My parents – no, let’s be frank – my mum likes to go to Austria for her summer holiday every year. Once upon a time, we could vary it and go to Italy or Spain once in a while but now they’re stuck in a pattern of going to the same apartment in the same village for two weeks every single year. They still drop hints about me coming with them but my holiday time is precious and not to be spent in the same place it’s been spent for the last ten years.
It’s a picture-perfect village in the Tyrol called Westendorf, about ten miles west of Kitzbühel, fifty or so east of Innsbruck, surrounded by dumpy little green rolling mountains, all of them with a gondola up to the top and all, in summer, with some attraction or other at the top, mostly themed trails but invariably a mountain restaurant and at least a basic playground.
I last went with them in 2011 and we went up all the usual mountains, visited the usual towns when it rained and then I decided it was time to try to climb the mountain behind the town. My dad was actually the first one to venture into a little light mountain walking. It was a family tradition to take the cable car up to the top station right on the horn of the Kitzbüheler Horn at 1,996m and then walk down to the middle station at 1,669m but then Dad started looking at the Talkaser. Step One was to walk down it and that became a regular occurrence, taking the gondola to the top and walking down (and falling over in the woods, of course). Then I joined him on that walk and by 2010, it had dawned on me to try walking up.
I’d never even considered that before. I knew these mountains of old and they all had roads, gondolas, cable cars or even funicular railways up them. There was no need to climb them and besides, only mountaineers climbed mountains. Normal people couldn’t climb mountains! And yet, if they could walk down them…
As Alps go, it’s a fairly small and friendly one. The peak is at 1,760m but on the other hand, the valley station is at 802m, meaning the mountain itself is actually only 958m high. Not that it’s a standalone mountain, it’s just one particular viewpoint on the mountain range to the south of Westendorf.
I am in no way a mountaineer, I know very little about the art of climbing mountains but I’d descended this one quite a few times and the only real difficulty I anticipated was with just walking uphill. Well, partway up the path sort of peters out but I improvised and followed where I thought the path should be, through a meadow that’s very clearly a wide and straight piste in the snowy season but in the summer is ankle-deep damp grass and that led back to the path eventually. I mean, this thing has a road winding its way up, it’s hardly the north face of the Eiger, at no point was I afraid that being inexperienced, I’d done something foolhardy and dangerous. This is probably a reasonably good mountain for your first ever attempt.
However – I’ve tried this on two occasions and both times I chose ridiculously hot days. Hot days are not ideal days for trying to climb a mountain. By the time I reached the middle station at 1,320m, I was melting and exhausted. What I probably needed was to sit on the grass with a drink and a picnic and take it much slower – I think I tried to fly up there a bit because it hadn’t really dawned on me to take my time. Also, there was the luxury of a cable car. If that wasn’t there, I think I’d have carried on to the top rather than picked a point to turn back. But after your first ever assault on a mountain, even if it’s only a piddling 362m, in the blazing heat, it’s wonderful to fly up to the top, sit outside the mountain restaurant with a very cold drink and think about what you achieved.