What in heaven would incite anyone to get up at 2.30am for three hours of gruelling exertion? In my case it was the enchanting mountain of Loischkopf, in the Vorarlberg region of Austria.
I was lured in like fish on a baited hook to view an Alpine sunrise from the top of Mt Loischkopf and all I had to do for my reward was to go mountain hiking – over 2,000m uphill.
It was 3am as the smiling face of Martha Neyer greeted me and my friend Becky in the lobby of our hotel in the small town of Büserberg, in the Alpenregion Bludenz, in Austria’s western region of Vorarlberg.
Martha, our guide for this experience, is a local woman with a strong and abiding passion for the mountains. By day she works as a nurse at the local hospital in Bludenz, but her real love, lay high up among snow-capped peaks and fragrant alpine forests.
Martha would turn out to be a great and knowledgeable guide who provided us with a fabulous experience.
We began our ascent a little bleary eyed, but in good cheer and full of optimism. We had water, torches and fairly decent footwear “let’s go!” we jollied ourselves.
Night time mountain hiking
The night air was cool and fresh, and my senses keen as we set off. Huge alpine trees soared skywards along our path, bushes spilled out around us, the night beautifully, and eerily, quiet.
Winding our way onwards and upwards the seemingly endless mountain path disappeared into the black night.
Tongue in cheek, if not a little nervously, we asked Marta if we would see any animals or indeed anything dangerous like a bear?
Laughingly she advised we may see foxes, deer and a variety of bird life. Alas, I saw only moths, cows and as the darkness lifted, a bird.
The smell of fresh mountain vegetation was an invigorating scent. That is until we reached an area where cows were huddled down for the night, and a different countryside aroma filled our nostrils.
The odour of the abundant cow manure occupied the night air and served as a reminder to watch where we stepped. And it would be hours before we were able to see the cows and not just smell them.
At one stage we stopped and turned off our lights. Silently and motionless we stood enveloped by the jet black night and heavy, brooding forest. Tilting our heads back we looked up at a cloudless star-filled sky, a rare pleasure in our mainly urban and light polluted world.
There was a thunderous quiet as individually we retreated into our own thoughts to take in the full majesty those stars bestowed on us.
It was humbling to be reminded just how vulnerable and even insignificant we humans are when compared with the solar system above us and the mighty expanse of nature around us.
We could not stay still for long though as time was not on our side, we had to reach the summit before sunrise, so on we strode.
The sound of running water from mountain streams was our occasional partner as we ploughed on.
I was taken aback by the terrifying tracks for the downhill bike riders. Winding in and out of the trees, going over sheer drops this sport is a million miles from my comfort zone, however Martha explained that is hugely popular. But that as a nurse she sees quite a few of the bikers during her day job, some with very serious injuries.
After two hours walking and as the first light of the day eclipsed the fast fading darkness we were close to our goal. Only a steep grassy bank separated us from our summit, but this was to be the hardest part of our mountain hiking expedition.
The morning dew made the grass very slippery and those last 20 minutes of the steep ascent tested us. At one stage Becky and I had to sit down on the wet grass and rest. Our reserves of energy running very low.
Summing up our last reserves, and refusing to be beaten, we forced ourselves on. After a very long 20 minutes and with our destination before our eyes, we made it. Tired, damp, but exhilarated we stood atop Mt Loischkopf.
Our timing was perfect – as the first mountain-top breaths of air filled our heaving lungs, the golden rays of a new dawn broke over us. Reaching for our cameras we recorded the moment.
All around us the Alps awoke, and as the sunlight fell upon the surrounding peaks those dark, brooding goliaths transformed into bright beacons of possibilities. I felt renewed, and it felt great to be alive.
Resting on a bench we watched the glorious sunrise enthralled, while the world below slept soundly in their beds.
As we sat back to contemplate our achievement, Martha magically produced a trio of welcoming drinks, coffee, Hugos (a popular prosecco and elderflower spritz), and schnapps from her rucksack.
We’d taken on Mt Loischkopf and tackled it all before sunrise – we deserved a celebratory drink, and so, we toasted a new day.