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Shift Change at 2,119 Metres

New hut landlord at the Ingolstädter Haus

A look back at nine eventful summers. In autumn 2021, after nearly a decade, the Senninger family handed over the key to the Ingolstädter Haus, directly on the border of the Naturpark Weißbach, to their successor, Michael Millinger.

“It was a great time”, the Senningers agree. Together as a family, Rudi and Resi Senninger took over the lease of the DAV category I refuge in early summer 2013 and received active support from their children Stefanie and Bernhard over the years. But the start was anything other than “a good time”, as Resi remembers with a laugh, because the couple had no experience in gastronomy when they took over the large hut with capacity for over a hundred mountain climbers. 

Beautifully simple, but simply beautiful

“Actually at the time we were still butchers but our business had become too big and the work was too bureaucratic. Neither of us are office people, we are tradespeople, we wanted to make a difference. When Rudi read about the search for a tenant at the Ingolstädter Haus, we decided spontaneously that this would be our new challenge”, explains Resi at the regulars’ table in the Hotel Neuwirt in Lofer, the family’s new workplace. Rudi and Resi weren’t big hikers either, the butcher’s business left no time for that – and they only knew the Ingolstädter Haus from photos.  So without further ado they laced up their boots and hiked up to the Steinernes Meer for the first time to stay overnight at the Ingolstädter Haus. The first impression was overwhelming, “Very remote, very big, very simple – but simply beautiful.” They did not waver in their decision and in answer to the question of whether they were afraid to leave their comfort zone in the valley, Resi laughs and says, “We didn’t have a comfort zone in the valley either. We are both farm children and are used to a lot of hard work. On the contrary, we looked forward to a new start together at the hut. Our daughter Stefanie had just finished her apprenticeship as a cook and Bernhard was also soon to finish school. However our lack of experience in hospitality, without our own drinking water and so exposed below the Großer Hundstod, that did worry us a little.”

Fit for Hut Life

Out of 25 applicants, the Senningers were announced as the new hut tenants and began to get fit for hut life in preparation for the first season. Resi attended the hut landlord symposium, networked with other hosts and attended some lectures. Rudi prepared himself for the technical challenges as a hut landlord. Together they accompanied the previous tenant as they closed up the hut and got to know the technical difficulties in just a few days. The provision of water is very difficult as there are no springs at this altitude. The hut is supplied purely by meltwater from the Großer Hundstod. A generator provides energy and the waste also has to be collected at 2,119 m above sea-level, compressed and brought down to the valley. During the preparations the Senningers were supported by the plumber “Zualechner Schurl” who knows the hut and the alpine surroundings like the back of his hand. 

Opening with Obstacles

On the 1st June 2013, everyone was prepared and very excited for the opening weekend and this was heralded by heavy rain and the return of winter on the mountain. Rudi and Resi were ready at the hut when the flood of the century hit Pinzgau. Rudi hurried back down to the valley as he still had to run the butcher’s business on the side. Soon cut off from the outside world by the water in the valley, Resi remained alone on the mountain with her dog Kira for three weeks. Resi enjoyed the time, “For me it was a leisurely start. I got out the sewing machine and made new curtains; I learnt how to operate the snow blower and cared for two lost mountain climbers who were stranded at the hut in fog and snow.” After this eventful start everything really got going on the weekend of the summer solstice and the new hut hosts settled into hut life step by step. In the first summer they gained a lot of experience as Resi acknowledges, “To be there for 100 guests and to cook for them was an unfamiliar dimension which we had to grow into. Rudi was my connection to the valley when something ran out because he was still needed in the butcher’s for the first year and only came to the hut at the weekend. Large deliveries were brought up with the goods’ lift – an arduous undertaking because everything had to be reloaded endless times between the shop and the hut store. Deliveries weren’t just time-consuming but required a lot of energy. Later we decided to supply by helicopter which flew up to the hut up two to three times in summer with around 12 tonnes of basic food and drink.” 

Seppl, Maxl & Helga – Animal Summer Guests

Alongside the dog Kira, around 200 sheep romped around near the Ingolstädter Haus in summer. “The shepherds live in their alm huts not far from the Ingolstädter Haus and they often came to visit. They have become good friends over the years. One day we were brought a new-born lamb whose mother had died during the birth. We raised the lamb “Seppl” with the bottle and he ran around after us in the hut like a little dog. He was the favourite of our hut guests and visibly enjoyed the attention he received. After what was certainly an adventurous mountain summer for him, he came back with us on foot to the valley in autumn, where he found a new home on a farm.”

Not all of the hut animals made it through the summer however as Rudi reports, “I received two rabbits for my birthday– Max und Moritz.  Unfortunately it wasn’t long before Moritz was eaten by the “house fox” who crept around the hut every night. Maxi was cleverer and survived the summer.”

Pigeon Helga was probably the most bizarre summer guest. One day in late summer she lay in front of the hut, completely exhausted. The hosts knew that she was a carrier pigeon by the marking on her foot and were able to locate the owner in eastern Germany. Resi and Rudi took care of her and established that a wing was injured. Helga was taken in temporarily by the hut team, cared for and brought back to the valley by helicopter in autumn. Helga is now living happily and healthy as a retired carrier pigeon in Germany.

