Among the Spitzen

April 18, 2017

The red arrow, or rather what remains of it, points to a narrow barrier of rocks barring my way. Technically speaking it’s not difficult to find small footholds to climb up. The problem is, after overcoming it, on both sides the slopes rapidly fell as if eager to reach the mountain valley. I could not walk upright, fearing any misplaced step, or a gust of wind would rob me of my balance and roll me down to the unfathomable depth. My heart and legs faltered at these thoughts. Surely I’m not expected to continue on such a dangerous path? Besides, no further red paint could be seen ahead. Maybe this is the wrong place. But where else should I go? At this point, the cross on top of Hönigspitz was already lost behind the final few hundred meters of steep rising.

I looked back at the small figures of the two hikers coming this way, who I descried a while ago and induced me to hurry up lest I be caught up with and lose the title of being the first one to reach the peak. That idea was completely gone. Now I only wished them here sooner. While waiting for them, I walked back a bit to find a place to rest. But wherever I moved, in front of me was always that formidable descent that gave me no peace. Leaning back against the rocks as much as possible, I imagined a stream that may rush down from here; started to comprehend how fearless the water has to be. Thankfully the anxiety did not last long. How swiftly the couple traversed the single foot path where I spent quite some time and effort finding firm rocks for both of my hands to hold on to so as not to fall sideways. Soon they popped up around the corner, Thomas and Mara!

They confirmed that horrible path is the right way to the top, and asked if I’d like to join them. Oh of course, I happily joined them – they looked so pro. On the other hand, they apparently also noticed me as the opposite. So Mara led the way, me in the middle, Thomas the rear and sometimes at the outer side to protect my flank whenever applicable. Now I understood what a mountain ridge is. All my life I had been hiking in mounds. Or at Hefelekar, the ridge was much wider and stairs were built. Yet Mara and Thomas walked the delicate string as if that 2700 meter elevation wasn’t there – they walked upright like decent human beings. While I constantly dogged down and almost crawled my way up. Maybe that was to punish the nonbeliever who wanted to reach Jesus’s cross – an unpleasant thought.

Now that I wasn’t alone anymore, and the couple kept me busy with conversations so that my small brain had no room for thinking about the risks, the danger seemed dismayed and to have retreated. The challenges were to keep up with my companions’ pace in this tough ascension and at the same time make sure each step is firmly grounded. Even though they asked me to tell them whenever I feel like taking a break or if they are too fast, I guess I could still push myself further strength and perseverance wise, so as not to bore them too much. This way after much fun of rock climbing (made easier by tracing Mara’s pioneering steps), crawling (when it was relatively level) and Thomas’ many promises such as “we are almost there”, or “this is the last small bump to overcome”, we reached Hönigspitz!

The northern side of the mountain range were clothed in virgin snow: a vast white headpiece touches her waist; the white dress develops into long stripes and finally laces at the fringe. We took a food break while admiring the views around us. Thomas remarked that I was probably the first Chinese to ever ascend this peak because it’s not so known other than to locals. “Is it because here it’s not as nice as the other side in the Texelgruppe Nature Park?” I worryingly asked. He replied:” No. It’s because here it’s much more difficult to climb.” That was a satisfying answer 🙂 Then I started to worry about the way down. There’s no way I could descend the same way I came – it was simply too steep. The couple told me their plan of going on along the ridge towards the other slightly higher peak Hirze Spitze – the namesake of this region and apparently the highest peak around, and then returning back to the middle point between the two peaks where there would be a much easier route down. While having to deal with the scarily tricky Alpine mountain ridge again doesn’t sound exactly appealing, taking the same way back is all the less so. So I accepted the former challenge.

At the descent point I opted to stay put and wait for them. The staff at Krammeben forbade me to go up to Hirze Spitze anyway. Before they embarked, Mara offered if I wanted an apple, a banana, or her jacket. Such kindness… I shamelessly took the apple… I guarded the sign post in this profuse serenity, now watching Thomas and Mara making their way to the neighboring spitze, now waving to the paragliders riding the east wind, now singing little winged songs to my silent snowy audience, most of the time nourishing my soul by inhaling the breathtaking mountainscape near and far. Alps!

The couple returned safely and proceeded immediately downwards. It was supposed to be an easier route – at the right time that is. But now it was still spring, this slope being more of a western than southern side, and in a concave shape, is perfectly covered in a snow blanket, smooth, or rather, slippery. It would have made a perfect skiing route had it been longer. But to us hikers, this “short” few hundreds of meters presented a real difficulty. To my disappointment, I could not treat it as a kid’s slide of queen size and simply have a fun trip, which would have been magnificent. Because the momentum accumulated could easily go out of hand and I would have no control over myself. But such a great inclination angle, it seemed to me impossible to pass without sliding down involuntarily.

Thomas already had an idea when he inspected it before going to Hirze Spitze. He kicked into the half frozen snow wall with his boots to create manmade footholds for us. I was amazed at the sight: he executed it without much difficulty as if it was something routine; when his feet made the holes, his wide open hands firmly pressed into the snow as if he didn’t feel the frosty blades. Following this ladder, I gradually climbed down the slope. I was not immune to the coldness of the icy snow, so I tried to hide my hands inside two layers of sleeves. Still I could feel the sharp frozen snow grains hurting my skin. But that was less of a concern. Falling under the spell of the dizzying whiteness, I gathered my consciousness to focus on finding the next foothold. During this monotonous repetition, I now and then looked down from between my arm and body to assess how much further to go or if the slope was getting milder. But the strange perspective of the cloudless blue ground and snowy white sky only amplified the alienation of mind and body so that I could not tell anything.

That mysterious feeling foretold that what we most dreaded would occur and it did occur. Probably mistaking a small dent as a foothold, I decided to step into it and lost the footing. I started to slide down and couldn’t stop myself. All I did was to flatten myself and embrace the snow to increase the friction force. I did not panic at all because I knew I was guaranteed by the experienced couple. Mara at that time was already below me some ten twenty meters away. She caught me by my backpack and Thomas climbed up to move me back on track. After this episode, I felt more awake and finished the remaining snow ladders one step at a time, in spite of the soaked sleeves and numb fingers.

The slope finally grew gentler and the snow became soft and crispy. Thomas could already walk normally. I without high snow boots still found it difficult. And the prolonged low stance on the ridge took the toll on my knees. Enduring the knee pain and the naughty snow flakes that managed to steal into my shoes all the time, I trudged the final snowy sections. To my delight, a small break was announced. After that, we were back on the familiar dirt trails and grassy carpets. The conversation between Mara and me became more specific. I learnt that she is a linguist who just finished her PhD and is working in the university in Bolzano. We talked about Noam Chomsky, her project and her research interest. Now that I think of it, in that German speaking Italian region, I should have been surprised to find them speaking English so well. And it was a future professor that I met! That explained a lot.

Meanwhile, the distance between the herald Thomas and us increased. He started to get concerned about the time, as they planned to continue with another moderate trail to the middle station Prenn – they are just that awesome. Even though my hiking destination is Klammeben, I should be hurrying too because a long journey back to Tisana still awaited me. We reached a closed alm and without a warning, Thomas turned to hug me goodbye and gave me instruction on how to reach my destination. Mara hugged me goodbye too. I didn’t want to let go and tried to thank them more. But at the same time knowing they were short on time all because of me, my speech failed me and my profound gratitude was left unexpressed. Thus we parted our ways. In the aftershock of this sudden event, I realized what a fun adventure it had been and at the same time sank into a melancholia, faint but omnipresent. I will probably never be able to see Thomas and Mara again.