Tyrol Traverse Trekking Austria & Italy

This is a collection of thinking and thoughts, some pertinent to the trip underfoot, some less so. I believe all of the pictures to be pertinent, or impertinent, but none not pertinent.

A year ago, after six months of relentless hazing by my new employer, I packed my bag and caught a flight to Milan. The link to last year's trip is here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/XYX8h/

This year's trip is less spontaneous, meaning I was able to plan. To plan treks, and to execute a plan for getting in shape. Six weeks, however, was too much time: I spent the last two weeks rolling my eyes in impatience, although having the bag packed and ready to go a month before departure allowed me get in shape with the pack I am carrying, at full weight. But I am ready for the change of scene.

As always, four hours before I need to be up on departure day, I awaken, lie in bed and wonder, can I just stay home, and, how much money would be thrown away?

The word tarmac, from tarmacadam - named for the Scotsman MacAdam who invented the stuff - is in use, in my experience, only at airports, and describes, specifically, areas designated for aircraft parking.

Stazione Centrale, Milano

I grew up flying standby, which to the uninitiated means 'free travel anywhere!' What it means is nearly free travel anywhere there is an empty seat, dressed in your Sunday best long before 6am, which, admittedly, sounds like the same thing.... Once, for Spring Break, in junior high, I got a nearly free trip to New Zealand with my father. Since there weren't any empty seats, however, I got, instead, a nearly free trip to Padre Island, Texas before it was Spring Break cool, and, somehow, with my mother and sister in tow. There is no romance to flying standby, there is no romance to flying, there is no romance to airports. An airport is an anxious place, although paying full price for tickets reduces that considerably. I was here, in the Dolomites, on September 11, 2001, so spent a week reliving that standby experience: at the airport every morning prepared to fly, being denied, back into Milan for another night, and try again tomorrow. Milan is a fine place to be stuck for a week, but stuck is stuck.

As with last year, the train ride is perfect and deadly: this would be the way to see Italy if it were not so divinely lulling after 24 hours on the road (the last two nights of six hours sleep each, the second one spent sitting up, mostly wondering why people were so persistently playing with the Steward Call Buttons). The imperceptible departure of a train as the brakes are released, the hours of lullaby rocking, the gently cambered turns snuggling you into your seat. At Verona, changing trains, I find it very difficult to resist jumping on every train pulling out. Who knows what I have missed out on today.... And then I nearly did: I discovered I was waiting for the train that goes in my direction, but stops short of my town. Caught my mistake and my train with five minutes to spare... and found myself between two immigrants seated at opposite ends of the car carried on a sweet, gentle conversation not within sight of one another, the rest of us just so much family.

I spent better than a month getting myself in shape, but slightly amped because my workouts all took place between 10,000 and 12,000 feet, while the highest elevation I expect to see in the Alps is 10,000. By the time I left, I could comfortably cover 15 miles with 5000' gain & loss in elevation, with the pack I am carrying now, at elevation.

I remember once being dissatisfied with my own transience. And at that moment - while driving - a pair of pigeons went rocketing overhead - southbound - and I thought, ok, so: it's not just me.

The jetlag preventative appears to have worked again... bed near the normal time, awake near the normal time... feeling a little hung over today, but I expect to solve that tomorrow with a long day on the trail.

Scrolling the TV as a jetlag palliative is less effective here. The language barrier amplifies what you're trying to minimize.

One periwinkle blue butterfly, small, and a persistent clattering of chartreuse grasshoppers.

Day one: eleven hours on the trail, at least 17 miles, 5000' elevation gain.

this is why

and this... unlike the butterfly and grasshopper, the lake held still

Still remarkable to me that so many of us - myself foremost - remain monolingual.

Everyone mountain summer brown, blondes gone corn silk, brunettes haloed.

Sometimes things just happen, and you adapt. Like a $650 round trip to Milan during the trekking season.

One extreme to the other: twenty four hours seated, deep in technology (van, airport, aircraft, airport, aircraft, airport, aircraft, coach, train), to 11 hours of walking in increasingly remote terrain.

