The Mountains are Calling

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.

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