With its extensive network of readily-accessible mountain huts the Austrian Tyrol is ideal for first forays into the European Alps. The multitude of 3,000 metre summits provides a wealth of easy routes and good practice and experience for future assaults on the higher and more difficult routes of the 4,000m peaks of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.
Many of the so-called "huts" are in fact substantial, three-storied, stone-built buildings and, with their private rooms and extensive menus, are more akin to hotels. For most people the "Bergsteiger essen" - a kind of sausage soup - is a complete meal on its own. An abundance of chair-lifts and cable cars enable day trips above the snow-line while multi-day, high-level, hut-to-hut tours without recourse to descents to the valley floor are popular.
Locations of huts together with their approach routes are given on the local Wanderkarten as are the normal routes to summits. The maps may also specify the different symbols painted on rocks or trees to signpost routes. Professional guides are widely available for hire. Joining the British branch of the OAV (Austrian Alpine Club) secures reduced charges at huts and helps with obtaining the appropriate and advisable insurance cover.
From the picturesque Baroque town of Innsbruck with its mellowed, green domes and red roofs a short drive to the south-west through pleasant meadows and pine forests gains the village of Ranalt ensconced beneath the peaks and glaciers of the Stubai Alps.
A circular tour via the Nurenberger Hut of three summits stretching along the crest of the Italian border is then feasible. Fine views of neighbouring ranges are obtained on the traverse along the broad ridge from the Wilder Freiger leading to the final rocky scramble, protected by hand-rails, to the Wilder Pfaff. A steep descent and re-ascent then achieves the large metal cross surmounting the tip of the sharply pointed cone of the dramatic Zuckerhuttl - a neat vertical line divides its northern, snow-covered half from its completely snow-free, southern half. As with other summits climbers can add their names to the annual logbook kept in the compartment at the base of the cross. The valley floor is regained by a long trudge down the soft, afternoon snow of the Fernerstube Glacier to the Sulzenau Hut.
Further to the west, a winding alpine road leads to the tiny hamlet of Vent at the head of the Venteral Tal. Beyond the chalets with their flower-bedecked balconies, a chairlift provides mechanical uplift part of the way to the Breslauer Hut. Hence a roundabout route via the Mitterkarf Joch gains the summit of the rugged Wildspitze - the principal peak of the Otztaler Alps. It was in this region that Otzi, the more than 5,000 years old Iceman mummy, was discovered close to the border with Italy.
To the east, Mayerhofen is the main valley-base for excursions into the Zillertaler Alpen while to the south of Kitzbuhl, a former site of the winter Olympics, the Gross Venediger is another popular and easily attained objective.
In the dim, pre-dawn light of the morning we packed our tents in the campsite in the quaintly-named Heiligenblut (Holy Blood) to drive up the scenic toll-road to reach the Hotel Franz Joseph Hoher with its extensive terraces affording spectacular views across the Mittel Pasterzenkees Glacier to the imposing ridges and snow-fields of the 3,797 metre - the highest of Austria's peaks.
Dropping down onto the glacier a level walk along the icy, crevassed surface is followed by a steep but straightforward climb on the far side to the Erzhaus Johan hut perched on a broad col. After lunch it is then only a little distance higher before one reaches the top of the Klein Glockner. A narrow but short arete precedes a rocky scramble to the main summit for a magnificent outlook over the surrounding alpine landscape.
The hardest part of the day's outing is the re-ascent of the glacier wall to re-gain the Franz Joseph Hotel - there is nothing worse than encountering a stretch of uphill on the long, downhill return from a major summit.
For aspirant alpinists the Austrian Tyrol offers a fine selection of 3,000 metre peaks well suited for acclimatization and training prior to tackling the challenges of the 4,000 metre summits of the European Alps or indeed the greater ones of the Himalaya - they were after all the home ground of Rheinhold Meissner - the first to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000 metre mountains.
Reference: "High Adventure around the World"