City walking and backcountry walking aren't the same thing. City walking looks appropriate, but is lazy: your legs simply pendulum from your hips, and little muscle is required. To really make progress in the backcountry, you will push off with your toes, developing those calf muscles. And you'll push off with the whole leg, as well, requiring a muscular twist of the hips. I realized what it looks like while striding one day: it's an accelerated version - in boots - of that coy Marilyn Monroe hip sway. Just swap your heels and the gown for sensible shoes and a kilt and off you go. Downhill is different, too. I used to lock up my knees with every stride, which lead to the knees locking up at random times on the downhill. Instead, it's a quick, flowing step, using musculature to guide and control, but not overcontrol the descent. It looks reckless and headlong, but, when the trail allows, its the easiest, fastest, and happiest way down.

Stazione Centrale smelled, briefly, like Play-Doh, but more mature.

Something about the way I carry myself prompts people to ask if I served in the military. "Yes," I say. "My father was a Marine."

Just discovered my friend Libby and I overlapped in Italy for two days. Her response: "We MUST get better at this!"

Walking is the movement equivalent of ambient music. There's just enough to keep you focused, yet little enough to allow your mind to wander... transitions between the two are, when necessary, gentle enough to disturb neither.

walking the long balance beam to school

Lunch on the trail, second day, with two trekkers from the hut the previous night. The German said that no matter where he went, he heard the same thing: people were looking to vacation far away from others of their nationality.

Town on a rainy morning, walking behind a man with a head of hair like a pelt, a twee brock holding on for dear life. And a woman in spike heels wandering the cobblestones without a moment of uncertainty. Had a crescent roll from the local bakery: precisely the rolls my mother made for Christmas dinner.

As the point of this trip was to make long alpine traverses, the appearance of thunderstorms in the forecast chased me back down to the valley. A moment ago I caught a glimpse through the clouds, up to... the fresh, low, snowline.

Frau Steindl, proprietress, having made the afternoon rounds, retires to her second floor apartment

Socrates was told that some man had not been improved by travel. ‘I am sure he was not,’ he said. ‘He went with himself!’ - from Montaigne's On Solitude

JetA. Diesel. Kerosene. The same base fuel, and each triggers the tremor of travel: pulling up curbside at Departures and getting that first lungful of jet exhaust; stepping out into the fog of diesel fumes on any street in any foreign country; lighting the camp stove at dusk on a breezy peak.... These are moments lived and lived again with variation: I am conditioned to these smells, and they all mean that welcome lateral leap out of routine. But when they're out of context - I drop a friend at the airport; the rare diesel goes by and I step into its wake; a mechanic cleaning a part - the remainder of the day is just that: remaindered.


always glad to see the local theatre keeping things real in the Brenner Pass....

This is the same Libby who, while volunteering in the prison system, was given the nickname Chabela; I later realized this was her mondegreen of "Ciao, Bella!" I was forbidden to address her by the yet more diminutive appellation [by 'appellation' I mean 'spork lagoon!', insists autocorrect] Chabelita, as that sounded too much "a fat girl's name." Nor was I in the prison system.

The day starts with a radiant smile from the young woman at the bakery....

Interesting... I've now found two of my mother's recipes here in the Tyrol, although there's no mention in the family history of Austria, or Austro-Hungary, although Bohemia has been referenced, which can lend one an aura of enviable roguishness, which aura I've carelessly and inexplicably failed to exploit. First, the Christmas crescent rolls at the bakery of the radiant smile, and tonight a ragout that was a ringer for my mother's stroganoff. Was I wrong to assume all these years that my grandmother's cuckoo clock was an aberration, an anomaly, an old-lady quirk? Or do I misremember the clock, in which case I am the quirk? I remember cold, heavy pine cones hanging on thick, fine black chains, and reaching out to the bird was verboten. I know neighbors had one, but didn't my grandmother, too? Perhaps my mother's recipes were simply chosen for their heartiness, a trait my father required in his diet, and were not hereditary....

this is not the young woman at the bakery, this is Bruno
Bruno cleaned my watch. And everything else within reach

The rational mind is nothing but a self-aware justifier of animal desires, yet suspiciously unaware of its obvious and regularly demonstrated powerlessness when pitted against primitive impulse. It shuts down at those moments; and the overwhelming chatter conveniently resumes the moment it comes back online. The rational mind can't even read this paragraph objectively.

