A small group of us gathered at the rail station at Golling, just south of Salzburg, in Austria. Bernard and Robin from the UK, Milton having made a special trip from the USA, Max and Dietmar local Austrians, and myself. We craned our necks to take in the view of the hill we were about to ascend to get to our campsite for the week's naked hiking, power pylons cutting vertically through the forest and delineating the mountainside in a depressingly steep fashion. After a brief lunch stop in the village we headed briefly into the Blunthautal across the river before starting the ardous walk up the soaring mountain ahead. Quickly we stripped off our clothes as we left "civilization" behind, and then we trudged on and up for hours through the shaded forestry trail, carrying large rucksacks filled with camping gear, sweating and zig-zagging as we slowly gained height. At one point a hunter came past and fairly spouted pure vitriol at us for being naked in the mountains so far from anyone, close on his heels came his dog and his daughter, (I don't know if the order was relevant), who said nothing, nor barked. Finally we reached an open and grassy alm, (alpine summer pasture), where we had fine views of the surrounding mountains, amidst several cows and horses quietly grazing. After a short break, we continued onwards, now reaching a steep section which wended its way through the vertical limestone cliffs. At this point, Max came to Robin's aid and took his rucksack (as well as his own), and carried it the next hour and a half until reaching the campsite at the Angeralm, a feat worthy of a tale of it's own. Slowly we all congregated at the campsite where we had plentiful water, (about the only decent supply we saw all week), gushing from a pipe on the side of the Angeralm hut, an astounding view of the surrounding peaks, and a convenient drop loo, too! If anything marred the site it was the array of enormous electricity pylons which scarred the view of the valley from one end to the other, but given that we saw a total of perhaps four people in the four days we were here, perhaps our complaints are not sufficient to take to the electricity board with a view to having the cables moved underground or somesuch unlikely alternative. What price beauty? Nevertheless the view was still astounding. Unfortunately Max had to return quickly to pick up Dietmar who had also found the steepness of the last section of trail too much and turned back earlier, they were only coming for the day anyway, and now we were down to four stalwart Newt members for the week. We found out later that Dietmar wisely set off early on the descent and the pair regrouped in Golling that evening, later, perhaps wiser, than intended, but safe and sound and having enjoyed keeping us company for a while.
Tuesday dawned with a mountain coolness, several stiff and aching limbs, and an urge to get in a good walk. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Partly because Bernard lost a contact lens in the grass, (which we found!), it was past 10:20 before we managed to scrape the team together into a walking group, packed, ablutioned in ice cold mountain water and ready to go. The sun was just coming onto our tents, when a man strode past and seemed singularly unbothered by the group of naked guys he met outside this mountain hut / farmers summer quarters. We advised him to fill up with water, from the ever gushing pipe under the hut, which he did, and then he moved off towards the Tristkopf. This was our intended peak also, and so we followed his trail, up into the woods behind the hut, then to the Fillingalm, an abandoned summer pasture with collapsed hut and no water. As we approached the hut, a man was bending over the trail markers and it transpired he was repainting the tell-tale red-white-red Austrian flag on the entire route 450 on behalf the Austrian Alpine Club. I told him we were very grateful for the markings, as some sections of the trail so far had been a tad on the vague side. We continued above the juniper and reached a col below our final peak. The view into the Salzach valley was tremendous, steep, deep and noisy with the drone of so-called civilisation driving up and down the motorway, thousands of feet below. We turned our backs on that, and headed up to the Tristkopf summit, where I met the early walker just as he was leaving. He'd come up from Golling that morning and was now heading down to Sulzau where he was going to work, now that was a serious pre-work-walk. From the summit we now had views across the vastness behind the pylons and towards Germany and the Berchtesgaden region. The place was huge, and desolate, and beautiful, all at once. After an hour or so, of being hounded by flying ants and burned by the intense high altitude solar heat, (approx. 2100m), we descended towards camp, returning the way we had come. Robin slipped and stumbled occassionally and was looking very dangerous on quite easy but still steep terrain. I wasn't sure if this was heatstroke, altitude issues, or whether he was just plain tired. Either way, we had to make sure he took the descent slowly, and not let him go any faster than was comfortable. I realised at this point that perhaps I had assumed too much in advance, always a danger for a leader of a group of mixed and unknown abilities on steep ground. We went steadily, and were soon out of the dangerous zone, back into the forest and wandering casually and happily back towards our tents. The hut had a couple of rings of stone where one could easily build a safe fire, and so we gathered up some firewood from the surrounding forestry and lit a small bonfire to keep warm. Our minds were beginning to ignore the pylons, and the view across the valley to the sunset behind the mountain ridges on the opposite side of the valley was simply stupendous, all the more so while sitting naked on a fireside log, sipping a little red wine as the limbs outstretched.
