(They mostly come out at night. Mostly)
Some mountain days are forgettable. Long boring climbs up bulldozed tracks to rounded summits maybe, or a day spent in cloud, seeing nothing. Others are epic climbs to remember forever, perhaps a day spent scrambling on a Torridonian ridge, or an ascent that gives you jaw dropping views across a Sutherland wilderness.
And then there are the days you really should have stayed in bed.
It started badly, as a misreading of a timetable meant we were a few minutes late for our first train. As this meant we would be an hour late meeting our friend (Richard, from our first naked Alp), I had to humbly text him to say we'd be late. But the train delays were not over yet. We were heading to a little town called Bayerischzell, so we thought it was reasonable to board a train that said “Bayerischzell” on the front, and to which every online guide and platform notice said was going there. However, the train cunningly split in two after a few stations, and it wasn't until it was too late that we realised we were on the wrong half, and I was left cursing and swearing at the back end of the Bayerischzell half of the train as it disappeared into the distance.
So that's another hour late, another hour of thumb twiddling and another humble text message to our friend saying we'll be another hour late.
After that, things went well for most of the day. We began the ascent from the car park just south of Bayerischzell, heading up a steep path that headed through a tree filled gully. Sheltered from the strength of the sun by the trees it made for a pleasant ascent, and Richard was naked very quickly, with Karla following soon after. I decided to wait a little bit before undressing, knowing the refreshing feeling of getting naked can be a boost to your strength on a steep climb, so after we emerged from the trees near the top of the gully it seemed the perfect point to strip off.
It felt great. Scotland is so often too cold for extended naturism, but here in the Alps its much easier to spend a long time naked on the hills. Stable weather and the stronger sun mean nudity is more comfortable, and for longer, and it felt good to take advantage of it
At as we reached the crest of the ridge at the col, we came across a lovely little alpine hut, and the woman in it seemed very amused by the three of us hiking naked as we walked past. She very kindly allowed us to fill our water bottles from her supply as well, something we were very grateful for as the heat was more than we were expecting and the extra water was very welcome.
After a short stop to photograph the view across the other side of the ridge, we started the final pull up to the summit, heading up a very steep and rocky path. This was the best scrambling we'd done in two years, and although our progress was a bit slow, we loved every minute of it. It seemed to go on forever, but as so often happens, without warning the mountainside seems to fall away as the summit presents itself to you, always a moment filled with the happy feeling of exhausted achievement.
The summit was glorious, with views across Austria and into Italy far in the distance, with snow cover peaks glinting in the distance, a first for me in August, even in Scotland! It was a beautiful spot, and we lingered, taking many photos. It was a small and rocky summit and it was adorned with the traditional cross so common in the Alps, and in the warm summer's day it was a delight to lie on before we took any pictures. A hot sun and cool mountain air are a combination almost as refreshing as a long soak in a mountain stream on a hot day and after the long climb we felt as if we'd earnt it.
We lingered for a long time on the summit, long enough to be joined by a young couple who struggled to know where to look and who awkwardly sat down the far end of the summit, with both glaring at each other the moment their eyes went anywhere near us. But there was enough room for everyone, and we carried on taking photos.
As we set off again, heading down the ridge on the other side for a traverse, things started to go wrong. Firstly, my old knee problems started to show themselves, something they haven't done for a long while. But I had my trekking poles, so I thought everything would probably be okay. But as the path became overgrown with pine bushes that we had to push past, I was unaware something had snagged the zip on my rucksack's side pocket, and that my smart phone had fallen out.
It wasn't until we were much further down the ridge when we stopped for a break that I noticed the pocket was open. Checking every pocket and corner of all our sacks, I found no trace of the phone and the swearing and cursing from the station platform began to repeat itself. With my knee in the shape it was there was no way I'd make it back up the hill to look for it and get down before dark, so Richard, being much fitter and faster than us, very kindly offered to head back for me and return the way we came, while we headed down to the track that would take us to the car.
I felt very bad about losing the phone at this point, and it was a very grumpy person that began the descent down the ridge towards the path. With the sun getting low and the possibility of meeting lots of people, Karla and I decided now might be a good time to get dressed, so after we reached the path, we got dressed and got our heads down for the walk out.
If we thought things had gone badly so far, we were wrong. Things were about to get worse. My knee had slowed our progress. As had the incident with the phone. And we were two hours later starting than planned. And we still had quite a bit to walk as the sun began to set. But how bad can it be? We had a head torch and the map showed a good path all the way to the car. Having come down a few mountains in the dark I wasn't too concerned, but it turns out my faith in the path was unfounded. What started as a good track suitable for cars slowly turned into a boggy mess, and I was stumbling down it, shouting and, once again, swearing with every bad step. But it was just pain, and I knew the path would get better. But it didn't. It disappeared.
It was a cold night. The ground was too cold to lie on, so eventually we crawled over a large pine bush, pining down a different branch with different parts of our bodies. It left us suspended a meter above the ground and actually allowed us to cat nap for a bit, but it was too cold to stay there and we frequently had to walk around, hug and rub ourselves to stay warm through our shivering.
On the plus side, it was a clear night, so although it was colder as a result, the skies were a wonder to behold. The Milky Way stretched above us in its magnificence as shooting stars darted across the sky, sometimes leaving glowing ion trails in there wake, sometimes with hints of colour, maybe some blue or green as the trails faded. We watched as the Pleiades star cluster rose, followed by the rest of Taurus, then Orion. The constellations of a winter's evening rose in the early morning, a reminder that the year was growing old, and that darker days were drawing near.
Then there were the cries in the dark that nobody hears usually. The Alps have a completely different set of flora and fauna, so the occasional animal noises I heard as something was eaten, shagged or just felt a bit frisky were new to me, and to be honest, just a little bit scary. Was it a rodent? Some wild predator? A drunken Bavarian in lederhosen trying to sing oompa music? All I know is that these things mostly come out at night. Mostly.
Dawn couldn't come soon enough. The first hint of light meant we tucked into the first half of the remaining food rations, the lone chocolate bar we had left. As the sun began to light the sky, the ground became visible, and after sharing the rest of our food, a small bag of crisps, we set of again. We found the path quickly, but it was over a hundred metres away and well away from where we expected it. Had we followed what we thought was the path, a muddy trail higher up the hill that stops after a few metres, we could easily have gotten lost on bad ground. So as bad as the night was, it had been the right decision.
The night's rest had done my knee some good, and we were easily able to continue at a good pace, heading down the mountain into a beautiful valley, beneath a ridge marking the German/Austrian border. As we continued we encountered a melt water channel, appearing like a dried up river bed, but devoid of any life, showing it had been active recently. Huge boulders attested to the power this channel must see in spring, as millions of tons of water pour down it, dragging the soft limestone with it. I made a mental note to return in spring to see it in action.
It was a short walk from here to the road, and from there we headed north towards the car park, up the side of the road, not knowing if Richard would be waiting for us or if he had even made it back safely himself. Well, it turns out Richard is a dependable and reliable friend. Not only had he made it back safely, but he had waited in his car all night for us. While others might have gone home, he “stayed at his post”, for which we will be forever grateful. And he found my phone! So all's well that ends well. We had a good climb, some great scrambling and our first ever benighting. In many ways it could have been one to forget, but looking back now that things turned out okay, it was certainly one we'll always remember!
© Free Range Naturism