Day two of the NEWT was one to remember. Yesterday had been a good, long hike and my legs were making the same complaints they usually make after a day on the hills and I was ready for something more gentle, perhaps a ridge walk or a walk in a valley.
Our guide had something else in mind. We began at Ursprungalm, and our walk took us up the Rinderfeld towards the Giglachsee Hutte. It was a bulldozed track we were on which is never my favourite type of path and I soon found myself at the back of the group, while others rushed on ahead.
After reaching the hut, the nature of the walk began to change. The bulldozed track had become a narrow, foot trodden path that rose above a lake, and I found myself charging forward, with energy and strength renewed by the change in character of the walk. I was also naked by now, and the release from the stifling heat of clothing gave me an additional boost, and we careered ahead towards the Ignaz Mattis Hutte, which sat picturesquely above the Giglachsee.
As a matter of politeness we dressed as we approached the hut, where we turned north and the path began to steepen. A few minutes beyond the hut we stripped off again, much to the delight of the people drinking outside the hut, many of whom seemed to take this opportunity to get some photos of the group, no doubt convinced no one back home would believe them if they said they saw a great big mob of naked people on the mountain!
Things quickly became tougher as we continued. Aching muscles began to complain loudly as the path steeply climbed towards the Kampspitze, but with my head down I pushed on, knowing that despite the pain, we were gaining height quickly. The view was inspiring as well, and every time I raised my head, I was rewarded with an ever grander panorama, with the the sheer magnificence of the mountain architecture more than a match for the demotivation of my muscles and exhaustion.
The path briefly levelled out as it passed some small bodies of water, and it was the perfect spot to take a break and for some of us to cool down with a dip.
As we continued, the path became more and more like the southern Scottish highlands. Metamorphic rock underlying the soil provided a solid, hard path for our boots, and large outcrops of bedrock intruding across the path provided some easy and reliable scrambling. I may have been aching and tired, but I could not have been more comfortable with the terrain. My hands felt like they were at home on this path, and each little scramble was a pleasure after the slippery limestone scrambles of past Alps.
Again the path levelled out beneath the summit of the Kampspitze and after a short traverse over some snow fields we were ready of the ridge walk. We took a break before continuing, once again taking time to enjoy the spectacular views and get some photos.
As we set off, I realised we were at 2200m, making this more than 900m higher than Ben Nevis, and the altitude was having a major impact on me. The air seemed drier and fresher at this height, but I was constantly aware of how high I was, as each breath seemed to give me less strength than I was used to. Even without the views, I was very aware I was no longer on a Scottish mountain.
But now we were ridge walking, and with the worst of the ascent behind us I once again kept a good pace. It became reminiscent of a Scottish ridge walk, flat and open, and letting me walk with my head held high to enjoy where I was, rather than the “head down and get it over with” mentality that so often comes with a steep ascent.
Traversing the west side of the Schiedeck, we found the nature of the path changed once again. It cut across a steep slope, and the path became narrow and exposed, demanding your full attention. Composed once again of metamorphic rock, the path provided strong, angular slabs to hang onto as you shuffled across the jagged rocks, taking your time and trying not to look down.
It was like Christmas to a Munro bagger. Reliable hand holds, no wind, dry rock and with even thick cables embedded in the rock to hang onto, it was a delightful change from the wet, slippery, storm blasted scrambles Munro baggers do as a matter of routine. And even in perfect conditions, Scotland would provide midges to annoy you by feasting on your face during a challenging scramble, so it was with a sheer sense of joy I tackled this section. It wasn't quite so much fun for everyone else, especially the dogs in the group who needed a little help, but we all got over it safely, finally stopping for a break in the shadow of the Schiedeck's summit.
Continuing the ridge walk, which by now consisted of lots of little up and down stretches, we passed the Hochfeld and began our descent to the north west. By now tiredness was setting in, legs were becoming difficult to move and all I wanted was to get back to the car, although the valley floor seemed a long way away.
The descent was initially steep and again on a path much like a Scottish mountain's, with the familiar rocky intrusions across it that at this point required some concentration to stop an accidental stumble. This can often be the most accident prone part of the day, descending over rock when you're tired, so continual concentration is a must.
By now the path had reached a forest, and I was completely exhausted. I wanted to curl up into a ball and go to sleep, but we still had several kilometres to walk and each steep was a struggle. Unusually for a descent route we seemed to be going uphill quite a lot, which was dispiriting and painful in equal measures. We were in fact no longer descending, instead we were traversing along the mountainside and although the valley still looked far below us, the car park was higher than we realised, so we were under the impression we had so much further to descend than we thought.
But it was still a death march. As we stumbled through the forest path, it reminded us of our walk out from Ben Manoch, as once again we found ourselves going uphill at the end of the day, close to exhaustion and without any more food and very little water. There were very few times in the past when I just wanted the whole thing to be over more than this, but on and on we walked through the forest, never seeming to descend, just endlessly going as much up as down. I half expected to be ordered by someone to build a bridge for the Japanese.
Eventually we reached a clearing in the woods, and we got a glimpse of the car park. Higher and closer than I had expected, I set off again with renewed energy, and the path quickly gave way to a forestry track, and that meant easy walking. We almost bounced along, happily knowing we were almost back and that everything would be easy from here.
We were almost at the car park when we got dressed again having spent nine tough, exhausting but very rewarding hours naked on the mountain. I was very happy to get back to the car, but it was a spectacular day, a beautiful walk and an amazing introduction to high level walking in Austria.