Tuesday July 03. We started today with a smaller team, as it was raining, Sandro was tired, Bruce wanted to cook, and Mira and Gianni wanted to go shopping. We went into Radstadt and met Helmut and Conny, who’d driven down from Germany today, at the shops. I’d met them before at La Sabliere in France and was pleased they’d decided to join us for a couple of days hiking. The weather looked absolutely terrible, and they unsurprisingly backed off as we headed up the Tauern valley to our start point at the Vordergnadenalm. Having parked, some of us stripped off, and we all set off together walking along the flat road leading north towards the Sudwienerhütte. We exchanged greetings with a large and somewhat bemused looking group of youths as we passed the Gasthof and car park at the base of the hill, before turning up into the Hintergnadenalm valley. The trail now cut straight up the valley, across the easy zig-zags of the rough track.
As we gained height steadily, the weather seemed to be lightening, and the thick clouds rolled steadily behind the surrounding peaks and ridges. Moving through a group of lazy cattle was amusing, as neigher Polly or Draco were particularly impressed by the huge beasts. And both needed some encouragement to skirt these high alpine cud-chewers. Ian slipped on a greasy moss atop a log and landed heavily but with no serious injury. Without further event, we eventually arrived at the top of the valley, as it opens out into a high alpine pasture, where there were several small huts and converted farmhouses. The sun now began to shine through and blasted away the last wisps of cloud. The surrounding ridges were silhouetted sharply against the bright blue alpine sky. There was no-one around, but we slipped shorts and wraps on to enter the Sudwienerhütte terrace, as is our normal practice, and I then found the hut warden inside and asked him if it would be ok, as we were a naked hiking group, for us to be naked while we sit on his terrace outside. He blinked and said “sure, why not!” Roland, Robert and I recalled being here during the Newt 2010 tour. The proprieter came out and took our orders for drinks, and chatted in friendly manner with us about this slightly strange walking group sitting on his terrace. 16 naked guys, unfortunately no women with us on this stage, now ordered either a Weisbier, or a light (Helles) beer or, for some of us, an Apfelschörle – the latter a very refreshing apple juice mixed with fizzy water. While we soaked up the sun, the clouds flitted across our bright sky, and brought sudden and unexpected but light showers, making us dip under the terrace umbrellas and roof overhang for protection. Next a jeep drove up to the terrace gate, and I got up to hold the gate open for the lady driver. She took the sight of the naked man at the gate in her stride/drive, and gave a friendly wave as she drove through before she entered the hut. She clearly ran the place, and David suggested she was probably giving the hut warden, (probably her husband), a good ticking off for letting us all be naked on the terrace. The next thing we knew she came outside to bring us the couple of soups which had been ordered, and to take more orders and to deliver several refreshing milk/yoghurt fruit shakes. She did not blink, but took it all completely in her stride, so much for the ticking off, I thought. As it came time to leave, and we paid up, the warden came out and offered free postcards of the hut as mementos of our visit, as well as a cute card which, when posted, and stamped, and brought back by someone as evidence of posting, would entitle the holder to a free beer. A nice piece of advertising indeed, we thought. We made a group photo and a photo with each of the very friendly hut wardens, before heading off towards the hills to the west of the hut.
The trail zig-zagged up away from the Sudwienerhütte and climbed steadily up to a huge plateau running below the higher peaks which made up the serrated ridge to the north of us. Once we’d gained the higher ground, we stopped for a lunch break, and with difficulty trying to find a spot where there was no wind. The sporadic rain now lashed us as we struggled to remain comfortable, putting on clothes to keep from becoming chilled by the sharp wind. David slipped on some wet grass and landed heavily on his coccyx on the steep slope below. Serious damage was limited to pride, but it clearly hurt him all the same. We set off once more, and wound our way along the plateau, navigating between the brown and white cows at one end of the route, and following the easy trail between the bright white rocks and high alpine grasslands. The weather was still banging away with distant thunder threatening us as we walked under the ridge, but mostly remaining fairly clement. While the air was fresh, yet the alpine sky clothed us with sufficient warmth for our moderately high altitude hiking tour. We now passed the group of youngsters we’d seen at the beginning of the day, once more, this time in smaller groups as the straggled to keep up with one another. They seemed somewhat abashed to see us again, and I don’t suppose it did their high alpine adventure weekend much kudos to be out in the mountains and meeting a group of naked hikers on the same terrain. Hiking onwards under the high ridge to our right, we could look far down over the Tauern valley to our left, deep, dark and distant. As the plateau narrowed and the sharp ridges loomed ever higher, we came to the Wildsee, a high mountain lake, with fans of snow all around descending right to the water’s edge. David, Bernard, Michael, Pierre and Robert all dived in to the icy looking water for “refreshment”, much to the warm amusement of the rest of us. The sky began to turn darker once more, and the clouds began to swirl around the lower crags above. It was time to go. We turned south and began the descent towards the valley. Joop was, despite this being his second Newt, having some trouble with the terrain and the exposure, so we split into 2 groups, the faster group going on ahead down the easy trail, and a smaller group staying behind to look after Joop. There used to be a steep section with a metal ladder and a cable for support, but this seemed to have been either blasted away, or circumvented, as this time we just followed the steep trail down the mountainside. We reached the closed for renovation hotel complex at the Feleralm below as a somewhat bedraggled group, and spent a short while discussing possible descent routes.
As the route was unclear, we took the road down, and were soon joined by the “fast” group as they caught us up, having spent much time going fruitlessly up and down trying to find a way through the woods below. Descending together, we met Helmut and Conny on the road, briefly, before heading for the Johannesfall, a huge waterfall, which was a highly impressive plume of water, gushing straight outwards from the vertical 70m high rock wall of the river canyon. The spray filled the air, and covered us with a fine cool mist, as the wind blew the water around on it’s off-vertical descent onto the rocks below. Several of us went behind the water, with Polly scampering about making me a tad nervous above the steep drop. Leaving the waterfall, damp now, we rejoined the main trail to wander through the pleasant and easy-going landscape until we returned along the flat valley bottom. Chris saw a signpost which said 20 mins back to our cars, and took immediate exception to this as he thought the distance much shorter and could be covered in 10 minutes. Off he stormed ahead. The rest of us passed a running couple and a friendly group of car-walkers en-route, before reaching the parked cars at our starting point. Chris declared triumphantly he had taken only 12 minutes to cover the distance, and we declared triumphantly we had taken 18 minutes. I deemed both our results correct for different values of speed. Then it was back to the hut for dinner and a well earned rest.