Got into Porze early afternoon, dining room filled with the most morose crowd I've ever seen in a hut. Thought I had walked into a wake with no Irishmen.

Walked up a dirt road, sunlight dappled, creek tumbling alongside, energetic as a litter of puppies... it wasn't memories triggered, but moods or tones, from any range of memories of dirt roads, of a forest in sun, running water, a pack on the back, cool shade warm sun. It would have been nostalgic, but I was hiking, actively constructing fresh experience, not looking at a picture, driving by in a car, or lying in a hospital bed remembering the good times. Something tells me Proust or the German language has just the word for it. It's a legitmate deja vu....

I think of these as the memorials for the fallen; an O on the north side for Osterreich, an I on the south for Italy, a date, and two lines on top indicating the post-treaty border

Travel reduces me - in ways - to childhood. That first-awareness childhood thrill of being within clear and recognizable - but unknown and unidentified - patterns, and understanding that those patterns are meaningful to those to whom they are familiar, provoking the urge to work out the sense of them. Language, food, transport, the greeting of one to another, local dress... it is evident that these things are meaningful, but I don't know why, or how. These practices are... practical? Ritual? Habitual? As does the child, I watch: I watch for patterns, for attentiveness, for pleasure, reluctance, adeptness or weakness, how onlookers respond, react, join, withdraw. These subtleties are not lost, they are the education. Now, as an adult, having all verbal cues in a foreign tongue focuses attention, requires observation, provokes the leaps THWhite references in The Once And Future King when he speaks of the young Arthur surrounded by adults in conversation.

Packed up after two nights in a village, and homesickness tugged as the bus pulled away. Have I spent enough of my life traveling that I'll cling to anything two-days familiar?

I wasn't expecting the huts to be full in the second half of September, and on weeknights. I'm now tucked into a crew doing one of the great high paths, so they've seen me for a couple of days... I believe they're curious, and looking out for me, but, really, as a non-German-speaking character, I'm a ghost in their midst. They acknowledge, then ignore me. As the meals in huts are communal, my presence makes things mildly awkward, but they adapt: a pitying look for me, then back to the conversation at hand. Perhaps they perceive me as an elective mute, a harmless freak. As I came here to walk, not talk, I feel twinges of guilt, but not enough to weigh me down.

dawn over the Carnic Alps

Sillian to Pontebba: left foot Austria, right foot Italy, left foot Austria, right foot Italy, left foot Austria, right foot Italy. And passport stamped in Germany... how many undocumented trespasses incurred during this trek?

Last night, having successfully navigated a longer and more technical day than expected, I arrived at my first Italian hut. From outside, it's oddly tranquil: no one sitting on the porch at sunset, no last minute trekkers wandering in... just me, and a dog welcoming me from the second floor porch. Open the front door, though, and the noise erupts: everyone is inside! Everyone, as it turns out, means the manager and her two employees, a friend up for the day from the valley, and the two other guests... the six of them have been drinking wine since nine this morning, and they're on such familiar terms that it feels as though they've been here all summer together. This is what hut life is supposed to be! The first question is, do I want a glass of wine? I decline, saying that if I have a glass of wine after a long day on the trail, I'll fall asleep at the table. There's a cheer, a glass appears, and I am toasted with a freshly opened bottle of champagne.

This sort of behaviour continues through the evening, with wines of every variety and apertifs and a three course dinner from local ingredients, and all with at least four people talking over one another - shouting and slapping and pushing... at some point I realize, not that the heavy wooden trestle table that we're seated at has moved, but that it is in motion: jostled, bumped, kicked, nudged, shoved aside so someone can go out and have a smoke, corrected by someone who has a corner in the gut... the girl - who is trying out new names for herself and I've given up tracking them, finds the table just the right height to rest her breasts, which apparently distracts no one. The friend from town having departed, she transfers her attentions to one of the guests, and he is treated to the physicality of her affection, fielding an array of slaps, pushes, leans, and high-fives.

a properly filled boot room

The conversation moves into English to accommodate me, but it hardly matters when it shifts back into Italian. Someone interrupts to ask if I'm following along, and I say No, but that it is a nice break from German. Another cheer, and they're off again, this time about the superiority of the Italian language, with caricatures of various German accents. Another bottle of wine is ceremoniously opened.

