It settles slowly and weighs heavy. It dampens everything. It’s real, the disappointment. A single lantern in the dark – wiped out. Darkness all around. No more glimmer of hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. A lone tree on a hill – chopped down. Roots ripped out, green leaves decay. The remaining air in the lungs squeezed out; it’s impossible to breathe below the surface, impossible to reach the surface. An unsuccessful escape into the familiar. A short diversion by bright screens. Only to get pulled back into reality; another passed day, missed opportunities to progress. Surrendered without a fight. The cube is solved except the last corner, rotated by external force. The next move unknown, all pieces captured. A drawn out opening that does not deliver. A middle game never reached. The king tipped over, onto the rigid board. Only time is left, to reignite the lantern, to plant a new seedling. To pick up all pieces and organize them, for the next fight ahead.
As climbers and boulderers we come into contact with rock; a lot. Probably more than most people (except geologists). This comes with a certain appreciation for different types of rock. Around our region alone we have a combination of granite, limestone, sandstone, and basalt. The granite is rough and sharp – during summer nearly impossible to climb without destroying your skin. The limestone is smooth and slick, sometimes with nasty and small finger pockets. In comparison to Fontainebleau, most of our sandstone is fragile and crumbly, however, it had always a certain charm on me with its intricate structures and fascinating shapes.
Thus, a boulder can be aesthetically pleasing, especially if a clearly defined line from bottom to top is visible that begs to be climbed. It can inspire, motivate me to push harder than before. I guess everyone who had the pleasure to wander through the woods of Fontainebleau can empathize. But seldom, I had the same appreciation for the rock of mountains when hiking as I have for rock while bouldering. The dolomites thought me differently.
The masses are not here yet. Silent nature with the occasional gurgling of distant water: Calming. Few brown bears roaming the mountains: Concerning. Light is absent, stars occupy the dark canvas. Heavy breath, swampy steps, a steep ascent, a large plain to cross, another steep ascent. Never ending sedimentary rocks. Some ancient coral reefs, reaching into vast sky. Distant light. And finally: the mountains shoulder. Structures everywhere, patterns every. This rock is different. First views towards west. Rolling alpine meadows, interrupted by jagged peaks reaching high, layer by layer, color by color. Rocks on fire.
We only stayed for two and a half days, most of which was characterized by heavy rain storms. But we used all the moments in between to explore the Fanes-Sennes-Prags national park. And I am confident when I say: I have never seen mountains as beautiful as these. Again, I started in the very early morning hours in hope to reach one of the closest peaks, Lavarela. But this time I underestimated the pure scale of this monumental landscape and could not quite reach the summit after 3.5 hours of hiking. It didn’t affect the view with a large panorama towards west. I guess this was and will be my nature highlight of 2021.
There are some things, only mountains can do: provide panoramic views, enable climbing and steep hiking, exhaust the visitors, and: thunderstorms. We witnessed the most intense thunder in quite a while during our time in the dolomites. Bright lightning. Thunderclaps and rolling thunder. Constantly. Elevating and frightening. Marvelous und destructive.
Lately, I have been discussing frequently what makes a good photo. In the end, as most things, it comes down to personal preference. Many rules exist, but many exceptions to any rule exist as well. For me, I have found that the best photos do two things: First, I am flashed when I see them the first time. It strikes me like lightning; I am stunned and in awe. Second, they keep me engaged and hold my interest – like the thunder rolling through the valley, they develop and keep giving as long as I keep looking. New forms, new details, new patterns.
It’s been a year now since I have my camera. I am looking forward to the next year and I am hoping to produce at least a small thunderstorm of pictures; flashing bright and rolling afterwards.
The night is young, but the warmth of the last day has already faded. The cold creeps beneath my jacket. It’s 1:30 a.m., the goal in mind is Hochiss: the highest mountain of the Rofan mountain range at 2299 meters height above sea level. Thus, 1359 meters in altitude to go. Lone clouds are scattered across the sky and the moon peaks cautiously behind to throw dark shadows. During the first 20 minutes I pass the small village Maurach; a single car turns up the music as it passes. Then, I leave the streets and houses, and with them the dim lighting of civilization that seems to be present everywhere. I need a brief stop to retrieve the headtorch deep within my backpack; it hasn’t been used for a long time. After only 30 meters I need to change the batteries – and then the mountains begin, then I walk.
The headtorch bounces around in the dark forest, as do my thoughts in my head, mind and legs wander around together: Have I packed everything? Will I arrive in time for sunrise? Will I find the correct way? What will we eat tonight? How does the story of my current novel turn out? How fast are raindrops when falling from the sky? How good is the vision of cows at night? Will my knee hurt again?
All senses are sharpened, every noise of the forest seems loud and intense; but in comparison to the days, humans and nature are mostly sleeping. The path is steep and gets even steeper with every step. The stone I want to step on quickly jumps out of the way. Startled, I watch the toad disappear in the wet grass and everything goes back to silence.
From time to time I look into nature, and sometimes it looks back: small dots in the dark, reflecting the light, belonging to hidden bodies: Is it a sheep? A bear? An ibex? Sometimes their movement gives it away, sometimes they stay anonymous. The rabbit is pretty obvious though as it hops across the meadow, as are the cows with their bells that cling revealingly. Walking and thinking goes together, especially when alone. Thoughts come and go, as the surrounding landscape, from forest to meadow to rocky paths. Sometimes thoughts are easy and without any obstructions, but suddenly a steep and slippery slope awaits around the next corner.
