Ever an inveterate mountaineer, Wilfried Studer, hut keeper of Neue Prager Hut on foot of Großvenediger, is a true “mountain family-man.” His wife and daughters share his mountaineering adventures on a global scale – in the great ranges of the world. The family philosophy is: “Everything we earn in the mountains, we spend in the mountains.”
Wilfried Studer answers the phone while sitting in the gondola. Wait… A gondola riding up to Neue Prager Hut, situated next to Schlatenkees Glacier at an elevation of 2,800 meters amid Hohe Tauern National Park? Wilfried answers with a laugh: “Oh no, I’m talking of the new material ropeway that is used to bring supplies to the hut. The truth is: We always used to ride it, although it was forbidden. This new system has a transport capacity of 400 kilograms and may as well transport up to two passengers.”
This facilitates bringing supplies up to Neue Prager Hut, however operating a hut at this high elevation on foot of Großvenediger Mountain is still demanding. Five fresh inches of snow in the end of July, as was the case in 2017, is quite challenging but can be mastered. Daily tasks include handling scarce resources. “We are self-sufficient,” explains Wilfried, “completely off the grid, the hut is solar-powered and we have a water treatment system. Every drop of water here is valuable; we collect it, pump it, filter it, and treat it. Running such a remote hut is taxing work, even when no guests are around.”
But above all, running such a hut has one decisive advantage, says Wilfried: “It means hard and continuous work for a few months – and it gives us time for our own expeditions.” More than just a mountain-man, Wilfried is a true mountain family-man. His wife Sylvia and daughters Nicole, Sandra and Claudia have shared every step of his adventures and journeys. Wilfried was born in Wolfurt, in the Austrian Province of Vorarlberg. He is a trained building fitter and has been working as a mountain guide for more or less all his life. Wilfried and Sylvia met at competitive alpine ski racing below the national level and married in 1978. They spent their honeymoon climbing the Aconcagua in the Argentine Andes. With a summit elevation of almost 7,000 meters, it is the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres, the tallest peak outside of the Himalayas, and one of the Seven Summits.
Their three children were raised in a mountain lifestyle. As they grew and became old enough to work, “our family couldn’t shake the fantasy of living a hut keeper’s life. We began with running two huts in the Rätikon Mountain Range in Vorarlberg. After eight years, we took a break for one year, but that didn’t work out.” Since four years, the Studers – Wilfried and Sylvia, their youngest daughter Claudia and occasionally her two sisters and Wilfried’s younger brother – have been operating Neue Prager Hut as a whole-family enterprise.
All the Studers ever talk about at the family dinner table, is what mountains they have summited, what mountains they are summiting next, and what mountains they will be summiting in the future. Once or twice a week, Wilfried guides treks atop Großvenediger Mountain. All money the Studers earn while working at the hut goes into their expeditions that take them to some of the highest peaks in the Himalayas and the Americas. He wasn’t actually born as a climber, says Wilfried, but somehow he discovered his passion for the mountains at an early age. The son of a shoemaker and the third of five siblings spent his summers as a herds boy in the mountains of Galtür.
While still a youth, he embarked on extreme adventures, such as a winter climb of the Eiger’s North Face. In 1994, at the age of 38, Wilfried almost didn’t return from a trek of Illimani in Bolivia: Two fellow mountaineers died and he survived but lost his toes and parts of the metatarsal bones through frostbite. “I had to learn to walk again with special shoes,” says Wilfried. “But one year later, I reached the top of my next Six-Thousander, Mount McKinley. And that was the moment I knew I could do it again. Since that day I’ve been climbing mountains as if nothing ever happened.”
But one thing is for sure: “I always compare climbing to chess. Mountaineering is hard work, and reaching the summit requires total commitment. It’s above all a mental game and it’s all about being prepared. There is no way to cheat and there are no short cuts on a mountain – you have to follow the pre-planned route. In brief: You have to train hard to become an expert climber, and you have to know what you are doing. If you are a skilled climber, you will probably reach an old age.” And maybe you will even reach fame, just as Wilfried Studer and his family did.
The urge to achieve a record has increased significantly over the past decades when it comes to summiting Everest, and simply climbing the highest mountain in the world no longer seems good enough for some of the aspirants. Looking at the recent success rate, the likelihood of reaching the summit is high, but what happens if you don’t make it on your first shot? Wilfried Studer started attempting the mountain from the North side in Tibet in the late 1990s. For a whole decade, Wilfried and his wife Sylvia came every single spring to attempt the climb without the use of supplemental oxygen and Sherpa support, and every single spring they had to turn back due to the cold, strong winds, health issues, the loss of equipment or exhaustion. They took a break for two years but were back with a vengeance in 2010. Equipped with bottled oxygen, three Sherpas, and their youngest daughter Claudia, they reached the summit on May 23, 2010. Finally, they could put their minds to rest, after 11 failed attempts. Moreover, they were the first family to summit Everest together.
Turning back is often a hard decision, but Wilfried didn’t find it that difficult. “My wife and I shared this dream of summiting Everest and we wanted to do it together. One time we turned back a mere 250 meters from the summit because Sylvia wasn’t ready for it – this was a time when many climbers lost their lives on the Everest and three children were waiting on us at home… I would have made it to the summit, but we didn’t want it that way. We topped the mountain when Claudia was with us, setting the pace. We wanted to share this experience together as a family; it wasn’t for breaking another record or making it into the news.”
So how about more extreme tours? Is he through with that? Rather not, answers Wilfried. “Maybe I will summit another Eight-Thousander. I’m thinking about the Dhaulagiri. I circled this mountain a few times as a trekking guide. It’s just an idea at the moment, but maybe one day I will reach its top.”
Back to Neue Prager Hut on foot of Großvenediger Mountain. “Of course there are those moments when you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’” admits Wilfried. “Then you have to remind yourself why and not to work yourself up into it. But those moments pass to be replaced by feelings of achievement. Quit? Retire? Not before age 70. Once a hut keeper, always a hut keeper. Yes, it gets hard sometimes—but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
Standing above the unmanned Alte Prager Hut on the eastern side of the Großvenediger, Neue Prager Hut is reached by trail from Matreier Tauernhaus Lodge past Innergschlöß (Venedigerhaus Lodge) in 4.5 to 5 hours. Learn More: www.tyrol.com
From Stüdl Hut on foot of Großglockner Mountain to Berliner Hut in the Zillertal Alps to Pfeis Hut in Karwendel Mountain Range: This summer, we will be telling the stories of Alpinist Association refuges and shelters in Tirol and the people who operate them. The new “Mountain Huts Close Up” series starts here on the Blog Tirol in July 2019.