Sitting in the sun, cold mountain air moving over me. At a picnic table on the rifugio Marinelli porch, which faces east. Finally warm enough to be rid of the puffy jacket this morning, but the breeze keeps the temp right on the edge. Like all mountain sun, it only warms what it hits, and so my right side remains chilled, no chance for the wall on my right to have absorbed warmth yet to give back.

Last night the party here continued long after I went to bed... and complicated the alpine start Alex and Fabian had planned; at 930am they've each rolled their second cigarette, and are similarly sitting on a bench, facing the sun.

Girl and Gianluca are in the kitchen, on task, Caterina gone to town with garbage and recycling, to return with supplies. Dog is quiet, and Alex and Fabian just got a phone call from friends at a nearby hut, saying they are coming over for lunch, driving the final nail on their departure... this will be their second day of refuge here, lounging, eating, drinking, flirting.... The reward of these alpine hut days seems out of proportion, but after a long day of trekking with thousands of feet gained and lost, one of sitting quietly in the same environment feels like part of the pattern, hot drink in hand, a warm fire in the evening. This is not excessive here. This is closer to how people lived in Europe for centuries, and it is reassuring to have long hard days of travel followed by a day of respite and restoration.

The boys are sitting just out of sight, on a bench, yet there's no sense of distance, nor proximity. They are present, as I am present, without feeling obligation or a need to withdraw. We simply are each present at the moment, where we are. It is hard to be more simply present than this, sitting on a bench in the sun after long days on trail. The trail purges you of the compulsion to do, and has planted within you a deep habit of being aware and tuned to this moment, this step, this reach, this root, rock, imbalance, stability.

That's one of the appeals of the mountains: elemental choices, with immediate and tangible feedback. Abstractions exist in your head and manifest here as distractions. A few days on the trail forces you back into the animal you are, or forces you out of the mountains in fear for your life. Yesterday was one of those days: after seven hours walking, I find myself faced, not with the steep uphill trail the maps suggested, but with one thousand vertical feet of rock that must be scaled - with fixed aid - before I make it to my hut. And I do so, and without hesitation, because that is what is demanded, what is required as an animal in the mountains. The animal does what it must when it can, and so I did... perhaps this is what Buddhists are striving for.

A high thin cloud crosses the sun; I pause to put on a shirt. On the trail, with a destination and 25 pounds on my back, it's impossible for me to get cold. I've been hiking in shorts and t-shirt, everyone encountered in pants and jacket.

When the boys - Alex and Fabian - are playing cards they revert to German. They refuse to roll their toothpick cigarettes without filters, smoking them day long, stepping outside singly or together, and back in without losing place in the conversation. Their drinking is never out of control, but consistent, Fabian especially maintaining a moderate pace from mid-morning through the evening. As the day wears on, his genial face smears into an indefatigable smile; later he leans - eyes now concealed by reddening cheeks - into the conversation or whoever can provide support: a slender, dreadlocked, tipsy Buddha. Alex was quickly shunted into the role of kid brother, the undeserving and perpetually perplexed butt of jokes, the severe attentions of Girl, and the foil to Fabian's growing silence, maintaining their end of the conversation. His careful and thoughtful nature means he cannot keep pace with the repartee of three or four more spontaneous others, hence his victimization. He maintains his attitude, although I have watched him repeatedly control his impulsive reaction to the more percussive of Girl's flirtations.

the boys' morning recovery coffee, hot from the kitchen

Friday, the rifugio started filling up late afternoon. The pace and noise built, initially with trekking parties keeping to themselves, but as accents and conversations were overheard, the boundaries were overrun until the room was one raucous conversation, corners withdrawing into sub-raucous confab until drawn back, people table-hopping all evening, curious about others, or experts on topics discussed elsewhere in the room, including an old Tyrolean rifugio game - Morra - a sophisticated RockPaperScissors played at full speed requiring both hands to be pounded upon the table while shouting over the opponent who is shouting over you. Gambling upon the outcome was once forbidden by law... imagine trying to enforce that.

