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 4×4. 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.