The longest march

This event took place in the 70’s in Alpine regions of Austria. A horrendous 50 km march in high altitude alpine regions, with shoulder packs weighing 20 kg took all our physical reserves. All except one we recall – Walter Lukesch – who was full of stamina,  a physical powerhouse.

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Austria, County of Burgenland, Uchatius Barracks

Early morning. As usual, on the dot 06.00 AM. a loud voice throws us out of our bunks.

T A G W A C H E ….

Robot like, we stumble to our feet, daily routine, our limbs sore from strenuous exercise. Tuck your bed, grab your rations, gear, equipment, all ready for the longest march to the alpine glaciers.

Prime mountainous region of the Wechsel, training ground for the Austrian Army. 07.30 sharp our trucks begin to roll. The drive takes about 2 hours, and we reach our destination, Mariensee.

Hoch Wechsel mountains

The captain, Walter Lukesch gives instructions to his junior charges and off we go, right from the start its up the mountain, through dense pine forest, firs. We continue in a sharp pace, one after another, zig – zagging along the mountaineers trail.

Within half an hour we all feel the tremendous efforts it takes to carry near 20 kg of Alpine gear, rifle, helmet, and personal supplies up a steep trail. The Hauptmann is a powerhouse and pulls the company along the trail, without the slightest hesitation.

Whilst carrying the heavy radio equipment on his shoulders, he has no back gear unlike us.

Our panting becomes unbearable, the speed of the ascent is almost barbaric. Well into 2 hours, our first victim of exhaustion collapses on the steep trail, the company stops and takes cover like in real wartime situations, we are on maneuver after all.

Resting place Hoch welchsel

Here, in the alpine wilderness, no sound can be heard except the occasional song of a cuckoo, and the mountain buzzard.

Whilst we welcome the unscheduled rest, we are concerned about our colleague who collapsed because of exhaustion. And we know the worst is still ahead of us.

The captain shoulders our colleague’s backpack onto his chest and off we move to higher grounds. Up and up and the lower parts hardly visible through the dense forest. Within minutes, Herr Lukesch has out walked us and we have problems to keep up the pace. With a double weight to carry he shows no sign of the slightest exhaustion. His stamina is unequivocal.

When we finally reach the top, and the trail goes on a less steeper slope, we are instructed to carry our chemical masks. We nearly suffocate under the rubber mask, the sweat runs down our faces.

Nobody has time to think about his own misery, we all are tired and worn out, finally the command to remove the masks is given.

Hoher Wechsel mountains in Winter

At the time we were angry, frustrated and saw a beast in our Hauptmann. But we knew, he was doing his part to turn us into real Soldiers, nothing less.

In those days we knew what exercise meant, and it felt good at the end. Without pushing your body to the limit you will never understand how much you can give.

Long after, well into the afternoon we reach our summit, the highest point in the massive glacier. When we pass the first masses of snow, the Captain forbids us to drink the ice cold water that emerges from under the ice bed. The risk of contracting pneumonia was not a welcome thought, and we observed, although with difficulty, his instructions.

The first stop is after the peak, we are taking a break of 30 minutes.

From here the trail now went downhill, through harsh landscape above 2000 meters altitude. Alpine meadows will harbor cattle in summer, but stand empty now in early spring.

The “Feistritz Sattel”, a pass between two mountains comes into our view, still far away. We know there are still hours till we finally reach our target.

After reaching the town of Trattenbach, the trail steepens again and we take a final onslaught to our day’s destination, unknown to us.

The mountain ranges around us, the view towards the glacier we have climbed, we notice how far we have come. All around us beautiful nature, un spoilt, untouched by humans.

Towards 18.00 PM finally we come to a standstill, the Hauptmann giving us lectures about the final days of World War II when Storm troopers of the Nazis defended this last stronghold against Russians invading from Hungary. Railway Tracks where once rails were laid, up here in the mountains, carrying ammunition to the heavy Artillery positioned up here. The Well built, the entire command post, did it nothing to stop the Russian Army to finally enter this last area of Nazi Germany.

We assemble to take instructions for the night camp, preparing our tents, logging fires and start the night watch. We are amidst fir trees, above a mountain stream where we fetch our water.

Finally, we take over the night watch in turns of 2 hours, and relax on the forest ground, separated only by a thin sheet of plastic from the wet undergrowth.

To be continued ..

Next : Kummerbauerstadl / Trattenbach / Lower Austria County

Photography

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