Mountains can be anywhere
Forbidden? Or just not a good idea?
FAQs about behavior on the mountain.
Bans or regulations or not, there are things that are simply not a good idea on the mountain. Often, however, it is not the deliberately disrespectful and selfish behavior of our “mountain comrades”, but simply their ignorance that can lead to conflicts and corresponding consequences.
Since the number of (supposed) nature lovers and adventurers is obviously increasing, we asked Christina Schwann to answer some frequently asked questions on the subject of “behavior in alpine natural and cultural areas”.
Cover picture: © Pauli Trenkwalder
More and more people are storming the Alps as a holiday destination. Whether just for hiking, to move in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings or to experience fun and action, whether in summer or winter: The Alps cover a wide range of possibilities and serve different user groups. This year even more than in other years, thanks to Corona ... Holidays with your own car, maybe with a camper or converted van are very popular. Everyone wants to get out into nature, into the mountains - individually, freely, independently - at least the opposite of "exit restrictions".
The love for nature is rediscovered. One looks forward to nights under the stars, campfires, rest, relaxation; but also a sporting challenge, adrenaline and thrill. Expectations are high, tourism advertising suggests unlimited freedom and individualism while at the same time intensively overbuilding the landscape.
Because: The mountains alone are not enough - there has to be more to offer, especially in summer. One could almost think that the Alps are a huge Disneyland. No wonder that so many guests - and also locals - think that everything is allowed here, everything is easy, everything is arranged - even outside the traditional tourist centers.
The fact that the mountains are also natural, cultural, living and economic areas is sometimes pushed into the background a little. In addition, the Alps in particular are the (!) Moated castle of Europe, a supplier of energy, a production facility for high-quality food, a retreat for numerous rare animal and plant species and rich in ancient traditions and cultural treasures.
Apart from the already existing regulations and rules, which are packed in various legal texts, we want to address a few frequently asked questions here - the seemingly banal as well as the complex ones:
# Can I park anywhere with my camper van for one night?
You can of course always park in car parks where there is no temporary parking ban (e.g. overnight). A parking lot is not a parking space, i.e. that the occupants also spend the night here is not intended. Usually there is no infrastructure at all - such as a toilet. And what do people without a toilet do then? Exactly - they take care of their needs in the meadow, in the forest, in the field next door. This is neither a good style nor particularly hygienic for everyone else and a real problem for feed production and drinking water.
When everyone does their big business in the forestHow does it look like here in two months?
# Do various online platforms or apps always show "official" parking spaces for campers and vans?
No, not necessarily. Here it is important to critically question the information. Often some people post a pitch because they think it is particularly suitable. Probably nobody asked the landowner, forest owner, local recreation seeker, the community, the protected area management, the mountain rescue service or whoever.
And since many people are of the opinion that if something is not explicitly forbidden, it is allowed, there must be bans, controls and penalties.
# Do I have to use the (paid) hiking car park?
Yes that would be nice. It does make sense that the parking lot is there. That has something to do with visitor management and an orderly coexistence of the local population and guests. Parked house, field or forest entrances are unfortunately not uncommon and logically lead to conflicts.
Where parking spaces are in short supply, you should also check whether you can also travel in public or at least form car pools - which would generally also be a good idea with regard to an ecological focus.
# Can I trust the tour descriptions in books or on the web?
No not always. The description can be older, conditions can change and maybe the author is not a local, but only knows the tour from a single ascent. Much could be presented very subjectively - especially with regard to the difficulty rating and information on walking times.
Parking signs, abbreviations and, above all, mountain bike tours off the official routes must always be taken with caution. Road markings and signage on site are more to be believed, in case of doubt you should ask - at the inn by the parking lot, at the tourist information office in town or at the hut keeper.
# Can I leave the hiking trail?
Yes, in principle. In the Forest Act, for example, it is regulated that you can move freely in the forest for recreational purposes - on foot, mind you (and with skis / snowshoes). Bicycling and horse riding, on the other hand, are only allowed in the forest on marked routes.
