One of the things I want to do before I die (a statement whose time seems more finite than infinite) is to through hike the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I have even gotten tentative buy-in from Jan on both the idea as well as both of us doing the trip, though with some caveats.  After our hike today in Austria, I’m thinking that we may want to postpone the AT forever and spend five months hiking the Alps here in Austria.

Stats from hike today:

Total Distance, 9.34 miles
Total time:  4:21 minutes
Elevation gain:  1,051 feet
Elevation loss:  2, 589
Min Elevation:  3,381
Max Elevation:  5,478
Number of mountain lakes that we swam in:  ZERO.  My feet hit the ice cold water and my body refused.
Number of times AJ asked “Why aren’t we taking the gondola down?!??”  500.  In the 40 minutes it took to hike to the bottom of the hill!
Major milestone:  First conversation in German with a person without having to resort to English.

Last full day in Austria, Lermoos and our little hotel hideaway.  This day is filled with white space–no trips or excursions were booked or planned.  We would see what we could find to do in the region.  The day is spectacular–blue skies and a slight breeze.  Breakfast was late, we drank a full pot of coffee to wipe the cobwebs away and ate about 4,000 calories of eggs, bacon, cheese, ham, bread to prepare us for the day.  We decided that we would go on a hike and see if we could find a mountain lake in which we could swim.

The valley in which we reside has three major cities laid out in a triangle within 8 kilometers of each other:  Lermos, Ehrwald and Biberwier.  We are staying in Lermoos, we went to Biberwier when we did the luge run and today we are going to head to Ehrwald to get in the Ehrwalder Almbahn gondola and head up a mountain to start our hike.

After AJ completes his every other morning run, we hop in the car and are heading to Ehrwald by 1100.  It is a 15 minute ride to Ehrwald on curvy, narrow roads and when we get to the town itself, it turns out to the be the hidden gem of the valley.  Lots of gasthauses, pensions and small hotels set around a catch of green.  We note to ourselves to take a look at staying here next time we come back.  We make it to the lift by 1120 and have a short discussion on what kind of ticket.  Should we get the family ticket one way for 25 euro or family ticket up/down.  I ask Jan, she says one way is good, so one-way it is.  We are hiking back down (3.1 km).

On the ride up we have a great view of the Seeben waterfall, little do we know that we will be crossing the Seeben river (well…creek, actually) that comes from the Seebensee that empties down to this falls.  But that is later.

At the top we get off and are standing at the Ehrwalder Alm (Alm means alpine hut), and ‘alpine hut’ that is really like a mini-hotel for hikers.  The chalet is also open for business and there is a big sign showing all the alpine huts in the area and their status–are they open or closed, and is there food.  Most all are open.  We look at our helpful map and then at the signs that clearly mark all the trails in the mountains.  We are told (via the signs) that the Seeben Alpine hut is 1-1.5 hours away and that the Seebensee (a lake) is 2 hours away.  One way.  We decide that the alpine hut is doable so we set off on a green (easy mountain biking and hiking) trail.  And it is easy…wide open and people wandering up into the mountains and through the woods.  Halfway to Seeben hut we come across a moderate hiking trail that appears to cut time off our hike so we take it and it is most excellent and not all that hard.  We start on a mixed hiking/bike train which is a small gravel road and then head off onto a hiking trail which is well used and crossed by a cool mountain stream.  We wander in and out of the trees which help keep the temperature down.  There are a lot of people out enjoying the day.  At about 1.5 hour we arrive at the hut.  It is 1pm.  The place which is in the middle of nowhere is packed with 30 people/families eating and drinking.

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Quick conversation and the plan is to come back to the hut a bit later when it isn’t so crowded and (playing directly into my master plan), we decide we will head off to the Seebensee.  It is a 30 minutes walk, mostly up hill and we eventually cross the Seebensee creek/river (which we can step across and which eventually falls spectacularly to the ground) and arrive at a deep blue lake surrounded by huge peaks.  Seebensee.  We find a rock, I strip off my shoes and socks and plan to jump in the water, but when AJ and I actually touch the water we realize that there is no way we are getting all the way in…it is too damn cold!  Feet will have to do and we are out quickly, shoes back on and we head back the way we came.

