Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Roof of Austria

This morning it was still dark when I woke up. The lamp in the living room was on, though, and I could smell bacon frying. I padded out in my bunny slippers and nightgown, to find Hermann already dressed and packing a big rucksack on the table.

"What are we doing today?" I asked him.
"Today," he answered, lacing up a very serious pair of hiking boots, "we are climbing Schneeberg."
"What's a Shnayberg?"
"Well,", said Hermann, "it's the tallest mountain in this part of Austria, about 2,000 metres high. The peak has snow on it even in the summer, so its name, Schneeberg, means Snow Mountain. It's best to arrive at dawn, so this morning we're taking the car. Here, take this plate of bacon and onions. Have lots to eat now, because it's going to be another long day. A very Austrian kind of day, so you might want to wear your dirndl again".
I took my plate over to the computer, because the table was still covered with rucksack. I found this website with photos of the mountain, and it looked like a beautiful hike ... but an awfully long way down from the top.

It was still dark when we climbed into the car, but the sky grew lighter as we drove, and presently we could see Schneeberg, grey in the dawn light. "Wow!!" I gasped. "It looks so dark! Is it dangerous to climb?"

"Well, yes," said Hermann. "But not very dangerous - just a little dangerous." So up we went.

I was eager to reach the top, but there were so many other things to do along the way that it was hard to hurry. (I'd forgotten to change out of my bunny slippers, so it was really hard to hurry.) This tree just begged to be climbed, so up I went. Then we met a great patch of fall crocuses, and I lay down in them and admired their mauve cups against the sky. I even found a white crocus, which Hermann says are extremely rare. Very few people have seen an albino fall crocus. There were gentians, too, making a glorious splash of colour in the meadows.
I could have spent the entire day just exploring the wildflowers, but then, I wanted to climb Schneeberg too. I thought we could have lunch on the top, under the big cross. It was a shock when Hermann explained that it would take another four hours to reach the top ... and then of course, we'd have to come all the way back down again!

I really didn't think I was tough enough to climb all day like that. I asked Hermann if we could climb something smaller, so at least we could get a better view of Schneeberg. He said that of course we could. I was expecting more meadows and flowers, but instead we went up this cliff! It went on forever, and my legs started to ache, but eventually we found ourselves at the top of Öhler Peak. I looked around for a cross, like the one on Schneeberg, but there wasn't anything except the view. But what a view! I wanted to lie on my tummy on the edge of the cliff and drink it all in, but it was so windy up here that Hermann was afraid that a gust might blow me right off.
We had a drink from our water bottles and a couple of handfuls of granola while we admired the valleys and woods below. My heel had a blister from all that climbing, but Hermann had plenty of band-aids in his first-aid kit and had me fixed up again in no time. Now we were ready to continue hiking.
After an hour, and a blister on my other heel, we arrived at Schober Peak. This one had a proper cross, and now I felt like a real mountain climber. And you know what? I'm the very first Canadian to climb this peak! An official gave me a special stamp in my passport to mark the occasion - I can't wait to show you all when I come home.
Schober is 1,213 metres above sea level. I tried to convert it into feet, because my granny says her brain goes funny when she has to think in metric. I got really stuck doing it, so I asked Hermann to help. He took a tape measure from his rucksack, measured the length of one of his feet, and said that it would be about 4,719 feet and 8 inches. That didn't seem fair to me, since his feet are so much bigger than mine. So Hermann measured one of my feet instead, and did some more mental math. This was better - now I can say that Schober is 26,086 feet.

A bit reluctantly, we turned our backs on the cross and took a different path down Schober. We had a spectacular view of Schneeberg in the distance.

"How high is Schneeberg in feet?" I asked.
"It's 8,078 Hermann feet and 44,645 Sally feet."
"That's colossal! And how high would Mount Everest be, Hermann? I've decided to be a mountaineer when I grow up, and I'm going to climb every mountain I can find!"
"Well, wait a sec ..... That'd be a good 190,000 of Sally's feet, I suppose."
"That's .... gigantic! Wow!"
Going downhill makes my muscles much more tired than going uphill. Besides, bunny slippers are no substitute for hiking boots, and my toes started to burn and pinch. After a while, they hurt so much that Hermann carried me in his rucksack the rest of the way to the car.
Climbing mountains is awesome! As I did up my seatbelt, I told Hermann that this was the bestest mountain climbing I'd ever done. He reminded me that it was the first mountain climbing I'd ever done, but that doesn't matter - this is still the bestest!
After supper and hot baths, we turned on the television and saw horses doing a sort of ballet. Hermann explained that this is the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, and that these horses are the famous Lipizzaners. I would have liked to see them perform at the Imperial Place, but tomorrow I'm off to Italy to visit Laura. I'm going to miss Hermann (and I can't believe that I was so shy with him the first day) - but I bet he'll be glad not to have to share the TV remote anymore!
Thank you for everything, Hermann! You're the very bestest!

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