The consensus of the evening from those in my corner is that I am 'an unusual American,' and have been granted phone numbers and contacts in the Carnia region, and welcome - "like fish" - for up to three days, at several residences, including that of a Spaniard married to an Italian (oh, the arguments!), trekking for two days with her brother-in-law while her husband watches the children. She was glad to be out, and proved the life of the party. Also, a couple who had run 30kilometers on trail to have dinner, and left at 10pm to run 30k home. He's retired, gardens, cooks, and runs, and she is happy at work, happier to come home at night to a man who's content there, productively busy. Plus the boys Fabian and Alex, who have been invited to stay through the weekend and bartend. This promises to be an entertaining fiasco, making a sport of two fox in one henhouse... but it's the end of the season: why not add back in the chaos that the diminishing guest roster can not provide?

Turns out this rifugi is among the most famous... it's been run by the same family for 41 years (Caterina is the second generation; her father drives up daily from town to have a glass of wine, and troubleshoot as necessary. He arrives dressed for the hunt; Thursday night's dinner featured venison steak), and the chef here - perhaps 30 years old - provides the best food served at elevation, buying local, harvesting what he can from the mountain, and pickling, preserving, and infusing. The Mugo last night was delicious.

Gianluca's grappa infusions

Singing at the table is spontaneous and surprisingly frequent, usually accompanied by laughter. It is part of the conversation, not imposed or a distraction. Those who are here for longer than one night are simply adopted into the family, and generally excused from work.

Now out of the backcountry, I am, inexplicably, ensconced in a Mexican hotel here in Western Austria... the good news is that my bathroom has a towel warmer, better known among travelers as a (very slow) clothes dryer. So: all clean clothes before I embark tomorrow on a six-day trek!

The previous generation here grew up watching TV in English. Now everything is dubbed.

The only thing Spittal has going for it, unfortunately, is its name; it is just the wrong size: too big to be cozy, too small to be fun or intriguing.

I don't think of myself as a European: I'm American. But the fact that I am of European heritage is continually reinforced by the reaction of locals to my lack of local language skills. I suspect this initial assessment habit has been reinforced in the last few years by the influx of non European immigrants: the clues that I am American are too subtle against the more obvious differences of the new neighbors

Second half of the day was all high Alpine, contouring at 8500', below the fresh snow. So it was hours on scree, from marbles to sheets big enough to park a pickup on, stacked helter skelter, seemingly stable. The instability of the marbles was disconcerting, but the sheets were surprisingly fun, because they were nearly perfectly balanced, with perhaps an inch or two of travel, my shifting weight sufficient to tip them with an unglazed-ceramic grind and resonant 'Klonk!', to then fall back with another satisfying glassy percussion.

Today, a more brutal day than yesterday, including six hours of ballet with a backpack: scree, rubble, and tipsy slabs. And at 3:30pm, I embarked on a long, fast, six mile traverse, climb, and descent to make it in to my hut just a half hour past dark.

Disheartening, to come over the last rise at dusk and discover my hut, two miles below, dark and still. I feared they'd closed early for the season, and that I was going to spend a long, cold night not sleeping on their porch. Then windows began to glow....

Despite their bulk, the most common hut slippers are Crocs.

The hut is packed with teenaged boys. And I just figured out which adult their teacher is: she's 5'10", athletic, brunette, late 20s, and driving them all absolutely crazy.

Either I overestimated myself, or underestimated this terrain... I'd like to believe I underestimated the terrain, but I am not in my 20s any longer. To think that I used to set out with a pack nearly twice this weight.... Turns out 10 miles a day in the high alps is just fine.

Last year, in the Dolomites, I was encouraged by the signage: "Your Hut: 1 Hour," only to be discouraged an hour later when no hut presented itself. So the signage in Austria is more accurate, or I'm stronger: I'm now regularly beating the posted times. Yesterday, in fact, I grew stronger and faster as the day went on. Only in the final half-hour did I slow within the darkness and the depthless headlamp lighting.

