Monday, September 2, 2013

Day 25 - Oberdrauburg to St. Poltner Hutte (85km)

Some days, everything is easy.

Today was not one of those days.

It started out great; a 25km jaunt to Leinz along a lovely bike path (with no confusing dead ends or detours!). We stopped for breakfast before turning north, as we knew there would be some climbing ahead of us. The waiter sparked up a conversation with us; interested to know where we had come from, where we were going. Kitzbuhel, we told him.

He advised us that it was not possible to go the way that we wanted as the road was closed due to a rock slide that had taken place two months earlier. He recommended that we go back on the highway a few kilometers and take the route over two or three passes to get to Kitzbuhel.

There is something about going back that is totally unpalatable. It was not an option for either of us. I proposed going southwest, down into Italy and then back up through the alps. Pierre suggested trying the highway anyway - after all, it had been two months since the incident and this was Austria (practically Germany!), for sure it would be cleared by now. I agreed to a compromise - starting up the road and then making a call as to whether the pass was open or not - based on signs and traffic. Plus, I knew there was no convincing Pierre not to go, so I figured I'd save myself time and just go.

We started up the pass - observing traffic in both directions. We took note of certain cars, watching and waiting to for them to come back the other way (a sign that they'd been turned around). We climbed and climbed, almost reaching the pass. And then...road closure.

We rolled past the barrier to evaluate the situation. Pierre was convinced that we would be able to climb over the slide if it was still there. I was not...that shit scares me...but I decided to follow as I felt it would be easier to get out of climbing over it once I could point to how bad it was. That and, well, I was really hoping that it was cleared - we had done so much climbing to get there!

In fact, the slide was still there, untouched. The damage had been so massive that the state decided to first fix the mountain above, then deal with the mess below. There was no way we were attempting to traverse this thing under these circumstances. At least we both agreed on that! But, we could see below, down in the valley, a parking lot and what looked to be hiking trails. We went down to investigate.

Pierre found a map that showed a path that went over an adjacent pass and would, apparently, take us to a point at which we could rejoin the route to Kitzbuhel. The map showed a hut at the top of the pass and indicated an estimate of 4 hours to hike to reach the hut.

It was 4:30pm, we'd better hurry.

4 hours of daylight left in the day and we embarked on a 4 hour hike to a hut at the top of a mountain pass that was 1000m above our starting elevation. Lest I forget to mention the wind and dark clouds on the horizon.

I have made some questionable decisions in my life. This was one of them.

Most hiking paths switchback up a slope, providing a more comfortable grade for hiking and less damage to the environment. Not this one. This one took a bee line straight up the mountain, roughly paralleling some electricity lines over rocks and through show-shit-filled mud. This not only deemed the path unrideable, it meant that we had to carry our bikes on our shoulders/backs.

On the bright side, we had the trail to our selves. We had the whole mountain to our selves!

After a few hundred meters of elevation gain, the path became a small road and we were able to ride for a while (less than 2km). That's when the rain started. Realistically, it was the kind of rain that does more in terms of making one worry than making one wet and cold. Yes, we were wet and cold. No, it was not an emergency. Yes, the lighting and thunder over the peak to the west of us was disturbing, as was the buzz of the electrical lines that curt up parallel to the path that we were following. But we weren't *actually* in the shit storm. Yet.

We continued to climb, reaching a point at which we were certain we could see the pass. At this point, the rain disappeared, but it was replaced by another challenge. Snow. Sheets of snow on a steep slope and no way around it. We slipped and squished our way slowly up the snow, praying that there were no surprise rivers underneath.

I imagined that the hut at the top would be locked, that we would have no way to make a fire outside, and that we would be munching on gummy bears for dinner and breakfast. But there is something about being with someone that made it ok. It might be a hard night, but I wouldn't be alone.

Finally, after 3 hours of pushing and carrying our bikes, we reached the hut. Magically, wonderfully, awesomely, it was open! And there were people living there! And there was food! And beer! It was such an unexpected surprise! We really got lucky. So we will go to bed dry, warm and with full bellies. I'm looking forward to our descent to breakfast tomorrow!


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