The Saturday began with our little VW T4 camper making it's way down to Ramsau am Dachstein, with a full compliment of myself and Polly the Collie dog, Sandra and her Susi the Pekinese, Conxita making her body awareness expansion film and her assistant Nelisa for camera and sound. We trundled our way slowly down towards Austria, with the Navi making light work of the direction finding, until we arrived at the hut we had rented for the week. During the course of the afternoon and the evening more people arrived piecemeal until every bedroom of the 35-person hut was occupied. There were old friends from previous years and new faces to get to know. It was especially good to see Roland again, as he always made light work of the cooking tasks. Then Pascal who took control of the food money and shopping, and his wife Clarisse who also steered the kitchen. The American contingent arrived en-masse in a hired car, which was useful as the number of people coming by train had begun to concern me earlier during the planning stages, however it now looked like we'd make the travel and carrying all work out somehow. The swimming pool outside the hut didn't look so enticing as the storm clouds gathered overhead, and the weather forecast was especially grim, although improving steadily during the week, apparently.
The Sunday began too slowly for some, with one half of the group heading off up the hill behind the hut for a morning hike around the local area. The rest of us waited until after lunch before trailing down to the river below, which we followed down the valley bottom. A little light rain kept us occupied, and half-dressed from time to time, inbetween negotiating the washed away and abandoned trail. It was with some difficulty that we made our way along the riverside, and we were forced to cross the river twice. For some reason, Mira did not want to get her shoes wet, so I carried her across, which was somewhat entertaining and somehow made the little expedition seem a bit more serious than it really was. We arrived at the lake, expecting a swim, to find it empty of water because of repair works at the dam head. So we simply turned up the forest trail and walked back through the forest returning to the hut above in good time to pick up the last train arrivals in Schladming during the evening. Herbert volunteered to help with the pick-ups and it was good to not have to do the trip alone, as I was uncertain precisely how many people might make this particular train drop. Our arrival back at the hut was timed perfectly with the communal evening meal which Roland and Clarisse had fixed up, with some help from a few willing others. [chris name tags]
[Andreao(?) left] The Monday started badly as it seemed that Polly was limping very badly and I suspected a strained ligament or fractured bone somewhere from all the running around in the river on the previous day, although it was hard to tell which leg was hurting as it seemed to change from time to time, which was strange. Sandra was also suffering from a sore throat and heavy head cold and could hardly speak, so we therefore took the day off from hiking and instead headed for the local doctor's office in Ramsau. Meanwhile the rest of the troupe headed off to do the first day's tour without me, ably lead by Pierre. Having fixed up Sandra with various chemicals and the prerequisite health insurance paperwork, we headed for a vet finally finding one in Schladming. It turned out that Polly's limping, was due to her paws being rubbed raw and sliced partially open, probably because of her pads being softened by the wet ground and then the water in the river, followed by madly rushing around over the rocks after sticks all day long. So it was doggie-shoes for all four of Polly's paws, (she did look fairly funny, if a bit confused), and at least the rest of the day off, and a return to the hut for a swim and some chill-out time. While we were there, Sandra wrote up her story of our first meeting, and the strangeness of being introduced to the idea of naked hiking by having her date remove his clothing during our first walk. We also met and chatted with the friendly farmer who was renting his house to us, and he posed for a photo with me, while pointing to one hanging on the wall of him climbing in the area when he was young. He had been an active member of the local mountain rescue and also had several letters of commendation, and newspaper clippings from his adventures, framed and hung around the hut.
