In 1994 I convinced my friend Rob that English Hills were a bit boring to walk and we should set out and aim for something higher in the Alps. As I speak German the Austrian Alps seemed an ideal choice and I set out looking for likely routes that would keep us occupied for about a week. We decided on the “Stubaier Höhenweg” (Stubai Rucksack Route) as described by Allan Hartley in his Cicerone Guide “Hut-to-Hut in the Stubai Alps”. After several trips to Stanfords in London we had all the maps we needed and were ready to go.
We took the train to Insbruck and a bus from there to Neder (964m) in the Stubai Tal.
From there we braved the ascent via the Pinnisalm (1559m) and Pinnisalp up to the Pinnisjoch (2370m). The weather was foul and we were walking in drizzling rain through clouds and fog. We arrived at the Innsbrucker Hütte (2369m) quite early and got quite good accomodation in bunks. People arriving later were not so lucky. The hut officially sleeps 160, but Alpine Club members are never turned away to die in the cold, so that night there were 230 staying. The unluckiest ones had to sleep in the coal cellar.
We met a Dutch couple at dinner who were doing a similar route to us with their two year old toddler. Their packs were incredibly big, and even included, amongst a mega supply of nappies, a portable cot. After a hearty dinner and a few beers we retired to bed early. The usual time to retire is between 9 and 10 in the evening. You can catch the morning light and start off at 8am at the latest to reach your next destination. The shadows start making it dark at 4pm and virtually dark at 5pm.
The next morning we got up at 7am to be rewarded with brilliant sunshine and the valley below us covered in clouds. We didn’t see the floor of the valley again until the end of the week when we returned safely to earth. People in the valley had a terribly rainy week while we 1500m above had a superb sunny week. The view back to the Innsbrucker Hütte was stunning.
Out of the many people in the hut that day only about twenty or thirty set out in our direction, towards the Bremer Hütte (2413m). We gently ascended with stunning views of the next valley, slightly spoilt by the view of a lesbian threesome made up of 40 year old ugly women snogging openly. In the early afternoon we came to a junction in the path. One way led down into a valley with a farm 300m below and then back up the other side. The other path contoured along the top of the valley to the hut just over the ridge at the far side. We were debating which route to take, when we saw the Dutch couple with their baby along the contour path and I said: “Let’s follow the Dutch couple with the baby, they won’t go anywhere dangerous.” We contoured around and the path became narrower until there was a vertical drop to our left and a vertical rockface to our right . Suddenly the Dutch couple in the distance stopped for about 10 minutes and then vanished. We reached the place where they had been standing and understood their hesitation. The drop to our left was now about 300m and the path just ended at the bottom of a 30m chimney with a few rusty iron bars. Not quite via ferrata, there wasn’t really enough protection for that. We either had to climb or turn back which at 3pm would have left us in the dark on an unknown mountain, so we decided to take our chances and climb the chimney. We did make it, and on topping out, the Bremer Hütte was straight in front of us.
The Bremer Hütte was the smallest on our walk as there is no direct access to it from the valley. It is completely built of wood and very gemütlich. We met up again with the few people who were walking the same route including the three lesbians (more of that later). We had a hearty meal, a few beers and quite a few glasses of Schnapps to calm our nerves, before going to bed. Being traditional style hut accomodation the sleeping arrangements consisted of a large room with a single massive mattress for 17 people on each side of the room. Unluckily for me, I was sharing a bed with the lesbian threesome, and despite what some magazines might lead you to believe, it wasn’t a nice experience.
The next day was lovely and sunny again and we teamed up with four Germans in their fifties. From the Bremer Hütte we set off for the Nürnberger Hütte. First we had to ascend to the Simmingjoch (2747m), where at the unmanned Customs Hut we met a smuggler crossing over from Italy. He was clearly a smuggler because he was wearing jeans and carrying a massive duffel bag, which we considered to be a life-threatening item in the circumstances. Also he was descending the most obscure route from Italy imaginable.
From the customs hut we descended to the Nürnberger Hütte (2297m) where we had a “light” snack of some Germknödel before setting off again for the Sulzenau Hütte (2191m), which looks a bit like a space station from afar.
The next morning we were off again, and apart from a few fixed wires up to the Peiljoch (2676m) with its bizarre cairns, the morning was quite uneventful. The descent from the Peiljoch, which is quite steep at the end, was quite terrifying. We had hardly seen a soul for the last two days and we were descending to a hut which was at a cable car station.
Cable cars always create vast numbers of inexperienced, and ill-prepared day trippers. We met some English girls in high heels where we were descending in heavy walking gear. In the end we just fought our way through and reached the Dresdner Hütte (2308m) at about two in the afternoon. Having done enough for the day we just sunned ourselves and waited for the day trippers to get the last cable car back down into the valley and leave us in peace and tranquility. We meet a couple of Germans from near where I used to live in Germany and found that there are Germans with a sense of humour.
The next morning we set off before the day trippers arrived; we contoured along a scree slope in quite high winds, but only got cold once we got into the shadows.
When we reached the Grawagrubennieder saddle (2880m) the sun shone again and we meet someone who had taken his dogs hiking. From the saddle the Neue Regensberger Hütte(2286m) was clearly visible, but we had to cross part of the glacier to get there. The last stretch to the hut was along a little meandering stream through one of the meadow-like high alpine valleys.
In the evening we made the acquaintance of an American couple. They were both about 5 feet tall, were wearing matching huge stupid spectacles and looked identical.
We christened them Nerd and Nerdetta. Rob thought he’d go and speak to them a little more while I talked to the Germans. Rob found out that they were from Colorado. They told him how fit they were and how they did this kind of thing all the time at home, whereas Rob admitted we were just English amateurs, who weren’t that fit (Our time that day: 6 hours, the Americans’ time: 9 hours). They also told him how surprised they were that not everyone in Europe spoke English as their first language and that US dollars were not acceptable currency.
Rob returned to me and our two German friends and kept us all in stitches laughing at the two Yanks. We were particularly amused when he told us they had asked him if he spoke German and could help them with the menus. Rob told them that he didn’t and they didn’t think to find out how he got food (obviously someone else was translating for him).
We left in the morning leaving behind the elegant-looking hut and meet our first goats on the way to the Franz Senn Hütte (2147m). It was only a short day’s walk and we met the elite Austrian Mountain Forces, who were on a training excercise at the Franz Senn Hütte. Unfortunately for them they didn’t have a donkey squadron with them (yes, the Austrian forces do have donkey squadrons), so they had to carry all their own equipment.
In the evening the menu was on a blackboard in the smaller of the two common rooms which also housed the bar and therefore us. The larger common room housed the Americans and we gleefully observed them using their dictionary to understand the menu, with him popping his head around the door every two or three minutes, reading an item on the blackboard and then returning to the dictionary.
The next day was the worst weatherwise. The elite mountain forces decided to stay indoors, but we had to struggle on. It was so foggy we could only see about 15m which did result in me nearly being impaled on a suicidal mountain goat. We reached a shepherd’s hut on the Suduggalm and decided we wouldn’t continue to the Starkenberger Hütte, but descend into the valley instead. So we left our German and Swiss friends and headed downhill. Smelly (no hot water or electricity in the huts for guests) and tired we headed for the first cafe and enjoyed coffee and cake while watching the traffic and waiting for the bus back to Innsbruck and home.