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Hike to the Kanisfluh

Hike to the Kanisfluh

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Hike to the Kanisfluh

The psychiatrist Reinhard Haller has his own special nickname for this landmark mountain in Bregenzerwald: ‘the fortress’. During his hike, he explains how hiking is a remarkable tonic that provides the best means of warding off psychological stress and even mental illness.

Keeping moving in the great outdoors is a pursuit that promotes self-confidence and discipline in matters of health. Moreover, it builds greater stress resistance and inner calm.

“Few sights in nature are as awe inspiring as mountains.” I can’t help thinking of this quote from former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan whenever I see the monumental Kanisfluh, one of the most beautiful mountains in all the Alps. Viewed from the villages at her base, she gives the impression of being a mighty fortress and a great protector. Seen from the valley, she seems to stand guard over the entire region. Contemplated from afar, she proudly conjures up the spirit of the Alps.

The many faces of the Kanisfluh She has an unmistakably human character: the powerful head that steals the show from the very peak itself. The broad rocky shoulders that convey a sense of strength and steadfastness to those below. The many slopes and faces that spread out across the valley like so many protective hands. And the crevasses and rib-like folds that envelope this mythical backbone of the region. Most astonishing of all are the contrasts between the north and south faces, with the colossal and raw sight facing the Vorderwald entirely at odds with the light and airy view from the villages of the upper Bregenzerwald. Once you see the Kanisfluh up close, you’ll know you have to climb this fascinating mountain for yourself.

Hiking as an antidote to stress, burnout and dementia

Landscapes have a major impact on us as people – and where could be better for hiking than these mysterious, mythological and healing mountains? Hiking offers enormous health benefits; mountain hiking all the more so. Huge amounts of research have verified the positive impact this has on the body, boosting our cardiovascular system, regulating our sugar and fat metabolism and even strengthening our immune defences. If you could come up with a tablet that boasted all the healing and illness-preventing powers of this endurance sport, it would surely take the world by storm. Although science has only recently begun to assess the psychological benefits of hiking, this research has already returned some truly remarkable findings. Not only can hikers delay the onset of senile dementia by as much as several years, hiking is also a first-class antidepressant and one of the best means of warding off the modern scourge of burnout. It teaches us the art of meditation much more easily, effectively and affordably than any Indian guru. Keeping moving in the great outdoors is a pursuit that promotes self-confidence and discipline in matters of health. Moreover, it builds greater stress resistance and inner calm. All you have to do is develop a keen sense of your own body and mind, which will help you get in touch with your inner needs. Then you will be free to tap into all these benefits and more besides.

Climbing the mountain, breath by breath

Deciding against taking on the initial steep ascent, we ride the cable car high above the treetops on our way to the Roßstelle. When I was a child, I always imagined this fairytale forest to be home to all manner of fantastic mythical creatures. Following a series of trails and paths, we head into the valley basin of the Alpe Kanis mountain pasture. The whole area seems reminiscent of an American farmstead – wouldn’t it be the perfect backdrop for a Wild West movie? We press on past pines and mountain flowers before reaching the Wurzach Alpine pasture hut, where we have to resist the temptation to stop for an early snack break. The air is filled with the time-honoured sound of cowbells, which of course conjures up images of delightful summer days, lush Alpine meadows and happy cows. We can feel ourselves beginning to relax, letting the stress and worry melt away in favour of a new-found sense of freedom. It’s like experiencing air, light and colour therapy all in one! This leads us into the long, hot ascent, which is far from hazardous but still demands a certain level of physical fitness. At this point, it’s worth sparing a thought for those who struggle with their bodies and feel that they have lost contact with this part of themselves. After working up a sweat, panting with effort, going red in the face and feeling our muscles burn, we hikers happily experience no such problems. Whether we want to or not, we are now made to appreciate how breathing is indeed the most intensive of all bodily functions. Drawing deep for fresh air helps relieve inner tension and drive out negative emotions. Reaching the Holenke crest, we are rewarded with our first real high of the day: the sudden change in the scenery sees a vista open up in front of us with the promise of freedom, a touch of the sublime and even a sense of longing. We look out over the little villages lined up in a row, the waters of Lake Constance, the peaks of the Tyrolean Alps, the glistening white Swiss mountains and even faraway Germany. Though the final ascent may appear short, it has a real sting in the tail. As it winds its way up, the air grows progressively thinner and compels many a wavering hiker to call it a day. Provided we can dig deep and push ourselves, we are soon rewarded with a rush of endorphins that is particularly effective at quelling aggression. All those who reach the summit greet one another with a sense of shared achievement: passionate mountain hikers, hiking groups, whole families and children celebrating their first big mountain adventure. They’ll never forget the day they conquered this 2,000-metre colossus.

“I have walked myself into my best thoughts”

On the way back, the photographer sheepishly tries to capture a few shots with the help of a drone. Though he insists that his cutting-edge model is extremely quiet, the immediate protests he draws from those seeking a little calm, recuperation and a place to hike in peace serve as a vivid demonstration of just how much pristine nature and perfect quiet are valued in our stressed-out society. This makes it all the more mind-boggling that serious consideration was once given to the idea of imposing a quarry on the mountain and ruining this natural idyll for thirty long years. Rounding off our day with a well-earned beer, we hear the laughter of children playing by the mountain stream as throngs of happy holidaymakers enjoy this little slice of heaven. Surrounded by these gushing crystal-clear waters and the trees that gently bow in the summer wind, you can’t help but feel a pang of regret for those who find themselves mired in boredom on the hot, parched beaches of the Mediterranean. Arriving in the valley lit by the evening sun, I find my mood turning philosophical again as I consider the wisdom of Kierkegaard: “I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” And when I return to work suitably refreshed, it dawns on me: I appreciate the psychotherapeutic benefits of nature and hiking not because I think so little of psychotherapy, my professional calling, but because I think so highly of hiking itself.

Author: Reinhard Haller
Edition: Reisemagazin Summer 2019