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Hiking in the rain along the Saalach river

from Lofer to St. Martin

Water is life — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was already well aware of this in his day — and without rain, even the water-rich rivers, such as the Saalach river, would run dry and the green meadows would soon desiccate. I join the water drops and hike from Lofer to St. Martin in Salzburg’s Saalachtal valley. And those who consciously opt for some outdoor time in the rain will be positively surprised by how much fun a rain hike can truly be.

I want to go outside, explore nature! But then, suddenly, big water drops start splashing against my window. The weather forecast has announced rain, but I choose not to let that affect my need for the outdoors. I’ll do it like Karl Valentin, who once said, “I’m happy when it rains! Because, when I’m not happy, it rains anyway!” So, I smile and tie my waterproof hiking boots, throw my rain poncho across my shouldered backpack and step outside into the world. The air is fresh and clear, but the mountains of Salzburg’s Saalachtal valley are hidden behind thick, grey clouds. I didn’t mean to pay a visit to the rocky heights today anyway — before me lies a valley hike along the Saalach river from Lofer and Scheffsnoth to St. Martin.

The boulder and the devil

As I hike out from the centre of Lofer, a fine drizzling rain begins to surround me. Like a thin sheet, the water begins to cover my face, forcing out the last bit of tiredness. My path leads me across the Teufelssteg (Devil’s Bridge). An imposing wood construction, leading across a large boulder right over the viciously splashing Saalach river. I can recall the myth of the Teufelssteg bridge: “A long time ago, a man had sold his soul to the devil. Just before his death, however, he came to his senses and made his way to the church. The devil wanted to hunt him down, but a flood blocked his path across the Saalach. So, he threw a giant boulder into the centre of the river in order to cross it with two mighty jumps.” I look down at the boulder for some quite time as it parts the river which had grown even more vicious now due to the rain. Fine wafts of mist hang off the steep embankment and create a mystical atmosphere, and I feel as if I could hear the malicious laughter of the devil in the rumbling of the Saalach river right underneath me. I laugh at my own imagination and march on and turn right after the bridge, right along the bank of the Saalach river to the Hubertussteg bridge.

Kayakers don’t mind the rain either!

This stretch of the Saalach river is approximately 500 metres long. I can’t stop giving in to astonishment and have to take several breaks — the reason is that there are kayakers on the river that skilfully make their way through slalom poles. They don’t mind the rainy weather either, because the drops from up above mix with the splashing whitewater anyway. I continue my journey, and as I leave behind the Saalach river’s water course, I suddenly realise that a hike in the rain provides a surprising benefit. Under perfect water conditions, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop admiring the rocky peaks of Lofer’s mountains. I’d just keep staring and staring. Today, however, I can’t even see the mountains, and so I get to focus all my attention on what’s just around me, taking in each and every detail of the flora and fauna along the Saalach river. I can almost hear the little plants’ cheers. The rain is an ideal refreshment for the natural world and its inhabitants, and the air is cleaned of dust and pollen.

Detour to the Strohwolln canyon

In the middle of the little farmer’s village of Scheffsnoth, I find a well that I use to extinguish my thirst with the pure spring water. As I enjoy my cool and refreshing beverage, I admire the beautiful farms all around. Lush flower arrangements decorate the old wooden balconies and the small farmer’s gardens are also welling up with blossoming delights.

© Achim Meurer – Flower-decorated farm near St. Martin

Across a hiking trail, I finally return to the Saalach river and I am quite surprised by how calm the water is in this stretch of the river. Whereas the Saalach river was still wild and splashy just a few moments ago, it now presents itself from its relaxed and tame side. I hike toward Strohwolln, pass by the Grubhof camping area and spontaneously decide to make a small detour to the Strohwolln canyon. The rain has made this ravine even more imposing than it is during dry days. I enjoy the view of the foaming water from the wooden bridges. I need around 40 minutes for the ascent through the ravine and return via a hiking trail. The raindrops are starting to get heavier and the drizzling rain morphs into the infamous Salzburg “string rain”. In St. Martin, I pass on the opportunity of using a Kneipp facility, because cold water is the last thing my legs need right now.

Return trail through the mire

From St. Martin, my return trail leads me along the Moosbach stream. This is where peat is extracted, which is then used in the form of healing mire packages at the Hochmoos guest house. I return to Lofer through Gumping with its many little barns. Slowly, the clouds begin to clear and a few sun rays here and there are starting to make it through the fading rain. I feel completely revived by the hike and look forward to taking a break somewhere to enjoy some savoury, local specialities. But before I do any of that, I still have something to take care of that has been alluring me throughout the entire hike. I take a run-up and jump with both feet into the biggest rain puddle I can find. A water fountain splashes up all around me and a passing cyclist tells me laughingly, “Deep inside, we’ll always be like kids who love the rain because of the puddles!”

 

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