European hiking costumes are ridiculous. Here's a gent in a pair of saturated indigo/purple trousers with garish orange zippers, stripes, and trim, whelmed with logos and screen printing so that he appears sponsored, wearing a red t-shirt, and a sun-aged-pink pack. No chance of him becoming irretrievably lost.

After years of perfecting my non-American eating technique (fork inverted in left hand, knife in right, used both to cut, and manipulate food onto the fork), the Austrians eat American style. The Poles similarly, but declining the advantage of their opposable thumbs, wielding fork and knife as sticks, not pencils. I discreetly shift flatware....

To supply such a remote hut as Tappenkarseehutte (and the adjacent farm, Tappenkarseealm), a cable gondola brings supplies fifteen hundred feet up from the valley to near the head of the lake. Supplies are then loaded onto an ATV, transported a quarter mile to a small dock on the north end, and ferried across the lake by boat. Tappenkarseehutte, being located well above lake level, has a gondola which conveys the load on up to the hut itself.

This high mountain lake rolling its tiny waves, reminding me of the lake we spent summers on while I was growing up... my primary occupation as a child was skipping rocks, for which I had genuine talent.

The pillows in the rooms here are the smallest bed pillows I've ever encountered, one third mortal sized... sleep becomes very focused.

I keep thinking I should be feeling guiltier about my language skills, but, as I said, I came to walk, not talk. I consider it an acceptable handicap. If an Austrian chose to visit the USA in their wheelchair, we wouldn't begrudge them the accommodations necessary to make their journey successful. So with me, here. Between us, we always find a way to communicate what is necessary.

Whoever was in charge of the window last night decided that Sauna was the proper setting. Curiously, at dawn I was the only one of the six of us packed in to that room not swaddled in blankets....

Left Tappenkarseehutte at 7:30, arrived Sudwiener at 5pm, concerned that, on a Friday night and with drive-up access, they'd be full. Instead, they are closed, two weeks early. Fortunately, the techs are here, and said I can stay, and only pay what I think is right.

Passed through a stand of low juniper on a steep scree slope, gently toasting in the sun, the light breeze moving through them and infusing the basin.

a contemporary hut

I need not have feared the conversation in huts. Everyone has been curious, and generous... we did discuss one day what sort of people find themselves trekking the high alps on weekends, and decided it was mostly white collar, educated folk. And asking a person's age in a hut is considered a normal question; talk of work is off limits. Politics has been restricted to the shaking of heads.

the next hour was spent like a Cub Scout in mountain lion country....

This trip keeps unfolding in ways it wasn't folded originally, like some curiously woven origami Moebius strip, an Alpine hexaflexagon.

This style of toilet bowl is, in my experience, unique to Austria, and prevalent. I have formulated two theories: someone so sensitive to cold splashback that he was willing to risk his fortune on the belief that others were equally resentful, or: another Freud persuaded a ceramicist that his morning phrenoscatologic analysis was, in fact, of deep scientific value.

The sound of zippers stealthily thrummed in the early morning dusk... dread and anticipation.

Found a tiny frog at 6000' in a muddy trickle yesterday. Wanted to ask what he was doing up there, and did he know what he was in for....

My pack, without water, weighs 25 pounds. Having no base from which to operate, I have to carry everything I might need in a month, including cold weather gear, and what I need for communication, plus what I need as an international traveller... a European can get up on the day of his or her three day trek, make sure the weather is going to hold, and step out with a HelloKitty daypack. That's been discouraging: encountering person after person on the trail who is carrying a minimal load... I need to rethink this. The obvious solution is to move to the Alps....

First day out of the high country, and I awaken to rain.

The smell of cigarette smoke pervades European culture yet. It's a curiously benign smell, for all its scandal: my father loathed smoking in any form - cigarette, pipe, cigar - but my aunts smoked, and the kids at the college, so my associations are good. It's about closeness, good conversation and laughter, holidays, and warm sunny days with ten minutes to kill. Passing a café today I diverted so that I could walk along the patio.

