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Posts from the ‘Sport’ Category

TAKE A HIKE – HOCHSCHWAB

Sorry – long time no hear but I swear, I am hard at work with my studies, reading, researching and writing papers. But life mustn’t be all work and no play. So…just for you… some beautiful mementos from a recent hike in Austria’s very gorgeous Hochschwab region.

Bodenbauer Guesthouse, Hochschwab

Bodenbauer Guesthouse, Hochschwab

Spend a weekend at this gem of a guesthouse where the St. Ilgen valley ends and is surrounded by a majestic panorama of mountains: Bodenbauer (http://www.der-bodenbauer.at/der-bodenbauer/anreise).

From there venture up and out into some breathtaking walks, treks, hikes, and climbs.

Hainzerlheutte

Hainzerlhuette

A short hour-long trek will take you to the lovely Hainzlhuette where cows laze happily in the meadow and the Wirtin will serve you up a very tasty Brettljause and refreshing drinks so you can tank some energy to power onwards.

Haeuserlhuette

Häuslalm

Further up the mountain about 2 hours straight up from Bodenbauer is the Häuslhuette situated along a route that is better marked than the Hainzerlhuette route (Haeusl Alm website). The Häuslalm is along route 840. Consider downloading maps of the area before you go because the markings aren’t always optimal. And if you are crazy enough to venture up in pounding, stinging rain, dragging your soaking wet body, step-for-step upwards like I did, you might just have a Frodo-like experience that would make the entire effort worthwhile. Cold, rain-beaten, and tired, you might just enter an abandoned-looking hut after the two hour hike that seemed oh so everlong to find an interior filled with the warmth of a wood-burning stove, the scents of homemade grilled Bratwurst, an abundance of drink and an over-bursting of song and merriment. Unbelievable. Not only was the hut busting at its seams with hikers out in that weather (some who climbed over in hail and snow), there was an accordion, an accordion player and a cabin full of beer-mug-swinging Austrians who knew all the lyrics to all the songs he played. Good times were had by all and I may have been mistaken, but I could have sworn there were some hobbits in the corner milking their Barlimann’s Best. Indeed, thank goodness this world has more to offer than work and perfect weather. Life is short, make the best of it!

 

 

 

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Austrian Natural Disasters – Avalanches

Growing up in small town PA, I received ample instructions on how to “stop, drop and roll” in case of a fire and chariots-of-fire myself to the basement in case of a tornado. Fortunately, life never put me in a position where I had to click my red shiny heels to there’s-no-place-like-home myself back to Pittsburgh. However, on a few occasions, I actually did have to brace for a hurricane in NC, but found myself hard-pressed to locate a cellar and woefully uncertain whether the little closet under the stairs, the bathtub or the kitchen table would offer the best shelter.

 In Austria, there are other disasters to worry about. No tornadoes or hurricanes but an occasional earthquake will hit. When that happens, it’s the talk of the town but usually centered someplace in Italy and so subtle that people who can claim they felt “something” are countered with skeptical nods. “No, really, I felt it. Something swayed at 4 am. It did! It really, really did!”

 But there is one natural danger that all Austrian Elizabeths and Josefs have been schooled in from the day they could slip their little toesies into a snow boot and its not one I knew anything about prior to moving to Alpine country – avalanches.

Avalanche Danger Sign

Avalanche Danger Sign

Let’s face it, living in Vienna, I am relatively safe from avalanches since the biggest hill in the city is probably the one at the Gloriette which I will hike up for a coffee and an Apfelstrudel without ever risking the perils of an unfrozen snow mantle burying me on the way. Avalanche dangers here come from “Dachlawinen” (Roof Avalanches) of melting snow and ice crashing on the pavement during the thaw period after a winter storm and perhaps an occasional whirlpool cover flying off a rooftop apartment during a “Sturm” when high winds blow through the city.

