The Austrian town of Seefeld sits on a small plateau between two lines of mountains, 3,600 feet above sea level. Although it only has a permanent population of 3,300 residents, the town attracts nearly one million visitors each year. In the winter months it is overrun with skiers; in the summer, hikers and mountain bikers. A number of professional football teams use Seefeld as a training base, conditioning their cardiovascular systems in the thin air before important matches. It is a community focused on the outdoors; walk any direction out of town and you will quickly encounter the yellow trail markers that are liberally sprinkled throughout the surrounding forest: “this way to Mt Crumpet,” “Hiker's Doom, 10km,” “Dead Man's Drop, 5km” (I translate loosely here).
My first mission in Seefeld is the procurement of basic breakfast staples (coffee). As I leave our alpine flat and head for the main part of town, I pass the Seekirche Heiliges Kreuz, a whitewashed church whose bulbous green copper dome makes it look more Russian Orthodox than Austrian Catholic. The church dates back to the seventeenth century, and was commissioned by Archduke Leopold V to house a miraculous crucifix.
The crucifix was originally located in a side chapel in Seefeld's parish church. In 1626, a prominent Austrian noblewoman knelt before this cross and prayed for the remissions of her sins. Christ, from the crucifix, then spoke to her, saying that like the thief on the cross, her sins had been forgiven. Word of this miracle spread, and when Leopold V learned of it, he ordered the construction of a church to house the crucifix. Thirty-seven years later, in 1666, the Seekirche was completed. It isn't very large and one wonders what took so long. Nevertheless, it became an important stop for pilgrims.
Modern pilgrims can enter the Seekirche, but they won't get very far. A cage of painted iron bars blocks the entryway, a reverse prison to deny entrance to off-hours visitors. When I visit, I can only gaze through the bars at the beauty within, denied admission to paradise.
The mountains add an element of unpredictability to Seefeld's summer weather. At noon, after we had resigned ourselves to a dreary dull day, the clouds lifted, leaving only a few isolated cumulus clouds to harry the mountain peaks. Time for an afternoon hike on one of Seefeld's many trails.
We decided to try the “easy” Wildmoos/Mosern trail. According to the signboards, this route would require about 3.5 hours to accomplish. Full of hope and lunch, we set off up the hill behind our chalet. The gentle upslope of the first stage wasn't arduous, and soon the valley opened out beneath our feet. The trail was a well-maintained gravel path that wound through cool fir woods. In practically no time, we reached the first major destination on the trek: Wildmoos.
Now I don't know if “Wildmoos” should be translated literally as “Wild Moose,” or if, in fact, it means something completely different in German like “Turn left here.” In any event, we saw no moose. We did find a duck-choked pond that offered a glorious reflection of Simmlberg, a peak to the northeast. I was struck by the photographic possibilities of this pond, and like a true enthusiast, quickly unfolded my tripod to capture some images. As I worked to frame a shot of this alpine peak, reflected in perfectly still water, a band of bread-stuffed ducks came paddling through the water toward me. Their pumping orange feet shoved their plump bodies through the water, shattering the smooth surface of the pond. Evidently their pea-sized duck brains were unable to distinguish between a serious photographer, and a bread dispensing hiker who was inclined to feed them. I glared fiercely at them. "Go away," I snarled. "Vamoose!" That proved ineffective. "Wildmoos!" I shouted.
My imprecations (and use of German) only encouraged them. The early arriving ducks stayed, while more arrived every minute: cousins, friends, distant acquaintances, all paddling determinedly toward my patch of water. Little beads of duck sweat glistened on their foreheads as they churned up the water in their hurry to arrive. I scuttled like a crab, sideways down the beach to another clear spot. As I crouched behind my camera, the first duck appeared in my viewfinder. Like iron filings drawn to a magnet, the ducks tracked me up and down the shore. I couldn't believe it. Finally I gave up. There were too many ducks and too little pond. As I stalked off, they quacked dolefully behind me, still not believing that I wasn't hiding a loaf of fine French bread in my camera bag.
The trail turned west-southwest, and ran between a small ridge (Moserer Hohe) and the largest peak in the Austrian Tyrol, Hohe Munde. Hohe Munde looks like a great scoop of gray ice cream, rising to 2600 meters. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a great shot of it as a big topping of whipped cloud clung tenaciously to the west face of the mountain. First ducks, then clouds. From a photographic standpoint, nothing was going well on this hike.
Hot and tired, we made an end run around Moserer Hohe and descended into the small collection of houses the Austrians call Mosern. It was break time, so we stopped at the Panoramablick restaurant, where we enjoyed ice cream cones, water, and a view of the valley floor far below.
Our hike ended with a straight easterly run, slowly descending from the ridge top, until we returned to our starting point. Footsore and sweat-stained, we reached Seefeld in the late afternoon, just as the clouds began to blow in again. Back in our chalet, we set our fatigued toes up on foot stools and enjoyed a quiet evening after our long hike.
Night fell. Gathering clouds effaced the serrated edges of the distant peaks. An alpine wind began to stir the fir tree outside our chalet. Distant thunder echoed. A minute later rain began to blow through our open deck doors. A high mountain storm rolled down into our valley, like a hen covering her chicks. Tired from our hike, we climbed into bed early and listened to hard rain drops pounding on the other side of our ceiling.