The freedom of paths also applies outside the forest (alpine pastures, alpine wastelands ...) - here, too, it relates exclusively to walking.
But if there is no reason to leave the trail, you shouldn't do so either. On supposed shortcuts you can quickly find yourself in impassable terrain, enter wilderness areas, protected areas or real estate around which the path was deliberately led around.
Path cutters (shortening serpentines) should also not be used. These cutters damage the sensitive turf, which provides essential protection for the soil from erosion, drying out and overheating. Even if cutters are already in place and apparently others are also using them, it is a good style not to do so - and you give vegetation regeneration a chance.
Who stays on the marked hiking trail, can also count on a bridge over the stream, for example ...
# What should I do if the trail is closed?
In fact, it happens that you find out on site that the planned route is closed.
Such road blocks can have different reasons - e.g. falling rocks, windthrow or part of the path was so badly damaged during the last heavy rainfall that it is impassable. Temporary restricted hunting or forest areas can also lead to road closures. Now it depends on who initiated such a block. If it is the sign for the signpost, then you are "allowed" to continue on your own responsibility - but it is rarely a good idea. If, on the other hand, it is an official ban, issued by an authority (municipality, district authority ...), entry is prohibited and can be punished by the control bodies.
By the way, because of the remains of old snow, one path is not blocked. It is at the discretion of the hiker and mountaineer whether he or she dares to conquer such passages or to turn around. In early summer in particular, it pays to ask the hut keeper about the current conditions in transitions.
# Can I ride my mountain bike anywhere?
No. Just because a path could be driven does not mean that it is allowed to drive on it. The “freedom of movement” cannot be used here either - as mentioned above, this only applies to walking. There is a lot of discussion about mountain biking and e-biking, after all it is a fast-growing sport that also needs its space and from which many local players benefit. At the moment, however, the forest law still applies in Austria, according to which driving in the forest and thus on all paths - including forest roads - is prohibited. Exceptions apply to designated mountain bike trails.
In addition to the officially approved (and also not approved) forest trails, many also use suitable hiking trails as mountain bike trails, trigger conflicts with hikers and damage the trails that are not built for cycling. In recent years, however, more and more trails have been opened for biking and trails of various levels of difficulty have been set up. The choice of routes is quite large depending on the destination and is increasing continuously. Other paths, on the other hand, should remain pure hiking trails and this must be respected.
Strictly speaking, there is no need for this prohibition sign, because driving in the forest is forbidden according to the Forest Act anyway, but most of them don't even know it.
# Is it bad if I throw away a cigarette butt?
Yes, for those who still don't know. Not only are smoldering cigarette butts a potential source of fire, they are above all toxic. A cigarette butt is hazardous waste that contains up to 4,000 harmful substances and can contaminate up to 60 liters of clean drinking water. Depending on the altitude, it will only rot in around 15 years, which is why the following applies: insert the cigarette butt and dispose of it in the residual waste at home.
Cigarette butts are not organic but hazardous waste.
# Throwing away a banana peel doesn't matter, does it?
Yes, because of organic waste ... Banana peels are contaminated with pesticides and chemically treated to increase their shelf life. They turn black quickly in the environment until they rot, but it can take up to three years depending on the altitude.
Apart from that, nobody is happy when the remains of the "Vorjausner" are lying around at rest areas - from egg and mandarin shells to aluminum cans in tree stumps or crevices. If there is no garbage can or it is overfull, then you take your garbage with you without exception. How I stow my rubbish in my rucksack in such a way that it doesn't cause a mess is something that needs to be taken into account when planning the tour (the Summit Club and Deuter made the orange "bastard" for this more than 20 years ago).
By the way, every hut keeper is also happy if you take your rubbish with you, even if a rubbish bin is available; garbage disposal in huts is usually time-consuming and expensive.
A few numbers about rubbish rotting time:
Chewing gum: up to 5 years (risk of swallowing and suffocation, especially for hedgehogs)
Plastic bottle: 100 to 5,000 years
Aluminum paper: 200 to 400 years
Aluminum can: 400 to 600 years
Baby diaper, sanitary napkin: 500 to 800 years
Glass bottle: 4,000 to 50,000 years (also risk of fire due to the bundling of sunlight)
A tree stump is not a trash can. There is no excuse for this because of ignorance ...
