Dear Readers, one of my favourite walks in Obergurgl is along the Gaisberg valley. But to get there, there’s a hard, steep pull up a serpentine service road. The road surface is made of slippery stone-chippings, the sun beats down, and everyone going up in the lift to the hut above has a good view of your (lack of) progress. I have taken to wearing a Fitbit, to log my footsteps. It also records my heart rate.
“What’s your BPM now?” asks my husband, as I suck in some air for the final ascent.
I squint at my Fitbit.
“153”, I say.
“Is that even possible?” he says.
And unless I’ve transmogrified into a hummingbird and not noticed, I doubt that it is. So much for monitoring.
At last we get to the entrance to the valley. I plonk down on a stone, and soon notice that the whole area is full of the blood-red blurs of Six-spot Burnet moths.
They are everywhere here, gathering nectar and bumping into things. As a caterpillar, they would have fed on Birdsfoot Trefoil. These moths are newly emerged, making the most of the short summer season. And less than a quarter of a mile later, there are none at all. Such is the variety of habitats on this walk.
The sheep are finding the heat a bit much. They would be laying in some shade if they could find some, but there isn’t any and this is a risk for humans too – I managed to get a slightly burnt neck yesterday. Here in the Gaisberg, the sheep simply form a ‘sleeping heap’, which seems to work for them.
We stop for sandwiches at a flat rock by the weather. As usual, I am surveying the hillside for marmots, and we soon see one running from rock to rock. Then another appears. This has been a good year for sightings, and I hope a good year for baby marmots.
As we head towards the glacier, the flora changes too.
The Alps are full of succulents like the Mountain Houseleek, which has the ability to conserve water in this dry environment. But what cheers me most of all is my first sight of these flowers: Snowbells.
These little flowers are the very first to appear when the snow has melted – you can see them pushing through the ruined, yellowing grass where a snowdrift has lain. In fact, they are said to melt the snow themselves, by fermenting sugars and raising their temperature. They are a member of the Primrose family, and are never found below 2000 metres, so they are true Alpine flowers.
We turn to head back to the hotel. A cool wind chills us as we slide down the scree and march down the service road. One day, I know, we will not be able to do this walk. Maybe (hopefully) we’ll be tramping up the hill for years to come, but the day will come when it’s too much. This is not being morbid – it’s just being realistic. Some of our older friends no longer come to this resort because of the altitude and the difficulty of many of the walks. But this year we have managed it, and that is a cause for a modest celebration – a glass of water, and a slightly-squashed cheese roll from our lunchpack. Life seems to be a balancing act between being grateful for what we have, and yet not deluded about what lies ahead.