Wilderness DiaryDiary of European Wilderness Society Volunteers

Chasing adventures in Tyrol

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When I imagined my first days at the European Wilderness Society, I imagined a completely different scenario. It involved an office, finding my way around town (or should I say around village?), and slowly getting to know my new colleagues. Reality, however, turned out to be so much better.

I am a very spontaneous person. Thus, when my boss-to-be asked if I wanted to join the team in Tyrol the next day, instead of waiting for them to come back to Salzburg, I didn’t think twice. I didn’t know at all what to expect from the trip, only that we would work in the mountains, supporting the work of a local shepherd. But I was going to find out what this would entail…

The arrival

After a long day of travelling, I arrived in Tösens – a village in the Alps surrounded by a breathtaking landscape. Left and right, wherever I looked, mountains. Forest. Nature. I was just about to meet my new colleagues and to introduce myself to them… I am Julia, I am the first Austrian volunteer at EWS, and I am determined to work in nature conservation. Although I worked in different conservation projects around the globe, it’s the first time for me to work in Austria. Personally, I love hiking, cooking, summer, and Spanish music. We got off a great start!

I found out the details about why the team was in Tösens: to learn about livestock protection and to help a local shepherd with his daily duties. These included to hike up the mountain every day to check on the sheep, to herd escaped sheep back into the fenced area, and to support the ending of the grazing season by taking down fences. The final day of the season, the so called Almabtrieb would take place in a about a weeks’ time. We would herd 200 sheep down the mountain into the village – a big event. These activities were accompanied by a lot of sunshine, stunning views, wildlife spotting of deer and eagles, and many conversations about work, life, and other disasters.

The Almabtrieb

At the day of the big event, the weather changed. It got colder. We hoped for snow, a winter wonderland, which was very likely on the top of the mountain. What we didn’t expect was a blizzard. A blizzard that would make it very difficult to herd the sheep across the mountain ridge and down the steep slopes towards the valley. It was freezing cold and foggy and windy. Walking was a struggle and our feet were wet only after a couple of hours; but we endured. With each centimeter of snow that fell, we managed to herd the sheep further down. At the end of the day, while enjoying the warm soup that the shepherds’ wife had prepared for us, we looked back at a cold adventure and laughed.

Adventurous team bonding

During our stay, we slept in a so called tiny house. Like the name implies, it was small. We had just enough room for two bunk beds and a dining table. No space for a kitchen or a bathroom? No problem! There was plenty of space in nature for that.

Of course, hiking up a mountain every day was tiring. Thus, our evenings were usually very relaxed. Good food – and lots of it – card games, crazy traveling stories, relationship anecdotes… we covered all. Could you imagine a better way of bonding with your colleagues, who you just met, than sleeping together in a 20 square meter space, basically spending 24 h together? I can’t. Luckily, the EWS crew is a bunch of cool guys and the warm weather – very atypical for the middle of September – even allowed us to do adventurous trips.

One highlight was our visit to the Kaunertaler glacier. Again, without expectations, we ended up not only seeing a glacier but stepping foot into one! Imagine being surrounded by think ice walls, melted ice dripping down on you. The idea of a glacier – layers over layers of ice, so thick that not even the summer sun would melt it completely – is remarkable on its own. Actually standing inside of one, was unreal.

Now, back in Tamsweg, I work in the office and I found my way around town. The very special team bonding adventures that Tyrol offered us, however, will not be forgotten. My takeaway from my first two weeks at the European Wilderness Society: live life without expectations; you can’t be disappointed, just positively surprised.

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