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Published: January 6th 2006
So this is what you call snow? Pwaah!
Me and Annika in November after the first snowfall. For me, this was a load of snow. Now, this four-letter word has a whole new meaning.
Every time I relay this story to other people here, it suddenly loses its flair and sounds like every other 15-kilometer-hike up a mountain. Maybe it's got to do with the lack of style that my German abilities allow, but just imagine: a very un-sporty (which doesnt mean i'm a McDonalds-eating American) Californian ignorant of the powers of nature at --11 degrees centigrade.
A certain Wolfgang (a very popular name here) invited me to go for a "Wanderung" through the woods up a mountain, atop which there was a supposed cozy little cabin where we could thereafter rest our souls before heading back down to civilization. There had been some snow the night before, but Wolfgang said the show can still go on, but that I'd have to dress warm. So, warm for me means one pair of socks (of no particular quality), some old long underwear, a regular pair of jeans, a thermal, a zip up pullover, a waterproof jacket, a beenie, gloves, scarf and some "waterproof" tennis shoes made by GoreTex. I thought, man, I know I can't stand the cold, so this shall do me fine. I wasn't wearing underwear, I admit, because I was lazy at home and didn't have any clean ones. On top of that, I was experiencing a rather extreme case of the red crimson tide and all the jive that comes with that, so I pasted a heat pack to my belly and headed off.
Wolfgang and I had known each other a total of 2 days I would say, and after a few phone calls here and there, we decided it's time for some philosophieren instead of drunk ballroom dancing at Köflachs finest: Lorbeer and Stau. We headed off in a VW bus, not a hippie one, but a newer one that smelled of stale foot and mold. Along the way, the snow seemed to be getting deeper and was also falling harder from the sky. We probably both thought in our heads: ah, the snow isn't so bad, and that it's coming from the sky is sort of romantic...
We get to the point where the VW bus doesn't want to go anymore because of the deepening snow, so we park the car and Wolfgang tells me that it will take about 2 hours from there to reach the cabin. And because I didn't have the proper shoes for snow travel, he brought some ties that he clenched around my ankles so that no snow would be getting into my pant leg. I should have taken this as a hint. But, like I said, I was ignorant of snow and what it can do to a body.
We head off. Only 15 minutes into the hike I am panting like a malamute in a Californian summer, asking myself, childishly, "are we there yet? are we there yet?" Wolfgang looks at me with a smirk and asks jokingly, "zu anstrengend für dich?" whereupon I'm thinking in my head, "sort of, you bastard" but saying in reality, "No, not at all. Chin up, crack on." Wolfgang stops for a smoke, and I'm wondering, "Jeesus, these crazy Austrians. How can you even smoke? I don't think I have the lung capacity for the fucking walk itself!" After the smoke and after I catch my breath of fresh alpine air, we move along, the snow getting ever more deep and the sweat pouring out of every pore of my body. I kept my mouth shut about my discomforts, because it's not like me to give up, especially when I feel most challenged.
About an hour into the walk, I get a second wind and I'm keeping up fine despite the ever deepening snow and harder snowfall. Our conversations are getting interesting, and Wolfgang is telling me hilarious story after hilarious story about his 8-month experience with a Mormon family in Utah. Then he turns to me and says, "ein Drittel", whereupon I was so happy that there was only a third of the way left. My spirits were smashed as he corrected me...we had only finished a third of the way. I made him know that I don't like people to tell me how much longer we have, because then I look forward to the end, and it ends up lasting longer.
About 2 hours into the hike, we are in knee-deep snow. I am sure we're almost there, because well Wolfgang said it only takes 2 hours. And he keeps telling me "nur eine kleine Strecke weiter..." and I say to myself, Thank God we're almost there!!!
Snow is falling harder, and there are no car tracks in the snow nor footprints from past hikers. Only the tracks of deer and other animals. More snowfall. Wolfgang, walking ahead of me to make tracks for me, had a wet butt that admittedly I didn't have a problem looking at. My butt was completely soaked. I stopped to take a picture of him in the more than knee-deep snow with my Handy, and even though he's a pretty tall one, you could really only see Wolfgang from the butt up. Miraculously, GoreTex pulls through, and my feet are dry except for the bits of snow that are seeping through the tops of my shoes.
By now, about 3 hours into the hike, I stop listening to Wolfgang's reassurances that it's only a kleine Strecke weiter, because I know it's all a bunch of bologna. But, having caught a third wind, turning back sounds ridiculous, and I express excitement about finally getting to the Hütte. Wolfgang says that if we go through the forest where there's trees and not on the flat path it is easier and faster. In reality probably only the latter was true. Chin up, crack on, Nikki.
4 hours. We reach a cabin, and it looks oh so inviting. By now, my feet are actually soaked as well as everything else, and I can feel the wet starting to freeze my legs and even toes. My face is tight with redness and chill, the steam billowing out of my nostrils and mouth. We reach the cabin after a long stretch of flatland, and I stop to rest on the fence, admiring the small little cabin in front of me. Wolfgang, looking a little verlegen, says, "Ich hab ein Geheimnis zu verraten." And I said, well, it must be a good secret, because we're here, aren't we?" and he said, "das ist die falsche Hütte" and points to an area farther up the hill and through more forest where the real cabin was supposed to be.
A joke? If so, a real good one. But it was no joke. I felt for the first time a tinge of that anger that Nikki can get when she's feeling tested. But, because I didn't know Wolfgang too well, I decided that it wasn't yet appropriate to share such feelings with him. I said, all right, let's keep going. There's no use turning back now, and I begin chuckling, the kind of chuckle you get when you think you might be going mad.
My fuel tank is by now running on E, and Wolfgang admits he's pretty spent too. 60 meters only, he reassures me. I said, yes, but 60 meters seems like 60 minutes! By the time we reach the trees ahead, my legs are quivering because of the lack of hydration and nutrients. Every step in the hip-deep snow is a struggle, and I begin uttering exclamatory statements in English. Speaking German was just another energy expenditure that I couldn't afford. And, just as I thought I wasn't going to make it, there, in the thicket of fog and snow, I see an outline of a house.
I'm not a religious person, but vor lauter Freude I thanked something up above for allowing me to make it. And, after about 5 hours getting battered by the sheer power of nature's elements, we step into the dry but just as freezing cabin, both shaking and frankly in states of bewilderment and shock. But, I felt more proud of myself than I ever had getting A's in college seminars, because I, the very un-sporty Nikki, proved to myself that if I could stand the test of nature, then I could pretty much accomplish anything I wanted.
And, yes, the story does go on, because we ended up having to stay the night in the cabin. To make a long story short, there was a period where I felt my toes weren't going to surive, we had a feast out of a can of old chili and a can of Brathering (disgusting fish), and plenty of Schnappstee. After teh schnappstee we found a large stash of beer and each had 2 liters to ourselves. We ran out of wood, and had to hack our way into the hut where all the wood was, getting all the clothes we had just gotten dry all wet again. Looking back, we laughed that everything could have been done a little simpler if we hadn't been so drunk. The night ended around 10 or so, and after a brief make-out, we passed out.
More to come about the next day, if I feel like it, but I already feel pretty exhausted from writing all that. I feel I've done myself justice by unloading the story, and I hope you feel it was as epic as I know it was. Peace and love.
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