Arguing with irrationality is... irrational: you cannot argue with the pre-rational, the irrational, the emotional, or the animal. And the human mind is exceptionally good at rationalizing all of these non-rational responses, to conceal them within the logic of language and trick listeners with rhetoric rather than persuade with logic: the human mind is weak, preferring anything to logic.

This is the most autumnal day I've experienced since childhood in the Midwest. The Austrians close down their towns on Sundays, so all is tranquil, as it was growing up. The sky is low, grey, drizzling, there are leaves down scuffling and eddying about, crows making their ruckus in the trees... I ought to be inside drawing turkey silhouettes around my hands and dripping candles over waxed paper, eating miniature marshmallows.

What is the special smell of a cigarette just as it's lit?

I am in the perfect room. Top floor, corner, sloped roof, tiny porch, a bed, a table, nothing more. The sloped roof means beautiful sleep, and the simple room means tranquility. When I write my book, I will work here.

Out early for a walk, just in time to be in the way of the kids on their way to school. They looked at me funny.

Entertainingly, the student volunteer crossing guards weren't letting anyone cross until a car had been stopped.

yes: a castle

Losing one glove leaves me feeling unhappily six years old, the abstract lesson 'carelessness' impressed, deeply leveraged upon the still unnamed 'shame'.

The proper Tyrolean home steps out proudly from the hill that, if only by mass, humbles it.

The Austrians are expert at the use of white, grey, and red on their buildings.

Today was a short day, but my legs are sore. The last two days were, in trail parlance, slogs. Very little pleasure to be had: rough trail, illogical trail layout, difficult to find or maintain rhythm.... The most frustrating thing in steep backcountry is the 'straight line' vs. the contour trail (despite the fact both are straight lines: one as seen from above, the other from the side). For example, yesterday at mid-day I arrived over a high shoulder into a big bowl; on the opposite side was a slightly higher pass through which I would exit. The first rule of the backcountry (after the death-proofing ones), is that you never sacrifice elevation gained. Which is to say that I would have preferred to have walked around that bowl, never losing elevation, and then made the short climb out. Instead, the trail dropped into the bowl - 'straight' towards the pass - before making me regain all of that elevation and more. If you measured it, the straight drop and climb out might have been shorter, but the energy expended was much greater, to say nothing of the knees. And don't start me on the European aversion to switchbacks. The climb up to that pass was a hazard: hands tugging at grass, feet scrabbling in scree for the last 300 feet. Had it been raining, I would have required traction devices. It was, rewardingly, one of the rare passes in which the terrain wasn't mirrored: having clambered over the edge, I found myself upon gently sloping meadow.

this probably looks familiar... one of my favorite views

The simple sociopath is easy to spot, and easy to anticipate: everything they do is self-prioritizing. Biggest piece of cake, credit for things they didn't do, deflection of blame for things they did do. The trouble comes from those who derive pleasure and advantage by placing others at disadvantage... the backhanded compliment, disappearing an important paper off of your desk while you're in a meeting, the offhand bit of improvised gossip: a steady, corrosive and smug undermining.

Safely ensconced in my Dolomites hideaway for a week, and the weather's supposed to continue perfect... half of me was hoping for deliriously bad weather, so that a day's exploration felt either like an Antarctic trek, or like the sort of thing best experienced from the couch: looking up from a good book, eating Apfel Strudel and drinking hot chocolate.

It is only from a high place, looking across an expanse, that the feat of a bird in flight, below you, in the sun, impresses for what it is.

Small town: the girl who works afternoons at one café was having coffee this morning at the other.

I would love to sit still and enjoy the sun and the air and the views, but have only four days to explore the mountains, in perfect weather... my legs, however, tell me to sit still today.

Real bells still ring here, some, from the sound of it, by hand.

Switched trains southbound, in Brenner, right on the Austria/Italy line... a stark difference between the clean, new, fresh Austrian train and the dirty, old, tired Italian train. Bet if I went to use the loo, I'd've been looking down at the tracks racing by.

