There is hardly a place in Lech Zürs am Arlberg from which you cannot see the bivouac (or Biwak in German). The prominently visible shelter is situated at 2354 metres, at the foot of Stierlochjoch. A small wooden cube, firmly moored to a green cliff. Lots of people know it. It must be gorgeous up there. Secluded, quaint, with a breathtaking view. Most people gush about the bivouac without ever having been there. Even though it is so easy to visit.
At the car park we check our backpacks one more time: Have we forgotten anything? We don't need much: water, provisions, sleeping bags and our woolly hats. We've picked up the keys from the tourist office. Off we go, out of the village, past the last dwellings and straight up a steep path. Our conversation soon dwindles; our breathing becomes slower and deeper. We can still hear a helicopter circling above the valley. But as we look down we can already feel a distance to our daily life.
The sun sinks deeper and softly shines on the meadows. Flowers sway in the wind. Our gaze sweeps over the hills. We stop every now and then to take in the glorious view of the mountain crest. We can make out the silhouettes of lifts and mountain cabins on top. We hike on. The sounds the wind carries up from the valley grow softer and softer. We hear the clacking of our hiking poles as they hit the craggy ground. Then a gurgling creek. The air is cooler, our breath flows deeply through our lungs.
Focussing on the essentials
Approximately three hours lie between the village and the bivouac. Between the hustling and bustling below and the mountain's calm. It's not difficult to hike up here, yet only a few do. The conscious decision to forego a hot shower, a warm bed, a television for one night set seems to be too great of a sacrifice. Or the idea simply doesn't cross most people's minds. Our everyday lives just won't loosen their grip: Emails from work, calls from friends, daily chores we've burdened ourselves with. We get confused about what's next on our list and end up forgetting the basics: Focussing on the essentials.
As we leave behind Zürser See we notice that the true essentials are right in front of us. We make our way through patches of snow and marshy plains. Each cusp opens up a new, breathtakingly beautiful view. Once we reach the Madlochjoch the sun sinks behind the mountaintops and a few beams of light hit the bivouac, standing lonely on its cliff. Up here we are truly by ourselves. Not a sound can be heard beside our deep breaths and exclamations of joy.
A night of simplicity
We reach the bivouac as the sun sets. The air quickly cools down, but it's still warm in the small wooden hut. It's equipped like a couchette car, without any frills, yet lovingly crafted with wood. Two sleeping berths on each side, a folding table in the middle. We spread out our meal of bread, cheese and cold cuts. After today's hike our simple fare tastes like a gourmet meal.
Candlelight, a torch and the twinkling stars illuminate the bivouac and the steep cliffs protectively surrounding our shelter. Far below in the valley shine the lights of Lech Zürs am Arlberg. Perhaps someone is looking up here this moment at the lonely wooden cube. Secluded, quaint and with a breathtaking view.
Get up and breathe
Our night is short. The first rays of sun wake us early. We wander through the dewy grass in the chilly morning air without speaking a word. Tranquillity is no longer only around us, but has found its way inside us. Half asleep and lost in our thoughts no one feels like chatting or news. The momentous mountain scape does not wrap us in loneliness, but instead makes us feel like we've taken a step back from all things unnecessary.
Our descent is easy. First through the cliffs, then through soft hills. We eagerly tell the hikers we meet about our experience. Back in the village we look back up and know that what people say is true. It really is gorgeous up there and just the right place to take a deep breath.
Oct. 13, 2016