The one time I said “no” to hiking

The story I am going to write right now isn’t very easy for me. I always like to pretend that I can do anything and like things as adventurous as possible. But deep inside my heart, I’m sometimes just as scared about hiking as non-experienced hikers are when they are going into the mountains for the very first time. Today I’ll share my personal story about the one time I said no to hiking…
A couple of years ago we hiked the Berliner Höhenweg in Austria. From a former colleague of mine we heard this was one of the easier multi-day hiking trails in the Austrian Alps. According to him, there were some passages where you had to hold on to chains, but other than that, it would be pretty straightforward. We we decided to book a package for 4 nights / 5 days of hiking and before we knew it, we were driving down to Austria.
The weather looked very promising and the first day, from the valley to the first mountain hut, was pretty easy. The sun was burning on our backs but most of the time we were hiking through the woods, only to reach the treeline shortly before arrival at the Gamshütte. Here we started chatting to some other hikers who told us that the next day would be a pretty tough cookie. But since we hiked so much in the past before, I wasn’t really worried. Sure, I read the sign that the hike was “Nur für Geübte” (only for the experienced) and that according to various websites, it would be the most strenuous day of our trip, but still I was pretty positive about it.


Red Bull gives you wings … or not?
The next morning we started pretty early and within the first hour I noticed this was not just some mountain hiking, but a real though cookie indeed. Not just tough, but plain hard. The first part of the trail led us on a very narrow path through the meadows, with extremely steep drop offs most of the time. I realized that one wrong step would mean the end of me. In addition, it was extremely hot and my body kept on asking for water and sugar all the time. About half way on the hike I was already exhausted and knew the worst was yet to come: crossing two large boulder fields right in the middle of the sun, during the warmest moment of the day. To be honest, I don’t remember much from it, just that I had to drag myself from one boulder to the other. My body just didn’t want to go and every step I took made me feel in great pain. My bag seemed to be filled with rocks and was just too heavy, or that’s what it felt like. The hike seemed to take forever and by the end of the day, it turned out that the 14 kms had taken us 9 hours…
The next morning my whole body was in pain. So we decided to go for the easy option, walking down to the Schlegeleisspeicher and from there up to Furtschagelhaus. It was a really nice day once again and my body seemed able to get some climbing done, however it took forever and every step I took felt like a lifetime achievement. The sun was relentless once again and upon arrival in the mountain hut I fell down on my knees. This was not my idea of a fun vacation…
In the afternoon we chatted with some Dutch guys who came hiking from the opposite direction and they told us that the hike up to and down from Schönbichler Horn was extremely demanding and that they had been pretty scared along the way. As I looked over my shoulder to the mountain top, I had a gut feeling that maybe I should reconsider the next day. But Martijn didn’t want to hear this and said I should just come along. In the meanwhile, I found out there was also an easy route to the next hut: back down into the valley, take the bus for a short stretch and from there hike up to the Berliner Hütte. It felt wrong to reconsider but at the same time, I was relieved that there was a way out for me. Somehow, my mind told me that I was safer off not going up into the alpine section of the trail the next day. The days before had been a true hell in some ways and hiking down narrow ledges with only a chain to hold on to, somehow didn’t sound like a safe plan to me.
When in the mountains, it’s always hard to define your abilities. What’s easy for one person is hell for the other and somewhere in between for the next. We’ve done trails that were described as difficult with little problems but at the same time we’ve experienced some real trouble on hikes that were classified as intermediate. When hiking, you have to trust your intuition. And sometimes your intuition tells you something you don’t want to hear. Something like “maybe this is not a good idea” or “stop here, don’t continue”. Those are things nobody wants to hear. Every hiker wants to reach the top and look back at it as a personal moment of victory. Nobody really wants to say “no” and admit they might not be up to it after all. Even though it may not seem like it, saying “no” is harder than just pushing on most of the time.
When I said “no” to taking the trail up to Schönbichler Horn, I felt tears coming to my eyes. Giving in to my own weakness and not being / feeling strong enough to continue, felt like a giant failure. However, it also felt like the right choice. Despite what others were telling me. The next morning, Martijn hiked one way and I hiked the other. We met somewhere half way again and when I asked him how the trail had been, he just said “I’m sure you would not have liked it.” There you go, he confirmed my suspicions.
The rest of the day, we had a blast at the Berliner Hütte, which is to date still one of my favorite mountain huts ever. I can’t help but still feel a bit embarrassed for not attempting the hike, but luckily there is always a small voice in my mind, saying that in this case, saying “no” was the only option for me…
I’ve heard stories about people having to turn around on hikes for weather reasons, for personal reasons or for various other reasons. Even though I like to push myself a little bit further all the time, I don’t feel that pushing yourself over the limit, makes your life necessarily better. Sure, when I’m at the gym I like to go way beyond my limit. Do those extra push-ups or add some more weights to lift. However I’ve learned to say no to hikes that I’m not up to. Learning your own abilities has been an interesting experience for me. I know that Martijn is a much better hiker than me so that’s why he is off into the mountains with his friends a couple of times each year.
People say that the best way to die is while doing what you love most. Although I agree with this one, I learned that for now, I’d rather stay alive and do some more things before it’s my time to go…
This has been a couple of years now and I have to say that the week we were hiking this trail, was just not my week. It may have been the extreme heat that caused me to be unable to do this hike or maybe my body just refused to work. By now I’ve pushed myself over limits again (last year for example, when I did my first ever Klettersteig in de Dolomites) so don’t worry, I’m still doing alpine hikes and enjoying it. I thinkt that, when the weather had been cooler and I would have prepared myself better for the Berliner Höhenweg, I would have been able to do it. Maybe next time…


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