No End of Snow
20 days snowed in at Hirschbichl in Weißbach
”Nature is the boss up here! You must live with her, you can't work against her.“ The Hohenwarters know 'their' Hirschbichl exactly. They have been running the alpine inn of the same name on the border pass between Bavaria and Salzburger Land, together with their daughter Margit, for decades and have welcomed countless guests to their mountain home during this time. They are years in which they have known the whims of the weather and nature more than once. Nevertheless, they wouldn't want to swap places with the people down in the valley. Even the record snowfall in winter 2018/19, where they were snowed in for 20 days straight, hasn't changed this. “Of course, you don't go looking for something like this. But once you have experienced the solidarity and helpfulness of people in such a situation, then you know that even up here, you are never alone.”
Hirschbichl is a very special place. The clocks seem to tick differently here – in winter at least. Deep snowy forests and peaks, the peace of the mountains and barely a living soul. In the summer however, this former customs' station between Bavaria and Salzburger Land is a very popular destination for outdoor sports of every kind. “ E-Mountainbikers from the Salzburger Saalachtal have been coming here in increasing numbers in the last few years,” explains Josef Hohenwarter. The remote pass is also a rewarding destination for hikers and a starting point for longer tours.They all like to spend time in the alpine inn; enjoy the homemade delicacies and chat with like-minded people in the cozy rooms and guest garden. For those who would like to spend more time at Hirschbichl in the heart of the Naturpark Weißbach , or are on a longer tour, there are 47 beds available for overnight stays in the Bergheim.
This is what life is like between May and October. Then, when the alms in the Naturpark Weißbach empty again and locals swear that they can already smell the snow coming, peace returns to Hirschbichl and the Hohenwarters' life. “In the summer, everything revolves around work and our guests. In autumn and winter we do what is important to us” - hiking, visiting family and friends and also traveling.
Josef Hohenwarter has spent his whole life in the mountains and took over the inn from his parents, together with his wife Margit. “We know the nature and the weather very well and have often been cut off from the outside world but the 20 days this winter were something completely new for us.” Being snowed in doesn't happen overnight. Not even at 1183 metres above sea level. “We know the signs very well and were able to prepare quite quickly for the closure of the road up from Weißbach. There is plenty to eat and drink in an alpine inn of course and the power supply is doubly designed for situations like this.”
And it continued to snow and snow. For so long that the well-developed road from Weißbach into the Naturpark and further on to Hirschbichl completely sank under the snow and clearance was not possible due to the great danger of avalanches. Since the pass and the alpine inn with its inhabitants were far away from any danger, the Hohenwarters tried to get on with life as normally as possible. They were continuously in telephone contact with their family in the valley and regularly let them know that everything was OK and that they were well. Weather permitting, they went on snowshoe hikes nearly every day, cleared the paths and roads of snow and tried to remove snow from the roofs of the buildings. This was only possible to a certain extent because the snow depth had increased to 4.5 metres in the meantime. “You shouldn't imagine that it was all that bad. We were warm, there was enough to eat here and we had plenty to do – reading, going out in the fresh air, talking, some sport of course and a bit of television. The only worry we had was whether the roofs would withstand the pressure.“
All the help you could wish for
A call to the Mayor of Weißbach brought about the first personal contact with other people after more than two weeks. ”We were constantly in contact with people in the valley by telephone. During a conversation with the Mayor we mentioned our concerns about the roofs and that an important medication was beginning to run low. He promised us help.“ However the couple definitely did not expect what this involved. On the very next day, 17 members of the fire brigade and mountain rescue team braved the strenuous ascent to Hirschbichl on touring skis. The Hohenwarters could not believe their eyes. ”We know that no matter what happens, we can rely on the people in the local area and that gives us a lot of security. Even when three weeks on our own doesn't mean just comfortable relaxation.”
Meanwhile, the road has opened again and the Hohenwarters' life has returned to normal, insofar as you can say that at 1200 metres above sea level. They won't forget the winter 2018/19 in a hurry – the beauty of deep winter, the masses of snow and of course, the warmth of the people. “Here in the mountains you can rely on each other. We know that and depend on it. But nevertheless, we are infinitely grateful for all the help we received this winter.”
Hirschbichl – a look back
As early as the 13th Century, Hirschbichl was a much-used mule trac for transporting salt from Hallein and Schellenberg to Tyrol. Early on the so-called “Mooswacht” was developed into a Salzburg border fortification. This became the centre of military activity in winter 1525/26. The Salzburg peasant uprising was raging. The former peasant leader Michael Gruber, who had defected to the camp of the archbishop in a ruse, crossed over Hirschbichl and conquered the whole of the land around Lofer. From 1734, sales of beer were documented, which met with displeasure from other hosts from the valleys of Salzburg and Bavaria. Finally, in 1805, the guardhouse was converted into an inn and given a concession
During the Napoleonic Wars, Hirschbichl proved to be an almost impenetrable link between the Passes Strub and Lueg. Only after Austrian troops cleared the latter, Pinzgauer gunmen gave up Hirschbichl. After the founding of Maria Kirchental in St. Martin in the early years of the 18th Century, a well-used pilgrimage route led from Berchtesgaden over Hirschbichl into the Salzburger Saalachtal and then on to the pilgrimage church. In 1849 the chapel, which still stands today, was built