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.