The Austrian adventure continues! Yesterday was a fast-and-light mountain climb (yes, my legs are still sore!). This morning, right after breakfast, I got picked up by local guide and new friend Tom Müllauer of St. Johann, Austria, to head out on a canyoning session deep inside a river gorge in the Alps.
The sport of canyoning is popular in Europe, though not practiced as much in the USA (except for in the desert southwest, where it is more often called “canyoneering”). Müllauer guides canyoning trips each summer, and he is a member of a sponsored squad of canyon specialists (the adidas Outdoor canyoning team).
Our day started with a 15-minute drive from St. Johann through the rolling pastoral lands between the peaks. We parked at the mouth of a gorge and suited up under the trunk canopy of Müllauer’s VW — harnesses, booties, wetsuits, helmets, and a specialized rope.
A fast hike uphill delivered us to the top of a deep crack in the earth. Müllauer walked around a corner and onto a ledge. Mist rose from a gorge below, Müllauer clipping into an anchor and yelling over the roar. “Are you comfortable with this?” (I was!)
Soon, we were rappelling beside the immense falls. The rope was wet, and while on the rappel I slide my braking hand behind my butt to tighten the grip. “Go to the far side,” Müllauer shouted, pointing across the gorge.
I landed knee-deep in ice water, letting go of the rope when my feet touched down. I drifted downstream a few feet, the rope pulling through and out of my figure-eight rappel device. Müllauer came next, floating down beside the waterfall, his colorful suit popping against dark rocks walls.
We pulled the rope and continued downstream. Water rushed and swooped through carved turns. I followed Müllauer as he slid off a rock ramp, splashing down in a pool below. We clipped into a rope that ran along the canyon wall. At the next waterfall, Müllauer uncoiled the rope and tossed it into the abyss.
The adventure continued around bends and over short falls to the bottom. I swam and shivered, searching for some sun in the dark depths. By the end, we were happy to crawl out like bugs from the crack and back toward the trail, the canyon descended, our adventure complete.