Euro2008 Tour, Part VI: The Ascent of Gschwandtkopf and a Trip to Mittenwald, Austria
Mittenwald, Austria
Mittenwald, Austria

An active first week in Seefeld, averaging about four miles of hiking per day, had left my muscles tired and sore. After several sedentary years, my limbs were rediscovering the discomfort of regular physical exertion. So who was crazier: me for suggesting that we try to climb to the top of Gschwandtkopf ― the peak at the top of the ski lift we can see out our living room window ― or my elder daughter Annie, for agreeing to come with me? Hard to say, really, but 10:00 AM found us setting off on a father-daughter adventure: the climb to the top of Mt. Crumpet.

It was a lovely, clear morning. The sun had been warming the air and the temperature stood around the 65 degree mark. The wind was calm and bird song filled the air. I expected Julie Andrews to waft by ― yodeling ― at any moment. Sadly, we must have just missed her.

Upon reaching the base of Gschwandtkopf we discovered that the ski lift was running, and, for a moment, were sorely tempted to take the easy way up the mountain. I, however, remembered a passage out of Hemingway that seemed to pertain to this situation. According to the master, when he first began skiing the Alps after World War I, there were no ski lifts and skiers had to hike to the top before setting off. He theorized that this climbing strengthened the skier's legs to such a degree that the more common skiing injuries ― fractures, twists, and strains ― were avoided. The convenience of the ski lift made the skier weaker. I think Hem would have been proud of us for choosing to leg it up the mountain.

The leg-strengthening, Hemingway-approved, route up the mountain, was a gravel service road. It switchbacked up the green hill like an intoxicated brown snake. Annie and I ascended slowly. As we climbed, foothills that surround Seefeld fell away, allowing the mountains to fill the horizon. The higher we went, the more these peaks dominated the skyline. A spectacular panorama, and for a moment, I could understand the compulsion that drives some people to scale the great mountains. In the distance, a paraglider hovered almost motionless in the ridge lift rising along the face of Harmelekopf, fixed like a great yellow butterfly pinned to the green velvet of the mountain.

About 2/3rds of the way up, we took a break so that I could take a few photos. Hohe Munde had breached to the west, and for once, it was not covered in clouds. I rolled around on the alpine grass, clicking away with the camera. It was not until I rejoined Annie that I realized I was missing something. My glasses, which I thought were safely stowed in my camera case, had gone missing. I frantically searched all the pockets and the pouches of my case. Nothing. I surveyed the great green ski slope that stretched out below us; my spirits sank into my hiking boots. Where would a person even begin looking for a small set of glasses in the hundreds of acres of grass?

This was not good: I only had one pair of glasses. They would not be easy to replace, and I considered how awful it would be to spend the next three months traveling without them. It was essential I find them, but how? We retraced our steps, trudging forlornly down the hill for 20 meters or so, hoping to see them, but, of course, the odds were against us.

Then I had two bright ideas. The first was to remember that as I had been photographing Hohe Munde, shadows from the ski lift chairs passing overhead had been crawling into my viewfinder at even intervals; I'd been pressing the shutter between shadows, to avoid having them in the frame. Consequently, the place where I lost my glasses would be located beneath the cable of the ski lift.

Once we placed ourselves back on this line, I realized that a second line could be calculated by looking at the pictures I had taken. I pulled my first picture of Hohe Munde up on the camera display (this wouldn't have worked with a film camera; score one point for digital) and noted where the foreground trees stood in relation to the background peaks. We then followed the line of chair lift shadows down the hill until our real world view of trees and mountains matched the camera's record. Triangulation.

Annie and I spread out and started walking back up the hill. Within a minute I saw glass and steel glinting in the grass. I cannot overstate the deep sense of relief I felt. I pushed my glasses firmly back on my face, and with a feeling of great thankfulness to Pythagoras and the muses of Trignometry, we returned to our ascent.

Perched atop Gschwandtkopf is the chair lift terminus and a ski lodge, the Otzi Hutte. As a reward for our effort, Annie and I went into the Hutte to purchase some small refreshment. I don't know how they manage to get food and supplies up the mountainside, but the prices certainly reflected the logistical problem. Expensive water...

