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Our trip along the Alpine Dreamway.

Read the account from Joe, Ollie, Sol and Finn on their epic hiking trip through Austria into Italy, across a part of the Traumpfad, the long-distance hiking route from Munich to Venice.

At 1:15 am we closed the door behind us and stepped out into the warm, muggy Exeter city air that seems to suffocate you with every breath. But we were finally doing it, after nearly 9 months of planning we were going on holiday!! My brother and I were on our way, shouldering our mammoth amounts of kit, to catch the night bus to London and meet up with our other two team mates.

A quick introduction for the reader as to who “we” all are, you have: Myself (Joe – 19) an amateur photographer, hiker and as of this blog, writer. My brother Ollie, the youngest of the group at 16 though annoyingly as competent as myself. Both of us coming from sunny Dartmoor. And another two brothers who we’ve known since before primary school, Sol (19) and Finn (17). Who come from the well know mountainous region of east Sussex.

I’m easy to spot standing at a towering 5 ft 8”, the rest of them stand around the ridiculous high of 6 ft+, like seriously at that point you’re just too tall. However Finn’s height posed him even more issues than just damaging my ego. His passport had barely 3 months left and on it, he looked about 10. It gives the impression he’s mugged a 10yr old and was attempting to flee the country. There was a slight fear our holiday would end there and then at the hands of immigration control.

Miraculously he got through. Though the miracles died instantly after that as the rest of the journey was a 33 hour ordeal of which I slept for 3. Four out of six trains were delayed, one broke down entirely and we arrived 4 hours late to our first hostel in the dead of night, nearly 100 euros out of pocket to a taxi driver who believed he was Max Verstapen, we all thought we were going to die. But we’d made it and we could finally crack on with our route.

The route in question was a section of the Traumpfad or Dreamway, an aptly named a long distance hiking route from Munich to Venice. We would be starting from Scharniz, a small town on the German-Austrian border and finishing in Pfunders, village just over the Italian border. The route would take us through the heart of three mountain ranges climbing a total of 24,127 ft (7,354m), covering 120 km and the width of Austria itself in just 8 days. Not your average holiday for 4 teenage lads.

From now on though it would be just us and the mountains. Breakfast consisted of 1 singular flapjack and we were walking by 6:40am. Now I had briefed everyone the night before that the route involved some very steep cabled sections of walking. That didn’t make it any less of a shock when we encountered it within the first 5 minutes. The rocks still wet from the morning dew and the sun was hiding behind the towering peaks to the east. The metal wire managed to look as unfriendly as possible as it squirmed up the rock face, bolted in every 5 or so meters. Still half asleep it was not a pleasant wake up call, clinging to freezing rock and wire moving inch by inch up the hill side. I was trying to convince my friends that this was in fact perfectly safe as they questioned our holiday choices. That was until we saw the first grave. I decided to shut up after that.

As we reached the far boulder field on the other side of the mountain after an exhausting ascent and a hair raising climb down in the pouring rain, the sun came out in all its glory. At the lip of the second descent we return to shorts and t-shirts. The hours that followed were surreal, scree skiing camera in hand, the hot summer sun bringing the gorgeous valley enveloping us to life. It felt like a fairy tale sat by the gurgling glacial blue river, hundreds of butterflies fluttering around our heads, we all wanted to stay there forever.

6 hours later, knackered from the days adventure we lay in the dorms waiting for curfew. I half-jokingly said “lads I think this holiday is going to kill me” as I could feel my hamstrings threatening cramp.

A muffled “the term ‘holiday’ is being used rather liberally here” came from within Finn’s sleeping bag. I laughed, “What term would you use then?”

“Eternal suffering” said the sleeping bag.

If that had been eternal suffering the days that followed were two steps from hell. Abysmal weather, food poisoning and extreme fatigue plagued us for the next 3 days. The only positive came from proving once again how good Nikwax and Páramo really are. Both my brother and I are lucky enough to own Páramo coats (Velez Jacket, and Velez Adventure Smock) and had reproofed all our kit with Nikwax Tech Wash before we left. Unintentionally (but it worked out well as an experiment) the other two lads hadn’t reproofed their coats and spent most of the time soaked to the bone. The biggest test for both us and our kit came on our 3rd day of rain and misery, the coldest day of the summer season.

