120 Years of the Schmidt-Zabierow Hut
Interview with Hut Warden Käthe
For exactly 120 years walkers, mountaineers and climbers have found refuge in the Schmidt-Zabierow Hut: a special place in the Loferer Steinberge which isn't just a destination but also a starting point for many tours. Katharina Filzer Meiberger has been host, lady of the house and the good soul of the hut for 19 years, over 2,000 metres above sea level and she can't imagine a life without “her” hut anymore. She told us all about it during a chat in front of the hut, awakening from its hibernation on a sunny May day: why everyday life runs more slowly in the mountains than in the valley, why fresh ingredients in the kitchen are very important to her and what is on the programme for the jubilee celebrations on the 8th September.
120 years of the Schmidt-Zabierow Hut – on the 8.9.2019. A special day for you or a day like any other?
Definitely a very special day for us and a busy working weekend. For me personally, it will be a historic celebration in honour of the pioneers who achieved the extraordinary and built this hut 120 years ago. On their behalf, we still run this hut today as accommodation for mountaineers and a refuge hut and feel connected to their spirit and obliged to them.
What exactly is planned for the jubilee celebration?
The celebration for the invited guests takes place from Saturday to Sunday with much razzamatazz. On Sunday the real celebration takes place with a Mass and music at the hut to which everyone is warmly welcome. At the same time, the new summit cross on the Hinterhorn (second highest peak in the Loferer Steinberge) will be blessed. Depending on weather, everyone will go up there or at least send the Holy Spirit up there to 2,506 m. We have ordered good weather for both days and are looking forward to seeing everyone who celebrates with us.
120 years of the Schmidt-Zabierow-Hütte is a long time in which a lot has happened. How has life changed in the mountains during this time? Can one say that time has stood still at almost 2000 metres?
Time up here definitely passes more slowly than down in the valley and the trails are the same as before. But no, time certainly hasn't stood still because the hut has changed a lot. In the past there was only rainwater and no electricity, these days we have the most current technology to be able to run a modern business. Nevertheless, we pay a lot of attention to make sure the cozy character of a refuge hut doesn't change. Just as before, there is only cold water for our guests, there is no mobile phone reception and you will search for an internet connection in vain. This means that you will find it very cozy, peaceful and fun if you spend one or more nights with us. You have time for conversation, games and of course, a couple of hours in peace. This is very important to me – that this aspect of life above 2,000 metres doesn't get lost.
You came to the hut for the first time when you were seven years old and spent a lot of time here after that. You have been the warden for many years. What makes the love relationship between you and your hut so special?
This question gives me goosebumps (laughs). Having really enjoyed my time up here during my childhood with my parents and granddad, a deep connection developed between me and this hut. It is a place of retreat for me. Even when there's a lot going on, I just need to go a couple of metres off the path and I am there on my own and have a few moments just for myself. The simplicity of life is something which I find very desirable. The hut is my passion and my life. I am never stressed but I have mainly and hopefully a lot of work. I have been living like this for 19 years now.
What is a typical day up in the mountains like?
I am normally the first to wake up. The day begins at 5.15 with listening – is there rain pattering on the roof or not? If it is raining hard then I can stay in bed 10 minutes longer. The first minutes of the day belong to me. I stand at the door and look out at the mountains. Then I switch everything on and get breakfast ready. My colleagues come at around 6.15 and then gradually the guests who have spent the night up here with us. When everyone has gone, we take some time for each other and eat breakfast together. This is our ritual and we do this every day. After tidying up in the rooms and kitchen, people start coming up slowly from the valley and the fun begins again. It is also very important that I share my knowledge of the Steinberge with the guests, especially the climbers. I often show them the starts to particular routes, discuss the weather forecast and give them my assessment of the tour. This is very important to me and gladly received by the guests.
You are also known for your particularly good cuisine. All ingredients which you use have to be flown up from the valley or carried up. Despite this, you cook mainly regional and fresh products? Why? Would it not be easier to do it a different way?
Of course, it could be much easier, but that isn't me. Cooking is my great passion but only fresh. Here every plate is prepared lovingly even though the effort is greater in the mountains. But I believe the guests value this and of course, this makes us happy. Our cuisine is simple, but fresh and good.
Do you cook differently up here in the mountains compared to the valley? Richer perhaps?
Not anymore. These days you cook healthily down in the valley and up here. But when I started 19 years ago the thick pea soup with sausage was the measure of all things. It vanished from the menu a long time ago. But perhaps I should try it again. As a jubilee dish? We'll see.
The shortest path up takes 2.5 hours. What sort of guests come up here in the main?
My guests are average mountain walkers. Yes, there are 1,200 metres of altitude but they aren't too demanding. Climbers, who start routes up here, are just as much part of everything as people who have never done a mountain tour before. Nobody needs to shy away from the ascent.
Climbing is a big topic. What infrastructure will climbers find in and around the hut?
Our hut is a great refuge for climbers because we have an unbelievably large selection of well-secured routes. There is everything here from the 4th to 7th difficulty level whereby we are in alpine terrain and that means that you must be secure in both ascent and descent. Athletes who normally only climb on a climbing wall, should first get used to climbing on loose rocks before they come to us. Climbers receive information about the routes directly from us.
Have you also been on the many mountain tours which can be tackled from the hut? Which is your favourite?
In the past I used to go up to a summit every day after getting up, but this has now settled down to around twice a week. I have two favourite tours which are perhaps not so well known and also require a certain amount of experience. There is no marked trail to the Traunspitzel or to the Breithorn. A head for heights and surefootedness are absolutely essential because it is really precipitous. But this means you are alone and can enjoy the mountains as they should be – without hype and stress.
Many of the hikers and mountaineers come to you from the Salzburger Saalachtal. What is special about this area for you?
My roots are in the Salzburger Saalachtal, I come from Lofer. I love the landscape, the alms, the many paths and climbs in the mountains. And of course the people!
Finally: what are your two personal favourite places in the Salzburger Saalachtal (Top Spots)?
My hut, without a doubt! But also the Obermayrberg with its fabulous view of the Loferer Steinberge.
Many thanks, Katharina, for the nice chat. We wish you a great start to the jubilee season and a wonderful summer 2019.