European Wilderness Volunteer DiaryThe Diary of the European Wilderness Society Volunteers

A good-for-the-soul, adventurous hike in the Alps

Happy hiking

There are lots of good points to living here in Austria; my team, wild and enthusiastic. My work, because I love knowing that I’m contributing to saving Europe’s wildest places… but the third great thing here is the mountains. Yes I talk and write about them a lot, but that’s only because I think they’re marvellous. Recently I went hiking in the Alps, an adventurous, good for the soul hike that made me extraordinarily happy, and if you want to hear more about it then please read on…

To set the scene, Verena is driving her jeep, and I’m along for the ride with two other friends who Verena met in the states – Van and Karen. It’s 7:30am, and we’re driving through misty valleys, one of which Verena explains is so narrow, it doesn’t get any sun for around three months of the winter. It’s not long before we reach our destination: Hohe Tauern National Park, where we set off hiking up.
We follow a small river, which turns into a waterfall and then after a few hours, a lake – Karwassersee. It’s so still and calm, and the water so shallow we see a perfect reflection of the mountains. The lake is surrounded by blueberry bushes, and we eat as we walk, our lips getting bluer. Hiking in the mountains whilst eating blueberries might be my happy place.

As we hike higher the scenery only becomes more beautiful, and two more lakes come into view. These are Unterer and Oberer Schwarzsee (‘Black Lake’), so named because they’re the deepest lakes in the national park. The deeper of the two sinks 57m down. At this point it becomes trial and error, there’s lots of deliberating and pointing different ways as we try to find a trail to follow. Look at the mountain, look at the map, scratch head, repeat.

We hiked up the rocky face without finding the trail in the end, spotting chamois in the distance (!). The view from the top was spectacular – the lakes behind us, a panorama of Hohe Tauern before us, snowcapped peaks and all. However after looking at the map again, we began to consider that perhaps we weren’t on the trail. The adventure continued and we turned back, setting off on a stumble down-up-down across the rocks, with the logic that eventually we will hit the trail. It was treacherous and I slipped and clung on to rocks and generally proved that I am so not a mountain goat. But logic prevailed and we eventually found the trail! Even more exciting though, Verena found a chamois skull and her smile really says it all.

And then at last! We reached the top. We’d been hiking about 6 hours at this point, and so when Verena pulled homemade schnapps out of her backpack it was a high point in both mood and altitude. We exclaimed ‘berg heil’, an Austrian celebratory phrase for reaching the mountain top, and enjoyed the schnapps with the view.

Now that we had the trail, and we were descending, things became significantly easier.. useful for tired legs. We headed down the other side of the mountain through the valley with the source of the river Mur. We had grass, moss, flowers, waterfalls springing out the valley peaks and gosh so pretty. We drank the water straight from the spring and soon after we were all piling back into Verena’s jeep with happy hearts, big smiles and tired legs (and 1000 photos).

Writing this post feels like a bit of a treat, because I get to remember and relive this hike, and it gives me such a thrill to think about. It was quite honestly one of the best hikes of my life, certainly the most ambitious, and I’m wondering how soon I can go back again…