He Said, She Said: Planning to Run Hut-to-Hut in the Austrian Alps

Joe Mills and Kara Henry are just your average couple. You know… in a typical week, they work full time, study for advanced degrees, have a few beers with friends, rack up first ascents on 5.14+ routes and run 100-mile trail races on the weekends for fun.

Like we said: average. That is if “average” now means extraordinary athletes, intelligent and ambitious professionals, wicked funny senses of humor and the people voted “most likely to take the coolest vacation ever.”

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Joe, an Ibex sponsored climber, and Kara, a member of the elite racing team for Newton Running, are taking off in September to run an 80-K, Hut-to-Hut trip in the Austrian Zillertal Alps. Originally, we just wanted to get a feel of how to prep and pack for such a sweet trip. But after bouncing ideas back and forth, we now want to begin training and beg an invite on their next trip.

Read below on how Joe and Kara are prepping for this sweet backcountry vacation, in our first ever “He said, she said” segment. Joe said they each opened a beer and answered the same questions, at the same time – without peaking at the other’s responses until after it was said and done.

Ibex Question (IQ): Let’s start with your trip. What’s the plan?


He said (Joe): We will be doing a hut-to-hut run through the Zillertal Alps in Austria. There is a huge network of trails throughout the region, and it constitutes one of the largest protected areas in Europe. We have a general idea of what we will do, but we are keeping our options open because we are going the first week of September, which is a little late season. Our first choice run is to do the Berliner Hohenweg (Berliner High Trail). It is a classic 80-Km loop that follows a ridge traverse along a pretty spectacular mountain cirque. We are unsure if some of the trails over the mountain passes will be runnable, but luckily there are a few exit points where we can bail down into the valley and run at lower gradients/elevations. The whole loop is typically done in 8 days, 7 nights. We will try and do as much as we can in 3 days, 2 nights. On good terrain it wouldn’t be an issue, but I have heard it is a bit rough so we are keeping it loose; it’s a vacation after all. After that we are going to stay with an Austrian climber friend of mine in a nearby town and do some day runs around that area. You can’t really go wrong around there, everything is so beautiful.

IQ: Has this been a long-held dream trip or did you choose it on more of whim?


He said (Joe): Definitely on a whim. I got a grant to go work in a lab in France for a couple of weeks. Naturally, I built in a couple of weeks [of] vacation time while I was there. Rather than hitting up the usual sport climbing venues I thought I would do something different and checkout some of the trails with Kara. Luckily, she was psyched and luckily we were able to score a ticket mostly on miles.

She said (Kara): This trip was originally planned as the ‘please don’t dump me trip.’ Basically Joe was supposed to be in Pakistan on a climbing expedition for six weeks, spend two weeks at home, and then leave to work in France for three weeks. I’m pretty sure he was convinced that he would come home from all that travel girlfriend-less, so he attempted to win me over with a trip during his two-week break. During all this travelling he was also going to miss the Leadville 100, so I was doing a great job at making him feel guilty. Luckily for me, his Pakistan plans were canceled, so I get to have him pace me at Leadville AND go on this amazing adventure in Austria. I think I won this one.

[Ed. Note: Joe did end up pacing Kara in the Leadville 100, where she finished in 6th place and right around 23-hours. Congrats, Kara!)


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IQ: Clearly you’re both athletes. Have you incorporated any specific training? 

He said (Joe): Haha, this is business as usual for Kara, I am going to get schooled! I am not so worried. I ran much more the last six months than I usually do, in part for preparation for a trip to Pakistan, which was canceled because of the terrorist attacks on climbers in the region. If I hadn’t done that training it would be a little different story.

She said (Kara): We’re both pretty good at two things: drinking large amounts of beer and running in the mountains. We do that for fun – so maybe we have been training? It doesn’t feel like it.

IQ: Is this trip part of your training plan?


He said (Joe): Pure vacation. We will be doing a mix of running work and 1-liter curls at the huts!

She said (Kara): Nope. In fact, I’ll probably be pretty out of shape by the time we get out there. After I run Leadville I plan on taking some time off and really letting myself go (don’t tell Joe!). This trip will be a nice kick in the butt to get me back to regular training.

