Okay, Schiestlhaus was one of those experiences that, even though it was the most physically insane thing I've ever done, it was also one of the best.
**note: I left these photos unedited. The display that God allowed us to witness on the top of this mountain is one of his great masterpieces, and I think more lovely than any edit I could make.**
In early August, our buddy Simon picked us up and we drove out into the heart of the Austrian Alps to a place called, Seewiesen. Christian and I didn't know exactly where we were going, and it wasn't a place that Simon (who is one of those mega-outdoorsy types) had hiked before. Apparently the internet told him that the hike was supposed to take only about four hours....
No. Not even if the world's greatest mountaineer took a 5 Hour Energy drink and ran the whole way. This is what we discovered once we finally reached the summit eight hours later. And it was really, really hard.
As it happens, the hike was, in total, just over twenty-one miles with the last quarter of it being along the side of a steep cliff face where it was less hiking and more rock climbing... with no rails... and no climbing gear... and our hiking packs on. For the entirety of the time I was having a serious Cheryl Strayed meets John Muir experience, meanwhile Simon is jumping from rock to rock like the Austrian mountain goat that he is and Christian played the silent pilgrim.
With that, I leave you my journal entry of this memory:
The weather was lovely. Warm and sunny mixed with clouds here and there. The first bit of the hike was making our way through loose rock riverbeds with decent sized rocks that we needed to be careful of so that we wouldn't hurt our ankles. About two hours into the hike I was feeling exhausted. That is when we saw the first hütte, but it was abandoned. The trees were beautiful with the sun streaming through all of the different shades of green and onto the path. We heard the beautiful sounds of so many birds.... This is something else that I actually noticed about Austria shortly after arriving-- the beauty of the songs that the birds sing. We noticed a small waterfall as we were hiking along a cliff edge which dropped off a ways to the stream from which the waterfall came. We walked through a fairly flat valley for a brief time, giving our legs a nice break from all of the climbing.
When I looked from left to right on the sides of the path, a meadow stretched out which was covered in bright yellow flowers-- the kind that have these small buds all clustered together-- and the air smelled sweet.
We passed the second hütte after a one-hour lunch break under some pine trees and discovered a small mountain spring with ice cold water which we used to splash our sweaty faces and fill our water bottles.
The water that I drank from streams in the mountains is easily the best water I have ever tasted.
We finally made it through a green and stoney valley that made me think of what the Scottish Highlands must look like in landscape, and then found ourselves having to climb a steep cliff-side to get to the top of the mountain range. The view from the top was surreal with dark clouds making their way toward us at a fast pace-- full of lightening and thunder-- and we still needed to go up. It felt good to finally be up high, but with nothing around to cover us, and being on top of a mountain, that lightening didn't make us feel great.
We began to hurry as much as our legs would allow and after going through a narrow pass, we ran into a heard of huge mountain goats grazing on the summit. I counted fourteen of these massive animals-- they were brown with large ribbed and slightly curved horns. While Simon and I decided to make a wide circle around them, Christian approached them with no fear, whistling and hollering at them so they would move off the trail. I could tell he used to be a shepherd.
Well, we finally reached our hütte about thirty minutes later. The building looked so strange in contrast to its setting. A large, grey, rectangular box with solar panels sitting on the top of this incredibly scenic mountain range.... Thankfully we got there just before the storm hit. As we approached the building we noticed Himalayan flags in the primary colors strung up all around.
We came into a very simple building from the outside, but the inside was a total contrast. It was eclectic and looked similar to a summer camp lodge. We settled, changed, and ordered dinner. That was probably the best spaghetti I have ever had. The dining room was filling with all sorts of people, but they all had one thing in common: love of outdoor adventure. It was like sitting in an Patagonia catalog, and I have to say-- I loved being surrounded by people who are proactive about living fully. It's inspiring. It was while we were eating that the storm came and settled over the mountain for the night. It arrived in a dense white fog and soon became a forest of lightening. It was amazing to watch and lasted well after we went to bed.
The room all three of us were in was a series of bunk beds with two to three mattresses in each slot. We were sharing the room with a good sized family, so the three of us shared a bunk on the top. Unfortunately we all found that we could hardly sleep at all. Simon slept the most with a total of maybe three hours. Initially we had all wanted to watch the sunset together, but due to the storm that was impossible. Instead, we decided to stand up at 05:00, get dressed, and head out for the sunrise at 05:15.
The wind was blowing fiercely as we walked up and suddenly there it was-- one of the most incredible things I have ever seen, outshining the sunrise we saw when we slept on the island rocks on Hydra. I didn't think anything could be more incredible than that moment.
