Nothing feeds my soul more than the mountains, and my soul is full.
This past week I headed to Austria for a business trip to audit our warehouse in Brataslava Slovakia. Luckily this fell right in the middle of the week, which afforded me the opportunity to explore Vienna and the Eastern Alps for a few days before having to continue onward to China.
A few weeks before my trip I started thinking about my options on where to go and what to see. I so badly wanted to head to western Austria where the mountains are much more dramatic, but given time constraints I settled for less travel time and more outdoor time, hedging that I will visit the Alps again at some other time in my life. I contacted a company that provides group guides and even though they had nothing planned, worked out a deal to have a solo guide bring me up into the mountains in Rax/Schneeberg (~6,500ft). I expected more of snowshoe/crampon type climb, but what I got was much much more.
I met my guide Akos at 8:00 that morning about 30 minutes from the mountains. He had driven 3 hours from Budepest to take me up the HeidSteig in the RaxAlpe (about a 1,200 meter climb). Instantly we clicked and talked about everything from previous climbs he has done (Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Everest, etc…), family, and our hometowns. As we approached the small Austrian town of Prein, he had told me that he opted to take me on a much steeper route in an effort to avoid snow… Ok!
We started off with a grueling hike up the foothills of the mountain, which unlike trails in the U.S. seemed to go straight up rather than use switchbacks. This was a beautiful hike through some great forest and ridges and I enjoyed the rigorous climb. After 45 minutes we finally hit the junction where we prepared for the climb by putting on our harnesses and helmets. I looked up and thought to myself, holy shit am I really going up that?
We started the climb and I got really focused, tackling one problem after another. Some were very easy, others were extremely difficult. I can recall one section that I couldn’t figure out my next move and was barely holding on by a small crack thinking, “oh no, I’m screwed!” So what did I do; well I just pretended I was Uli Steck of course. WWUSD, right? And if you have no clue who Uli Steck is, I suggest you sit down, hold on tight, grab some tissues, and watch this clip. He is…Lets just say…Superhuman?
It was my first time climbing something like this and this thought brought my focus back in. For the first half of the climb I did not realize how high up I was; that is until I looked out. It was breath taking and thrilling all at the same time with the mountains in the background and the large amount of air between the ground and me. My heart was racing and it felt awesome.
We continued up and hit a ridge where ~50 MPH or stronger winds were blowing. After trying to stand up just to be knocked back down by the gusts, we were resolved to crawl about 50yds until we hit the next section of climbing that thankfully blocked the wind. To be honest, I was more afraid of the wind than I was of the heights and climbing.
We continued up at a great pace and after 2.5hrs of climbing we made it to the top. The wind was howling like crazy and the rain clouds were coming in, but not even that could wipe the smirk off my face. I had so much fun on the climb and was on cloud nine. We snapped some pictures and then headed east along the ridges to find the way down.
We continued for a few miles, when we realized the trail we were looking for was not east from the peak but west. In the distance we spotted the Ottomanhaus, which had a tram, so instead of backtracking we continued forward and took the tram down (and grabbed a beer in the process). The tram took us down about 4 miles away from the car and we did a nice slow slog back to the car. We left at 9:30am and got back to the car at 5:00pm. I couldn’t have been happier with the trip and the opportunity to meet Akos. I definitely got my money’s worth out of this “once in a lifetime” experience. Fortunately for me though, I’m pretty sure its not going to only be a once in a lifetime thing as I continue to explore the mountains in various capacities.
I’m sitting here in the Airport in Frankfurt now on my way to Hong Kong and can’t wait to get back home to get in some last minute training before the Ray Miller 50 miler on 2/2 in SoCal.
Here are some more pics from my time in Vienna, which I explored via a few runs and also with my old family friend Kristen and her dog Bode. Check out her Uber cool food blog, Sushi and Strudel, where she is on a mission to explore the Vienna food scene outside of meat and potatoes. Sushi and Strudel – A Californian’s Exploration of Food in Vienna