 Still, if you want to visit or live in Vienna, you will eventually be dragged out into the mountain air with these mountain loving people (see last week’s post on Fahrvergnügen) and that’s not necessarily a negative but you do want to do so sensibly. That explains why, for me, the image at the beginning of the post, seems more like a festive little yield sign with a Santa cap pulled down over the eyes rather than a warning “Danger! Avalanches Possible”

There were a lot of avalanches this past weekend in the Alps and 10 people didn’t make it out. A few weeks back, two young prospects from the US ski team tragically lost their lives far too young in an avalanche while training in Sölden, Austria.

I too spend time in the mountains in winter and though I am a miserable skier, don’t snow board or go on “Skitouren,” I’ve hiked in the mountains in winter and knew absolutely NOTHING about avalanches. So I thought many of you out there might not as well, and I put together a little something to help us all out and to let you know that yield signs here don’t don Santa hats to get in the season – those signs are there for a reason and should be understood. Don’t avoid the Alps in winter – they’re beautiful – but definitely enjoy them safely!

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Avalanche Map

Avalanche Map from http://www.lawine.at/ – which regularly updates a map on their website with the avalanche situation in Austria

Avalanche - Stage 1

Avalanche – Stage 1

  • 1 (low)

An avalanche is only possible with a great amount of additional burden on very few, extremely steep slopes. Sudden avalanches (so-called slides) are not to be expected. Generally safe conditions. (This seems to be a thumbs up for your outing).

  • 2 (moderate)

    Avalanche Risk - stage 2

    Avalanche Risk – stage 2

An avalanche is probable with great additional burden particularly on marked steep slopes. Larger avalanches are not expected. The snow mantle is generally well solidified except on some steep slopes. Use caution when choosing routes with marked steep slopes and slope exposure. (This is a thumbs up for an outing without Barney or the members of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss cast members at the beginning of the season).

 

  • Avalanche Stage 3

    Avalanche Stage 3

    3 (substantial)

An avalanche is already probable with just a small amount of additional burden particularly on steep slopes. From case to case sudden, several middle, single but also large avalanches are possible.  (I think this means that if you’re unlucky, and pick the wrong slope, you could be in for it). The snow mantle is only slightly or moderately solidified on many steep slopes. Experience in judging avalanches required. When possible avoid steep slopes and slope exposure.

  • 4 (great)

    Avalanche Stage 4

    Avalanche Stage 4

An avalanche is already probable with just a small amount of additional burden particularly on steep slopes. From case to case sudden, several middle, single but also large avalanches are possible. (Again, you’re kind rolling dice here) The snow mantle is only slightly solidified on many steep slopes.When choosing a route, stay restricted to moderately steep slopes as well as careful of avalanche run out areas. A lot of experience in judging avalanches required. (Who has “avalanche judging experience – Judge Judy on skis?)

  • 5 (very great)
Avalanche Stage 5

Avalanche Stage 5

Many sudden large avalanches, also in moderately steep slope areas are to be expected. At this risk level, no safe operation of ski areas is possible. (This might mean that you’re considered safe hanging out in the Skihütte). The snow mantle is generally weak and unstable. Refraining from tours is recommended. (I would say, this is the Austrian polite way of saying: Don’t Do it!)

Definitions

Moderately steep: up to a 30° slope angle

Steep slopes: more than a 30° slope angle

Small additional burden: for example a single skier, snowboarder or snow shoe walker or mean with an e-book but not necessarily my carry on luggage.

Significant additional burden: for example a group of skiers without safety distance between them, a snow groomer, or an avalanche blasting crew – or maybe me WITH my carry on luggage.

Avalanche report recording is available free of charge throughout Austria under the number 0800 501 588, also a newsletter and App is also available free of charge under: (http://www.snowsafe.eu/).

More to Read:

Lawinen Quiz in German:

http://www.20min.ch/community/quiz/?quizid=745

The New York Times Report on US skiers Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/sports/two-us-ski-team-prospects-die-in-avalanche-in-austria.html

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The Beauty and Peril of the Mountains – Thorung La Pass and The Annapurna Circuit

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn.” – Jack Kerouac

Print This Post This past week I was struck by the tragic news of the trekkers in Nepal who had gotten caught in a sudden snow storm while attempting to traverse the Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit.

