NEWT reports

The NEWT 2010 was a great naked hiking week with seven participants in the beautiful Radstaedter Tauern region, south of Salzburg, in Austria. Annikki Heinemann made a lovely video reportage of our 2010 trip which you can see here: Odisee Newt Video

Day 1. Our motley crew gathered for this year's Newt at Radstadt Bahnhof (train station). There were seven of us in all; Brian (a retired teacher from England), Robert (a chemical engineer from Germany), Roland (a tour operator from Holland, who had brought Elgar the Elk along for company), Conor (a Berlin Arts magazine editor from Ireland) and Anniki (a video reporter from Berlin), Miguel (an IT and language student from Venezuela living in Switzerland), and myself (IT programmer from the UK living in Munich). This year we were joined by my dog Polly, she's a year and a half old semi-pedigree Border Collie, a lightly built dog bred for herding sheep across the northern English border fells, a variety much loved by shepherds for their intelligence and hard work. This year we had a small impromptu reporting team with us, (Conor and Anniki), which was especially nice because they were a young couple, and introduced an element of youthful enthusiasm into the team. We were a mixed bunch indeed.

The NEWT rule, more of a guideline really, is that when on tarmac and in Gasthofs we stay dressed, and elsewhere we are naked, although naturally this is a personal choice at all times. We all set off dressed to walk along the main roads until we reached the golf course at the base of the hill on the south side of the valley. The golf course had it's own novel mini-gondola to take people from one hole to the next, and this point we reached a gravel forestry trail which headed up through the trees, so most of us stripped off here, and continued naked in the cool morning air. We followed the track, in the slightly cool forest shadows, zig-zagging uphill steadily. It was clear this was a rodelbahn (taboggan) route in the winter, because of the rather incongruous green metal streetlight which stood on each corner, like some kind of redundant steel sentinel amongst the trees. Sweat was soon pouring off our bodies, and it was pleasant to note that our clothes, which we were reluctantly carrying in our rucksacks, would at least stay dry and clean. Like any activity, there are pros and cons to naked hiking. We kept heading uphill until we came to a clearing, an alm with cows grazing in the sunshine and a mountain hut with a welcome supply of fresh water burbling from a pipe fed from a spring nearby. We took a welcome break here for lunch, having gained half our height for the day. The remote mountain hut had a solar panel and television arial, to supplement the table and benches, so was clearly intended to make things as comfortable as possible for the incumbents, all we really needed now was a couple of cool beers. We set off again, along the water worn and mud-filled trail, and headed steadily up towards the ridge where the vistas really opened out, and we could see across to the Dachstein mountain range to the north-east. I was pleased to see that Polly was coping admirably with her makeshift rucksack which I had cobbled together from spare parts in the week before the tour. The pack also raised a few smiles from the team as well as passers-by during the week, thus serving double-purpose as dog-food carrier and mobile entertainment vehicle too. Towards the end of the day, we reached a farm where I had thought to camp nearby, out of sight and out of mind, but we approached the farmer for water, half the team dressed and the other half naked, and he informed us that he owned the entire mountain, and while perfectly happy to give us water, was also perfectly happy to send us on our way to camp off his land. His wife and family was laughing from the farm kitchen door at our naked apparel, and his father asked whether he should call the police. The farmer however, seemed relatively unbothered by our nakedness and simply gave us water freely and told us where to camp to ensure we were out of range of his hunting area for the early morning. Unfortunately this meant we had to lose an hour worth of height and distance, which was a bit of a downer. We met a more pleasant family some way down the hill, and had a chat about the event, apparently the recalcitrant farmer is always like that with foreigners, basically anyone from outside the valley, and his response to us really had nothing to do with our state of dress and everything to do with the fact that we were on "his" hill. We found a discreet and harmless spot to set up camp, and settled in for the night. It was a little cool for some, but we all managed a reasonable night's sleep, even with the cows crashing around behind the barbed wire fence just behind us, except Brian who had to put up with my snoring from the tent next door.

