The Fire Festival & Wiener-Neustädter Hütte Walk

11 July 2017

From Ehrwald, the Zugspitze cable car is silhouetted against the sky line. It is a marvel of engineering, with just two stanchions and ascending almost two thousand metres. The stanchions are immense and protrude from side of the Zugspitze at an angle which appear to defy physics. Near the higher stanchion is the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte, yet another Austrian hut which has a proud mountaineering history. From the valley, it takes hours to reach the hut, however, the hut itself is well stocked aas supplies and produce are lowered from the cable car above.

This Hut also provides the apex point for the Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk.

The Collett’s Wiener-Neustädter Hütte walk is one of the toughest walks in the Zugspitz Arena. It begins from the bottom of the Zugspitze cable car station and, after 1200 metres of elevation, surpassing the tree line and reaching ‘moonscape’ territory, it finally reaches the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte. The ascent is exposed with incredibly large drops; cables are provided in many sections and scrambling skills are of paramount importance. After reaching the hut from the North West, the path descends on the South West face of the Zugpitze down an immense scree slope which runs almost all the way down to Ehrwald. The walk is only recommended for the most mountain-hardy of guests and, without exception, has always received a positive response.

Bergfeuers and the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte Walk

At the beginning of July I walked the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte route with guests for the first time this season. We had an absolutely phenomenal day. Beyond the exquisite technical experience the walk itself offers, we were also lucky enough to see a family of Gams (chamois), make good friends with a herd of sheep and stand right above a rainbow. Cheers nature!

Before we opened the Wiener-Neustädter Hütte Walk to Collett’s guests I hiked the route to ensure it was in an appropriate condition. On the descent I encountered some strange activity. Flags of all different colours dotted the scree slope. They were spread across the area and there was more than 100 metres of ascent between the lowest and highest flag. Men were gathered and were consulting a bit of paper when I arrive. While friendly, they were all quite guarded so I took the hint and took my leave.

These were the Bergfeuer men or, in English, the mountain fire men.

On the 24th of June, these men set the surrounding mountains of the Zugspit Arena alight. Each flag I had seen represented a location of a fire and, when all the fires were burning together, they formed images for spectators on the valley floor. Traditionally the mountain fires were used to ward off evil demons and spirits and many of the images had Christian themes. Other images served to highlight the plant and animal world and human’s relationship with them. The objectives of other images were more ambiguous, like a picture of a Smurf standing above the village of Lermoos.

After dinner, with our guests wandered around the village soaking up the atmosphere. That night Ehrwald, which hosts the sleepy population of 2600 people, was inundated by folk who had come to see the Bergfeuers. Over 9000 people visited the Zugspitz Arena that evening. Biergartens were erected and the sound of live music drifted over the town. A thunderstorm was brewing in the South and the flashes in the distance created a truly powerful and unique atmosphere. Fortunately for us and, more importantly, the Bergfeuer men high in the mountains, the storm did not enter the valley.

The Bergfeuers event is a must see, a unique exhibition which is hosted by the Zugspitz Arena every year.

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