IQ: For those of us who haven’t just finished the Leadville 100, how would you recommend training for a trip like this?


He said (Joe): Uh, I will pass this one off to Kara. I am running 1/8th of the Leadville

She said (Kara): I’m sorry I don’t associate with people of that physical caliber. TOTALLY KIDDING. Only crazy people and idiots run the Leadville 100 (that’s not offensive, they’ll all agree). For someone just starting out, I’d just recommend spending a lot of time ‘on your feet’ on the trails. Time on your feet could mean running, hiking, slogging, whatever. Just get out there.

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 IQ: Do you carry your gear or is it transported for you?

He said (Joe): We will carry all our own gear. However, the huts have beds, food, and tons of beer, so we got that stuff covered. We only need to carry water purification, clothes, a few bars, and lighting.

She said (Kara): I plan on having Joe carry everything for me. He doesn’t know that yet.

IQ: What is the one “luxury” item you won’t leave home without? 

He said (Joe): I-pod, music is a must.

She said (Kara): Joe told me to pack only one pair of running shorts and then some pants to hang out in the huts in. I’m sorry, but that is crazy. A girl needs outfits and options. Maybe that’s not ONE luxury item… oh well, it doesn’t matter, he’s carrying it anyway 🙂

IQ: What about standards – not necessarily luxuries – that you’ll be certain to pack?

He said (Joe): Steripen – best water purification for the mountains, super light, fast, and no chemicals.

She said (Kara): Cash for food and beer, warm layers, and my totally nerdy running sunglasses. They make me look like an extra in Back to the Future, but I love them.

IQ: What is the one item you’ll carry with you at all times?

He said (Joe): Ultra-light rain jacket. Never go in the mountains without some minimal rain gear

She said (Kara): Chapstick. I have an addiction.

IQ: Shameless promo: Which Ibex piece is best-suited for a running trip like this? 

He said (Joe): For me the Hooded Indie. It’s lightweight and can be worn in a variety of conditions. Combined with a windbreaker/rain jacket it provides a fair bit of warmth, but alone it breaths well and isn’t to hot during high-output activities. Added bonus: it’s super comfortable and is casual enough to wear hanging around drinking beer

She said (Kara): The Woolies 150 Zip is totally packable and light. It’s perfect for running when it’s still early and chilly or hanging out and layering up in after we stop for the night.

IQ: Aside from the running and the scenery, what are you most stoked to experience? 

He said (Joe): BEER! We both love beer, especially after exercise. So we plan on drinking a lot of big Bavarian beers.

She said (Kara): While I’ve run almost my entire life, I’ve never gotten the chance to run like this. We’ll carry everything we’ll need, see places that it takes hikers days to get to, and stop in these amazing Austrian huts along the way. This trip is every nerdy trail runners dream!

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IQ: Do you intend to always run together or say, “au revoir” in the morning and meet at the next hut in the evening? 

He said (Joe): Haha, I would never see her again, she is terrible with navigation. Really unfortunate considering she spends so much time trail running.

She said (Kara): If I say ‘au revoir’ to Joe I will literally never see him again. I have the WORST sense of direction – it’s definitely an issue. We’ll always stay within sight of each other, unless he gets totally sick of me. In which case, please send help to the Austrian Alps: I’m lost.

IQ: You must know each other pretty well. What will you say to motivate the other person if they’re having a rough day on the trail?

He said (Joe): “Put your man pants on.” Really she will just be motivating me; I’m the weak link for sure.

She said (Kara): Honestly, I’ve never had the need to motivate Joe. He’s one of those annoying people who seem to feel great all the time. When I’m feeling rough he just ignores me, which is perfect. I don’t like to be ‘cheerleaded’ and he never needs to be. If things get really bad we just start laughing – it should make for a pretty hilarious trip.

IQ: No trip to Europe is complete without food and libations. Which treats are you most excited about? 

He said (Joe): BEER! Again, super psyched for the beer. We are going to spend a day or two in Munich at the end of the trip hanging out at all the beer gardens.

She said (Kara): I can’t think past liters of beer. I think that counts as food too.

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Bon voyage, Joe and Kara! Safe travels and happy Oktoberfest!

Photos: courtesy of Joe Mills