The Tuesday began with us splitting into two groups, with one part taking the cable-car up, with the still recovering and bored Polly, and the rest of us heading steeply up underneath the winter-time cable-car route directly from the valley bottom near Pichl-Preunegg. At first the naked trail was a nice and easy zig-zag, using what appeared to be a toboggan run, until we reached a couple of isolated farmhouses. At this point, wanting to avoid the entire group trampling across an uncut hay field, I broke my own rule of remaining dressed on tarmac, and we continued up the steep road a short way and past a couple of houses, before regaining the forest track. Continuing up the steep zig-zag along the rough track, we dressed to cross the cable-car base station to the forest at the other side of the clearing. A police car arrived just behind us, which may, or may not, have been co-incidental. Discretion being the best part of valour, I hurried the group into the protective cover of the forest above and we maintained a steady pace through the trees and on to the steep hill beyond, and although Ralph thought he saw an unmarked police-car, (with a blue light), drive up the forest track across from us at one point, we did not see them again. We tramped steadily uphill, entering and leaving ski-piste and hay clearings as we went. The clouds gathered thickly around us on the hill side, and the rain descended over us, keeping us cool on the hot ascent. This took us a good couple of hours to make the climb up through the trees until we exited at the cable-car station of the Hochwurzen, where we met up with the rest of the group who were waiting for us. We took the opportunity to have a hot chocolate and a bite of lunch on the terrace before leaving again, playing dodgems through the go-carts which were setting off from the cable-car station. At the summit opposite we stopped and Bernard G. and a few others got undressed for an impromptu APNEL photo-shoot before continuing on the pleasant zig-zag through the underbrush to the main trails on the ridge below. There were more people here, because of the nearness of the cable-car, and we negotiated our way between them and friendly greetings as we wound our way down the hill towards the forestry track below where we found ourselves alone once more. The motley group of half-dressed and half-naked people, accompanied by the sorry-looking Polly with her doggy-shoes, now trailed down the long forestry road, countouring as we went, until we reached the cable-car station once more. Here we split into our two groups once more before the final descent and returning to the hut. [split group good idea - encourage others?]
Wednesday saw us setting off directly from the hut and reversing the route through the forest. We undressed and the talk was easy, and the walking a breeze, as we started, unusually, by going downhill back to the now-dried-up lake below. Once there, we zig-zagged up using the forest roads through the trees on the other side of the valley, heading towards the ridge of the Roßbrand. As we were now one single large group again, our speed was of necessity a good deal slower than most would like, however this was a day when it was important to stay together as I had a prior arrangement to keep with a Gasthof later on. We continued uphill with the views becoming ever more expansive behind us, until we arrived at a large digging machine at the head of the forestry road, where we decided to stop for lunch. A couple of cows kept Andreas occupied, while the rest of us took amused photos, and ate our provisions quietly. We set off through the trees and found the main forestry track on the other side easily, following this to a small path which struck directly up towards the ridge above. We arrived there just as one small family were taking a break, and they probably felt a little outnumbered as the nearly forty naked people steadily arrived at the footpath junction. They waved in friendly fashion as they left, and although they were going the same way, rather than follow them too closely, we gave them a little time to have the mountainside to themselves. Descending from the ridge we met several people, and found a store of edible berries by the side of the footpath. This slowed us down in the most pleasant way possible Finally we arrived at the Mandelberggut Gasthof, where I had arranged for us to be able to have a naked tea break. I went ahead to check everything was still ok, and then motioned for the group to join me on the terrace. The friendly staff made us very welcome by pushing several tables together, and serving us with beer and appleschorle and ice-cream. As several people were quite tired, and Polly's feet were still not healed, we left a small group behind at the Gasthof, and the rest of us returned with some speed, through the forest trail back to the lake and then back to the hut. Sending a couple of cars back for those left behind caused some misunderstanding, but fortunately everyone arrived safely back at the hut. [Danilo looking very wobbly] [clifton fainted - Clarisse + Horst + Roland] [weather] [herbert + viki left busy in Vienna]
Thursday started with Sandra, Horst and Andrea, all going for an early morning swim in the pool by hut. They were determined to enjoy their swim to the fullest so quite naturally they had their morning coffee in the pool as well! The days' hike started off quite well, although the rain clouds were gathering ominously above the grey peaks behind the hut. However, soon after leaving I noticed that Polly had started to limp again, even though she had her new shoes on. It took me a short time to realize that the problem was the shoes, while protecting the pads of her paws, were also at the same time causing soreness on the top of her paws by sweating and rubbing. So I baled, and handed over the lead of the longer group to Bernard, returning to the hut to remove Polly's shoes and to join the shorter group instead. The shorter group was just setting off under Clifford's lead, and I was able to join at short notice. We set off along the same route, and under a light rain, and