RitterSport managed to make their Espresso chocolate bar taste, not like espresso, but the grounds....

autumn sun nearly parallel with the hillside reveals the migration of the worked land

People grow irrationally emotional, forego objectivity. The cops are emotional instead of patient and assessing, the media provides provocation, not information, and social media is entirely about constructing mountains from appetizer & shoe fetish molehills.

Live for a month out of a 25 pound pack; when I get home I'll find myself surrounded by redundancy and excess, and will weep from exhaustion.

a foggy dawn

I once rid myself of something that I feared would become a talisman; instead the ridding did.

Towns are always described as bustling. Towns and villages. On market day. It's a quaint word, a nostalgic word... Richard Scarry and lederhosen garbed piglets. It's a word that belongs here in the alps, where the scant population gets concentrated straight down the valleys, the wider spots gathering and pooling the people into communities. So the towns bustle: they do. And although there's a sense of busyness, there is not one of haste. The people are here, rubbing elbows in the narrow streets, on their way to and from shopping, meetings, lunches, assignations, or simple strolls. All of the people, concentrated into these snow- and granite-ramparted towns, result in a simple concentration of activity: bustle. It feels good, human, appropriate, of the right mood, and gestures you to join, to participate, and you do by being present, as wallflower, shopper, flaneur, a drinker of coffee - with cigarette - your excuse to sit outside, bundled under an awning, watching.

Dusk overtakes the valley

Are they living in the past, or simply with it? Inside it, through it, despite it? Instead, because things here are built to last, Tyroleans inhabit their history within their present, not compelled to eliminate those markers of the past that surround them. The style of building evolved for this environment and context: why discard it in favor of some fad or trend ("Flat Roofs!") that will end badly? Everything operates in a modern way, but within the historic context of that which has not been destroyed because it was old or preserved because it is historic. An ancient home, properly prepared, is a perfectly suitable setting for modern life and conveniences. There's no sense that it must be preserved as it was at some arbitrarily chosen time in its history, nor that it must be destroyed for something contemporary, something appropriate for modernity and its often-superficial demands. Things are adapted, recycled, kept in play. Time and life continue here, not isolated and ambered as we too often do in America, but apace, through centuries, adapting and adopting as necessary, and without thinking too much.

Service people here tie on their apron before heading to work... in the States, the apron would be carried and the bow tied behind the counter.

The best hot chocolate recipe is one I invented last year: chocolate pudding - from scratch - minus the pectin, served hot off the stovetop, marshmallows optional (but, you know, marshmallows).

What gear has proven itself? ArcTeryx shells, always. The Sony rx100.3, a pocketable camera with great glass. The Patagonia MerinoAir Hoody, advertised as a base-layer, but warm as a mid. The AllBirds Wool Trainers: light, pack small, comfortable, handsome. The MysteryRanch pack with HillPeopleGear chestpacks. And the Salewa Rapace were a great improvement over last year's Scarpas: smaller, lighter, and they didn't drill holes through the knuckles of my toes.

My hosts had a bottle of red wine and a thick slice of fresh homemade apfel strudel waiting for me, as welcoming gifts. Having finished the strudel, I washed the plate and left it outside their door; this morning it was refilled, outside my door....

at least they bought the net...

These apple orchards south of Bolzano... I always forget how prolific a farm can be... this should be enough for all Italy for the year. Corn was the surprise crop, in the Austrian valleys.

On a cold day, the only advantage of a rifugio is that you're out of the wind. And the chance of something warm to eat or drink. Apart from the common rooms, the huts are seldom - or minimally - heated, which is why there are so many blankets.

By the time you leave Bolzano, you're starting to see the Veronese colors on the houses: ground spices, impossible gelati, and sauces simmering on third world stovetops.

I am persuaded: train travel is the best travel, with two caveats: you can not stay awake on a train, and a train - at least in Italy - is always trying to twist your head off your neck with the scenery.

The retention of the dual Italian/Austrian names here is a concession, resignation to the inevitability that the border will someday get shoved back south, and the Sudtirol will again be the Tyrol. I summed it up to the two trekkers at lunch one blustery afternoon, "After the next petty war." They were appalled, but secretly bemused. But appalled.

Created By
Christopher Quinn


Christopher Quinn icqcq2@gmail.com

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