With the high pass closed due to snow and Finn still recovering from food poisoning, I expected the next day to be a write off. A boring day trudging through the foothills in the pouring rain when all I wanted was to be in the high peaks. I could not have been more wrong, to rehash the old saying: never judge a walk by the weather and a European map.

We set off slightly later than usual with no great rush to throw ourselves into the driving rain outside. Heads down we trudged up hill, my legs once again cursing my choice of holiday. Today though was different, after the initial climb to take us out of the valley and deeper into the fog my body finally realised that I was in fact intending to continue this ridiculous lark of slogging up mountains. No matter how much pain I was in each day, or the fact it felt like there was a hippopotamus sat on my lungs, or the fact that I hadn’t seen much more than different shades of cloud for the last 3 days.

It was a gradual change so it wasn’t for another hour that I realised… my legs didn’t hurt! The soul destroying feeling of fatigue with every step was gone, and for really the first time in 3 days I could properly enjoy myself. I actually got genuinely excited when we found ourselves tromping through a bog. That may sound strange but for me 90% of the walking I do back home consists of rain bog and fog, it was like being back on home turf!

Climbing higher, the clouds broke enough to see the snow caped peaks tantalizingly close to where we now stood. They seemed to call louder than ever today, a feeling so strong resonating through my mind body and soul, yet unpeaceable in all reality. Sadly that was as close as we got to the snow-line as we now began our traverse, the temperature dropping rapidly making the rain feel like ice slashing across my exposed face and hands.

Mercifully we dropped out of the wind as our path descended, following a rapidly rising river crashing down the mountainside. Having crossed it once already and losing sight of it again as we zig-zagged steeply downhill I thought we were in the clear. I was thoroughly mistaken. A raging 20 meter waterfall now loomed ahead of us and the path went straight through it. The waterfall was a huge white mass, 6 meters wide at the base and filling the valley with freezing mist roaring like a caged beast, so loud I was yelling just to be heard.

Ollie led the charge, icy water lashing out at him as he traversed the loose shale ledge, one hand on the scarily flimsy metal wire acting as his lifeline against a slip into the abyss. Sol and Finn followed suit braving the icy waters, which just left yours truly. Now I wish I could say I valiantly strode forth into icy water barely batting an eyelid at the temperature. That however would be a lie, the water was mind bogglingly cold and I think I made a rather manly squeaking noise as it flooded my boots. That isn’t to say I wasn’t enjoying myself, it’s moments like this I think clearest, not like an adrenaline kick but just a still calmness and clarity of mind.

The weather finally decided to play ball for the remaining two days… sort of. The rain had at least stopped, though the Páramo’s were still out in force to protect us from the arctic wind and the occasional snow flurry. Best of all on the last possible day we finally got our summit. The sun made a surprise appearance to spotlight us at the top as snow drifted around us, landing on our hats and hoods. It looked more like a postcard than a serious 9,500ft summit.

I didn’t want to leave when the time came, descending felt like slowly waking from a dream till the place I’d been only minutes before seemed almost unreal. But soon the terrain demanded my attention and the trance faded, though that stupid smile persisted for a good while longer.

It hadn’t been easy, we’d spent the last 8 days sweating and suffering, dreaming of rest and bed and people back home, cursing the pain, the weather and even at times each other. But for moments like that (and there were plenty more I wish I could fit in) it was all worth it, and I for one would do it again in a heartbeat.

I must say a big thank you to Nikwax and Páramo whose kit made this trip decidedly more pleasurable. Having a coat that I know won’t let me down whatever the weather throws at me removes a lot of stress both when planning and executing a trip.

1 thought on “Our trip along the Alpine Dreamway.

  1. Good work guys, great little read. Its not a proper adventure without some suffering 🙂

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