Stories from the mountain summer
Let me introduce myself: my name is Malte Roeper and I’m a director, documentary filmmaker and avid hiker. My good friend, photographer Bernd Ritschel, and I headed out from the Mayrhofen-Hippach holiday region on a truly spectacular three-day mountain hike.
Photographer Bernd Ritschel is the kind of friend it’s hard to find. We have known each other for decades yet only get the chance to meet up very occasionally, but when we do, the conversation flows easily. As we climb from the Zillergrund reservoir up towards the Plauener Hütte mountain restaurant and lodge, we chat about (now resolved) relationship problems, (recurrent) back pain and (the bane of our lives!) annoying colleagues. Our openness is firmly encouraged – by the sublime and even uplifting views over the lake and mountains: our everyday lives are a distant memory and every corner we head round seems to take us closer to our true selves.
A gentle wind refreshes us as we reach the cosy warmth of the Plauener Hütte and immerse ourselves in an atmosphere that is simply normal up here. People are chatting to one another instead of talking into their smartphones. They look each other in the eye instead of staring at a screen. Only when the sun sinks behind the clouds and the sky turns a spectacular shade of red do people reach for their smartphones with their cameras. Okay, you think. That’s fair enough.
Malte Roeper on looking out over the Eissee lake
The next morning, we’re up and out again before it gets light. “You just HAVE to see the sunrise on the Zillerplattenscharte pass!”, insists Bernd, who knows the area well. We don’t quite make it in time but the early start still pais off: we climb the narrow saddle from west to east and are suddenly bathed in light. Below us, the Eissee lake shimmers in the morning sun and in my eyes (okay, I’ll admit it!) are two shining tears of emotion. The view offers the kind of sublime beauty that I have very rarely seen, not even in the Himalayas, the Andes or Yosemite Valley.
As we continue on our way, we encounter other hikers, with whom we feel an automatic connection and share tips about the route. Finally, we reach the small but glorious Richterhütte mountain restaurant and lodge. A sturdy shelter set within a harsh environment of glaciers and summit ridges. Since Julia Stauber and her partner Martin Falkner took over the business, they have almost always been fully booked. Julia, actually a teacher by profession, devotedly tends to the hungry guests while Martin is responsible for keeping technical equipment and machinery running smoothly.
Their children join them up here in the holidays and they also have a few chickens. We’ve barely been going for an hour the next morning before we start to feel completely free, like in Canada. There is no-one else for miles. From the Roßkarscharte pass, we can see our final destination, the Zittauer Hütte mountain restaurant and lodge on the banks of the Unterer Gerlossee lake. This is shaped somewhat like a paramecium and invites you to take a dip. Even on this sunny summer’s afternoon, the water is still chillingly fresh but the weathered rocks on the banks are nice and warm. From the spectacularly beautiful terrace, we can once again see the rugged walls of the Reichenspitze in their full splendour. From down here, the mountain looks to be at least an eight-thousander. We get moving again and cover the last few kilometres to the dam at the Durlaßboden reservoir, where we climb aboard the bus back to Mayrhofen, exhausted but feeling blessed and with a great sense of satisfaction. This certainly won’t have been our last hike in Zillertal. We’ll definitely be back!
Image Bernd Ritschl and text: Malte Roeper
Zillertal magazine Sommer 2020
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Zillertal is located in the west of Austria and is the widest of the side valleys on the south side of the Inntal Valley. Get to Zillertal safely and comfortably.