We stop back at the hiking hut which is indeed less crowded than earlier.  Of note, I have my first conversation with a German/Austrian, in German.  On one hand, the conversation was something that a four year old German kinder could have done and is not remarkable in any way.  On the other hand, I may be speaking like a four year old German kid!  Here is what happened.

At the hut, there is a window in which stands a tall Austrian man wearing round glasses and speaking in a booming voice that echoes across the valley.  Every person who comes to the window is greeted by this voice and the entire order process is broadcast across Austria, north of the border to Garmish, 25 Kms away.  He is not jovial, he does not laugh, he wants your order and then wants you to get out of the way so that he can get the next order.  The idea that this man is going to sprechen english is a very faint idea.  I gird my loins and step up to the window.  This is about how it goes (translation provided by google).

Proprietor (Looking down at his small note pad and pen, ready to write and speaking in a loud booming voice):  What do you want?

Me (speaking in the opposite of a loud booming voice, and trying to keep from showing fear):  [I want] two goulash soups please.

Proprietor:  (Slowly looks up, sizes me up, glares into deep into my eyes (my soul) and (sensing that I don’t speak his native tongue) booms in an even louder voice):  You realize that the goulash soup is hot, don’t you?

Me:  (looking up to meet his glare).  Yes.

Proprietor (Unsure if I actually understood his last comment or if I just got lucky, lowers his glasses down the bridge of his nose and glares at me over his eyeglasses):  We have to warm […] then […] table and […] American pig dog […] you smell […] anything else?

Me:  (Truthfully unsure of most of what he said, but very sure he asked at the end if I wanted anything else said forcefully).  No, thanks.

Proprietor (Knows that I’m faking the funk, tries one more time to trip me up):  My wife, the love of my life and the woman who carried the ingredients in a large, heavy sack all the way up to this hut to then make the soup so that now you can eat it on this day in this place!

Me (Totally unsure about what he said but not hearing a question stand firm, maintain eye contact and say nothing)

Proprietor:  What table are you at so we can deliver the soup?

Me:  26

Proprietor:  5 Euro 80.

Money exchanged, I go sit down at the table to enjoy the best meal of the day.

We mix up the route on the way back, find a Jimmy ‘shortcut’ which is indeed shorter but involves dropping straight down a hill for 3/4 mile to a creek, then up into a pasture with some mean looking cattle.  And a short digression.  We noticed (and read) signs at the top of the gondola about hiking in meadows with cattle.  And we saw the cows in the alpine meadows sunning themselves, and we certainly could hear them.  They each wore on of those big cow bells and the heard sounded like the biggest, loudest wind chime from hell that you have ever heard.  Outside of their musical abilities, it also eems you need to be careful of the bovine fart machines.  They are protective of their children, they can be aggressive and at 1200 pounds can ruin a hiker’s day.  Back in the home state of Wisconsin, we have a TON of cows and they are everywhere BUT we don’t hike with them because that would be stupid.  Most we do is tip them over, but only at night and only when one of the two of us has been drinking a lot of cheap beer (the beer makes it ‘not stupid’).   When we popped up out of the creek onto the field there was a tree and under the tree was not one but TWO big a$$ed bulls (and yes, we could definitely tell they were bulls–I’ll leave it at that) with ginormous horns.  They were standing in the shade, not looking particularly aggressive, but none of us were feeling very secure.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I backed up, allowing AJ and Jan to walk on ahead.  Just in case.  We made it just fine.

Now we have a decision to make.  Really we don’t, but AJ seems to think we do.  We could go right, loop around the cow pasture, head slightly uphill, get to the gondola, daddy pops out the wallet, we take the ride back down to the bottom.  Or we go left and head down 3 kilometers to the bottom of the hill.  Free of charge (and daddy likes free).  Jan and I decided at 1130 we were heading down, but AJ had a conversation with all the voices in his head and they convinced each other we were taking the gondola down.1  When we went left and started down hill the whining commenced and it was loud and constant.  Like the entire way.  AJ let it be known that he was NOT HAPPY and DID NOT UNDERSTAND why we couldn’t take the gondola.  Eventually we arrive back in our car, head back to the hotel, drop a couple of motrin each, dinner and sit on the deck watching the sun go down.

1 Jan and are just are not sure what part of ‘family ticket one way’ he didn’t get.  It was in English!