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.