Off line in The Alps
4th September 2011 | James Cove, Otztal Valley
The PlanetSKI content editor has been in the Austrian Alps with his 12-year old son and they decided to try to keep their laptops, phones, I-pods and other electronic gadgets switched off. Is it possible to survive without the instant communication of today’s world?
“Usain Bolt has just been disqualified in the 100m,” one of our fellow walkers said as we plodded methodically along our high alpine path above Obergurgl in the Austrian Tirol. We were about two hours into our trek up to the Ramol Hut at 3,006m where we were spending the night.
It is a remote place way above the tree line and in amongst the alpine glaciers. A long way from the modern world.
Each time we stopped one of our number in the group seemed to get their phone out and tap away intently or read the various messages that had been received.
Normally it is what I would be doing but this time I was determined on keeping the modern, electronic world at bay.
I was having a short break with my 12-year old son Max, and we had both agreed to keep our fingers away from the on button on our various gadgets; he was resisting the I-pod and DS while I was resisting my lap top and phone.
We were having a holiday with more traditional and old-fashioned activities on offer; visits to farms, horse-riding, hiking, marmott safaris and the like. It seemed like a good idea to shun the tempatation of the modern-world too, as I mentioned in this earlier blog..
When we stopped for a rest on our hike we drank ice-cold water from the mountain streams and admired the views rather then checking out the internet.
We chatted and asked our guide about the history of the valley and the spectacular nature before our eyes.
My phone was back in my hotel room way down in the valley in the village of Obergurgl so I couldn’t use it even if I had wanted to. I could not contact the outside world and it could not contact me.
Heaven.“People are so stressed nowadays and to come up to the high mountain paths in The Alps and walk and use their bodies and free their minds is a great way to relax and learn who they are,” said our hiking guide, Pal Vertesi.
He is also a physiotherapist and manager of a local health spa. He deals with stress management and believes many of our communication devices are simply bad for human health.
“One of the best kicks you can have is fresh air and it is impossible not to get back in tune with your body after a long hike and it is far better for you than spending eight, nine or ten hours in front of a computer.”
Our 7.5 km hike from Obergurgl to the Ramol Hut with a vertical ascent of over 1,000m took us four hours and his words could not have been truer.
It was hard in places but when we reached the top there was a genuine sense of achievement.
It was made much better without the phone vibrating as yet another text message came through.
When we arrived at the hut the views down the valley were spectacular and the vista across to the surrounding glacial peaks magnificent.
It was good for the soul.
Construction of the hut began in 1881 and it was finished two years later with mule or man carrying all the materials up.
Today it is extremely comfortable, but back then it would have been Spartan.
After dinner Pal told us about the history of the valley and the surrounding peaks. Of Stone Age man who first hunted and settled here when the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. He talked of the wildlife that we had seen on the way up; the bartgeier or bearded vulture with its wingspan of 2.8m, the steinadler or stone eagle, the flacons and even the sheep.
There was no TV or computer console so we made our own amusement in the hut; cards and stories.
It was great to see the kids playing card games rather than battling it out with electronic soldiers or footballers.
Next morning we were up early to see the sun rise over the mountains.
It was hard dragging ourselves out of the warm bunk beds at 6.00AM but well worth the effort.
Dawn over The Alps is something that sticks in the memory.
Afterwards I didn’t log on to the internet to check emails and see how the statistics for PlanetSKI had gone the day before. I didn’t update a news story or commission an article from one of our writers.
We enjoyed a hearty breakfast, we laughed alot and then packed our rucksacks for the day’s hike. The world could wait.
The Ramol Hut is run by one of the main hotels in Obergurgl; the Edleweiss and Gurgl. Three years ago the hotel had the idea of having so-called ‘off line breaks’ where people could come to stay and vow to turn off their phones and computers.
The only problem was half the people in the first year thought the holiday was exactly the opposite; a chance to get on with work away from all the other distractions like cooking, taking the kids to school, cleaning the car, sorting out insurance or going to meetings. A chance to work without other distractions. It had not been made clear!
“One woman from German worked at an art museum and she arrived with the task of finishing off a catalogue and she was on her computer for eight hours each day and on her phone checking details with people,” laughed the marketing manager of the Edelweiss and Gurgl, Michael Anfang, “Next year we changed the wording so it was clearer!”
The idea is now in its third year and 30 or so people came this summer to get away from the internet and their phone.
“Of course some people sneak in a crafty look at their emails or phone messages but most welcome the break as they walk, enjoy the spa and simply just relax,” Michael Anfang adds.
Max and I weren’t on one of these weeks but we were enjoying the same idea and I can thoroughly recommend it.
I also discovered a new sport; archery. Or rather 12-year old Max did and he showed an uncanny ability to hit the bulls-eye. I was not quite so accurate but I found it quite addictive and enormous fun. No complex sporting or gaming equipment needed here just the simplest of items; a bow, a few arrows and a target.
Max seemed to enjoy the archery more than his DS and as a parent that is what I call a result.
So far our break from technology was working out far better than expected. We weren’t missing a thing and we were enjoying more traditional and simpler activities on our holiday.
James and Max will let us know how their off line adventure goes in a few days time, suffice to say temptation reared its ugly head.
For a video interview with the Tirolean hiking guide, Pal Vertesi, see below. He spoke to James at the site of an excavation where there is evidence that man was present in the Otztal Valley 10,000 years ago.
Holiday Fact box:
The Hotel Edelweiss & Gurgl (4-star) offers an activity programme for children from 4-12 year olds including archery, horse riding courses, visit to working farms, nature hikes, marmot safaris, painting and handicrafts workshops, face painting and games. Also included is a guided walk with overnight stay in the Ramolhaus mountain hut at 3,006m.
The hotel also has an indoor swimming pool and heated outdoor pool 1200m² ‘Glacier’ spa area with saunas, steam room, whirlpool, fitness room, relaxation area and it offers an exceptional cuisine with many ingredients sourced from the hotel’s own farm and gardens.
Prices are from £756 per adult, first child travels free and second child price is £215 and includes return flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck, transfers, 7 nights half board and all activities as listed above. Crystal Summer www.crystalsummer.co.uk or call 0871 230 8180.
For the spirit of the mountains