# What should I do if I really have a big business to do, but there is no toilet around?
Finally a good reason to leave the hiking trail - and a good distance to avoid unpleasant odors. If possible, you should bury the result, never do your business in the water or next to watercourses and pack used toilet paper or especially handkerchiefs (which rot much more slowly) and take them with you to the next trash can.
# Can I pick flowers?
Yes, with a "but" (as in many areas). Not all flowers are the same. Especially in protected areas there is often a general ban on picking plants, as many species are strictly or partially protected. In the alpine area one should generally not pick or dig up plants anyway (gentian almost certainly does not grow at home in the garden anyway), since almost all of them are under protection, grow only very slowly and some are already in enough distress due to climate change. This includes not only the edelweiss and the gentian, but also the silver thistle, the auricle, the alpine aster, the alpine bell, the glacier buttercup, the houseleek species, the stone rose and many more. The poster of the protected alpine plants of the Alpine Association alone comprises 44 species.
Of course, nothing speaks against photography.
If you look closely, you will be fascinated by the diversity of the alpine flora. From top left to bottom right: Gentian, auricle, magnificent primrose, black and red sitter, edelweiss, Turkish covenant lily, dolomite cinquefoil, devil's claw, spring Meirich.
# Can I lie down in the tall grass?
Sounds nice and romantic - but first of all it is usually not due to ticks, ants, spiders, bees and other animals and secondly, no. A meadow with tall grass is used for feed production. It's bad enough when dog owners let their animals do their business in the meadow without bagging it. If you walk through the tall grass or lie down, the stalks bend and do not straighten up again and the meadow is impossible to mow. This is especially true for e.g. accesses to climbing or bouldering areas - here it is essential to stay on the edge of the meadow.
It is different above the tree line. The so-called alpine mats are not mowed, at most they are grazed by sheep. The grasses do not get very tall and are much harder (especially bristle grass and sedges) and more robust, so that they do not bend. Here you can lie down on the grass and watch the clouds.
Above the tree line you can definitely lie down on the grass.
# Can I make a campfire?
The regulations on making a fire in Austria differ from one federal state to another. The fact is, however, that no fire may be made in the forest, at the edge of the forest or at the tree line.
The permission of the landowner must always be obtained outside of the forest as well. In addition, you should definitely pay attention to a low smoke development and few flying sparks. If the risk of forest fires is generally high due to drought, you should definitely avoid a fire (on the ZAMG website you can find a daily map of the forest fire risk in Austria).
In order to be able to enjoy the romance of campfires, one should use official barbecue areas, even if one is usually not entirely alone here.
By the way, apart from romantic longings, a campfire has no use when mountaineering: If you want to warm yourself, slip into a down jacket and bivouac sack, and if you want to eat or drink something warm, you use a gas stove anyway, which brings us to the next question:
# Can I sleep under the stars or in a tent?
As with making a fire, different regulations apply to camping depending on the federal state, which you have to find out about in advance. Camping and storage in the forest is prohibited according to the Forest Act - except in specially designated areas or with the clear approval of the forest owner.
In addition, the law differentiates between emergency bivouac and planned overnight stays. If you get into an emergency, you can of course set up an emergency bivouac at any time. As soon as the bivouac - sleeping in a bivouac sack without a tent - is planned, it officially falls under camping.
The question is, do I even have to sleep in the open air? Actually, there is no reason for it, unless a demanding tour without a base requires it or I decide for it for tactical reasons.
The well-developed network of shelters, including a sophisticated energy and water supply as well as sewage disposal, is used to give visitors a pleasant night and nature the necessary rest.
# Can I sleep in a bivouac box?
Yes, that's what they are for. But not for all mountaineers, only for those who are in distress in remote areas - for example due to a thunderstorm or sudden weather change - in order to offer them wind and rain-proof accommodation. Some bivouac boxes were deliberately positioned near classic, long mountain drives in order to serve as a base for them.
