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Band of sisters

Band of sisters

Band of sisters

Hiking the ridgeline to the summit quickly brings the participants closer together. Along the way, all participants learn more about themselves and their friends.

At school they were the best of friends. Then time and distance drew them apart. During a hike to the summit of the Winterstaude mountain, four ladies discover what still unites them after all these years.

Though the fog is rolling in, the final two stages of the “Hasenstrick” ridgeline are all that stand between us and the completion of our tour. To our left, a sheer rock face drops into the depths. To our right, an equally steep Alpine meadow plummets sharply. Taking a moment to exhale and take stock, it’s clear that we’ll need to be extremely careful from here on out. As I pause, my gaze extends upward to the sharply curved summit of the Winterstaude. Though I have admired this cone-shaped peak all my life, cloaked in mist it’s never appeared so mysterious. Normally, Schetteregg is an excellent vantage point. But today, the hilly Alpine foothills all the way to Germany are obscured by a thick wall of fog. Like an incessantly breaking wave that doesn’t advance, the mist rises from the basin at our left, whilst a light breeze from the right drives it back down. Behind me, I hear the rustle of footsteps as my girlfriends approach. As hikers, we’re sure-footed and experienced in the mountains. And yet the light fog and the steepness of the ridge combine to make the next 100 m truly gripping. “Stay positive ladies, we’ve almost made it,“ says my friend Cathrin encouragingly. Thus far everything has gone according to plan: even the drive through the Rheintal valley was a breeze. Though Natalie, Cathrin, Elisabeth and I have known each other since school days, in the last few years meetings have been limited to Christmas time. Having gone our separate ways in life, there is always so much to share. We take the cable car from Bezau to the Baumgarten mountain station before setting off towards the peak of the Winterstaude. We’re not in any particular hurry: after all, we’ve set aside the whole day to spend together.

With every step, we leave more and more of our everyday lives behind us, creating distance between ourselves and the constant rush and beeping of mobile phones. Our gazes lowered, we concentrate on the uneven path ahead. When we first set out this morning, our steps were unsure and yet soon we adjusted our pace, moving in sync with one goal in mind: The summit. The path before us first winds upward along the “Niedere” before spilling over the grassy hillside to a scree field below. Previously lost in the clouds, the sun manages to reassert itself and the warmth on our faces is welcome. At the scree field our first task awaits: We’ll leave behind a friendly cairn to greet the next group of hikers.

Following Elisabeth’s lead, we scrounge for stones and balance them on top of each other. Small wonder that more and more team-building experts lead their groups into the mountains these days. After all, there is no shortage of valuable lessons to be learned here high above it all. Satisfied with our cairn, we continue on the steeply ascending trail from the Stongerhöhealpe mountain hut to the Stongerhöhe ridge. Weaving between the many sheep and cows that graze here, we make our way to the highlight of the hike: the Hasenstrick ridgeline. As a light fog wells up from below, the rocks of the Hasenstrick become a bit slick. Passing through the turnstile, our mood changes abruptly from exuberance to full concentration.

“Careful girls, the trail ahead is slick,” I call out to my friends in warning. One foot in front of the other, we cross the narrowest part of the ridge, stopping only to admire the natural spectacle playing out before our eyes: The humid breeze of the rising fog dampens our clothes and droplets of water form on our ponytails. With the greatest of care, I descend the backbone of the Hasenstrick. With my left hand, I hold on tightly to the rope, but my gaze remains laser focused on the meter-wide ridgeline before me. To this point I have focused solely on my own progress, but at the midpoint I turn to check on my friends: all have completed the first stage. The foggy atmosphere on the ridge, the adrenaline rush of navigating the slippery rocks and the companionship of our band of sisters have made for an unforgettable hike. With the second stage safely behind us, the tension lessens, relief sets in and we allow ourselves to enjoy the moment. Falling in lock-step with one another we ascend to the summit as a team. At the top, a wave of euphoria sweeps through the group. Entering our names into the summit register is cause for celebration. Pen and paper in hand, I am further reminded of our teenage days at school together. This experience deserves full marks.

Tastes have changed since we last hiked together: Instead of gummy worms and chips, we’ve got apples and nuts. In lieu of lemonade, we’ve packed a flask of schnapps to celebrate at the summit. As we descend in triumph, the group disperses and conversations are enjoyed in pairs. Again and again, one member of the group falls behind, perhaps lost in thought? Hiking with friends means that you’re always bound to have a pleasant conversation. In different constellations, there is space for personal reflection or the search for tranquillity in the mountains. Hiking together has an added advantage: the stillness is broken by breathing and the rustling and there are no uncomfortable silences. This keeps us in the moment at all times, which is good because the path ahead requires concentration. Our attention is focused on what is in front of and inside us: sensory impressions, feelings and thoughts. The mountains, which trigger a deep sense of belonging in all of us, the silence of nature, our rhythmic steps and the physical sensation of walking quickly make conversations both personal and thought-provoking. There’s no café in the world would where we would be able to speak so openly about the present and our futures.

In the evening, we huddle together around the fire near the cable car middle station: Dusk settles and the embers of the fire become hot enough to cook our veggie sausages. In anticipation of the meal, hungry from our efforts, we reflect on our day together. Cathrin in particular found that making a fire was a worthy finishing touch to a wonderful day. Making a fire was also teamwork: some were responsible for collecting wood and lighting the fire, others searched for hazelnut skewers for the sausages. Sitting together, we sing songs from our school days and are pleasantly exhausted. This morning, I could feel the distance between us that had grown over the years. Now, at the end of this hiking day together, we are as close to each as we have been since we were young. For years, we have only seen each other sporadically, but this evening together feels as if time had stopped: Yesterday was just 10 years ago.

Author: Hannah Greber
Issue: Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine – Summer 2020

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