The guide is late and I almost fall asleep waiting. “Has everyone abandoned you again?” I look up to see the elderly couple I met on Sunday evening. They are going to listen to another concert by the lake. It’s a Bavarian one tonight. I tell them that I’m waiting for my ‘night walk’ guide and that the others have left me to it and gone for dinner. I wonder whether I should forget about the walk and go to the concert instead. Soon Horst rushes in and it looks like it is just the two of us.
He drives me to Spitzingsee and it is dark and quiet when we get there. All the restaurants bar one are closed and there are a handful of people having a late night drink at this restaurant. He shows me how to use the headlight. White light frightens the animals, but red and green lights are not threatening.
We walk along the path leading from the restaurant, up the mountains. We can see the Austrian alps in the distance and it is only a few kilometres from this point. He tells me that on the days when the full moon is out, there is no need for headlamps. Tonight the moon is not visible, but it is a clear night and the stars are all sparkling. A few metres in, he wants to try his first exercise. I am to put on my blindfold and close my eyes and follow his tiny bell sound. He is going to guide me so that I don’t venture from the path and says he will stop me if any cars come. This walk is all about the senses and being in tune with nature. If you close your eyes, the other senses get heightened and you can listen more intently.
My first feelings are of panic. I ask myself “what are you doing here you crazy crazy woman??”. It takes me a little while to gather my thoughts and calm down and trust my guide. Soon I’m following his bell. Cars are not allowed down this path apart from those living in the area and there are only a couple of activity hotels catering for very few guests in the mountains. I can hear crickets, and some howling sound in the distance. We walk like this for almost 500m stopping only once to let a car pass. Horst tells me that the howling sound was of brown owls in the distance.
We walk down the path, till at one point it gets very dark and I can’t see the path ahead and I switch my headlight on. He says that at this point he does another exercise with his group, where he walks further along and hides and they need to find him and he wonders whether we should do this. There is no way I am going to be left on my own in this wilderness and so the answer is a definite no. He points out the different landmarks, names the mountains in the distance, history of the place as we walk along. Sometimes he wants us to be absolutely quiet in order to listen to the wildlife. The wildlife mainly consists of foxes, badgers, martens, squirrels, brown owls etc. He tries to explain to me about survival tactics and being aware of what’s going on around and having your wits about you at all times. He notices everything, even if it’s in the distance. He can judge how far away the brown owls are, when they start having a conversation with each other. He even hears a tiny frog rustling the leaves and finds him.
As we walk along the forest he asks if he can do another exercise. I’m not sure as he ties a wire around trees and branches away from the road for a few metres. He wants me to put the blindfold back on and walk along this part of the forest just feeling my way around, with the wire to guide me. Once again I wonder what I’ve let myself in for. The ground is soft and uneven, I need to climb up and down uneven areas, feeling my way through and soon I start to enjoy it.
This is the last of the exercises and I’m relieved. We walk back to the car. We’ve covered about 6 kilometres. He runs an activity camp. “Have experiences and share them” he says. He speaks about nature and his camp with such passion. For him this trip has not been worthwhile at all, but he says he does it for himself as well and he enjoys everything he does. It is 1130 by the time he drops me off. It’s been a crazy evening, walking in the forest at night, an experience I am unlikely to repeat again and it certainly has been an unforgettable one.