10th September, 2019. 8: 55 am
I was at St. Leonhard village, waiting for the cable car to take me up to Geiereck. The September sun found me in high spirits as I was getting ready to embark on a hike that was estimated to last for 6 hours. My love for mountains had taken me to the foothills of Untersberg – a massif of six ranges that stretches from Salzburg in Austria to Bavaria in Germany. A part of these ranges lie in the Berchtesgaden National Park in Upper Bavaria and this national park is believed to be one of the most beautiful mountainous regions in the world. This time, I had planned to undertake a moderately difficult hike that started from Geiereck in Salzburg, went all the way upto the tallest peak of the Untersberg ranges – Berchtesgadener Hochthron, and down to the pretty little German town of Berchtesgaden which is only an hour’s drive from Salzburg.
My first encounter with the Untersberg ranges was after I had watched the the 1965 movie The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The young and free spirited nun, Maria, runs free and seeks God on the wild majestic slopes of the Alps while producing sharps and trills with her marvelous singing voice. Enthralled by the charm and the riveting beauty of the movie locations, I knew I had to be a part of the hills, explore the Alpine villages and take care of my urban loneliness that only mountains can heal.
The cable car ride up to the station takes around 10 minutes and gains an elevation of 1786 meters. Sharing the cubicle with me were a group of hikers from America, a group of three middle-aged Germans, a family of Mongolian descent and a German shepherd. As the cable car gained altitude, more and more of the Alpine countryside came into view. The green meadows, tiny huts and church spires gradually became smaller and smaller as I rose higher and higher to the sight of mountain ranges that looked spectacular in varying shades of brown, blue and green. The air was crisp, the temperature was just right and my surroundings were welcoming. Even my coffee tasted better. This was one of the better days of my life!
From the cable car station, it is only a 20 minutes walk to Salzburger Hochthron. Salzburger Hochthron at an altitude of 1852 meters is the highest point of the Untersberg ranges from the Austrian side. At the foot of the cross, there is a wooden roundabout that points to the direction of Berchtesgadener Hochthorn and marks some of the other important ranges in this region. This is the point where the tourists turn back while the more ambitious hikers set off towards Berchtesgadener or the Toni-Lenz-Hütte or the Schellenberg ice caves. A distance of 5.1 km now lay in front of me and the narrow stony path that descended and rose at a distance looked rugged, daunting, yet promising. The song Climb Every Mountain, sung by Mother Abbess, kept ringing in my ears and every time I went over the lyrics in my head, I couldn’t help but smile to myself.
Climb Every Mountain ⛰
Ford Every Stream 💧
Follow Every Rainbow 🌈
Till You Find Your Dream💫
I stumbled my way through many ups and downs, avoiding loose rocks and gravel that lay on the path. After a steep descent for over 20 minutes, I came across a gorge and paused to catch a breath. What I saw made my heart skip a beat or two. I was absolutely alone in the wilderness. The air was still and the silence was deafening. A gigantic mountain was looming over me and the walking trail that cut through it looked rugged and uneven with a lot of twists and bends. While the trails are well marked, the pathway is not for the faint hearted; narrow paths, sharp precipitous slopes and bare edges can make it challenging for hikers to navigate. Slowly and steadily, I continued my ascent and soon enough, I caught up with the fellow middle-aged German hikers who expressed surprise and shock at the sight of a 24 year old, non-German speaking Asian woman, alone in her expedition. Being the loner that I am, I want the mountains all to myself and prefer to be alone during my hikes. However, on that day, something was different. I had taken on more than I could chew and I was starting to feel uncomfortable. Even though I was stocked with adequate supplies and the weather was as perfect as it could be, I was clearly overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Alps and the treacherous road all the way upto the summit. At times such as these, having a companion is not always a bad idea.
Nevertheless, all throughout the hike, the majestic Alps kept me company and my line of sight keep getting better and better as I climbed higher and higher, until I reached a lush green valley from where the lofty, tooth-like peak of Berchtesgadener Hochthron rose into view.
As someone wise once said, “When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top”. While the struggle is real, the longing to be on the mountains is stronger and it is this flaming passion for mountain ranges that triumphs over all the tiredness and exhaustion and fatigue. After another twenty minutes of scrambling onto rocks and stones, I reached a signpost which marked the final resting point before reaching the summit. Closer to the top, it was colder, the vegetation had changed and thick slabs of ice could be seen along the trails. A few other hiking trails had joined to form the final route to the highest point of Untersberg !
The sense of pride and achievement that comes with reaching a mountain summit cannot be explained in words. It is a feeling that is reserved for the privileged few. The magnificence of these grand and imposing mountain ranges dispelled my inner fears and the discomfort that had once afflicted me during my ascent. Instead, I felt happiness, a sense of satisfaction and humility in the presence of something that is so much more powerful and significant than I will ever be. The limestone ranges stretched for miles in all directions and the passing mist played hike and seek with the onlookers of the breathtaking scenery. If I could make some moments endless, if I could re-live a few hours of happiness while struggling to make ends meet at the city, I would close my eyes and think of the Untersberg ranges – placid, proud and perfect.
“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. ” ―