we had gone only a short way before Sandra slipped on the freshly soaked mud and grass, and firmly sprained her ankle. It was only a minor injury but it was sufficient to rule out any further hiking for the day, so we turned around and left the second group to their own devices. Taking the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing Apfelstrudel at the friendly Gasthof just across the road by the bridge, while waiting for the rain to stop. We took the road back to the hut, to make things easy, and settled in for another half-day of "R and R". As luck would have it, Conxita was taking the day out to do some quiet filming of her own, and wanted to interview the farmer (if he was willing), and ask him some questions about how he felt about the naked group renting his farmhouse. Although it was probably a bit bizarre for this alpine farmer, for me it was quite amusing to watch the naked Conxita, and her assistant Nelisa, film the clothed farmer going about his chores. I then helped to translate the German/English for the interview itself and, even if he thought we were a little strange, he was positively helpful and very courteous the entire time. To show my gratitude and as a token of our own goodwill, I gave him a copy of the "Naked Hiking" book as a gift. If nothing else, perhaps the book will provide some light entertainment and discussion value during the cold winters ahead. [sandro hospital + Horst]
Friday started slowly with us losing one car, but finally gathering successfully at the Vordergnadenalm, some half an hours' drive from our hut, where we could start the trail towards the valley ahead. We set off along the flat valley floor and remained dressed this time until we passed the Gasthof and car park at the Gnadenalm. As we entered the trees, most of us stripped off our clothing and continued naked, taking the zig-zagging forestry and farm road up the steep hill above. A pair of girls arrived in a car and parked before near us before getting out and herding their cows around the hill. They appeared to be checking the cows were ok, and moving them gently from one spot to another as if to keep them accustomed to their handling. I kept an eye on the clouds as they padded thickly across the steep rocky ridges above, but the weather was holding good for us. We approached the Südwienerhütte steadily. On a previous year, we'd been able to eat and drink naked on the terrace of this friendly Gasthof, but this time there were simply too many other people already sitting around, so we moved on to have lunch just beyond the Gasthof itself. [Gianni fainted Clarisse + Milt + Horst] After a short break, we set off, putting another couple of hundred metres of altitude behind us and finally arriving on the plateau. Now the sun was out, and we were able to meander pleasantly amongst the high rocks and grassy mounds of this stony paradise. The ridge to the south, sharply delineating the horizon high above us in the blue sky. The occasional group of cows chewed lazily as they watched us tramp peacefully past, neither group disturbing the other. We stopped for a while at a place where we had a particularly good view along the valley towards Radstadt, gazing deeply down to where our cars were parked far below. Walking on again, I encouraged Sandra to take the lead so that she could savour that unique experience of being naked in nature, and alone. We met a couple of people coming the other way, which gave Sandra her first experience of naked and clothed encounters too, so all in all we were covering quite a lot of ground with this tour. Stopping again by a small peak, Roberto and several others, including Polly of course, leapt at the opportunity to bag a quick summit. Polly was now walking without her shoes, and although not being able to fetch sticks, (as nobody was throwing any), seemed to enjoy herself the extensive walking immensely all the same We continued on past several small snow fields before reaching the lake for a well deserved stop. Several people at once dived in as I looked on thinking it looked too cold for comfort. Dan appeared to shiver nearly uncontrollably, and began to look greyer than usual, when he came out, but seemed to recover once he'd pulled on some clothing and began moving again. Sandra said it was too cold, but then fell in anyway and had a quick swim. Andrea seemed impervious to the low temperature, although it seemed like a good idea to get everyone moving again, as the sun was hiding behind darkening clouds above us, and a slight breeze was not warming anyone. We turned and headed over the ridge, past the cross just below the crest, and descended steadily and steeply towards the Felseralm. Now we dressed quickly to pass the hotel, and walk down the tarmac towards the main road. Reaching the forest we could undress again, and we followed the trail down until we could skirt around the valley edge to get an immensely cool view of the Johanessfall from below and behind the jet of waterfall itself. We descended the now long but easy valley to rejoin the Gnadenalm route and wend our way along the plain road back to our parked cars. Returning for a late but well-earned dinner prepared and served by the hard-working kitchen helpers.
The Saturday was a race to remove all of our things and to basically tidy the house before the main cleaners arrived. It took a couple of hours for people to depart in dribs and drabs, depending on who had to drive where, and who was able to offer lifts to those in the greatest need of getting to train stations. Then, finally, we packed up the last bits and pieces and the little white van, with the four of us and two dogs, left on our return drive to Munich. It had been a wonderful tour, although with so many people some organisational factors had been an at times educational experience, overall the tour was an intensely pleasurable experience. The photos, and online blogs which various participants might write, will surely bring back many a pleasant memory, as well as to encourage others to do more of the same. Naked hiking, with good company and in gorgeous scenery, at it's very best. Enjoy!