Me: “I would like to climb a mountain.”
Hostel guy: “A real one?”
Me: “Most definitely.”
He directed me to check out this one: Säuling. A member of the German Allgäu alps, it summit is 2,074 meters, which belongs to the elite club of some of the highest mountains in the country. Billed as a “challenging” hike with “secured climbing sections” and “rockfall risks”, it sounded like exactly the sort of challenge I wanted to tackle for my last full day in Bavaria.
You can see the summit of Säuling in this pic of Neuschwanstein. The contrast is one of the striking things – the fairy tale artistic castle agains the jagged rocks. I started pretty early in the morning. The start of the trail is located just past the tourism hub at where you can buy tickets for tours of the two castles. From there, the path starts with a pretty wide, well-maintained consistently uphill gravel path for the first hour, following the sign posts. At a certain point, I was stopped by apair of friendly German retirees, asking if I knew the way to the summit. I pointed ahead, however, after a bit we realized that the previous sign had been turned, directing us down the wrong path. After doubling back and attempting to fix the sign, I once again forged ahead, scrambling up the endless switchbacks as the wide path turned into a narrow footpath that led quickly up the side of the mountain. And you have to stop when you round the corner, and the summit rises above you in spectacular rocky glory. For the final 1.5 hours of the ascent, the path turns into a scrambling adventure, four-limbed hiking, where I was using my arms as much as my legs. I was feeling particularly glad that my friend Brhm and I had started doing a bit of bouldering before this trip. There were several places of particularly dicey spots where a cable was bolted into the side of the mountain, and I grabbed it and the surrounding rock holds that were worn smooth by the hands of thousands of climbers before me. But the struggle was worth it, as with every turn, these were the sorts of views you would see: When climbing a mountain, the ascent is ruled by determination, stubbornness, adrenaline, pride, drive to prove the snarky woman at the souvenir shop wrong when she looked down her nose at me and asked if I thought I could/should attempt to climb the mountain.
Reach the top, of course, is bliss. Another of the most wonderful little things in the world was being offered fresh cherries that the kindly couple had trekked up the mountain, which he had grown in his backyard in Nuremberg. There is really nothing sweeter than the generosity of strangers, particularly in the form of delicious fruit on the top of a mountain. When I first arrived, there was a handful of other hikers enjoying the view, but soon they left, and I was alone with the sun warm on my face, surrounded by the incredible German and Austrian alps.
The incredible alps and a few of my closest bird friends. The way down is different. Descent is hard, and not just on my old-man knees. I think it is where grit is ground into a person. During the parts when you have already did the thing – you already reached the top, and have the instagram-able selfie to prove it, and you need to make your way back down. Down over the boulders you early had hoisted yourself over in pursuit of the summit. Without the adrenaline pounding in your ears, getting back down the mountain is slow and somewhat excruciating.
The best way to describe descending a mountain is to picture the maximum number of full butt-to-the-floor squats you can do. Double that number. Then do that number as single leg squats on each side.
I think this is why I rarely succeed at getting fit at the gym, because I would stop at that first level – the maximum I think that I can do. Stopping when it gets uncomfortable. Distracting myself, escaping from the pain.
But you can’t distract yourself out of getting down the mountain. You need to keep going, no matter if your legs feel like this petrified amphibian – stiffening into hot burning bricks of discomfort. (To be honest, I think this little guy was in worse shape than I was).But you keep moving. You keep walking down the mountain. You have no choice. And as you keep moving, you find that the the serenity in the walking, the slowly growing seed of grit growing as you keep going.
Always moving forward.
Roaming to places new places, growing in new ways.