The Sound of Music II - July 2008

The Sequel at Last! A set of Clive’s pictures from this trip has been archived on Flickr.

The year is 1954. Peace has returned to the Austrian lakes and the Von Trapp family have returned from exile. But our attention turns to one of the lesser known characters of the musical, the poor Countess jilted by Colonel von Trapp in favour of his upstart governess Maria. Alone and rejected, she sits in her chateau on the banks of Hallstatt See, when into her life comes a handsome romantic young Englishman by the name of Clive West. Finally, happy at last, she dies and is buried for her allotted fifty years in the Hallstatt cemetery, after which she will be exhumed and her skull preserved in the well known ‘bone house’.

Switch forward 54 years. Much aged but still capable of climbing unaided to the top of the Zarstein, Clive returns to Hallstatt with some of his followers from the Thames Valley LDWA, of which is he is a former ‘obergruppenfuhrer’. As well as conquering the last few Alpine summits of the Hallstatt region, he needs to reserve his place in the Hallstatt bone house next to his beloved Countess.

Now read on . . .

And just in case you thought ALL of that was made up, just like “The Sound of Music” it is based on a true story – Clive did stay with an Austrian Countess in 1954 (who’s claim to fame was dancing with Emperor Franz Josef) and the skulls of the inhabitants of Hallstatt are indeed exhumed and put in the bone house!

Duncan taking an early shower near HallstattSo this was the background to Clive’s pilgrimage to the Austrian ‘Lake District’, accompanied by a strangely dressed group of disciples in red gear all over (me), blue gear all over (Tony), brightly coloured Turkish caps (Ertan) and a white skull cap (Jim). Our base, as indicated above, was the picture postcard village of Hallstatt, accessed mainly by boat, seemingly unknown to British tourists but thronged with Japanese, Chinese, Thais and Koreans making gruesome trips to the ‘bone house’ and the world’s oldest salt mines (now its naff-est tourist attraction).

But our targets were of course the mountains. Basically if you take the English Lake District, increase everything three times in size and add some glaciers, you will have an idea of what our walks were like. The other big difference to the English lake district is that the sandwich shop opened at 6am rather than 9am, so you could actually get some lunch in advance, unless of course you preferred the apfelstrudel and germknudel in the mountain huts! Our walks varied from valley and lakeside walks on the poorer days to thousand metre steep ascents (and even longer descents) on the clear days. There was thus an excellent selection of different types of walks, though my favourites were those up to altitudes of 2000m+ on the high ridges and plateaux, with stupendous views of the peaks, lakes and glaciers for miles around. One particular memory was arriving for a few beers at a remote mountain hut at 1800m, to find an accordion playing barman chatting up all the female climbers – it could only happen in eccentric Austria!

Jim with hearing aid at Lake GosauseeClive, Tony (who revealed his real name is Charlie!), and myself kept going all 6 days and ended up with stiff tendons and sore knees by the end. Jim and Ertan were a bit more sensible and took time out to replenish the calories in the pastry shops of nearby towns. Apart from nearly leading us onto a plane to Bombay at Vienna airport, Clive’s guiding skills were excellent – though his idea of an ‘easy climb’ was clearly based on his experiences aged 18 in 1954!

And of course, we even learnt some German! Jim and Clive were already fluent, I struggled by in accented Dutch, and even Tony (aka Charlie) managed to pronounce ‘Wiener Schnitzel’ properly the fourth time he ordered it.

So thanks Clive for letting us share your youthful experiences in the land of ‘Edelweiss’. And I am sure, with all the services you have provide to Hallstatt over the years, that your place in the bone house is assured!

En route to the Simony Hut below the Dachstein Glacier

Duncan MacGregor

Photos: Tony Gorman

And Clive sends this picture of the Beinhaus to prove that at least part of Duncan’s story is true!

The Hallstatt Beinhaus (bone-house)

A set of Clive’s pictures from this trip has been archived on Flickr.