A selection of hut-to-hut walks for ambitious hikers.
Mountain Huts Close Up: Erlanger Hut in Ötztal Valley
But, as ancient Greek poet Hesiod put it, “between us and virtue the immortals have put what will make us sweat.” And sweat you will – as the steep five-hour climb from Umhausen or Tumpen will cost you lots of sweat and toil. But it’s so worth it.
In 2008, Christian Rimml swapped his demanding job as an executive chef at a four star hotel to pursue a challenge of a totally different kind: The life of a mountain hut caretaker at Erlanger Hut, working 17 hours a day.
Less ambitious and energetic walkers may take advantage of the Ötztal hut taxi shuttle service, which will deliver them to Leierstalweg Trail or to Gehsteig Hut—which admittedly means they will still have to brave the steep three-hour ascent that leads to the hut. Plenty of time to work up an appetite. Fortunately, the efforts of the climb are highly rewarded with hearty comfort food prepared by skilled and trained chef and hut keeper Christian. Who prides himself on serving up quality food made with fresh, local ingredients.
“We only use local produce. We source everything, from potatoes to meat, from neighbouring farms,” explains Christian. Their specialty is lamb, which is sourced from the farm owned by Christian’s father among others. Plus, the menu often features venison. Their grey beef is as well sourced from the family-owned Rimml Farm. Their eye-opening breakfast, which comes in the form of a carefully-crafted buffet, includes a special treat: crisp, homemade bread by Christian’s wife Anita.
Christian Rimml sources all ingredients from neighbouring farms. His menu often features venison.
Four star hotel vs. mountain hut caretaker
Christian was born in 1979 and is a chef who was trained at luxury restaurants. In 2008, when he was in his late 20s, he swapped his demanding job as an executive chef at a four star hotel to pursue a challenge of a totally different kind: The life of a mountain hut caretaker at Erlanger Hut, working 17 hours a day. In an Alpine environment where the air gets thinner and where food tastes different due to lower air pressure and a lack of humidity. But: “I always had the dream of living a hut keeper’s life,” says Christian. “I’m an outdoor person and want to live close to nature. I have been spending a lot of time visiting mountain huts when I was a child.” Christian grew up in St. Leonhard in Pitztal Valley, where the Rimmls still have their homebase – after all, the season on a hut at this altitude doesn’t take much longer than from mid-June to the end of September. In the winter, Christian works for the Pitztal Glacier Ski Resort.
Erlanger Hut was erected by the German Alpinist Association Section of the same name in 1931. Over the years, the hut has received a number of Austrian and German sustainability and environmental stewardship awards. During summer’s peak season, it is operated by three generations of Rimml family members: Christian and Anita, their 19-year-old daughter Madeleine and 8-year-old son Jakob along with Christian’s mother. Plus a University student who supports the family in running Erlanger Hut with its 8 beds and 40 dormitory places. And what happens when the summer weather doesn’t cooperate? “A few guests are always around,” answers Christian. “And truth be told, we need those rainy days for work we just aren’t able to do on busy days.”
Running Erlanger Hut includes cleaning and maintaining its 8 beds and 40 dormitory places.
Running a remote hut at this high altitude is taxing work, admits Christian – although some things have become easier over time. Wettersee Lake, which is located above the hut, provides water and power supply. All other supplies are taken up to the cabin by helicopter; with up to 15 heli drops at the beginning of each new season.
While the two kids sometimes enjoy spending time down in the valley, Anita and Christian stay up on the hut all summer long. “Obviously it is not possible to get alone time in a tiny space like this, but it depends on how you look at it. We know that this is only for a limited amount of time, three and a half months, and there are ways of getting along.” And the hut keeper of Erlanger Hut confirms what all other hut wardens say, too: “You have to like this kind of life.”
Walking, climbing and mountaineering are growing in popularity. In his twelfth season as a hut caretaker, Christian Rimml is witnessing two trends: “Guests are becoming more demanding; the average expected standard for their hut stays has risen significantly. They ask for more luxury – from private showers to WiFi.” Yet, at the same time: “We see more and more young people visiting us. And, most interestingly, it’s these young people who can best do without any luxury. They say that smartphone usage is highest among teenagers and people in their early 20s. But actually they can do without a smartphone—and they even enjoy the challenges and surprises that come with that—interacting with people in person, looking up at the world instead of down… it seems as if being offline is the new luxury for young ones.
Swapping WhatsApp and Instagram for board games and deck chairs: Hut keeper Christian Rimml observes that being offline is the new luxury for young ones.
Erlanger Hut is also often visited by teachers and students of Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, who like to couple excursions and seminar weeks with Alpine walks, fine dining and an authentic hut experience.
What is the worst part of his job as a hut caretaker? Christian has to think about it for a moment: “People who bring their own food and drink and leave their rubbish behind.” He continues: “But there are not many of them. Most people know how to behave in the mountains.” And the hut keeper reveals what really bothers him: “When accidents happen. That’s the worst.”
Cook, caretaker and guide
After taking stock, Christian Rimml admits that “hut keeper is still my dream job. I like that the job is so varied from day to day; I might literally be everything from chef and cleaner to manager and technology support.” Key to the guest’s overall satisfaction is the quality of the food and the hut keeper’s hospitality and local knowledge. Although he isn’t able to pursue his passion of climbing the mountains during the hut’s peak season, it is important to be very helpful should his guests need advice about the mountains and the area in general. “In brief: You have to be a skilled Alpinist yourself.”
Wettersee Lake, which is located above the hut, provides water and power supply. Photo Credits: Tirol Werbung/Jens Schwarz
Reached by a walk of about 4.5 hours from Umhausen past Vordere Leierstalalm Alpine Pasture Hut, small Erlanger Hut stands by the little Wettersee tarn on the northeast slopes of the Wildgrat. Alternately, you can ride a taxi to the Alpine pasture hut and cut down hiking time to 2 hours. From Tumpen, it’s a 5-hour walk via Gehsteigalm Alpine Pasture Hut; which can also be reduced to 2 hours by taking a taxi to Gehsteigalm. Learn More about Erlanger Hut: www.tyrol.com
From Stüdl Hut on foot of Großglockner Mountain to Berliner Hut in the Zillertal Alps to Pfeis Hut in Karwendel Mountain Range: This summer, we will be telling the stories of Alpinist Association refuges and shelters in Tirol and the people who operate them. The new “Mountain Huts Close Up” series starts here on the Blog Tirol in July 2019.