I am fast, faster than anticipated at least. Another more difficult section waits below the summit; especially with limited light. Already at 4:10 a.m. I approach the last ridge towards the lone cross on the peak. Darkness makes it difficult to guess the distance but it doesn’t look too far. And indeed, 5 minutes later I am there: On top of the world – not exactly, but at least on top of the Rofan mountains, the Hochiss. I shut off the headtorch and look around at this miraculous scene illuminated by moon and stars: It’s simply breathtaking. 360 degrees of stunning views. Most haze got washed away by the severe rain falls the day before. A clear summer morning with crisp air. No other person in sight. Other peaks stretch below in every direction. The east-facing walls are already glowing in warm light.
Sweat and wind are never a welcome combination, especially when it’s also freezing cold. I try to dry my clothes from the sweat and put layers on layers on layers to stay warm. Gloves in July; later that day people will be amused by the thick jacket at my backpack. But later that day, the sun will also burn down on the innocent hikers and I will get a sunburn because I didn’t consider sunscreen when I started in the middle of the night.
Back to now: Already 90 minutes before sunrise it’s clear where the spectacle will occur: In the east, the very edge of the sky has started to shift towards a pale yellow. With every minute it conquers the sky and gets more intense. We follow our 360 degree view clockwise and see the huge mountains in the distant that belong to Berchtesgaden. The tones are shifting more towards a fiery orange, magenta, and lavender purple.
Towards south, Zillertal and Inntal are covered in a sea of thick and low clouds; just to the right of Inntal, the large mountains of the Karwendel are hiding in dark blues. In front of this spectacle, I can see all the way back to my starting point, the path winding below, towards the muted lights of Maurach.
It turns out that being early is better than being late. The time flies and I nearly miss the moment I came for. Secretly, the sun is already looming behind a far mountain. I have to change lenses and all settings in order to take a picture, but it’s already too late to properly prepare it. I did it no favor in banning it on canvas with the structure of the clouds across the valleys til the mountains at the horizon. The sun also seems as big as I have never seen it, as it covers the tip of a single mountain in the distance.
The light stays magical for another 15 minutes, but then, the miracle is over. After 5.5 hours, the second part of the day starts: Hiking across several other peaks to the summit Rofanspitze to meet up with Mädchen Klitzeklein. In the other direction, this can be done as a long via ferrata over five peaks; on my route, I am doing two of the peaks (Hochiss and Spieljoch) and go around two other ones (Rosskopf and Seekarlspitze).
On the way back I am first meeting some of the mysterious nightly lurkers. This time, they aren’t scary at all, skipping around the rocky hillsides like its a 5+ route. At 7:30 a.m. I also meet the first person who does his regular morning walk from his private cabin towards the peak. He is surprised to have oncoming traffic at this time.
After another two hours of fast hiking, my power is abandoning my body. Also, concentration is dwindling away – as is probably yours after this unusually long post. My day ended, comfortably, with the cableway back down and a lot of food and early sleep. So I’ll leave you, as usual, with some final photos.
Alex Honnold free-soloed El Capitan in Yosemite; people might describe such an action as dangerous or inappropriate, or even call him tired of life. For me, it is about the exact opposite: It’s about using your life, about passion and emotion, about feeling alive.
What’s the point in our journey? Do we live the 9–5 weeks until we are 67 and die of illness afterwards? It’s difficult to know beforehand how to live a life that we don’t regret; after all there is only a single chance (from what I believe). This can be a constraining or liberating thought, a coin with two sides. Either: Be careful! Stay save! Or: Use your resources consciously to find satisfaction – even if it might come with risk. This does not need to be dangerous at all though: A walk in the woods, a calm hour in the evening with your favorite music, or a long conversation with close friends.
However, for me, feeling alive also sometimes brings along risk. But it is a deliberate and calculated risk that entails joy, freedom, or happiness. It also entails an honest confrontation with oneself: How far am I willing to go? How good can I assess my own abilities? What is really important to me? So important that I am willing to take a risk? And from time to time the answer is the distant peak at the horizon or the high boulder I am walking by. The boundary is always moving, sometimes towards the safe side, sometimes towards the more dangerous side. And in case of an unplanned end, it’s probably the car ride or the swim in the sea that finishes the journey anyway.
Primrose Optimization 2.0: The common blue (Hauhechel Bläuling), or Polyommatus Icarus. Hiding the blue upper side, but showing the yellow spots underneath the tips of the wings. When flying high his wings don’t melt – when sitting still, a lovely subject for a photographic study during sunrise. His favorite plant: Lotus corniculatus; here: on wheat.
There is never a single point of view. The multiplicity of different perspectives can convey a sense of completeness; however, infinitely many other perspectives always remain unexplored. It’s important to be able to exclude, to simplify, to stop exploring. It’s also important to disconnect from everyday life, slow down, take a break, and relax. Even on vacation I struggle with this. There is always the drive to do stuff, otherwise I am afraid to miss something. I cannot switch off my brain and sit still; the limited time needs to be used to climb the next mountain, to find the next boulder, to photograph the changing landscapes. It remains unknown if and how I can resolve this constant struggle – I’ll let you know when I found a solution…
But still, I have to get up to find a butterfly and at least a hundred different perspectives, enjoy.