Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The iceman cometh
 Because it is Good Friday there is no gadgie walk this week. Brian and Ray are visiting gadgieland (Madeira) with their wives, Dave is running, Ben and Harry have family visiting and my wife and I will be entertaining the amazing Alex and his mum and dad. So to keep my readers happy, or bored, I have dug out of the memory banks a brief account of one of the trips abroad that Harry and I made in search of adventure.
 Just before we achieved gadgie status  we, having been given wifely permission, packed a car with camping kit, food, walking gear and music and set off tom drive to Solden in Austria.
 We drove to Dover, crossed the channel, crossed northern France, past Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich and finally arrived at the Solden campsite in the Stubaier Alps and pitched tents next to the Otztaler Ache a lively river. We drove in turn, two hours on, two hours off, with the passenger in charge of the music. Fortunately we have similar tastes.
 Solden is a ski resort but the walking in the area is first class with a variety of  hikes at different levels of difficulty and length.

Campsite at Solden, two pre gadgies relaxing in the evening.

Next day we decided that our first walk out should be an easy stroll in an attempt to acclimatise ourselves, so we hiked to the Brunnenkogelhutte from the next village up the valley, Zweizelstein.  As a polyglot I thought this meant " two stones". (French GCE, Russian GCSE, German failed GCE, passed GCSE grade B!)* It actually means a place where a valley divides into two and compares with the Northumbrian word for the same thing"twizell".  At 2738 metres a relatively easy walk. The hut was basic but offered some accommodation and refreshment, it was a good start to the week.

The Brunnenkogelhutte. There should be one on Scafell Pike. Sorry, I forgot, there is but it is always closed. Ask anybody coming down Scafell as you struggle up.

Returning to base we showered and changed and headed for the town to taste the nightlife. We found a promising looking bar/restaurant and entered, ordered two biers, bitte and some food.  On the bar was what appeared to be a stuffed sheep. The barman pulled its tail and lager was pumped from its backside. Tasted good too, I refuse to make jokes, they are too obvious. As the clock struck the hour the fun started. Owls on wires flew across the room, a train driven by a squirrel chugged round on an overhead line, and then silence returned.
 The following day we set of for our first overnighter in the Hochstubaihutte. Being well brought up Englishmen we told the camp manager we would not be in that night. Much to our amazement she answered that if we brought a token from the hut we would not be charged for the night's accommodation on the site, only having to pay for the tents. Never happens in England.
 We left camp and followed the Windach Valley, stopping for light refreshment at the Klebelealm before climbing steadily towards our goal It seemed to me that the hut was always in sight, teasing us, as we climbed, passing the Laubkarsee,crossing several mini icefields before we finally arrived. There were few fellow guests and facilities were fairly basic but we were provided with a hot meal and beer before retiring to the communal bed which we had to share with a young couple on a hiking holiday. They didn't seem too happy as we climbed into the ten berth bed. I can't imagine why.

                                                  The bed!

The Hochstubaihutte at sunset. 3174 metres above sea level.

After a good night's sleep we returned to camp by the same route and dined with the owls again. This was the first time I had stayed in a mountain hut, this is the best walk I have ever been on and I would love to repeat it. The views from the hut were spectacular, the night time silence in the mountains was almost spiritual.
 For our next hike, the following day we opted for an easy downhill stroll and caught the early morning bus from Solden to Timmelsjoch, a restaurant and former customs post on the Austrian Italian border. There were several other people on the bus who also got off at the restaurant. They were the staff! We had to wait until they opened up and lit the stoves before we could enjoy breakfast of mushroom omelette and coffee. Refreshed we started back down the valley on a path that followed close by the road. We passed several Heidi type chalet homes, all decorated with boxes of bright geraniums. An ancient Austrian bye law demands that Heidi homes are bedecked with geraniums. Every spare piece of land was a hay field. Men cut the grass, either by machine or on tiny fields by scythe and women and children raked the hay into rows to dry in the sun or gathered it into mini stacks to be collected for winter food. Doe eyed cows in the fields almost persuaded me to become a vegetarian. It all reminded me of the small farm my uncle ran near Howarth in the 1950s. The walk passed through Zweilestein before following a stream back to base, shower and evening meal.

The friendly sheep of the Austrian Tyrol

 This pleasant stroll was to be followed by another overnighter - in the Similaunhutte on the Austrian Italian border.
 We drove to the village of Vent, second highest settlement in the Austrian Tyrol at 1895m and asked where we could leave the car overnight. Directed to a field behind a hotel we were charged approximately £5 for parking but given vouchers for coffee in the hotel, which reduced the fee to almost nothing! Armed with fresh rolls, sausage and flasks we set off. First stop was the Martin Busch Hause, an impressive hut offering accommodation and refreshment and accessible by road. We continued for another two hours and 500 m of height, crossing several glaciers (carefully) until we reached the Similaunhutte itself a t3017m.  Spectacular views on both sides of the border, a gaggle of giggling  maidens and a troop of handsome Italian police cadets out training made for a pleasant evening. We shared a ten berth bed with a family from Dresden, the sixteen year old daughter being wellprotected between her parents!

View from the Similaunhutte.

The next morning we retraced our footsteps to Vent, picked up the car and returned to Solden, but the adventure was not finished. Some years ago Otzi the iceman emerged from a glacier near the Fieilspitze, just inside Italy and not far from the Similaun. He was found by a couple out hiking and he had been in the glacier for some 5000 years. Fairly complete himself, he had with him clothing, a knapsack with food , bow and arrows and a copper axe. So the following day we had a break from walking and drove over the Timmelsjoch into Italy to the town of Bolzano to visit Otzi in the museum. It was a good day out, over the mountains, through actres of orchards and finally after queing for a while a glimpse of the man himself, and his equipment.**

Otzi as he emerged after being in the freezer for 5000 years.

Otzi at rest in Bolzano.

For our final walk we chose a stroll to the Stubai Falls, an easier hike with a short steep climb but it had been a long week!                                                

The Stubai Falls, not where Sherlock fought Moriarty.

Next day we packed up and headed home. On the drive back from Dover we stopped at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford near Cambridge to look at some boys toys, namely aircraft, military and civil, and a collection of tanks. guns and other bits and pieces. 

*Having studied German for two years at school, taught the traditional way I failed GCE. In 2005 after 20 lessons I got GCSE Grade B in German. This says much about GCSE, not me

** Book of the blog; Man in the ice, by Konrad Spindler. 

PS Thanks for all the birthday greetings , 
especially from Sarah, Tim, Virginia, Helen, Kirsty and Dan.
Of course there was a cake, made by Kate, and the girls, Mark and the handsome Alex took me out for a meal.
Chocolate heaven from cakepoppins.