Tirol Mountain Hut Ethics for Dummies
Greeting in Tyrolean. © Illustration by Bertram Haid
The wooden floor creaks when you walk on it, the appeal of a small glowing screen isn’t quite as strong as the exciting possibilities that are all around you, and at night, there’s only one moon in the sky above. Grander than their name might imply, Tirol’s mountain huts are the perfect perch for weary travelers. They are respites of company and comfort during a long trek, complete with delicious meals.
Tirol’s well-maintained trail and hut systems make it easy for visitors to tailor an adventure to suit their own fancy. However, there are some simple things you need to know that make the hut to hut walking experience in the Alps better for everyone. Is a mountain cabin a hotel on the mountain, providing creature comforts like free Internet access and spa areas? Well, I guess you might know the answer to these questions… For a truly unplugged hut-style adventure, you’ll have to (mostly) forgo hot showers, electricity, and cell service. But no matter how humble and spartan these huts are, they are always a great comfort at the end of a long day of hiking, all in the midst of jaw-dropping Alpine scenery – and they are amazing places to reconnect with nature. Whether you’re new to hut to hut hiking or always have been confused about the dos and don’ts of shelter etiquette, this guide will clear things up.
Card Games instead of Video Games
You are high up in the mountains in a hut, off the grid, away from the noise, and surrounded by that peace only Mother Nature can provide. But, as they say, every rose has its thorns. This also means having limited cell phone signal, if any at all. And you will be unable to use the Internet. So no chance to binge watch that latest Netflix series or checking your emails at the end of the day… instead, you can find yourself captured and allured with the wonders of simple card games. Socializing and making new friends is the name of the game at Tirol’s mountain huts – with local card names called “Watten”, “Schnellen” and “Schnapsen”. Staying overnight in a shelter is a good option for company, camaraderie and can even nurture friendships. Fatigue will be your only enemy at the end of a long day hiking.
Card Games instead of Video Games. © Illustration by Bertram Haid
When it comes to payment, bring cash as most huts will not accept credit cards – do check ahead about payment methods. You are also advised to settle your bill before you go to bed, so that you can get away quickly in the morning. Take your Alpine Club membership card (if you have one) as you will get a discount in all Alpine Club Huts.
Huts owned by the Austrian or German Alpine Clubs can usually be booked by phone or email but you won’t find them on Booking.com or Airbnb. Pre-book if you’re headed out in the high season. This is the best way to do things if you’re aiming for a popular hut, which can get very crowded. Hut seasons depend on altitude and weather conditions: Most huts at lower elevations are open late May/early June through early October; season dates for higher-lying huts are late June/early July through mid or late September.
Bring Cash. © Illustration by Bertram Haid
Leave No Trace
Every game has rules you can’t learn from a book. To make sure you remain on the good path, here are some of the unwritten rules of hiking in the mountains. To consider minimum impact practices is essential for anyone visiting the outdoors – the impacts that they leave behind will undoubtedly affect nature, other people, water and wildlife. Most huts are “off the grid” and self-sufficient; some are solar-powered or run their own small hydroelectric power plants. Thus it’s only natural that electricity here is a valuable, scarce resource – so please don’t ask the warden to charge your smartphone, tablet and three power banks… he or she surely won’t be amused!
There is no garbage, recycling or waste collection on mountain huts, so whatever you bring with you, also bring it out. Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out. Don’t forget to dispose of waste properly! Although most huts have running water, there is often a lack of sufficient showers and hot water. After all, water is often a scarce resource here, too, so please be considerate and avoid long showers. Try to wash yourself in the sink in the morning instead. This will give you an actually pleasant way to get clean – and will make you feel as if you’re on an Indiana Jones-style adventure.
Leave No Trace. © Illustration by Bertram Haid
Simple Food & Shared Dormitories
On a mountain hut, the good life is the simple life. Supplies are delivered by helicopter every few weeks per season at many Alpine shelters, which requires accurate food supply planning and results in a limited, not so varied menu of mostly local staples. Which is a good thing to have if the food is of a high quality and tastes really well: A simple sausage or a mountain cheese bread taste just right after the exertion of the day. Home-cooked dinner and breakfast are included in most room packages. Member rates for food are available to those who are Alpine Club members at many huts.
Simple Food & Shared Dormitories © Illustration by Bertram Haid
Most huts offer shared dormitories and coed bunkrooms (called “Matratzenlager”), some have private multi-bedrooms. Generally, blankets are provided (but not washed after every guest), so you don’t need to lug all your camping gear up the mountain with you, but take a sleeping bag liner. Plus, take earplugs to avoid waking up in the middle of the night and having no sleep because the room is full of snorers. It’s always a good idea to use a pocket torch if you have to get up to use the loo once the lights are out, as it enables you to respect other people’s need for sleep.
Despite being simple and modest, Tirol’s mountain huts are actually much grander and more comfortable than that name implies. Think “on-mountain inn in the Alps.” They supply hearty foods, sleeping accommodation and good company. Dog owners are advised to find out in advance whether their chosen mountain huts are able to accommodate pets.
Mountain Shelter Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts
- Bring cash
- Take your Alpine Club membership card (if you have one)
- Be considerate and courteous to your fellow inhabitants
- Save electricity
- Keep dogs leashed at the shelter and ask the hut keeper before allowing Fido inside
Please DO NOT
- Take long, hot showers
- Leave a trace
- Make unnecessary noise
- Charge your cell phone or other electronical devices at a shelter without asking
- Sleeping bag/sleeping sheet
- Pocket torch and/or headlamp
- Garbage bags
- Travel towel
- Warm clothing (socks and a wooly hat!)
- Hut slippers
- Openness, calmness and imperturbability :)