The How and Why of a Mountain Night on the Sarstein

The How and Why of a Mountain Night on the Sarstein

Sometimes, you just need to get away from your routine, from comfortable commutes from work to home, to a mountain night.

When work got a bit much, I brought my gear for an overnight hike, went out to a mountain, slept under the stars…

It may sound easy in that introduction; it may sound strange – and it was both of that. And more.

The Logistics

Going out to a hike after work only worked well enough because I did not have to bring too many things into work. I could leave those there and come with my hiking backpack and gear.

Everything already had to be packed and brought along to work, of course.

It was also possible to go somewhere for a hike because work ended early enough that Friday, during the longest days of the year, that I still had hours of daylight when I arrived where I wanted to go.

And, finally, I knew where I was going and what to expect. Or so I thought.

Sarstein, Salzkammergut

Where I went was, once again, the Sarstein at the Hallstatt lake.

Hiker between dwarf pines as seen from drone
Top Path

It takes a few hours to get there from Vienna, but it is easy enough to reach. And having been there before, I know that I can – or at least, should be able to – get up and over this mountain within the course of half a day, find a place to sleep on top.

Conditions during late spring shouldn’t have been problematic, either… or so I thought.

Arrival

When I finally got out of the local train at Steeg-Gosau to start the hike, everything looked good.

There were still a few hours of sunlight left, late as it was in the day already. Temperatures were balmy.

The mountain looked invitingly lush with vegetation, glowing in the late sun. It did not look like snow should be a problem here anymore, just as expected.

Knowing Paths

Since the last time – and only the last, of several times – I had hiked across this mountain, I finally know the best trail to hike up from the village.

Hiking maps always suggest a trail that does not really exist. The better route goes up to and crosses the pass road there, then really starts moving up the mountain from a parking spot at that road.

Between knowledge of the path and the last of the daylight, the hike up was easy.

Having been there often enough, it was strange to recognize paths, and to recognize places that had stopped me before, when I tried to climb up the mountain in snow.

It was good going.

Something physical to forget more and more of the everyday stress.

Enjoying the Dark of Night

Into the night. Out with the headlamp, on along the trail.

Nights are a peculiar time to be out hiking. Visibility reduces to the shine of one’s headlamp. It focuses the mind beautifully, like a meditation, I find.

Until I was fetching water from a creek the trail comes past and suddenly heard something behind me.

I never saw anything, but that focuses the mind very well, but very differently, with adrenaline pumping.

It looked like I had come along the path up very nicely, approaching the meadow of the Sarstein Alm, where the real climb above the tree line begins. Things took a different turn there.

Snowy Surprise

From the valley floor, it may have looked as if all the snow up top had gone.

Well, that wasn’t the case.

On the steepest sections of the mountain, lots of snow remained. And that was where I was now, in the darkness, approaching midnight.

Through that snow, I had to trudge and find my way.

The path was invisible; hardly anyone – but at least, some few people – had gone here before.

The snow was at just the right stage, at least: hard enough to not sink in deeply, soft enough to have a good grip in the slope and not slide down.

Still, often enough, it seemed better to climb over and across the dwarf pines growing there.

Always, I had to have a look at previous tracks and the virtual track of the path on my GPS watch to make sure I was, more or less, on the right way up.

That was slow and exhausting – and I was still trying to record some of it on video, for once using my “vlog camera” on a gimbal for that. The things you try doing as a YouTuber 😉

A Spot for the Night

Up somewhere near the summit, still below it, there was a patch of ground without snow.

The decision to stop there for the night was easy; it was way too late to continue and looked like the trail would continue with lots of snow.

Better to stop and put up the bivy where a good chance to do so presents itself.

Mountain Night Bivy on the Sarstein
Mountain Night Bivy on the Sarstein

It was late, indeed. And for some added frustration, I had lost the gimbal’s joystick button that I had only just re-purchased and put on it that morning.

Still, time to sleep.

Stars, Enormity… and Peace

Into the sleeping bag, settling down – and looking up, there were a billion stars visible above.

It was a night like I hadn’t seen it in ages.

Mountains and Stars
Mountains and Stars

Having had quite enough thoughts of mortality and futility, the enormity of the night sky should have driven home all those points of how small we are, how little any life matters. All that.

Instead, staring up at the stars, I only felt amazed and at peace. Elated to be there, see that.

It was not a good sleep.

Short, with the sun coming up early. Interrupted when wind came up from the valley to whip the bivy’s shell so that I had weird dreams before it woke me up.

The strong physical exertion of such an activity makes me able to work with less sleep, though.

Onwards!

So, in the early light of the sunrise, seeing more of where the trail would go – and seeing the cross at the summit right up the next slope – I packed everything and set out to continue.

Early Morning View
Early Morning View

A look at the bivouac spot – No signs of my presence last night whatsoever, good! – and on I went.

All the top of the mountain, until its plateau descends into forest again, was still almost completely covered in snow.

Again, the path was only visible on my GPS watch. (The Suunto 7, which I recharged overnight, by the way.)

The snow, at least, remained nicely “hike-able,” same as it had been the night before.

Views… Front of Feet, Far Around

In the daylight, it was all easier to see, at least. And the views around were amazing, too!

Sky around in morning sunlight
Sunrise Light

The drudge through snow continued for long.

The Sarstein may not be the tallest mountain or the toughest to hike, but it still takes its time to get across. With enough snow, especially so.

With a view towards the Dachstein massif, the path continued on, slowly descending.

Into ground with less snow, more dwarf pines.

To the Sarsteinhütte mountain hut, and then onto the forested slopes – without snow – down to Obertraun.

Back to Civilization

I finished this billion-star night and started into the day in a way that I have come to really appreciate in that area: Taking the train back only to get right back off at Bad Ischl, at first.

There, I make a stop for breakfast at the Café Zauner, in elegant circumstances that the Austrian imperial family had already approved of.

The contrast this provides is great.

It is strange to go from a bivy on a mountain to a breakfast at a café, but it is both also a nice reminder of the way life is:

Full of contradictions, and all the better for them, when lived to the fullest, with care.


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