When the Mad King was slain by Jaime Lannister, he fell upon his death bed of pine forest. His face and body formed the peaks of the Wilder Kaiser mountain range in Tirol, Austria. This is not the true story of the formation of the Wilder Kaiser, which means Mad King in German, but when my guide pointed up at the gray stone-peaked mountains with the beautiful death bed of pine forest below, I stopped listening to the legend and made up my own Game of Thrones-inspired tale.
To begin hiking the Wilder Kaiser, I walked through the forest, as a helicopter flew back and forth overhead, transporting buckets of cement–or so I was told–to complete the refurbishment of the hut at the top of the mountain. Once I cleared the canopy, the views were stunning. Across the valley were green-topped mountains, where hikers with little kids trekked, as gondolas traverse to the peaks. In the beyond, stacked like the sails of an ironborn armada crowding out the horizon, were larger mountains, including Austria’s tallest.
I hiked among chiseled elders and youngsters with helmets strapped to their packs, tramping like turtles who had outgrown their shells. All about were climbers braving cliff faces, while I was hiking the mid-mountain path that circles below, like a Greyjoy among Starks.
For those not prepared to risk limbs on The Wall, there are via ferratas, which is a system of cables strung to lower mountain faces that allow neophytes a protected climbing route to practice their skills, remaining secured through a system of wires and carabiners. Along the trail are bouldering walls, too.
While the journey is beautiful, Austrians have a good sense for ending hikes. Like them, I grabbed a couple of cold beers at the hut–there are many along the circuit that offer accommodations, food, and beer for day and multi-day trekkers–and loaded up on a plate of Kaiserscharrn, eggy pancakes served with jam and powdered sugar. This translates to the king’s pancake, A.K.A. King Tommen Baratheon, who abdicated the throne by pancaking himself at the end of last season. Too soon?
The views from the hut were stunning, and Jon Snow, who sat across from me, explained how he had just guided a few climbers up one of the world’s most revered climbing spots, El Capitan in Yosemite, taking the most extreme path up the nose. If the world of extreme climbing is foreign to you, it would be like trying to take back Winterfell with an impossibly small army, while your enemy defies the rules of war and lures you to attack first, and somehow winning said battle and laying claim to your family’s home, even though it’s not really the home you should be heir to because your throne is iron and by the end of the series you’re likely to claim it. Though with all the plot twists and unexpected deaths, perhaps not. If the world of my analogy is foreign to you, you are a Frey.
Some other fine ways to end a day after hiking the Wilder Kaiser area could include a dip in the lake situated beyond the village of Scheffau, a dinner in one of the quaint villages at the feet of the Wilder Kaiser–the villages also rotate playing host of the summer festival that gathers people for an evening of merriment–or a visit to Bierol, one of the few craft breweries in the country, which serves quality beer in their beer garden, as well as food. But get to the mountains soon because as they say in Austria: Winter is coming.