We probably had one, or two, glasses, or bottles, of wine too many, but ended the day quietly enough by admiring the stars brightly illuminating the entire night sky above us. The sky was so clear, with no so-called-civilisation light pollution, you almost felt you could reach out and pluck one from the myriad pin-pricks in the black-light quilt which stretched above us.

After a short and welcome breakfast we reluctantly took our leave of the hut and it's amiable keepers, and turned west, following a trail past a mixed herd of cows and horses. As we started on the first uphill slope, we stripped off once more, and continued naked, nearly bumping into a small family arriving at the little chapel, with a pleasant sounding bell, on the ridge above. Walking on, we encountered an old farmer on the trail walking from the village ahead. And while he may have found us three naked hikers a little unusual, nevertheless he took the trouble to stop and to give us some friendly advice on the route ahead of us. We avoided the village by taking a route straight across the hill in front, down the steep grass on the other side, and headed down the valley trail towards the next border crossing. Enroute we passed what appeared to be a daughter, her mother and her grandmother, walking up the hill and looking as though they were going to join the streams of people heading for the higher summit of the Oiksberg, which we avoided. As ever, we exchanged friendly greetings and continued on each of our individual ways. The route now snaked down and along the forest flank until we reached the Austrian/Italian border where we dressed briefly for a refreshing drink. Humbert's footwear were beginning to revolt, and the sole on one boot partially detached as he walked. Clifton had some handy tape which helped, and with my nylon cord he made do for the rest of the tour, but it was always a bit touch and go as to whether the boots would give up the ghost entirely, or not. The next stretch of trail took us up and up, and then up again through the wooded flank of the hillside above, until we reached the grassy ridge, where we paused for a welcome breather, and a short lunch stop. The view from here was memorable for being able to see across the dark valley and ridges we had just crossed, all the way back to the Schoenwipfulhutte which we had only just left this morning. We could see the hut, way off in the distance, a small square like think perched on an open alm above the deeply forested valleys lying beneath, and it was interesting to consider the, perhaps not vast but certainly substantial, distance we had just covered on foot between us. An ant bit me, and we moved off, leaving the ridge, for a trail which turned into a forest track which serviced various high mountain alms and barns, and we descended past an interesting carved tree trunk next to a refreshing spring on the road-side. We crossed the valley by the river at it's base, stopping to let Humbert and Clifton jump in for a refresher and a wash, before heading up the other side, briefly encountering an amiable forest warden checking his trees by 4x4. Some of the path markings were a bit ambigous, or non-existent, on this trail, but we managed to find our way to the main track leading us around the hillside to the gasthof ahead. This track amazed us by being tarmacced for half it's length, through an otherwise trackless forest - we were beginning to expect to see traffic lights and no-parking yellow stripes. We continued on until we finally reached the very busy little gasthof and dressed to stop for a marvelous Kaiserschmarn mit Apfelmus (pancake with apple sauce). It was a bit strange suddenly being surrounded by so many people, most of whom appeared to have arrived here by car. The atmosphere was distinctly different from up in the mountains. We had a pow-wow as to what to do next, because we were so close to the end of the trip. There were no beds to be had here, and Humbert wasn't going to consider another night under canvas, so we headed up the flat valley in the hope that we might find some kind of suitable accommodation. I was naked most of the way between the two villages, and recieved a couple of interesting looks from a family on the road, and a couple of cyclists, so we moved off onto a quieter trail which went through a herd of ruminating cows and around the back of the lake. We met a farmer couple enroute and briefly discussed with her about the cow we had seen up to it's knees in mud next to the lake, and the broken electric fence, before continuing into the village. The houses all had their own little wooden fence marking out a small patch of grass around them, and otherwise the cows had more or less free rein over the entire valley. We managed to find a laager-room to sleep in, which was a kind of rough attic above Rudi's gasthof, and a meal and a couple of beers, for a reasonable price, so we were happy.