Ages ago, I too had been faced with the challenge of overcoming Thorung La’s 5416 meter high peak.

For Austrians, der Berg always seems to be a’callin’. You’d be hard-pressed to find an Austrian whose DNA isn’t filled with mountain air and hiking blood.

Hiking Group

Group of 6 hikers from 4 countries at Annapurna Circuit Trail Head, Sept many many years ago

Whether they are out admiring fields of wild crocuses in spring, hiking to the snowy rocky peaks in summer, welcoming the cows back from the Alms in fall or snowboarding down them at neck-breaking speed in winter, Austrians are always finding excuses to go to the mountains.

And if you spend enough time here, you will be dragged along too. Dragged until you come to realize the very civilized traditions they cultivate for the the fine art of hiking – Alms.

Yes, they’ve placed Alms at most peaks – sometimes several along a trail — so that you, weary hiker, are duly rewarded with some Bergkäse, freshly baked bread and Bier once you reach the top. That and a Schnaps.

But as much as they love the mountains and being rewarded for hikes, the Austrians know and respect the inherent dangers of their beloved peaks. Austrian radio will report snow falls and avalanche dangers throughout the year and no Austrian in his or her right mind would ever leave the trail head without proper equipment and preparation. And when someone ventures on some mountain in flip-flops, the rescue effort invariably makes the news along with ample attention given to the details (sometimes with photos) of the poor preparation of the idiot tourist who went out in shorts and sandals with no water, gear or food.

Annapurna Circuit

Annapurna Circuit

Me? I hail from city of steel and bridges. Pennsylvania has hoagies and chipped ham sandwiches, but mountains? So when I moved to Austria, I had a lot to learn. So much in fact that I could eventually rattle off terms like “Gletscherspalte” and not readily know the English translation for it — glacier cleft?

For this reason, when I ventured the Annapurna Circuit trekking route many moons ago, I was uneasy. The circuit winds through the Annapurna mountain range in the Nepalese Himalayas with stops along the way in remote villages where you can eat and spend the night.

The trek takes 18 – 21 days, and for 200 miles, you lug your pack through tropical jungles which lead into dry land in the shadow of the Himalayas and eventually high alpine terrain which then circles back down again to drier land and lush fields.

In his book about trekking, David Nolan writes about the attitude necessary to enjoy a trek. One must have the “ability to shrug off – or even relish — minor hardships.” He even uses the words “stoicism in the face of difficulty” and a “willingness to suck it up.” And some days you have to “suck it up” quite a bit. The trail isn’t for the faint of heart and most people who ventured on it were well prepared. At least back then they were and I assume today isn’t much different.

Annapurna Circuit Hanging Bridges

Annapurna Circuit Hanging Bridges

The group of us who had happened to meet up in the village at the trail head were small but amiable and we would meet up for the next three weeks in various villages at various times throughout our hike. A growing bond formed at these meet ups that would increasingly last late into the night as we shared tales about hanging bridges and the impressive loads of the “Tigers of Snow”. Though I started the hike rather slow, and most of the others fast, after a few days, they slowed and I picked up speed until eventually, at the base camp before the daunting pass, we all met up again.

We were weary from 10+ days of 8+ hour a day treks and apprehensive about the 5416 m (17,777 ft) pending peak. Everyone had heard the horrifying tales of trekkers who had died of altitude sickness, of the guy who had to help carry the girlfriend who didn’t make it back down the trail. The nationality and circumstances of the victims often changed, depending who was telling the story, but the message was always loud and clear — the mountains deserved respect and sometimes, things happen beyond your control and there is nothing you can do about it.

Village Along Annapurna Circuit

Village Along Annapurna Circuit

As I watched the images on CNN of the Nepalese soldiers loading stretchers on the helicopters and could spy the brightly colored woolen caps sticking out from under the black plastic tarps, my mind returned to my own trek and I couldn’t help but wonder, seeing all that deep snow, if any of us would have survived. The trek was and remains one of the most amazing life experiences I have ever had. It was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever forced myself to do.