A Decade of Changes

After nine summers the landlords acknowledge clear changes in hut life and they explain, “Some things have become easier such as stocking up the hut. These days this is done by helicopter. Rudi is a passionate pilot himself and founded his own helicopter business “Sennair” a few years ago. And the supply of water is also more stable thanks to some renovations and investments. But we remember well when we had to close the showers in a hot summer due to a lack of water. The generator is the only source of power for the hut and when the technology goes on strike then everyday hut life becomes stressful.” But the guests have also changed over the years notes Resi, “They are indeed better equipped but have much less mountain experience. Their expectations of comfort and gastronomy have increased starkly. Up here under the summit cross they often expect the service of a hotel and the flexibility of a restaurant. As a refuge hut we do not always have lactose-free milk in stock and mobile phone reception is pretty bad up here. There is no wifi here and people’s greatest concern sometimes seems to be whether they can plug their mobile phone and iPad into one of the few sockets. In the past the mountain climber was happy to find a good, warm meal, a bed and a shower. These days planning is easier because overnight guests must reserve a place. On fine days in the past it was not uncommon for an emergency camp to be set up in the hut. There were mattresses and blankets lying around in all the guest rooms so that every tired mountain climber could find a place to sleep. It was chaotic but we always had a good time with the guests.”

Happy Moments

There were never really any bad times at the hut, Rudi asserts, “The long-standing team was like a big family. We were amazed again and again by the sunrise and sunset. When everyone was safe and well in the hut, we also loved a powerful summer storm or even a rainy day to relax. The hunters and sheep farmers became good friends who were always ready to help when it was time to tidy up and pack for home. The best times in the hut were before and after the season when there was absolute peace and we had time ourselves to unpack our hiking boots or touring skis. Or full-moon nights when we drank a beer in peace on the hut bench after all the hut stress. Those were really happy moments which we are sure to miss.” These happy moments win out despite all the changes and the arduous challenges of hut life. Resi and Rudi agree when they say, “We will miss it. The Ingolstädter Haus was our baby. But the time had come to return to the valley.” Resi explains, “Our daughter Stefanie, who has been running the Hotel Neuwirt in Lofer with our son for the last few years, will soon make us happy grandparents and we want to spend a lot of time with our grandchild. We are working in the hotel too and Rudi is dedicating more time to flying now. I am looking forward to the first summer in the valley for nine years. Now we have time to go hiking ourselves – and the trail is certain to lead us up to Michi, the new hut landlord at the Ingolstädter Haus. We hope that he loves it as much as we did.”

The New Hut Landlord

The new host who will hold the keys to the refuge from Summer 2022 is not unknown to the previous landlords. The 27-year-old from St. Martin is also a career-changer. In his job as a construction manager he longed for a change. He read about a young hut landlord and his experiences in a newspaper article. He says, “I couldn’t forget about this article. I read it again and again. I spend every free moment – summer as well as winter – in the mountains with friends. I knew the Ingolstädter Haus from many tours”. In Spring 2021, he contacted the hut landlord spontaneously and Rudi took Michi in the helicopter for a short supply flight to the neighbouring Riemannhaus. From there he hiked on touring skis to stay overnight at the Ingolstädter Haus. “That was the defining experience for me and I knew that I wanted to be a hut landlord and work up here with this magnificent view. I immediately agreed to help at the hut over the summer and was able to gain an enormous amount of experience. I was in the kitchen, in service and helped Rudi with caretaking duties. In August I completed my application to the DAV Section Ingolstadt and was absolutely delighted when I was accepted. To gain more experience in gastronomy, I worked last winter with Resi and Rudi in the Hotel Neuwirt. I can already ready reveal that there will be new momentum in the kitchen, new décor and a new wind in the hut in general.” 

Hut Classics and New Dishes

As a passionate musician, Michi is already looking forward to future hut evenings with the ”Zugin“ (a type of accordion). The active member of the Trachtenmusikkapelle St. Martin has his instruments with him at the hut and guests can look forward to one or two melodies at sunset.  Michi laughs about the culinary changes and reveals:

“There won’t be any chips here. The popular hut classics such as Kasnockn or Gröstl will remain on the menu. But following the trend of the times and the wishes of the mountain climbers, there will be something vegan and gluten-free on the menu. Working at 2,000 metres above sea-level is a big challenge. But I am enormously looking forward to opening in early summer. After my first season as hut landlord I want to be able to say that I have provided well for all the guests together with my team and have created an experience for them that perhaps allows them to forget all the hustle and bustle in the valley for a few moments.”

THE INGOLSTÄDTER HAUS

Owner: DAV Refuge Category I DAV Section Ingolstadt
Position: in the Steinernes Meer/Salzburger Land
Altitude: 2,119 m
Built: 1927-1929
Open: daily from June to October
Accommodation: 115 beds in rooms and dormitories – reservation required
Hut landlord: Michael Millinger, ingolstaedter-haus.de, facebook.com/ingolstaedterhaus

Ascents:

1. Straightforward from Weißbach
From the Pürzlbach car park in Weißbach to the Kalbrunnalm and further on via the Diessbach reservoir at 1,415 m to the valley station of the goods’ lift. Past the foot of the Kleiner Hundstod in a total of ca. 4.5 hours to the Ingolstädter Haus.
2. For experienced hikers: ascent from the valley to the Diessbach reservoir, after that as described in 1.
3. Through the Wimbachtal to the Wimbachgrieshütte at 1,326 m and the Hundstodgatterl. 7.5 h)
4. From Königssee in ca. 4 h to the Kärlinger Haus and a further 3.5 h to the Ingolstädter Haus.
5. From Maria Alm to the Riemannhaus and on to the Ingolstädter Haus (6-7 hours).
6. From Saalfelden via the Peter Wiechenthaler Hütte and on via the Weissbachscharte (ca. 6 h).

Hiking Tip: Shorten the ascent with the help of the Almwandertaxi (almwandertaxi.at), which brings you to the Kallbrunnalm from Weißbach. Or use the AlmErlebnisBus (almerlebnisbus.com), which brings you car-free to the Kallbrunnalm junction and shortens the hike by 1 hour.

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