I didn't mean to climb a mountain. It was an accident.
To be more precise, my desire to take interesting photographs often leads me in unanticipated directions. This existential fact explains why I found myself trudging up the side of a mountain: pursuit of a picture.
The Euro2008 team's plan for the day had been scrubbed. Summer weather in Seefeld is unsettled. Storms shake the mountains, even in August. On this particular morning, dark gray clouds descended over the high peaks, and when I checked the forecast, I discovered that the weather boffins were predicting two days of heavy rain for the area.
The two younger members of the Euro2008 Team were delighted: they'd feared another one of Dad's hikes. The weather provided a perfect excuse to lay around the flat all day reading books. There is a difficult balance to be maintained on this trip: we only have a certain number of days before we must return home, and every day we find ourselves confined to our lodging is (in my mind) a day lost. On the other hand, the girls simply cannot go full out for three-and-a-half months. They need days off as well. In any event, with rotten weather on the way, Mary and I were willing to give them today.
By lunch time the promised heavy rains had not materialized, and I was feeling housebound. I decided to take a walk to the base of the Rosshute, the funicular railway that hauls skiers (as well as summer tourists and hikers) up Seefelder Joch, one of the mountains to the east of town. With any luck, I might capture a photo of Seefeld from an elevated location.
I loaded my camera bag into a backpack and set off. The day was warm and cloudy; occasional scraps of blue sky and sunshine blew past overhead.
When I reached the large complex built around the lower funicular station, I immediately saw that it would not do for photography. The station is placed in the last line of foothills before the mountain begins, and is surrounded by fir trees. No views of the town at all. I studied the slopes of the Rosshute. According to the signboard, there was a 600 meter (1/3 mile) altitude gain between the top and bottom of the railway. I could not see the upper station from where I stood. When I left the house, I hadn't planned to climb the mountain on foot (and I was ill-prepared to do so, dressed in a light shirt and shorts), but I couldn't help wondering if I might discover a better view of Seefeld if I took a short hike up the mountain.
Why not find out? A yellow trail sign indicated that the top was less than two hours away. I tightened the shoulder straps on my backpack and began to trudge up the hill. Trail 10 wound steadily higher through a forest, yielding occasional glimpses of the funicular track off to my right. Thirty minutes into the walk, the trail crossed the Rosshute Strasse (Road) and I took a break, standing in the middle of a ski run to assess the view. The day was still fine, but my trek had brought me nearer to the misty clouds that were blowing across the face of Seefeld Joch. I shot a few photos of the funicular train as it ground past, its passengers sitting in regal comfort, and then thought about what I wanted to do next.
The trees and nearby hills prevented a clear shot of Seefeld. Perhaps, I thought, if I just went up to the next big landmark on the trail, the Hocheggalm hut, I would discover a better view. There were two ways to reach the hut: continue to follow trail 10, which at this point rose rather steeply, switchbacking up the side of a hill, or take the Rosshute Strasse, a gravel access road that looked longer on the map, but perhaps wasn't as steep. The latter option seemed more inviting, so off I went on the road.
Well it was a long road and it just climbed and climbed and climbed. The sun had returned and I was sweating mightily. Behind me I could see the base of Hohe Munde (his head was again swathed in clouds) and I realized just how big that mountain is. We've only been seeing the top of it during our hikes around Seefeld, but as I ascended, more of the mountain was exposed to view. I also passed a hunter's blind, set halfway up a tree. The weathered wooden slats resembled a tree house, constructed in the middle of nowhere.
I passed the small Hocheggalm hut, and walking up the road for about five minutes, broke out of the trees on a small level plain. For the first time on the hike, I saw the upper station of the Rosshute, a tiny dot high above me.
And then it began to rain.
Fortunately I was close to the bottom end of a chair lift and was able to take shelter beneath the overhanging roof of a wooden service shed. As I huddled out of the wind and rain, low dank clouds now brushing nearby tree tops, I realized that I had made two very stupid mistakes. The first was not packing suitable clothing for this climb. All I had was the very light cotton shirt and shorts I was wearing. If the rain and wind persisted, I might end up very cold. People die of hypothermia on pleasant summer days in the mountains. My second mistake, since this climb had just been a spur of the moment whim, was not telling Mary where I was going. If I did get into trouble, it would have been nice to know that eventually someone might be looking for me.
Eventually the rain stopped and vast swathes of blue sky marched toward me. I left the shelter of the shed and stood, staring at the top of the Rosshute. So close. Fine weather was filling in behind me. What the heck, I thought. If I'm going to die of hypothermia, I might as well do it at the top. God looks after fools and ferrets, and if the conditions really deteriorated I could seek shelter in the Hocheggalm hut.
I decided, however, that rather than continuing to follow the road in its long winding path, I would do an Admiral Nelson and go straight at it. Right up the green ski slope, paralleling the line of the funicular tracks.
The last stage of the ascent took about 45 minutes. As I climbed steadily upward, dodging horse and cow patties, the world fell away beneath me. Overhead, the cable car that carries people between the top of the Rosshute and the much higher Reithe Spitze mountain, swung past. A few last shuddering steps, and I was at the top. Rosshute, elevation 1760 meters. Not Mt Everest, but a small accomplishment nevertheless.
The weather was darkening again, so I did not tarry long. I took a few photos and then turned my feet downhill. Oh, for some snow and skis. I'd be back at the bottom in minutes. Well, maybe not as I can't ski. But a toboggan would certainly get me there in good time.
The descent was, in some ways, harder than the climb. I felt it in my knees, the constant braking motion. On the way down I took trail 10, rather than the road. It was beautiful, stitching through the silent green woods. Rain began to fall again as I neared the lower funicular station. I ended my adventure walking through the silent streets of Seefeld, a gentle drizzle washing my afternoon's exertions away.
Summer weather in Seefeld is unsettled.