Day 2. The Tuesday dawned cool and fresh, with a couple of clear gun shots from somewhere on the hill above us. Clearly the farmer was out hunting nice and early and we were glad not to have met him with both barrels still smoking. We packed up and starting the long trail up the hill to regain the height we'd lost the day before. On our way up we met the friendly family again, fencing in the cows and protecting the hay meadows, they invited us to their place for an invigorating cup of fresh coffee and some cool fresh milk. This placed the previous day's short setback on a positive note, and improved the start of our day beyond recognition. Our faith in mountain dwellers restored, and filling our water bottles from a handy pipe, we meandered up the grass and rocky ridge steadily towards the skyline. Anniki appeared a bit nervous as the ridge did indeed look quite steep from this angle, and she was tired from yesterday's exertions. Not only was she carrying her share of camping equipment, but also a hefty movie camera plus lenses, microphone and tripod, for reporting on the trip. Oh, I thought, what joy to be young and fit again! However, the trail was easy, although there were a couple of places where one had to be careful not to make any mistakes on the loose and steep gravel covered rocks. It's often on steep yet easy looking ground that experienced climbers and casual walkers alike are killed by a single careless slip, or a misplaced loose rock, so it's imperative to always keep a clear head and a confident foot. Robert's self-erecting tent packed into a huge circular coloured disk on his back, and gave him the air of some kind of space-alien, trudging naked across the alpine tundra. We made our way steadily up to the summit ridge, and took a break, before tackling the final slope to the large cross fixed by multiple cables at the highest point. Robert entered the NEWT info into the hut book for posterity, and we took our first summit photos, alongside several groups of French, Polish and Austrian, hikers. We passed, and interacted with, several mixed groups of clothed hikers, some were more curious than others, and almost everybody's reactions to our naked team were fairly typical, seeming to find us mildly amusing and otherwise harmless. Polly's unusual rucksack elicited similar volumes of comments. Walking on, we traced a line across the breast between two peaks, and along the ridge to the next summit, stopping for some more photos and a view down to our target campsite for the evening, the Rauchskoegelhutte. We had hoped the hut would be open, and we could get refreshments and supplies there, but we were disappointed to find that the hut was closed for the summer. Because there was no water available on the ridge at this point, a surprise given that the hut is so well marked on the local map, we sent down two volunteers, to the nearest habitation, for water. Robert and Roland descended with rucksacks full of empty water bottles, Polly disappearing to accompany them for the extra exercise. They came back an hour later laden with water and an extra couple of bottles of Radler, a refreshing Beer mixed with lemonade, donated by the friendly workers at the construction site below. As they were leaving our group on the morrow, Anniki used this evening to interview several of us about the hike, the reactions we receive from other walkers, our motivations, etc. We set up camp around the hut, and had just finished dinner when the darkening skies suddenly erupted around us in a deluge of wind blasted h2o. The rain found all of us quite unprepared for it's ferocity, and it took several gulps of various intoxicating liquids before we could quite face going to our fortunately already erected tents to attempt sleep. Polly, for whom I'd placed a waterproof insulation mat under the vestibule, spent what seemed like half the night; squeezing out under the flysheet into the blasting rain and, because the angle of the tent material stopped her from squeezing back in again, I'd have to open the inner tent, open the outer tent, drag her back into shelter, close the outer tent, push the wet dog off my sleeping bag, close the inner tent, wipe off as much cold rain water as possible, curl up and try to go back to sleep. Only to find she'd crept outside into the rain again...

