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.