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    Torches through the snow: a firelit journey to your inner self

    The winter landscape shimmers in a new light by the glow of a torch. But why does everyone who walks through the darkness carrying an open flame look so relaxed? Together with Lisa Flatscher, mountain hiking guide from Waidring, we explored the wonderful effects of winter torchlight hiking.

    Moving through the winter night with torches

    A starry January night in the Pillerseetal Valley in Tirol. A white blanket of snow covers the landscape. The air is dry and cold — our breath forms little clouds in front of our faces. Fortunately, though, the flames of our torches give off some warmth. Since leaving the outskirts of Waidring behind us, the only source of light in the darkness comes from our torches. From above it must look as if an orange glowing snake is channelling its way through the darkness. We feel as though we are travelling far back in time with every step we take – because 100,000 years ago, shortly after the discovery of fire, our ancestors used to move through a winter’s night like this. 

    The snow crunches softly under our boots as we plod uphill through the snowy forest. Only the sound of our footsteps can be heard — otherwise, there is silence. Although we in are a group of eight, no one speaks. We are too intent on focusing on the flames of our torches, which cast soft shadows on the surrounding trees. In the gentle light of the fire, these resemble giants stretching their snow-covered arms into the sky. And the view of the sky is spectacular. As we step out of the forest, countless stars suddenly sparkle in the heavens above our heads. "I haven't seen such a beautiful night sky in ages," one of us can be heard whispering in awe.

    Set out to find yourself

    • This evening our small group is led by Lisa Flatscher. For the last 10 years, the lively mountain hiking guide from Waidring in the Tirolean Pillerseetal Valley has been taking people into nature in a number of different ways. Her main focus is on conscious perception: "I personally have always felt safe and protected in nature. And I also want to pass this feeling on to my guests who I accompany outdoors," Lisa tells us with sparkling eyes. You can tell that she is truly committed to what she’s saying.

    • “Sometimes I notice that people suddenly put all notions of achievement aside when exercising in the great outdoors, discover a sense of peace, and find themselves completely in the moment. That's not my doing, though; that's brought about entirely by nature. It’s something people feel without you having to explain anything to them." We would like to disagree with her there, as it was mostly her attentive guidance that enabled us to consciously engage in the experience of torchlight hiking and to find ourselves.

    • That said, not everyone starts the evening with this intention. The family of four from Stuttgart is here because a night hike complete with naked flames promises to be an exciting adventure for the children. The young couple from Munich, on the other hand, want to enjoy a touch of romance after the hustle and bustle of a day on the ski slopes. But soon we are all captivated by the special atmosphere and enjoy the nocturnal silence of the surroundings.

    Less is more, and this relaxes

    The attraction of a night hike comes from reduction. Because we are not able to see as much, other senses are heightened. “In the dark, we have a completely different focus than during the day. We walk more slowly and deliberately, and perceive our surroundings differently,” explains Lisa.

    And we now notice this altered perception ourselves — our instincts, which are anchored in our genes, kick in.

    We suddenly hear sounds in the forest, perceive smells that we might not notice during the day, and discover animal tracks in the snow. Even the snow crystals glisten quite differently in the cold of the night and glow of a torch than they do during the day. 

    Tyrol, Reutte
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    And without the torches, the whole experience would certainly be only half as spectacular. "Fire does something to people,” Lisa tries to explain the meditative effect of the torches. “Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact that you’re concentrating completely on the open flame as you walk. There's no room for distracting thoughts — you stay completely present." We feel it too: the open flame grounds us and allows us to completely immerse ourselves in our surroundings without disturbing them. Once again we are completely at one with nature and in the moment. 

    We now walk slowly along the snow-covered forest road back in the direction of the starting point. We step out of the darkness of the forest and see the lights from the streetlamps in the village centre in front of us again. The sudden brightness makes us blink. The everyday world has reclaimed us — such a shame! We were on the road for only an hour, but still it feels as if we had been very far away.

    Torchlight hike
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    A conversation with Lisa Flatscher

    In the past, Lisa Flatscher really wanted to be a mountain guide. But then family "got in the way". And this meant that her professional focus also changed. For Lisa, the emphasis is now on experiencing nature rather than on sporting achievement.
    austria.info: Lisa, you’ve been working as a mountain hiking guide for 10 years. What does that mean exactly, and how did you get into it?
    Lisa Flatscher: I grew up in the Pillerseetal Valley and was always in the outdoors as a child. I often spent my spare time in the mountains with my parents. That's why I really wanted to become a mountain guide after I finished school. But as often happens, things turned out differently than planned. I met my husband and started a family. We’ve also had a small farm since then. When the children were older, I wanted to finally realise my dream. By then I was no longer as interested in working as a mountain guide, where the ultimate focus is on reaching the summit. I realised that gentle movement, such as when walking, and looking and listening to nature, suited me better.
    austria.info: After training as a mountain hiking guide, you founded your own hiking and exercise school. What does this entail?
    Lisa Flatscher: As well as hikes, I also lead other nature activities. These range from sporting activities such as cross-country skiing to more quiet activities such as forest bathing, where the focus is on mindfulness and experiencing nature. For me, movement means not only being physically active, but also being consciously aware of nature and being self-aware. For me, moving means doing something with yourself, experiencing yourself – so this can also be “spiritual” movement.
    austria.info: Why is it so easy to find yourself in nature?
    Lisa Flatscher: The constancy of nature is a very special source of strength for me. Nature teaches us to be patient — not to react immediately, but first of all to observe and look closely. In nature I often get answers to questions that preoccupy me. Not audible answers, but it becomes clear to me what needs to be done. That's why I also feel great gratitude in nature. In addition, it has an incredibly cleansing and liberating effect on me when I’m exposed to the natural elements. Even — and especially — when the weather’s bad. When you’re outside during a storm or when it’s raining, you’re freed from everything that weighs you down.
    austria.info: And do you also feel the power of these natural elements when you go torchlight hiking?
    Lisa Flatscher: Yes. The element of fire is really something very special. You can both get warm from it and burnt by it. That's why we have such respect for it. But open flames also help us to find our inner focus. I believe that's why fire exerts such a great fascination on us humans.

    Torchlight hiking with Lisa in the Pillerseetal Valley

    Wander- und Bewegungsschule Lisa Flatscher

    Dorfstraße 25

    6384 Waidring

    Österreich

    Telephone:
    +43 (0) 664 734 96 270

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    Autorin: Christina Zarnhofer

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