The Mountain Hut Book by Kev Reynolds, a book celebrating the Alpine hut, is out now. In this exclusive extract, the author shares the joy of refuges – and an unexpected peril…
For those who love wild places, there is nothing more magical than a night spent in a mountain hut, with spectacular views and the stars for neighbours. This entertaining and informative book is a celebration of mountain huts. It explores their development from primitive and often squalid beginnings to a valuable network for people who venture into the mountains.
Kev Reynolds is a freelance writer, photojournalist and lecturer. A prolific compiler of guidebooks, his first title for Cicerone Press appeared in 1978, the same year The Great Outdoors launched; he has since produced many more titles for the same publisher. The Mountain Hut Book is his latest.
Reflections in the Alpenglow
I’m never quite sure which is the most rewarding; anticipation of a day’s climbing, the climbing itself, or the aftermath when you savour the memories.
Anticipation is the game that allows you to imagine perfect conditions, just the right amount of challenge, the ability to overcome all obstacles – and the view from an uncluttered summit. Reality of course rarely lives up to those expectations, while memory can be as selective as conscience allows.
But if you’ve had a good day out and survived to tell the tale, those moments of quiet contemplation take a lot of beating when you’ve dumped your rucksack, pulled off your boots, splashed your body with fresh water and slaked a well-earned thirst knowing there’s a mattress with your name on it for the night ahead. Contentment is one word for it.
He had known 60 or more Alpine summers in his 80-plus years, yet his enthusiasm was as fresh as that of a 16-year old
So it was one glorious summer’s evening at the Lindauer Hut as the big limestone walls nearby softened in the lingering dusk. Seated on the terrace I was served my meal with finches chittering in a grove of pine and larch trees. One flew to an upper cone where it perched, threw back its head and called to the dying sun. I ached from days of wandering alone over meadow, ridge and summit in an orgy of pleasure, and the finch’s song gave voice to the way I felt.
Meal over, shadows were swallowing screes when I went for a stroll to ease muscles still taut from a long day over rough ground. Heading across a neighbouring alp, then along a path under turrets catching the alpenglow, I turned a corner and came face to face with a tanned octogenarian in cord breeches with red braces, checked shirt and Tyrolean felt hat, who looked as though he’d emerged from a 19th-century painting by ET Compton. His pale, watery eyes shone, his leathery skin folded into innumerable creases, and a day’s white stubble bristled his chin.
‘Is this not the most wonderful of evenings?’ he demanded in a breathless German dialect.
I agreed that it was, and for ten minutes or so we shared a common delight in the slumbering mountains and their gullies, the valley, the chaos of boulders at the foot of the screes, the alpenroses, streams, a small green pool and the rim of dwarf pines that outlined a nearby moraine. He had known 60 or more Alpine summers in his 80-plus years, yet his enthusiasm was as fresh as that of a 16-year old. It lit his features and bubbled from every pore, and I noticed, when we parted, a surprising spring to his step, as though by sharing his love of life he’d been rejuvenated.
The Hut at the End of the Rainbow
Cabane du Mont Fort is one of my favourite huts. Perched high in the mountains at the western end of Switzerland’s Pennine Alps, it commands one of the great alpine views, with Mont Blanc hovering far off to mastermind some of the finest sunsets you could wish to gaze on, while Daniel, the guardian who’s run the place since 1983, is a cheerful host who treats all-comers as friends. It’s always good to be there, and each of my visits has been memorable; once only was it memorable for the wrong reason…
It had been a long and demanding climb of more than 1600 metres out of the valley, and in the late afternoon I was growing weary when at last the path eased round the steeply sloping hillside to reveal the hut above me. But the relief that I’d always experienced when I caught sight of the familiar building with its red-striped shutters, turned this time to despair.
How long, I wondered, would it take to get across the danger zone? Nervously I timed the arcing spray’s journey from one side to the other, and doubted my ability to sprint that distance wearing a rucksack and big boots
Not more than ten minutes’ walk away, the hut looked as welcoming as ever, but the grass slope up which my path climbed towards it was now being sprayed with liquid manure. I could smell it long before I actually saw it – the discharge from a long anaconda-like pipe that snaked across the slope and disappeared round another corner. September sunlight picked out rainbows in the pungent spray of khaki liquid that flicked in a casual arc from left to right, right to left, and back again, like some great metronome, ticking all the while as it washed across the hillside and covered the path – my path, and the only route to the hut.
I peered in horror at the trail ahead that was now stained with the yellow-brown liquid, and searched in vain for a way to avoid it. There was nothing obvious, so in desperation I looked for the farmer. He was nowhere to be seen, so I scanned the hillside for a dry, spray-free route to the hut, but the only one was too steep for me to contemplate and I had no appetite for that. It had taken almost seven hours to get this far, and I was pooped.
What to do? I paced back and forth, trying to think of an alternative. How long, I wondered, would it take to get across the danger zone? Nervously I timed the arcing spray’s journey from one side to the other, and doubted my ability to sprint that distance wearing a rucksack and big boots. But unless I waited until the source of the spray dried up, there was only one thing to do. I’d just have to gamble on having enough energy to spare, take a deep breath and go for it.
Counting the number of spray-free seconds available, I waited for the wash to pass over, then dashed up the soggy path at an Olympic pace. It was longer and steeper than I’d feared. I was slower than I’d hoped, and much too soon a shadow crossed my path and I sensed the spray’s return. Relief was not more than a pace or two away, when what I’d feared came true. I slipped…..
Fortunately Cabane du Mont Fort has decent showers, although most people take their clothes off first when using them.
The Mountain Hut Book is published by Cicerone Press (April 2018, £14.95)
Header image: Popular with trekkers and climbers, the Lindauer Hut nestles below the limestone cliffs of the Rätikon Alps.
All images © Kev Reynolds