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Peak of feelings

Local mountains characterize the panorama of villages and towns. Locals celebrate profane and religious festivals on them, use them for alpine farming and agriculture, for sport and leisure. Our author and photographer presents his personal landmark mountains in Ötztal. They are far more to him than just a job: places of meeting and remembering, of dreaming and deep feelings (of home). 

Längenfeld Gamskogel

The clipped mountain

Autumn wafts of fog lie over the valley basin of Längenfeld. Ötztaler Ache mountain brook flows quietly out of the valley. As so often, I stop briefly to take in the wide meadows and the high mountains above. Here, at this distinctive loop of Ötztaler Ache brook, you can see Gamskogel peak, which is "only" 2813 m high, for the first time.

More than 5000 years ago, an asteroid is said to have "clipped" the then proud three thousand meter high summit to its current height - at least that's what the British researchers Mark Hempsell and Alan Bond claim. Big and mighty, Gamskogel still towers high above the valley today.

Längenfeld Gamskogel
Längenfeld Gamskogel

Magic mountain reminding of childhood

Even as children we used to walk up its steep slopes to, as the Ötztal locals say, "Grant'n zu klaub'n" (picking cranberries) and to look for "Schwämme" (mushrooms, mostly chanterelles). How many times will I have stood on its summit? Sometimes with my best friend and mountain companion Andi from Längenfeld, but often alone. Almost always with a camera, but always for me, for my soul and my heart.

Wild romp at the village fountain

When I look deep into Ötztal from the summit of Gamskogel, I also see the small Pension "Elsa" diagonally opposite the church. My early life in Ötztal began there 50 years ago. We children romped and played throughout the village. At the fountain in front of Gasthof Hirschen to spray innocent passers-by and at the raging Ache brook, on the Brand pastureland and at the mysterious plague chapel. And somehow it was already clear back then that a few of these unreachably high and wild peaks would later become my landmark mountains.

Most people associate local mountains with good memories and often with deep feelings. I too climb “my” landmark mountains again and again, which means that at some point I know every path and every meter of the ascent.

Gamskogel Längenfeld

Big cinema

At the summit the panorama is of course very familiar to me, I know the surrounding mountains by name and often associate them with memories that have shaped my life. But it's not just the local knowledge that makes me feel almost at home on the landmark mountains.

It is also the people who make a very important contribution. Sometimes it's a good friend like Andi, sometimes it's accommodation owners like Victoria and Martin from Brunnenkogelhaus, with whom a close connection has developed over the years.

However, there are also days I need and enjoy the solitude on my landmark mountains. The silence grounds and inspires me at the same time. I become calmer and clearer, I can look at connections and problems more freely and objectively. I have made most of the elementary decisions of my life on my landmark mountains.

Magic darkness

September 2021. The darkness of a moonless night lies over Ötztal. As discussed, Martin Gstrein, tenant at Brunnenkogelhaus, knocks on the window. Curiously I leave the guest room and walk out in my socks, over the cold rocks to the terrace where Martin is standing behind his tripod. It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

I approach Martin's telescope very cautiously, any vibration could change the tiny image detail. Through the eyepiece I can see Saturn and its colored rings. I look in awe at another world that shines despite the darkness.

Sölden Brunnenkogelhaus

The perfect ensemble

The next morning, before the first twilight, I am sitting at “my” cairn. Large, massive and visible from afar, it stands on a crest of the six kilometer long ridge that stretches from Brunnenkogel south-eastwards to Timmelsjoch. The gentle light brings the even blocks of gneiss to life.

Wrapped up in my warm down jacket, I enjoy the clear morning. Only a few hundred meters to the north-west nestles Brunnenkogelhaus in an exposed location. Shortly before sunrise, Martin steps onto the terrace and looks at me.

The perfect place

He and his wife Victoria have been living every summer for several months - for 15 years - already as innkeepers at Brunnenkogelhütte at 2738 m, high above Sölden, where they run a small farm and an apartment house. Far away from the hustle and bustle in the valley, spoiled by a magnificent landscape and unique lighting moods, we have grown together on our landmark mountain over the years.

Here at the cairn, the familiar feeling that only local mountains and their huts can give with the incomparable mixture of friendship, security, home, memories and passionately lived present arises in me suddenly and powerfully.

Sölden Wandern Brunnenkogel
Sölden hiking Brunnenkogel

From yesterday to today

A little later I'm sitting on the terrace of the hut. My gaze wanders over Ventertal valley. Far in the background I discover "Wildes Mannle", Weißkugel and Wildspitze peaks are towering impressively above the scenery. In the last few weeks, I have climbed this small but truly fantastic three thousand meter high summit twice in a row. In mid-August I took my thirteen year old nephew Finn up there. From "Wildes Mannle" top station, a small trail led us through the meadow slopes to the first rocks. The well-marked trail meandered through steep rock-strewn flanks. The slope only flattened out in the last meters, and a summit plateau covered with stone slabs led us to the large summit cross.

When I saw Finn's eyes shining after the obligatory "Berg Heil", I felt like I was taken back to September 1977. That was when I - at the same age - stood up there for the very first time.

Welcome and goodbye

Nostalgic dreams accompany the descent from Wildes Mannle. Suddenly it occurs to me that there are actually only four mountains that I climb so regularly in Ötztal that I consider them my true landmark mountains. There is Wildgrat high above Erlanger Hütte and the uniquely beautiful Wettersee lake, Gamskogel above Längenfeld, quiet Brunnenkogel above lively Sölden and the small but fine Wildes Mannle above the mountaineering village of Vent.

My nephew and I take the chairlift down to the village. Another landmark mountain thought comes to my mind: it's not the mass of tours that nourishes us - it's their quality.

Wettersee Wildgrat Umhausen
Bernd Ritschel

Guest author Bernd Ritschel

Bernd Ritschel loves and has explored the Ötztal Alps since he was a child and young adult. Born in the upper Bavarian village of Wolfratshausen in 1963, now he lives together with his family in Kochel am See. For more than 25 years already, his great passion has been photographing and describing the Ötztal Valley and its adjacent mountain areas.

Several illustrated books about the Ötztal Alps, varied calendars, exhibitions, posters and series of postcards give an insight into his varied talents and the great love for this Alpine region.