Mountain Mad and Crystal Seekers

Breaktime Chat

As a child, Markus Hirnböck wanted to be a mountain guide or a crystal seeker. So far, his career as crystal seeker hasn’t worked out but Markus has been working full-time for the last 27 years as a mountain guide in the Salzburger Saalachtal – and as well as this, on expeditions in Central Asia. And even though, or perhaps because, Markus has seen so much of the world, he prefers to come back here. “My grandmother was mountain-mad“, says Markus and smiling, drinks a sip of his coffee. “She was a cook in an alpine refuge and always liked to be out and about in the mountains. I’ve probably inherited my enthusiasm for the mountains from her.“ We meet the likeable 52-year-old in an inn in Weißbach bei Lofer, just a few metres away from the via ferrata “Zahme Gams“. A little earlier in the day we watched as Markus made his way up the rockface step by step, hook by hook, nimble and agile like a mountain goat. No wonder: Markus is like the father of the “Drei Gämse“. The “Zahme Gams“ (tame chamois) is ideally suited for beginners; the “Weiße Gams“ (white chamois), with a difficulty grading D, requires a little more ability and top via ferrata professionals will get their fill on the “Wilde Gams“, (wild chamois), difficulty E-F. The “Wilde Gams“ is one of the most difficult via ferrata in the whole of Austria“, explains Markus, who was the main initiator and had the idea for the via ferrata. “However, all three are rewarding – the view is simply fantastic“, adds Markus with sparkling eyes.

In the mountains all year round

Even though snow is still lying in the higher areas of the Salzburger Saalachtal, Markus’ thoughts are already with the coming summer season. “The via ferrata starts at the beginning of May“, he explains. “And depending on weather you can take via ferrata tours until the end of November.“ Markus himself is outside all year round. The mountains are his home and his workplace. “There are very few days when I am at home and lie on the couch“, laughs Markus. “If I’m not working, then I go out in the natural world with my wife Sigi and our two daughters. The girls are 15 and 6 years old but both are already wild skiers and via ferrata climbers.“ Markus didn’t just inherit his fascination for the mountains from his “mountain-mad“ grandmother but also from his father. “My father was in the mountains with me and my two brothers, summer and winter“, remembers Markus. He wasn’t a mountain guide but he was a passionate mountain climber. We hit the mountains in a big way. First we would go up to the hut and then set off to look for stones. That’s why I wanted to be a crystal seeker or a mountain guide as a very young child.“

Mountain guide, ski instructor and double European champion

Markus has already traveled a lot all over the world. He was born in Australia because his parents lived there for ten years and he came back to Austria at the age of two. After time in the army with the mountain troops, the thought of becoming a civilian mountain guide took shape for the first time.

“First I took the examination to become a certified ski instructor“, explains Markus, who is now the manager for ski instructor training in Austria and is himself a double European champion in formation skiing. “My then-trainer asked whether we’d meet again at the mountain guide examination.“ Markus grins. “Then I immediately chose my career path. It was 1993. First of all I mainly worked for alpine ski schools, then the first regular guests came. And after that, it was a sure-fire success.“

“I don’t know why I shouldn’t stay here“

He has been with guests on mountains up to 6000 metres, in Central Asia, China, Africa. Some expeditions lasted up to five weeks. “I simply love to be with people in the mountains“, explains Markus. “But it’s not top performance, the most difficult and the furthest that counts but simply being on the trail. The variety is the nicest thing for me.” That’s why he has been everywhere apart from Antarctica, says Markus. “I enjoy being on the road. But I am always happy when I come home. When I drive back via the Saalfelden valley and see the mountains, that is simply wonderful.“ Markus leans back, drinks the last dregs of his coffee and smiles, “I don’t know why I shouldn’t stay here“.

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