11 Hours, 13 Kilometres, 900 Metres Difference In Altitude
What a day. I am just back from the Neue Traunsteiner Hütte - a mountain hut at the boarder between Germany and Austria - using the Wachterlsteig. And I am not yet sure whether I actually enjoyed the walk itself or not. But I am sure that I am immensely proud of myself. And for good reasons as this hike was incredibly important to help me regain my confidence.
Pushing The Limits To See What Is Still Possible
In the guidebook the tour is rated somewhere between energetic and strenuous and is supposed to take between six and seven hours for experienced fit walkers. The path is clearly marked and hard to miss. There are no exposed sections and a recently refurbished mountain hut run by the German Mountaineering Council awaits you at the top. With great food and a cold pint of lager. The demanding part is that almost all the difference in heights is covered within the first two and a half kilometres of the tour. So yes, it‘s steep and exhausting - even more so if you are an above-the-knee amputee.
And this rather steep ascent was the very reason why I had chosen this hike. I wanted to see if the adjustments we recently made to the socket of my prosthesis allow me to go out on longer and more demanding walks again. I have plenty of long walks on my bucket list. But in recent years the bad fit of my socket had prevented me from taking them on.
The hike up to the Neue Traunsteiner Hütte started out well. The approach to the foot of the mountain was a leisurely stroll through a pine forest, the air still cool and refreshing in the morning hours. After about a kilometre the steep section started. And I was very pleased to see that the fit of the socket was great. It allowed me to make good progress up the mountain. At least for the first two hours of the walk.
And With The Heat Came The Sweat, And With The Sweat Went The Good Fit Of The Socket
What I had not factored in was that the very day I was hiking was an immensely hot day. Something in the range of 35 degrees centigrade. And with the heat came the sweat. And with the sweat went the good fit of the socket. So while I had no problems in the steep sections of the trail, I struggled once I reached the plateau with an almost mediterranean landscape, the path undulating in and out of the woods and through the sunny clearings. That was something I hadn‘t even considered to be a problem when I planned the trip.
This was the section where I wanted to make up for the extra time I knew I would need for the steep section. This was the part where I thought I could push it a bit and bag some kilometres without any complications. But instead the next two and a half hours were a time of plenty of stops to take the prosthesis off, dry the stump and the socket and put it on again. I had to walk in a way that looked and felt as if I had the leg in plaster, trying not to wiggle the prosthesis off all the time. And I had to be very patient pretending to myself that I actually enjoy the numerous stops. By that time I was way behind my own schedule, but still hoping that I would make it to the top early enough to have a nice rest and still be able to descent safely before night falls.
And I did. It took me longer than anticipated, but I made it. And it felt good. Several other hikers who had passed me on the way up greeted me at the hut. All of them congratulated me for having managed to walk up the Wachterlsteig. I have never heard the word respect so many times as on this very day. And while most others had booked into the hut to stay the night up in the mountains, I still had to get back down the same way again.
The Importance Of The Right Mindset
One women in her late fifties asked me if I was serious about actually going back down the same day. Or if I was just teasing them a bit. Once I replied that that was my plan; that I would only grab some food, have a pint and give the leg some time to rest before heading down again, she told me that I was an inspiration for her. And that I had just made her change her mind. She had intended to walk down on the Austrian side and then take a taxi back to where she started. This would be a far easier and less strenuous option than following the Wachterlsteig. But knowing that I will tackle the same, steep path was an encouragement for her. And so she went.
After an hour in the sun it was time to head back down again. I had about five hours left before night fell. Normally it‘s about a three hour walk down to the starting point. Given the problems with the prosthesis I calculated with four to four and a half hours for me. And while the initial kilometres went alright, I soon had to revert back to a slower pace, more stops and repeated adjustments of the socket. Once I reached the steep section I was already pretty exhausted and started to be less focused on my steps. I must admit that I found the descent physically and mentally demanding. But - at least once I knew that I would make it down in time and safely - also very rewarding.
While this wasn‘t the most enjoyable hike I have ever been on, it was an important one for me. For several years prior to this walk struggled with a bad fit of my prosthesis. As a result I reduced my outdoor time, spent less and less days in the hills, shortened my hikes. Over the years I lost the feeling for what I can and cannot do. Activities which had always been way within my comfort zone seemed far beyond of what I am capable of doing. Things that looked like a nice challenge only a few years ago suddenly seemed pie in the sky ideas. I had completely lost my confidence when being outdoor; had lost the confidence of being able to fall back in my outdoor skills; had lost the determination not to allow my disability to limit me and what I want to do.This walk was meant to help me regain this confidence. And it did.
Build Confidence And Determination
Hiking 13 kilometres with a prosthesis that kept on falling off was no fun. But looking back it wasn‘t actually all that bad either. I managed to complete this walk. That‘s what counts. A bit more than 13 kilometres, about 900 metres up and after a short break the same 900 metres down again, 11 hours all in all. I did so despite the problems. I managed to stay positive and motivated. I stayed mentally focussed telling me this is what I wanted to do and that the pain and the frustration is a price worth paying. I worked out some routines to compensate for the ill-fit. And by bringing all that together, I have proven to myself that I can still go out for exciting hikes again. And I will.
This walk helped me to regain some of my earlier confidence. It helped me to re-develop my techniques to keep the right mind-set even when the going gets tough or when the prosthesis is not doing what I want. Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the fit of the socket. And that needs to be one of my priorities. But I now know that with the right mindset - and a good degree of stubbornness - I can be active and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle even if the fit of the socket is far from ideal.
Post by Bjoern Eser, the creator of The Active Amputee.