It was a bit strange to part ways with Sabine in Ebensee. Even though we had only been walking together for a short time, I felt alone as I set off into the rain. The weather was really showing signs of an early winter, as it was snowing on the mountaintops and the temperatures were dropping. It was also getting harder to find accommodation along the route because many businesses close for the winter, or at least until ski season.
The first night was in the tiny village of Habernau, which was slightly off of the path. I was hoping to find accommodation there, but ended up camping in the cold.
The next few days were supposed to traverse the high mountains, but I was not able to make the crossings due to the snow. I had to pick my way around the alpine territory while staying somewhat near the route. I took path 8 to the north of the E4 around to Hinterstoder. This way was largely fine, but one section ended up being closed. I hiked through the closed section anyway because there was no detour around it. The closed section was in poor shape, and there were sections with some ladders and cables to help keep people from falling into the river gorge below. It was slow going and provided some nerve rattling moments, but I got through eventually.
I did something similar when going from Hinterstoder to Spital am Pyhrn. I took a northern trail through the foothills instead of trying to cross the Grosser Pyhrgas. I had better luck and conditions this day, as I didn’t face any rough or closed trails. The Stiftskirche towered above the village, and my hotel was housed in the adjacent kloster grounds.
I followed the E4 to Admont the next day since the trail was not at high altitude. It was raining a bit in the morning, and the weather deteriorated as the day progressed. By the time I reached the valley about 5km outside of Admont, the paved road was covered with two centimeters of water and the cold wind was howling. At least Admont was large enough to have a nice, warm cafe to aid in the drying out process. I think the cafe workers were having a bit of a laugh at my situation, but it was, admittedly, ridiculous.
This heavy blast of weather coated the mountains in another thick layer of snow, which forced me to alter my route yet again. There was supposed to be a lot of high altitude walking in the area, but I opted to follow a well populated valley to the South of the peaks in order to avoid the snow. The first valley stop was the small village of Wald am Schoberpass, were I stayed in the only guesthouse around. It was also Sunday, so nothing was open.
The weather was once again horrible the next day as I made my way into Trofaiach. It was raining lightly with a stiff breeze most of the way, but it turned ugly for the last couple of hours into town. The temperature dropped significantly, and the wind was strong enough to push me around, even with walking poles. The rain changed to sleet, which just added to my desire for the day to be over. I had Chinese takeout for dinner, which was a rare treat. It’s not often that I get to eat foods other than local or pizza.
The conditions improved the next day as I passed through the town of Leoben and on to Bruck an der Mur. Both towns had fantastic central squares with nice, colorful architecture, which cut through the dreary gray of the sky. Bruck an der Mur was particularly nice. I would like to visit in the summer when it’s sunny and warm.
Bruck an der Mur also marked the end of my marino wool shirts that I wore while walking. Both were full of holes, some caused by tree branch or thorn snags, while the shoulder holes were due to shear thinness from pack strap wear. I replaced them with half-zip, long-sleeve tops that are a bit thicker and warmer than the old ones. I could not find marino wool, so had to settle for synthetics.
After seeing the fortress walls above Bruck an der Mur on my way out of town, the rest of the day was pretty boring, except for my run-in with the Austrian Duke boys (Herzog Jungen???).
The day from Mitterdorf to Murzzuschlag was also not that interesting, apart from a castle outside of Mitterdorf that was nicely restored. Murzzuschlag was a nice town, but it was shuttered and quiet due to the All Saints’ Day holiday.
I rejoined the E4 path at Maria Schutz, home to the impressive kloster and Wallfahrtskirche. The interior of the chapel was beautiful, and there were plenty of people stopping to have a look, despite the fact that it was not tourist season.
After passing Maria Schutz, I stayed in the very small village of Raach am Hochgebirge. Just before arriving, I sidetracked a bit to have a look at an amazing castle that was visible for several kilometers. The castle ended up being private, but I was able to get close enough to take a photo. Many castles in Europe are privately owned and are considered private property despite their historical significance and prominence on the landscape. Although many of the private castle owners seem to be used to the attention and sightseers, keep this in mind when touring Europe to avoid altercations. Some welcome visitors, while others do not.
There were two other examples of private castles the next day when walking between Kirchberg and Aspang Markt, which were not open to visitors.
I stayed at a small hotel on a hillside that was several kilometers past Aspang Markt, with not much else around. It has been a bit strange at the guesthouses, because I am often the only guest. They are happy to have the off-season income, but I sometimes feel like I am inconveniencing the staff.
My last day before rest was through the green, rolling hills to the pretty village of Kirchschlag in der Buckligen Welt. I spent the off day resting my feet, touring the castle ruins on the hill above, and preparing to enter Hungary, which was only 28kms away.
On a side note, I continue to have plantar fasciitis problems with my feet, which were made worse by the long, flat, largely paved days in the valley avoiding the snow. Besides tenderness when stepping on stones, I experience occassional stabbing pains in the balls of my feet, along with a 50% loss of feeling in my toes. When I wake up in the morning, my feet are so sore that I have trouble walking on them. This does not really improve during rest days, so it is just something that I have to manage with ibuprofen for the time being.
Walking days: 163
Total distance walked: 4605km (2861mi)