Bivouac boxes are usually spartan: a couple of blankets, a couple of tins, maybe a stove - just the bare essentials. They are not managed, but neither are they self-catering huts.
Under no circumstances are bivouac boxes intended to experience a mountain adventure in nature as cheaply and rudimentary as possible. Anyone who simply uses a bivouac box as a substitute for a hut and is looking for the supposed romance may take away the space they need - a no-go among mountaineers.
# Can I stroke the cows on the alpine pasture?
No, "the Alm is not a petting zoo" and the cows are not cuddly toys. They mainly want to rest, eat, digest and ruminate. At the same time, however, they are also curious and they may come up to you. In this case you should go on and avoid them if necessary.
An extra portion of caution is particularly important when keeping mother and calves. Cows are caring mothers and defend their calf vehemently. Anyone traveling with a dog should let them off the leash in the event of unavoidable contact so as not to be the target of an attack themselves. Rules of conduct can be found e.g.on the websites of the alpine clubs.
Such signs warn on pastures where suckler cows are kept with their calves.
# Can I feed the horses?
No, neither on the pasture nor on the alpine pastures. Horses have an extremely sensitive stomach and their owners are sure to take care of them adequately and appropriately. Wrong or spoiled feed (e.g. moldy bread) can lead to life-threatening colic in horses.
Horses running free on the alpine pasture should also not be fed under any circumstances. Your begging behavior can become extremely uncomfortable and lead to dangerous situations - e.g. pushing yourself off the path.
# Do I have to keep my dog on a leash?
Yes. Free-range dogs may be shot by hunters if they are obviously beyond the control of the owner and are chasing a wild animal.
It goes without saying that only dogs that have been trained accordingly should look for something on the mountain. It is not uncommon for dogs to be the cause of accidents for overburdened owners.
According to the Hunting Act, free-running dogs may be shot by the hunter under certain circumstances.
# Can I take my dog with me to the hut?
The motto here is: ask the hut owner when you make your reservation, especially if you want to spend the night with your dog in the hut. In some huts the dogs are allowed to go into the room, in others they have to sleep in the winter room and there are huts where you are not allowed to sleep with your dog at all. It is customary to pay a small overnight fee for the dog.
# Can I eat my snack anywhere?
Almost everywhere - on the banks of the stream, on a tree stump, on the summit cross, on a shady bench. The resulting garbage is of course neatly packed again (see above).
On the terrace of a catering establishment - be it a managed alpine pasture or a refuge - you shouldn't consume your self-brought snack. Especially not when you use the toilet, consume water and take the place away from paying guests. The hut keeper can rightly get a little uncomfortable here.
# Should I post my favorite spot?
You can, but you don't have to. If you absolutely want hundreds of others to visit exactly this place and take away its loneliness, untouchedness and fascination simply by their number - then by all means.
# Can you climb summit crosses?
Yes, but why should you do that? Not all summit crosses weigh 4.8 tons and are flown onto the concrete foundation by helicopter. In fact, sometimes some committed people drag a self-financed, charming summit cross (or whatever) up their favorite mountain, but don't fix it with # schauichbinaufdemgipfelkreuz users in the back of their heads.
So don't be surprised if you don't just get boundless admiration for your supposedly daring ascent ...
When it gets tighter on the mountain, everyone has to adhere to a few rules, on the one hand to enable different interest groups to come together and on the other hand to give nature the space it needs for its development and regeneration.
This also means a personal waiver: Some things that weren't a problem in the past are simply no longer a good idea - like camping wildly, making a fire and lying comfortably on the grass. It takes respect and decency, but above all common sense and considered action so that more and more prohibitions and penalties are not necessary to protect what most people drive to the mountains for.
P.S .: To find out what is so special about a place (e.g. a protected area), you could visit a guided excursion. It is not uncommon to find out amazing things here about nature and individual species that deserve our respect. Often you are then surprised at what you have not noticed in your home area so far. ■
Photos: Christina Schwann archive, paulitrenkwalder.com
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