Schützingalm in Thumersbach near Zell am See is a popular excursion destination for hikers and bikers. Located on the east bank of Lake Zell at 1,655 m above sea level, the wonderful Alpine hut managed by the Bichler family in summer is also an insider’s tip for delicious classics such as Almbrot, Stanitzel and Kaiserschmarrn.
My friends and I set off on our hike to Schützingalm early in the morning as the look of the clouds corresponds to the weather forecast for today. It is still warm and summery but as of noon the dark clouds on the horizon suggest that rain will soon be cooling us. We leave our car at the parking area for hikers above Gasthof Mitterberg restaurant and put our backpacks on our shoulders. The view from here down to still Lake Zell is fabulous and we could simply stand here forever, looking down on the calm water where boats and sailors are bustling around. But water is also waiting for us on the mountain, so full of anticipation we head off on the one-and-a-half-hour hike.
Alpine summer pasture with a view
Two trails will take us to our hiking destination – the hiking trail across the Schwalbenwand mountain or a forest road. We decide to take the direct route via the forest road today and postpone conquering the mountain for another day. Our trail takes us through shady woods for long stretches at a time where the morning dew still glitters on the leaves like small diamonds. After a few bends we come to open Alpine pastures. The cattle here are enjoying their summer break on the pasture and just like us the cows seem to be enjoying the view of snow-capped Kitzsteinhorn, Schmittenhöhe and Lake Zell. Fresh spring water bubbles in the wooden cattle troughs and we gratefully cool ourselves here. In spite of the summer heat, the moss cushions along the border of the trail have stored a lot of water and our steps are accompanied by a constant dripping and rippling sound.
“Griaß Enk” (“Hello”) on Schützingalm
We can see Schützingalm in the distance, the Salzburg flag blowing invitingly in the mild summer wind, a sign that the hut is open. Just a few more bends separate us from our destination and a few metres before we get there we can hear the happy barking of Luna the pasture dog and I am convinced that I can smell the sweet aroma of Kaiserschmarrn. Erwin and Barbara Bichler have been managing Schützingalm again for four years and are dedicated to their guests from July to the end of September. The two are already at the wooden pasture fence to greet us with a welcoming “Griaß Enk!”. But before we can sit down at the inviting tables, we head straight to the trough. Glass-clear spring water is flowing out of here, the babbling providing the calming background music on the sunny terrace. We first cool our hot faces here then quickly slip out of our hiking boots and socks and put our legs in the freshly filled Kneipp tub next to the trough. The water is freezing cold and extremely invigorating. It cools our hiking calves after our quick ascent while spreading a pleasant tingling sensation under our skin.
Hydropower for hut power
Erwin Bichler brings our drinks – homemade elderberry juice, naturally with water from their own spring. He explains, “Water is extremely important for us here. For one thing, we run a dairy farm and our cows can find the finest herbs here on the lush pastures thanks to the abundance of water in these mountains. But it would also be very difficult to manage the pasture without water. We can use our own water source for cooking and the bar, for cooling the drinks and as service water. And it’s also thanks to water that we have electricity in the hut as Schützingalm has had its own small hydropower plant that generates power for the pasture since 1934.” We now sit down, nice and cool, on the wooden benches and enjoy a hearty Almbrot – fresh farmhouse bread with bacon, tomatoes and onions, baked with tangy mountain cheese on top – and a Stanitzel for the sweet finale, a cone filled with cream and cranberries. After all, my visit here on Schützingalm would not have been complete without my beloved Stanitzel. While my friends are drinking coffee and taking advantage of the last sunbeams, I visit Barbara, the landlady of the hut, in the kitchen to look over her shoulder while she cooks. The wood-fired oven radiates warmth and cosiness and the parlour looks perfect for spending more time here, relaxing and unwinding. But the first raindrops have started to fall and so we head back.
A hike in the summer rain can be fun if you are well-equipped. Laughing, we let the big drops fall on our noses as we hike back, revitalised, to our parked car.