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Hochstubai hut, 3.173 m

Highly exposed roof over your head

Fabulous Hochstubaihütte at 3173 m altitude ranks third among the highest mountain huts in Austria and second among the highest mountain huts in the Stubai Alps. It can only be reached on foot via Sölden’s Windachtal side valley in Ötztal. An even bigger challenge than the ascent is the management of this alpinist's hostel.

Sign mountain hut

Steep trail through three vegetation zones

 

Mountain herbs and wild bees line the path at its beginning. Silvia, my mountain guide, chose the route from Fiegl's Hütte because of the “surprise effect”. The steep footpath meanders through three vegetation zones, from the Alpine meadows of Windachtal side valley to barren terrain above the tree line and finally into high Alpine regions marked by the Himmelsleiter (“ladder to heaven”). These vertical stairs in the rock take us up to the high plateau, on which Hochstubaihütte sits majestically. Fairly imposing: From here, the landscape offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the entire Ötztal, the water reservoir below Hochstubaihütte, a summit cross, glacier fields and rugged mountain slopes.

Under the magic spell of nature spectacles

After a delicious dinner, I explore the untouched mountain landscape around Hochstubaihütte. A thick-leaved glacier buttercup grows out of a crevice. Storm clouds pile up behind me as a scenic backdrop for the fabulous sunset spectacle. The next morning the sun is shining. The thermometer shows 21 degrees Celsius in the morning. “Much too warm for an area of over 3000 meters,” remarks Thomas and looks worriedly at Wütenkarferner glacier, where the crevasses have formed a spider's web. He fears that he will still witness the end of this glacier. The sound of beating rotors disturbs the silence. A helicopter appears over the hilltop, laden with food and building timber. It takes just under twelve flight minutes for the 1200 altitude meters from the valley to Hochstubaihütte. We, on the other hand, set off immediately and return to Sölden – a hike that will last several hours.

 

At the mercy of the elements

The magic of a hut in an extreme location is also based on a foundation of tight logistics and high art of improvisation. Until the mid-1990s, two goods lifts supplied Hochstubaihütte. As they were repeatedly destroyed by avalanches, it was decided to try a kind of air delivery. Initially, a Cessna on runners landed on the glacier in front of the winter room. That’s no longer possible because the glacier ice has melted away massively. The elemental force of the elements often poses tough challenges for the operator. The pipelines to the meltwater lake some 100 meters below, for the hut's water supply, bear the scars of countless lightning strikes. Everything is subject to tight logistics, from provisions to waste disposal. During the 3-month season, it includes not only 650 kg of residual waste, but also the organic waste that guests leave in two dry toilets. The containers have to be shoveled out once or twice a season and their contents have to be well packed and transported away by helicopter.

Hochstubai hut
Ascent Hochstubai hut
Hochstubai hut

Sustainability is the norm

There are new solar cells on the roof of the winter room that replace the diesel generator which is only used as a substitute for deep snow cover. However, solar power is by far not enough for hot water: There are no showers, and the helicopter brings the firewood for heating. As well as the entire season's food supply. Meat goes straight to the freezer. Delivery and storage of fresh fruit and vegetables require more effort. In fact, the growing number of vegetarians has tripled the number of supply flights. Thomas sums up the paradox of hut catering: "When it comes to environmental protection, the vegetarians would do better to eat meat up here." At the moment, however, the helicopter is never empty when flying back, says Thomas, pointing to the growing mountain of plastic waste in the storage room. Because of the safety regulations regarding COVID-19, there is twice as much plastic waste as before.

 

Luxury is beaten by what is necessary for survival

Necessary for survival at over 3000 m are: Food, firewood, gas bottles, water, especially drinking water and electricity supply for the hut operation. A warm shower or fresh vegetables are a luxury and are only available with considerable additional effort and higher costs. The easiest way to imagine the situation is to carry some luxury in the form of apples and carrots up yourself and leftovers like empty bottles down again. The way is steep, the way is quite long. An example that applies to the hike towards Hochstubaihütte as well as to mastering our global ecological crisis.

Hüttenwirt Thomas

The hut tenant

Born in Germany, Thomas Grollmus - longtime army mountain guide, trained electrician, passionate cook, water treatment expert and Alpine first aider on site - has been managing Hochstubaihütte for ten years. He is a person who knows how to shift for himself in every situation in life. A jack of all trades who reacts flexibly to the whims of the mountain. Sometimes he seems a little taciturn. But he has an eye for the essential and is always concerned about the well-being of his guests. His humor flashes as suddenly as an unexpected view of the mountain when the fog suddenly clears. Thomas‘ wife Kerstin and daughter Lena lend a hand to master the daily challenges on one of the highest mountain huts in Austria.

Hochstubaihütte facts & figures

  • Altitude: 3173 m
     
  • Owner: German Alpine Club - Sektion Dresden des Deutschen Alpenvereins (DAV)
     
  • Opening time: from approx. 20 June to approx. mid-September, weather conditions permitting (subject to change)
     
  • Difficulty level: physically very demanding
     
  • 1200 meters of altitude have to be conquered over
     distance of around 5 km
  • www.hochstubaihuette.at

Rules for visitors

  • Only visit the hut if you are in good health
     
  • Bring your own FFP2 masks Overnight stays only upon advance reservation
     
  • Overnight only in your own sleeping bag and cushion cover
     
  • Telephone all year round +43 (0) 6769243343
     
  • Phone at the hut + 43 (0) 720 920 305
Maren Krings

Author: Maren Krings

The German author, photographer and Tirolean by choice has been traveling to several countries in order to capture people's stories since 2016. People who prevent negative impact on our planet through their way of life. Who reduce their ecological footprint without falling into the sidelines of the modern world. She met one of these great examples in Ötztal: the hut tenant of Hochstubaihütte.

ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE

Maren Krings also documents her visit to Hochstubaihütte in words and pictures in the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE - Summer 2021. The print magazine with the latest and most interesting stories about Ötztal’s spring, summer and autumn seasons is available free of charge in DE/EN from all Ötztal Tourismus Information Offices. You can order it at www.oetztal.com and have it delivered to your home or view it as a flip-through brochure.