Wednesday started with us heading west-south-west and essentially following the line of pylons towards a distant notch in the ridge on the horizon. Robin stayed with us until we reached the Verbundshutte, before returning to the campsite, the rest of the group now continued up through the easy and winding forest trail, past damp undergrowth, ever upwards. At one point I almost stepped on a coiled snake on the path. The snake was black, with dark diamonds or chevrons, I was not certain. Before I could get my camera out, it disappeared into the recesses of the surrounding flora. We trudged on, through an increasingly barren landscape, the trees grew shorter as we steadily gained height, the rocks seemed to grow from everywhere, and the limestone clints formed partial trackways for us, then obstacles, and finally, (as Bernard pointed out), Henry Moore style sculptures with every step. All the way along the route we had seen warnings not to climb the electricity pylons, and as we reached the pass, we saw yet more signposts, almost the only sign of mankind in this wilderness:
Thursday dawned clear and dry and we got away a little earlier this time. As we left the campsite Milt, somehow, spotted a real Newt in the grass. This we picked up and photographed as a fitting mascot for the week's walking tour, before carefully placing the little fellow back in the grass to grow up to be a true mountain hiker, naked of course. Bernard, Milt and I set off into the trees and up the steep trail. We went off-route and made a bee-line through the little valleys and woods towards a hunters hut we had seen from our first day out, almost directly above our campsite, separated by perhaps 200 vertical metres. Reaching the hut, we took a break and soaked in the atmosphere of an imposing view of the Tristkopf, and a stupendous view of the previous days hike up to the Hochwiesspass. The hut, built in 1935, used rainwater as a water source, which rather limited it's use in these dry times, but was so well situated that we were all captivated by it's charm. Setting off west we wended our way around to a hidden valley, where we surprised another couple of Marmot's into another display of standing on brown rocks and piping out their piercing alarm calls. Moving on, we passed another (abandoned) hut and summer pasture, before heading towards the ridge above. The way was tortuous and wound through thick mountain bush growing from limestone clints. Some interesting route-finding found us on the summit of our target ridge, and the views just got better. The drop to the Salzach valley below was now nearly vertical, and the peaks all around began to take on a more toothy appearance. The sunlight shone down through the high cumulus and lay the mountain profiles lightly one atop the other, receding in intensity and vastness as their distance grew. Lunch was whatever we had with us and after we'd rested we moved on. A brief sojourn to the neighbouring summit was dismissed by excessive bush, and we found our way instead back towards the Fillingalm once more. The day ended by being shorter, but a more adventurous route overall, with us following distinctly indistinct and unmarked trails for most of the time. Probably the only people who ever make it up here, we mused, would be the occassional hunter, these days. We finished the day with yet another bonfire, which we also (finally) used to cook up some soup, but that's another story.
Friday arrived all too soon, and we packed to descend from the hills, clearing and carrying our rubbish away with us. It was at this point that we really appreciated having had a static base camp, and light day sacks for every day's walk, as we lifted our loads heavily onto our backs for the return march. It was sad to be leaving this charming spot, but there are other things to do. We set off and this time managed to find the more appropriate route, the 450 proper, which took a less steep approach to the cliff face below us and made for much more straightforward walking on the top section of our return march. Zig-zagging down through the steep woods we kept seeing the Blunthautal opening up before us, and at one point the trail actually grazed the top of a sheer cliff. The only thing between us and several thousand vertical feet to the trees directly below us, were two (not very thick) tree trunks wedged between a rock and another tree. While probably very solid, I was not game to experiment and we kept a respectful distance from the absolute edge. The drop was sheer and not the place to lose a football. After a while, and having reluctantly decided that this was probably the only feasible place a cow could be driven up this mountain, we reached the Kraitzalm hut once more where we stopped for a well deserved rest before continuing our descent. Down, down, down, always down through the trees. We were all tired when we finally reached the forestry road at the base of the mountain. Just then a 4WD car/station wagon drove up and stopped, the driver was the man I had met while walking up naked on the Sunday night at the Kraitzalm on the way to scout out the campsite. He was very friendly and said he recognised me from the umbrella(!). I told him his mountains here were spectacular, and that we'd just spent a super week hiking naked high up and having seen nearly no-one the whole time. With that, we shook hands amicably before he departed up to his hut, and we down to the valley. Bernard took the opportunity for a quick skinny dip in the popular river as we regained the main road, a (textile) family swimming next to us found this faintly amusing and so I had to explain we'd just spent the week hiking naked in the alps above. They laughed. We trailed into Golling for a celebratory beer, before catching the train out. It had been a wonderful week, we'd been very spoilt with the only threatening weather happening at night, and otherwise we'd had uninterupted sunshine all week long.
Postscript: Robin had managed to get in some naked hiking on his way down from the UK in the Westerwald, courtesy of Horst, and Milt and Bernard were heading to Munich and the ThermeErding to experience the largest naked sauna complex in Europe for themselves. Max had returned for a final naked day's hiking on the Friday but somehow we'd managed to not join up. All round, even if I'd picked up a little extra burn from the fierce alpine sun, we'd packed in a solid week's naked activities, with variety and not a little challenge, and were well satisfied.
What are you doing for the NEWT 2017 ?-)