Day 3. We woke after a wind blasted night to a calm and beautiful sunrise, the sun rising behind the steep rocky ridges of the Tauern mountains behind us, the night's rain still sitting as fog in the valleys below. Packing up, we continue along the easy ridge, Miguel having some trouble skirting the bogs with his fashionable training shoes, until we reached a col and a route decision. We chose left and descended to a high alm where the farmer and his family provided refreshments for alpine walkers while milking their cows and making cheese throughout the summer. The children, (two boys), of the family came out and entertained us with some alpine squeeze-box music which was like something out of the alpine children's tale "Heidi". Several of us had a "Schluesselkas", which was a fresh soft cheese mixed with some harder cheese, and served in a bowl with some heavy Austrian bread. To a townie like myself it looked at first terrible, but the taste was simply superb, a pungently flavoured mix of textures and sounds which melded with the scenery to produce an alpine idyll. At this point we said a cheery goodbye to Conor and Anniki, they had other stories to cover and maybe we will meet again, in any case we had enjoyed our time together and wished them well, looking forward to seeing the results of their reportage. The rest of us set off down into the valley before heading back up towards the higher Tauern hills above. Walking along the road, and naked past the gasthof at the base of the hill, elicited a few cackles from the 15 or 20 people sitting around their beer and apple-strudel. We met a young girl carrying a ginger cat down the hill in her arms, and of course Polly became all tense and wanted to eat, or at least chase, it. Further up the road, we encountered a large family group with several children and a couple of dogs, having passed us with a friendly exchange of greetings, Roland and I laughed when we heard them guffaw loudly as they next passed by Brian, our very own real-life version of Ray Bradbury's "tattooed man", on his way up 100 metres below. By now, they were probably wondering what they would meet around the next corner. We continued up the winding road, steadily gaining height for another hour or so before reaching the Suedwienerhuette, a superbly placed hut at one end of a raised valley between the higher peaks, run by the very friendly Schett family. Brian set up camp discreetly amongst the trees, and the rest of us moved into the hut, dog and all. We were all made very welcome here, even Polly who had immediately picked an argument with the resident, and until then very peaceful, dog. As afternoon exercise the rest of the team went up the summit behind the hut, possibly a good excuse to walk Polly a bit further, and after a short break I followed and joined them as they were descending. The effort to reach the easy peak was rewarded with a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks, valleys and ridges. We all ate in the hut that evening, and it was a pleasant change to have easy access to beer and spaghetti bolognese, all prepared by a friendly Nepalese cook who spends his spare time guiding walking tours around Everest base camp.

Day 4. The next morning Robert left the group for other commitments, and the remaining members set off for a low level traverse of the ground heading west towards Obertauern. We passed cows grazing amidst high rocky pastures where in Britain one might only expect to see sheep. The cold wind made sure we wore various bits of clothing as deemed suitable, particularly amusing, and a nice counterpoint to his nakedness, were Miguel's patent leather gloves. The wind was at first cool, as it blew clouds scudding against the high rocky peaks above us, but as the day wore on the weather improved as we followed the easy trail which meandered along the wide terrace beneath. Brian split off from the group to return to the hut via a high ridge route, while the rest of us took the easier and very pleasant low level trail back down to an alm, back along and beneath our outwards route through light and airy forest trails. A distant waterfall competed with the noise from the light but constant traffic on the single road up the Tauern valley below. We encountered several small groups and pairs of walkers along the return route, all of whom exchanged friendly greetings with us. Although one man in particular may have felt a bit picked on, as he met three naked men on the lower trails on his way up the mountain for his day's hiking and, on the high mountain ridge an hour later on, he met Brian on his own, also naked. He could have been forgiven for thinking this was the "naked man mountain". As the day wore on, the clouds were blown away from the summit ridges and, as we lost height, the wind dropped and temperature steadily rose. The sun streamed hotly through the dappled leaves of the alpine hillside, as we wended our way along the small rambling trail stopping occasionally to admire the view. We finally returned to the Suedwiennerhuette for early afternoon tea, a nearly well-earned beer, and to chill out amongst stupendous scenery. Miguel now left the group to continue his studies, and the group was now down to the three of us, Brian, Roland, and myself. In the event, this was the last day, as Roland and I set to drinking far too much wine and schnapps with Roland, the seemingly dour yet very amiable hut warden and Gabi, his charming waitress. The friendly Nepali cook, whose name I slackly forget, kept us jovial company until he very probably got tired of the inebriated humour and excess of his European hosts. After an excess of jollity, the following day we woke with heads akimbo and, through thick clouds of post-schnapps haze, tried to piece together the end of the week, before each wending our own particular way home.

The walking week had been a great success, with a well-knit group of different people hiking pleasantly together through inspiring terrain. We'd all had ideas for future projects, how to encourage more women to come along, for instance, perhaps it would be better to camp in a single place, or use a hut as a fixed base, are shorter or longer tours more suitable? The variations are really endless, like any activity when you come down to actually try to plan anything, and if there's one thing I've learnt by organising these walks is that it's not possible to please everybody. The main thing is to enjoy the walking.

What are you doing for the NEWT 2017 ?-)