My heart goes out to the families of those trekkers who didn’t make it and I am rather certain, every trekker from all over the world who has ever ventured that pass feels a bond thinking of them.

NOTES ON THORUNG LA PASS FROM MY TREKKING JOURNAL

DAY 10 Phedi, meaning foot of hill (someone’s idea of a joke like calling the Danube ‘Blue’) is far more rotten than Mr. Oregon described. Initially vehemently opposed to the idea of rushing over the 5416 m high “hill”, preferring a day to rest and acclimatize, I have experienced a drastic change of heart. I want to get out of this place as soon as possible and we will join the Germans – Andre and Christian — and the Dane with his Sherpa guide, Tok, to go over tomorrow.

Annapurna Circuit Village

Annapurna Circuit Village

Tok is a great guy who spends his hours coaxing everyone to eat raw cloves of garlic to help our bodies produce more red blood cells which are responsible for transporting and distributing oxygen throughout the body. Either that or he is on a crusade to scare off all the vampires from here to Kathmandu and produce extremely foul smelling gastrointestinal winds. Did I mention how absolutely uninviting and cheerless the base camp is? The prices are extremely inflated and stretching our budgets. I doubt any place in the world exists where instant noodles are more costly. To quote another hiker’s eloquent but poignant observation describing our current state of affairs, “We are freezing our asses off at 4500 meters high.”

DAY 11 Phedi – Muktinath

Thorung La Pass Marker

Thorung La Pass Marker

Thorung La Pass

The big day! After a polar night without sleep in a concrete room with two cots and only sleeping bags for warmth, we awoke at 4 am to a dark sky full of more stars than I had ever seen in my life. Grateful to have survived what seems to have been quarters designed as the cool house, we go into the lodge at 4:30 am and order breakfast.

By 5:30 we are inching our way up the pass. The air is crisp and we are all wearing every single piece of clothing we have in our packs – too much to freeze to death yet not enough to keep warm. My Tibetan llama wool sweaters prove a good investment. In the south, the snow-covered peaks of Gangapurna and Annapurna III majestically dominate the dawning sky. As the sky lightens, the sun’s golden rays highlight the mountains making a beautiful backdrop with tones of red, orange and purple contrasting the white snow-crusted peaks. The path is dangerously steep and the air thin. We proceed at a snail’s pace because it is impossible to breathe and walk fast. None of us is showing any signs of altitude sickness. The morning is clear and beautiful. The further we climb, the more mountains we see.

Thorung La Pass Annapurna Circuit

Thorung La Pass Annapurna Circuit

False peaks have become the bane of my existence – elevations that taunt us from afar, leading us to believe that the actual peak is close because nothing seems to be higher. Yet once we reach the area, we realize the actual peak is still further on. I concentrate on placing one foot ahead of the other. I stop every 20 paces to catch my breath. I muster what seems every last bit of energy and determination to manage each additional step. I scan the landscape for a rock to rest without any luck. I fear, anyway, that if I were to take a break, I would fail to find the stamina necessary to continue.

At 10:30 and not a minute too soon, we finally reach the peak of Thorung La – 5416 meters high and marked by prayer flags strung from a pile of rocks!!!

Child in High Mountain Village Annapurna Circuit

Child in High Mountain Village Annapurna Circuit

We’ve made it!

Two Nepali tradesmen sit leisurely having their lunch beside their donkey – for them probably just one of several visits to the top. Yet we don’t let this dampen our sense of accomplishment. They greet us with a wave and then it is our turn to take possession of the rounded hilltop, stacked with stones and strewn with prayer flags tattered from flapping in the wind.

We all huddle on the peak, on top of our packs and shield our faces from the stinging Himalayan wind with scarves. Our eyes are protected from the glaring sunlight with sunglasses. The peak is a mixture of brown interspersed with patches of white snow.

The break proves more amusing than originally anticipated thanks to the Dane forcing poor Tok to document his hundreds of macho poses next to the marker. He is exemplary of a postcard I have describing all the characteristics of a perfect European. For example, the perfect European should cook like a Brit, drive like a Italian, have the patience of an Austrian, the sense of humor of a German and the modesty of the Dane. He is so into his photography session that we suspect he has hired Tok — not as a guide – but rather as a photographer.