There were multi-colored clouds and red sun coming up and through them, the rays forcing their ways in bright streams down onto the earth. Another layer of white clouds covered the range and wove in between the smaller peaks as they jetted up through the billowy air masses.
After breakfast we headed back down the mountain, taking only five and a half hours this time. Our feet felt awful and, shortly before getting into the car, we found a stream of cold water in the town where we took off our shoes and soaked our bloody, blistered feet for a while.
The trip was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Thank you, Jesus, for this experience.
There is just so much to say. It's been about three months, with my last entry being about my whimsical time in Paris visiting a couple of great friends.
So much has happened in these last three months... it feels like it's been a dream. This is precisely the reason why I carry my Moleskine journal just about everywhere. I never know when a moment that I wish I could freeze forever will happen, and writing it all down right away proves to be an effective way to help me later transport my mind right back to everything that moment had to offer-- the smells, the sounds, the textures-- those things that a photo simply cannot do justice.
Since I was so terrible at keeping up with my online journal during this time, I thought that instead of trying to quickly re-cap everything, instead I would bring you into a couple of our greatest memories over these last few months.These memories have not been categorized as just some of our favorite of the summer, but some of our favorites in life.
On the twentieth of July, Christian and I jumped in the back of our friend's minivan and headed out with him and his wife to Hallstatt-- a beautiful, storybook town in the middle of the Austrian Alps. The town is not built wide, but rather up since it is situated on the side of a mountain alongside a large lake, and only nine-hundred or so people call it "home." As it would happen, a family from the church in Baden own one of these homes which has been in their family for two-hundred of the four-hundred years of its existence. Here is my journal entry of this memory:
The drive to Hallstatt was beautiful. The sun covered the farmed Styrian valleys, and the mountains surrounded the land like great stone protectors. Hallstatt itself is even more beautiful than I could have imagined. Sitting on the very edge of a large lake, Hallstatt, we learned, dates back as a permanent settlement all the way to 2500 B.C., but they have found things even older here.
Chris met us in the parking lot and walked us up to their family home in the town center. He was accompanied by his youngest son, Jonathan.
The roads are narrow and the residences climb upwards on the side of the mountain. We walked up many old stone steps before we reached the house. We noticed the wood, the two-hundred-year-old ceramic tiles, the extra-low ceilings complimenting the extra-wide doors. There are small knick-knacks everywhere from Chris' family including a traditional three-hundred-year-old shepherd's coat hanging in the entry. As it happens, Chris' grandfather was a local potter and painter for twenty-five years, so the home is filled with his handmade mugs, plates, bowls....
After getting some groceries at the market, we went on a short evening walk in the rain. (I don't think I have ever regretted walking in the rain.) The clouds had settled around the mountains giving the town a dark, romantic look and feel which made me think of that type of literature-- the kind that the Brontë sisters would write.
I also observed the lone, white castle across the lake. It sits by itself, ruins of a time when it once saw what I imagine to be a great companionship. A beautiful place, now empty-- forgotten looking. I noticed the clouds rolling over the mountains like waves in slow motion, ebbing and flowing between the great stone crevasses and over the bold peaks. I like that mountains are like nature's steeples, pointing upward toward the heavens. I wish to be more like the mountains-- at the mercy of my Creator by steadfast, strong, confidently unique in my way of pointing the otherwise wandering eye heavenward.
This morning, Christian and I woke up early to watch the sunrise. We read Psalm 90, made some espresso, which we poured into two of those clay mugs, and walked down to the lake. There is a small island off the shore that is attached by a bridge. The island has a couple of narrow wooden benches which we sat on while we watched the town. It was so quiet and still-- the sun had not yet shone its face over the peaks.
Around 08:45, our hosts, Chris and Katie, their two sons (Simon and Jonathan) and the four of us visitors went up the mountain (where their house is built) to a lookout. After walking around up there, seeing the old Celtic ruins and taking it all in, Chris, Katie, their sons and Christian and I decided to continue on a roundabout hike which continued upward and around the backside of the mountain. The views were unreal.
We walked behind a huge rock face with five waterfalls, through a glacier pass and then through these mountain meadows filled with the such colorful wildflowers. We filled our water bottles in mountain streams, played alphabet games, and climbed around in the clearest, aquamarine pools.The most excellent way to finish up our Hallstatt experience.
I am so glad that I get to share this memory with you guys, and I hope it succeeded in transporting you into this small but profound piece of the world for the minutes it took to read this.
Up next: our crazy hike up to Schiestlhaus!