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The figurehead of the Stubai Alps

Right on the peak of the Becher, high up in the Stubai Alps, there is one last refuge: the legendary Becherhaus, or Rifugio Gino Biasi. This otherwise misanthropic landscape, sitting at 3195 meters a. s. l. follows its own rules, but the hut has been braving the elements since it was built back in 1894. It offers adventurous mountaineers a roof over their heads from the end of June until mid September. Erich Pichler, the very likable man who runs the Becherhaus, will greet you with a warm handshake right at the threshold. We spoke to him about his arduous yet fulfilling daily routine.

Snow in August: not that rare.

Mr. Pichler, do you even find time for yourself in the Becherhaus?
Absolutely, although I really hope to find less time for myself this summer (laughs)! A lot of time off means that the weather is bad, which in turn means that there are no guests. Since the sea-son in the best case scenario runs only from the end of June to mid September, which is very short, every day counts.

How did you come to run this hut?
I’ve already been to the Becherhaus when I was a young boy. As a trained ski instructor and mountain guide it’s always been my dream to run my own refuge. For me, it had to be the Becherhaus. The Italian Alpine Club CAI was looking for a new innkeeper back in 2001, so I sent my application right away. After a bit of a stop-go, I finally got accepted and took the risk. This, even though back then I was running a prosperous mountain guide school. The unique place the hut is situated and its long history make the Becherhaus truly special. I would however like to add, that I would not be able to live only off the hut’s profits without the help of my family.

The Becherhaus relies on helicopter for provisioning.

What makes the Becherhaus special in your opinion?
My wife and my two daughters spend every summer here with me. Without my wife I would not be able to run the refuge at all. One of my daughters even learned to walk up there last year. The Becherhaus almost feels like a family member by now. The location of the house itself is also extremely fascinating, it is situated right at the peak, making it the destination of many routes. It was built under unimaginably dire conditions back in 1984 as “Kaiserin-Elisabeth-Haus (House-of- Empress-Elisabeth)”. There also used to be a chapel where they employed a priest for the 30 stationed mountain guides. “Maria im Sch-nee (Maria in the snow)” is the highest situated place of pilgrimage of the Virgin Mary in the Alps. The 360° views of the Stubai Alps and the Dolomites are also breathtaking. If the weather is crystal clear you might even get a glimpse of the Adria. I always like to say: If you perk up your ears you can hear the Gondolieri sing (laughs)!

How does a day at 3195 meters above sea level look?
The day begins between 4 and 5 AM. I boil water and prepare breakfast, which is served to our guests starting at 6 AM. After that, my wife and our two staff members clean the rooms and field beds. At around 9 AM we enjoy our own breakfast and get to go out and smell the fresh air. Around 10 AM the first hiking guests arrive and we prepare food for them and keep them entertained. We take good care of them and give them informations about the weather and hiking routes. There is also always something that needs repairing or maintenance. At 4 PM we start preparing dinner, which is served at half past 6. Then we do more cleaning and wash the dishes. Usually no one gets to go to bed before 11 PM.

Erich Pichler with his wife Andrea and his daughters Emma and Leonie.

How do you get all the essentials?
The essentials are delivered with the helicopter. For this reason we free the landing place of all the snow in June. This is quite the task, as it is all manual labor – and don’t forget that there is only 1/3rd of the oxygen up here compared to the valley! They first deliver firewood, charcoal and diesel, then groceries and drinks. I have hard working helpers to get the things from the helicopter to the hut.

How do you get water and electricity?
The water has to be pumped up from 280 meters deeper with an electrical pump. The electricity for that is gained through a diesel generator set and a photovoltaic plant and then stored in batteries. We can use the glacial water to cook and clean, the drinking water is flown in with the helicopter.

You run the Becherhaus since 2001. How has the climate change affected you?
The glacier regressed quite a lot. You can find grasses and flowers at 3200 meters above sea level now. You used to only get up here with climbing irons, today the route via the Ridnaun Valley is completely ice-free. This allows everyone with good stamina and hiking experience to reach the refuge without climbing irons and professional guides.

We have to ask: What is luxury to you?
To me it’s the small things, like warm running water. Or a daily newspaper and freshly baked bread from the bakery…

Off to the Fino Biasi Shelter!
Built under dire circumstances back in 1894 as the “Kaiserin-Elisabeth-Haus (House-of-Empress-Elisabeth)” it still stands at the same spot in the Übertalferner glacier. It has been completely renovated in 2003 and is owned by the Province of South Tyrol since 2011. The Province is also responsible for any maintenance works.
Parish: Ridanna
Open: end of June to mid September (depending on the snow)
Beds: 50 beds and 50 sleeping spots in a shared room.

Route 1
From the Val Ridanna
Erwin Pichler recommends the “easiest” and most famous route starting in Maiern at the end of the Val Ridanna. You can park your car at the mining museum Schneeberg. From there you can take the ice-free path over the Aglsbodenalm hut, the Grohmannhütte hut and the Teplitzer hut up to the Becherhaus (no climbing irons needed).

Hiking time: 6-7 h
Kilometers: 13
Difference in altitude: 1800 m

Route 2
From the Val Passiria:
The innkeeper’s “Heimweg” (‘way home’)! Start at the Ponte del T./Timmelsbrücke bridge, you can park your car before and after the bridge. Walk over the Timmelsalm hut to the Schwarzwandscharte (careful: rope up!) and then over the Übertalferner glacier to the Becherhaus. The route is not ice-free and requires gaiters and a glacier equipement.

Hiking time: 6 h
Kilometers: 11,5
Difference in altitude: 1450 m

Route 3
From the Stubaital (Austria):
It is part of the “Stubaier Grenzrunde” hike. Start the Nürnberger hut at 2280 meters above sea level. Pass the Freiger See lake over the Rotgardscharte at 3012 meters, then take the path to the Becherhaus that starts at the Teplitzer hut.
Not ice-free, partially exposed.

 

Hiking time: 5-6 h
Kilometers: 9
Difference in altitude: 1340 m