Annapurna Circuit Album

Annapurna Circuit Album

With the Dane’s film out and our entertainment at an end, I sit on my backpack and enjoy the view and inactivity of my muscles. After about a half an hour, however, we notice that our clothes, wet with sweat and windbreakers thin, are not meant for long leisurely hangouts at the top of such a high peak. We all start to feel the chill of the wind biting at our bones.

Slowly we begin our descent. My knees ache. I try to adjust my walking, rolling from my inner soles to my outer soles instead of my heel to my forefeet. This doesn’t help. After about an hour, the snow dirt becomes dirt with a bit of grass. Another hour passes and we are hiking through a dark green grassy knoll resembling the postcards I have seen of Scotland. Large white rocks adorn the landscape and sheep graze about lazily.

Muktinath is 3800 meters high and we have a good 1600 altitude meters down – very steep – and our legs hurt more than when we climbed up. About 3 pm, totally exhausted and starving, we finally reach Muktinath. Oh – the wondrous sight of Muktinath.

As we lumber into the town of a hundred waters, we pass villagers carrying on with their daily routines. I try not to let their lack of enthusiasm sober my spirits. Throughout life, I have done many seemingly non-extraordinary things. I have let out high-pitched squeaks playing clarinet in our middle school band’s rendition of “Lady”; mumbled entire stanzas of “Flashdance” during the spring choral concert. I have stuttered through public speeches and nearly truncated fellow baton dancers during what was supposed to be a throw, spin, catch number. Throughout and unfailingly, unabashed innocent bystanders have shamelessly applauded for each and every one of these feats. And now – now after what may very well prove to be one of my greatest feats, I stumble onward without notice. Perhaps the moment of my greatest personal triumph, no one ventures to drop a hoe or release a donkey rein to clap or give a weak hoop of cheer. And why should they? Crazy foreigners. So I plod after the rest of our group, too elated, exhausted and hungry to think while we search for a place to dine and sleep in the holy mountainous village of Muktinath.

We parade to the same hotel where it’s rumored that we’ll find — of all things — Mexican food. We drop our bags in the dorm and trudge to the dining room. We all order beer and Schnapps. Goose bumps drape my limbs and I hunker into myself trying to warm my weary body as we wait for the rice and beans to arrive. Almost asleep before the food is served, I force myself to eat at least half but it’s useless. My desire to sleep surpasses my desire to celebrate. I wish everyone much mirth and merriment as I announce that I am off to bed.  I lug my iron feet back to the dorm and am fast asleep before my head hits the pillow. Never in my life have I been more physically burned out. Each of my muscles ache in competition for my undivided attention but I don’t have the strength to notice. Print This Post 

 

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How to Catch a Stray Horse – Running in Vienna’s Prater

I know a place where the path is wide, the air is sweet and time stands still.

So I guess you might call me a runner. Or maybe a slow jogger. OK. Let’s face it. I run at a speed walker’s tempo. So call me what you will.

But hey! Immerhin.

And what can beat an hour along an Allee lined with majestic chestnut trees? The sun’s golden fingers stretching through the boughs creating a Spiel of light and dark along the path. The ravens with their exalted demeanor perch on the sign posts along the way. Do you see the snails, laboradors, fiakers, bicyclists, unicyclists, rollerbladers, Nordic walkers and enjoying-the-dayers? Or have you dipped for a few precious moments into the world within? Should I have? Will I? And what happens when?

Vienna Prater Alle offers runners a 4 km // 8 km // or 12 km (with race track loop) running route

Vienna Prater Alle offers runners a 4 km // 8 km // or 12 km (with race track loop) running route

But you never know what can happen along a run. Maybe someone asks directions. Or you see an injured baby porcupine and help a passer by in a rescue effort. Or maybe something happens like it happened to me this past April.