A view from the chairlift ride down Gschwandtkopf
A view from the chairlift ride down Gschwandtkopf

After admiring the views from the peak, we decided to reward our exertions with a descent on the chair lift. The lift had been mostly empty as we had climbed the mountain, but now there was a steady stream of people riding its iron seats aloft. Coming down was great fun, soaring out over the green slope, with tremendous views in three directions. All too soon our ride was over and we were back on the Seefeldian plain.

After lunch, we decided to catch the train north, a twenty minute ride into Germany to visit the town of Mittenwald. Mary had read that Mittenwald was a quaint Austrian town that was well worth a visit, so we set off to see if these guidebook-stoked expectations could be met. A brief ride on the iron carriage, passing through Giessenbach and Scharnitz, and then we rolled into Mittenwald.

One of my first impressions of Mittenwald was drawn from the public bathroom outside the train station. Any traveler in Britain will confirm that public toilets in that country are invariably a disgusting mess. The toilets in Mittenwald were pristine. Not only that, but beside each toilet was a white plastic toilet brush. The town council (or whomever is in charge of Mittenwald toilets) clearly had high expectations for those who would use these facilities. Not only were they confident that kids wouldn't steal these brushes and toss them in the bushes, but they also seemed to feel that the patrons would use the brushes to clean up after themselves. I didn't make an exhaustive survey of all the stalls, but the two I examined seemed to suggest that their expectations were being met. The bathroom was neat and tidy, a far cry from some of the feces-splattered stalls I've seen in other parts of the world.

Parish Church, Mittenwald, Austria
Parish Church, Mittenwald, Austria

Although I could have spent more time marveling at the state of the Mittenwald toilets, it was time to see the rest of the town. A long avenue stretches away from the train station, hosting a line of tourist-oriented shops that seemed to traffic principally in statuary. Hummels, wood carvings, and plastic resin casts of American Indians. The native Americans were surrounded by cavalrymen, and cowboys. I'm not certain why the American West was such a popular theme in Mittenwald, but Buffalo Bill statues were everywhere.

Downtown, away from the train station and statue street, was much nicer. The town is dominated by the catholic church, Saints Peter und Paul, which has magnificent murals of Moses painted on the sides of the bell tower. A bronze statue honoring Matthias Klotz sat in front of the church. I had no idea who M. Klotz was, but it turns out that he was a violin maker. Not only did he make violins himself, but his descendants have been in the business since the 17th century. Mittenwald became a famous center of violin production, and the grateful town erected a statue to the man who started it all.

The M. Klotz Memorial, Mittenwald, Austria
The M. Klotz Memorial, Mittenwald, Austria
Violin Shop, Mittenwald, Austria
Violin Shop, Mittenwald, Austria

Mary and the girls set off to explore the shops while I worked the streets with my camera. Another thing I like about Austria (in addition to spotless toilets) is the care the residents put into decorating their homes. Where homes in most parts of the world are simply painted one color ― bland beige, one-tone white ― in the Tyrol many of the chalets have at least a small amount of decorative paintwork. This ranges from painted borders around the windows to murals that fill walls.

Mural, Mittenwald, Austria
Mural, Mittenwald, Austria

Painters must thrive in the Alps. In Mittenwald, the houses and shops are similarly draped in color. A large percentage of the art is religious, with images of the saints (especially Mary, Peter, and Paul) dominating. It certainly gives visitors something to look at, and once again points to a love of beauty and sense of civic pride that is commendable.

Saint Mary, Mittenwald
Saint Mary, Mittenwald

I strongly recommend a trip to Mittenwald. After a few pleasant hours, we caught the train back to Seefeld. Once again the evening storms rolled off the mountains, dropping rain on the roof of our chalet. We ate dinner in, played a game of cards with the girls, and then to bed, listening to the roll of thunder a great bowling ball crashing through the high alpine peaks.

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Copyright, 2017 Richard J. Goodrich