Good thing I slept soundly because I was awake with the rising sun. After eating breakfast and making Butterbrots (sandwiches) for lunch, we hopped into Dirk’s quirky Alpha Romero for the two-hour drive to the mountains. His heart was set on taking me to Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, but there was still a lot of snow and it would be a slightly longer drive and a longer, more logistically complicated hike. It would have been a superb two-day event, but alas, I had shorted Dirk a day, so we settled on the Ammerwald trail to Hochplatte in Austria instead.
Dirk sniffed because this hike was rated as easy. I’m afraid I’d never survive a difficult hike in the Alps. We climbed over 3,000 feet in about 2.5 hours. My best guess is that we traveled 6.5 miles round trip. After a short beer break at a hunter’s lodge about 2 miles in, it felt like we were climbing a ladder straight up to the sky. There were few switchbacks and very few breaks in elevation gain.Trail maintenance is labor intensive. We came to a stream crossing with fresh new boards across it and workman’s tools scattered about. A few minutes down the trail, we encountered the workmen, hauling the wood on their backs.Minutes later, I began to hear music, the repetitive kind—like rap. I assumed the workers had a boom box in the woods where they fell trees. Then I came around a corner to find a herd of cows grazing in bucolic content. The music was loud! I saw no boom box. Instead, I saw a pickup ahead of us, parked at the spot where a faint two-track road narrowed to a single hiking path. Aha! The workmen had brought pre-cut lumber this far and had only to transport it down trail to the stream crossing. But the rap was not coming from the truck. Where was it coming from?
I was stunned. Sure, I’ve heard of cowbells. I’ve seen cowbells—the kind artists paint and decorators use for gemütlichkeit. I’ve even seen cowbells used as percussion instruments in an orchestra. But an entire herd of cattle each wearing its own distinctive cowbell? Who knew?
Bovine Band Leader
Things went up from there. I could see a notch in the mountains above and correctly guessed our path would take us through the notch and down the other side. We stopped for lunch below the summit to avoid the inevitable wind. As I gazed up from my flowery perch, I noticed little dots moving on the horizon to the left of the pass. People! Way up there? Well, we’re not going up there, thank God!
Looking back over the way we’d come, the Voralpenland.
We’d seen fewer people on this hike than I would encounter on one of my favorite Sawtooth hikes in Idaho. One couple, probably in their late 70s, passed us on their way down from the summit. The woman’s legs were spindles with varicose ropes twinned around them and she had the worst case of knock knees I’ve ever seen. She marched along swinging her hiking poles, eyes focused on the stony path in front of her, her husband scurrying to keep up. Remarkable. If she can, I can, I told myself.
After a short break we resumed our climb. But the pass was not the summit and Cousin Dirk is a goal-oriented man. He began scrambling up Hochblasse, the steep rocky cliff to our right. Delia and I dutifully followed for 100 yards and then looked at each other and shook our heads. No way! It looked too dangerous. Going up is one thing, but coming down? Uh-ah. Chewing the inside of his cheek, Dirk retreated. But then we began looking at the ridge where we’d seen all the other hikers. It was a longer ascent but less steep and rocky. Off we went. Up there where I told myself I didn’t have to go!
Oh yeah. This is way easier . . .
And of course, we weren’t quite at the top yet . . . We scrambled up a narrow, rocky ridge and felt like we stood on top of the world.
The return trip was much easier. I had been low on water since lunch time. We passed several gorgeous waterfalls. I was relieved to have my SteriPEN so I could snag an extra bottle of sweet Alpine water.