A horse. So many horses. But wait! This one was different! Galloping. So freely. Too freely! I turned abruptly. Further down, around Lusthaus were cars and sometimes construction vehicles. What if…

I raced in her direction, calling to her sweetly, in a sing song voice. She slowed, stopped and dipped her head. The blades of grass here must be particularly sweet.

Carefully, caaarefully, I approached. “Hey there, you. Where you off too? You a hungry, girl? Look at you. So gorgeous” She nibbled, two eyes minding the grass, two ears minding me. “Lose your rider, girl? Hmm?” I held out my hand and waited. Then I gently rubbed her muzzle.

“Wow! She’s yours now!” From the corner of my eye I caught a pair of black running shorts and a red t-shirt. Fit and smiling, he wiped his sweat strewn brow and called over to me from the path, about 10 meters away.

“She’d never fit in my apartment,” I responded.

“You got her though. She was fast. You a rider?”

Prater is perfect for running

Prater is perfect for running

“No but I’ve ridden.” And who doesn’t love these gigantic gentle creatures?

“Well, looks like you know what you’re doing. Need help?” He asked, still not venturing a step closer.

“I’m good,” I responded, wrapping her reins around my hand.

Prater - where Fiakers go to sleep

Prater – where Fiakers go to sleep

Promptly he placed his headphones back on. “Good luck,” he called, looking relieved as he waved good-bye.

Did he mean me, or the horse?

As I child, I had always wished for a horse. Now I couldn’t help but recognize the irony of this wish coming true. Now. Like this. A Monkey’s Paw kind of gift. But the horse remained unfazed by the recent turn of events. There was grass to be eaten.

What does one do with an Irish Cob — a horse the size and stature of an Anheuser Busch Clydesdale? Wait for the beer wagon?

I remembered the race track Freudenau behind the Lusthaus. Whatever the case, they’d have stables and what difference would one horse more or less make? I clicked my tongue and coaxed her towards Lusthaus.

“See any riders without a horse?” I asked two joggers.

They paused, eyed me and turned to my equine companion for a rational explanation.

“I found a horse without a rider,” I continued, perturbed by the slightly really-I’m-not-crazy tone they provoked.

Seek and ye shall find.

“Hey!” A distinguished looking gentleman far beyond his retirement years straight off the cover of Fox Hunting and Country Estates emerged from the woods. He was decked out in a riding cap, jacket, pants, gloves, black rubber boots and a dressage whip which seemed a bit over the top. He approached us in a hop-skip –flapping-waving arms routine as speedily as his hop-skip-flapping-waving moves allowed.

And those joggers thought I looked crazy.

We waited. Everything about him screamed rider except for one significantly lacking item – a horse. My newfound friend seemed unimpressed by this gentleman. In fact, her demeanor conveyed an unmistakably indifferent air of  “Oh. There-he-is-again.”

“Such a naughty girl. Second time this week she’s gotten away from me.”

That’s right. Not once, but apparently twice, Darby girl high tailed it through the park. I patted her muzzle once more. God, I admired her tenacity.

Toss the load and take off running because I know a place where the path is wide, the air is sweet and time stands still.

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Prateralle distance from Lusthaus to underpass to Praterstern subway station: One way: 4 km // Round trip: 8 km. The path can be extended an additional four km by completing the circuit from Lusthaus, past the chapel Maria Grün back to the race track Freudenau and returning to Lusthaus.
https://www.wien.gv.at/umwelt/parks/anlagen/images/pratertafel.jpg

Lusthaus – Maria Grün – Rennbahn http://www.praterblueten-lauf.at/node/3

There are also numerous forest paths that lead every which way. Those more ambitious can run from Prater to the Danube or to the Danube Island (Donauinsel).

Distance markers, light paths at night

“Vienna’s green lungs” offers well-maintained running trails, paved, or with mulch or wooded.

Getting there: Parking is available for cars. Lots of people bike to Prater. If you want to take public, you can get there by subway (U1 or U2) to Praterstern or you can take the U2 to Donau Marina subway station and hop the 77A bus to the Lusthaus. Another alternative is to hop on the N tram from Schwedenplatz.

http://www.wienläuft.at/strecken/1

 

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