In the morning, we took our leave of Clifton, as Rudi-the-pirate kindly drove Humbert and I to the mainline train station in Hermagor, so we could return to our respective homes. On the way down we talked about how he enjoyed to living for most of the year off-mains high up at the cow alm, and I mentioned Crina Bottom, the isolated farmhouse in the north of England my wife and I had renovated together - where we installed a telephone landline, piped water from a nearby river, ran a diesel generator for electricity and so on - all things which here in these remote and wonderful alpine pastures seem not so very strange at all. I had to get back home to earn some brownie points with my family, and to do some work, so I had had to curtail my part of the Newt. Humbert's equipment really wasn't up to doing any more, as his boots were completely inoperable, and his equipment, (particularly the enormous tent), was really too heavy to be carrying any further. So between us, we left Clifton to carry on the Newt flag, alone. Clifton took another two days and headed off alone over a ridge and into Italy before returning via the originally planned, and apparently very interesting, gorge route to Hermagor. It had been a good trip overall, not withstanding some inclement weather, and I'd really enjoyed meeting and walking with my two fellow Newts amongst some of the finest scenery europe has to offer. Clifton's Newt 2008 completion trail:

After you guys left, I did the walk around the canyon up to the big mountain. The section through Italy was especially fantastic. it was the most challenging hiking that we had encountered up to that point (more on that in a little while) and the scenery looking to the south canyon was spectacular. my photos definitely do not do it justice. I hiked naked most of the morning until I started to approach the gasthof. the area around the gasthof is a ski slope and they run the lift up in the summertime so there were ALOT of day- hikers up there. After a few of them passed me on the trail I was starting to think it was getting crowded, but then I ran into a group of about 20 and decided it was time to put on my shorts. I reached the gasthof Garnitzeralm around noon time and had a really nice lunch. It was very beautiful up there and I decided it would be nice to explore the area, so I finished lunch, left my pack and climbed the rest of the way to the summit of the mountain next to the big Garnitzer (see the cross photos). There was a wonderful lake above the restaurant that the ski center used for making snow in the winter. I had a fantastic swim in the VERY cold lake, which I had seen earlier in the day but because it was surrounded by an electric fence and signposted against swimming, I hadn't gone in before. I really wished I had photographed that meal. The hostess made a "Green Snake" which I had never heard of before. Of course I wasn't so excited about eating a snake but I was a really good guest and just went with it and made no objection. When she served the meal, even then I thought it was a real snake. The meal was a baked pastry in the very convincing shape of a snake but it turned out to be filled with cheese and herbs. We drank great wine and had a really fun and long conversation. She is the director of a theater in Graz during the year and runs the gasthof only in the summer so we had a lot to talk about. The next morning, I decided to get up before dawn to beat the tourists coming up on the ski lift. My idea paid off and I was able to hike most of the way down the Geo trail naked. I also had the pleasure of following the sunrise line down the valley, making it into a 3 hour long sunrise. The Geo trail was for me the absolute best part of the entire hiking week. it is a narrow slot canyon with a rushing river at the bottom. Exposed rock and at times very difficult and challenging hiking. Humbert made the best choice to not do this because I would not have wanted to do it without my boots. most of the trail had safety chains embedded into the rock and they were really necessary. But this is a beautiful place. I'm really sorry that you both didn't get to experience it. my pictures to not do it justice. Also, I'm sorry I was alone because it would have made an excellent place for photographs of rock scrambling and climbing and holding on for dear life at times! Around 9am, after I crossed my 7th person going up the canyon, I reluctantly put on shorts. After that, the hiking and scenery remained excellent, but there was a torrent of day hikers doing their bit up the canyon. I had lunch at the bottom of the geo canyon at the Klammwirt Gasthaus (you probably passed this place in your car ride down from the mountain). From there I walked into Hermagor on Friday afternoon to camp. The next morning, I got up and took the train to Villach and then to Vienna, where I spent the night with friends and saw a show at the Vienna Dance Festival. Sunday was then spent in airline hell all day (3 hours on the tarmac in Vienna, a missed connection in Atlanta and finally home at 3am!) But all worth it.

What are you doing for the NEWT 2017 ?-)