Hot Summer in the Alps – Impact on Mountains, People and Huts
The persistent and very hot summer weather period brought many people to the mountains this summer, causing water scarcity on Alpine Club huts and contributing to a formative change in the mountains.
Visitor boom at Alpenvereinshütten
The hot summer of 2018 has brought most huts of the German Alpine Club an increasing number of visitors. Both the number of day guests and overnight stays has increased significantly. For the whole season, it is a normal increase of 5 to 10 percent, because after a boom at the beginning of the hut season in May, there was once again a damper in terms of weather in June. However, the further course of the summer led to positive growth overall. “Many cabins are fully booked for the end of the season due to the good weather forecasts for September and the persisting constant weather,” says Hanspeter Mair, Division Manager Alpine Spatial Planning at DAV.
Challenges for hosts and guests
The hot and dry summer has caused water scarcity, especially on Alpine club huts, which rely on rainwater. “The provision of drinks is not affected by this, but the water supply in the hut for toilets or showers already. In some places, it was no longer possible to flush toilets with greywater and showers had to be partially blocked, “explains Hanspeter Mair. Water has become a rare commodity in the mountains, which must be protected. Saving water is therefore the top priority at Alpenvereinshütten.
Positive balance of the online reservation system
The constant weather has fueled the mountaineers’ motivation for hikes and hut treks, and has greatly increased the use of the online reservation system. This system was introduced in 2016 and more and more Alpine Club Huts of the SAC, PES and AVS participate in it. At a glance, visitors to the cabin can see how many beds are available and what the occupancy rate is in the corresponding period. The bookings are thus distributed better from the beginning and the organizational effort for the hut hosts is significantly reduced. Guests and hosts alike benefit from this gentle guest guidance.
Glacier shrinkage affects mountain sports
What has brought the hikers and hut host people a fantastic summer and full houses, but the mountain world is greatly increasing. Already, many glaciers in the Alps are completely empty. This means that the entire winter snow is thawed and only the bare ice of the glacier is left. But this layer of snow would protect the ice field: “On the one hand it reflects the sun’s rays much better, on the other hand it is the breeding ground for the glacier: Snow, which survived the summer, condenses and becomes glacial ice over time,” explains Mair , The consequences of the many hot days are already clearly noticeable in the Eastern and Western Alps: for example, alpinists have to make detours as glaciers can no longer be entered via the original path, as on the Taschachferner in the Ötztal Alps. The decline of the ice is also evident at the transition between rock and glacier (Randkluft): Here, in some areas, increasingly large gaps form, which can only be overcome with increased effort and risk. At the Zugspitze, a very large marginal gorge causes not only long waiting times, but also poses an additional danger for mountaineers: they first have to descend a bit into the crevasse to reach the rock. In addition, summer bridges (snow and ice bridges over crevasses) become increasingly unstable or melt away completely. Elsewhere – for example on the Sustenhorn in the Uri Alps – the melting process produced many parallel and up to one meter deep gullies, which now have to be laboriously topped or skipped.
Alpine trend is becoming a threat to glaciers
Detours, waiting times at an enlarged edge gap or the laborious overcoming of troughs – individually these phenomena are only small difficulties on the ways to the summits. On the whole, however, they prove a trend: “The summers in the Alps are getting hotter and drier,” says Hanspeter Mair. For 2018, the ZAMG (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics) recorded record after record: already June was one of the hottest months of June, dating back to the 18th century. July was also above average – and very dry. And for the months of August to October, ZAMG already predicts a high probability of above-average temperatures – bad prospects for the glaciers. Further risks due to thawing of the permafrost
If the glacier recession is still evident, the thawing of permafrost in the Alps poses a rather invisible danger: “Permafrost is the glue of the Alps,” says expert Mair, “it fulfills an important function in the high mountains: as long as the ground, screes or rock walls are frozen they are stable, too. “However, when they are warming, they are subject to hillside movement, rockfall and, in the worst case, major rockfalls. The risk of falling rocks can also be promoted by the melting permafrost. The permafrost limit is relatively low: “In the Alps, permafrost is found on northern slopes already above 2,400 meters, in southern slopes above about 2,900 meters,” explains Mair. Accordingly, the permafrost is not a phenomenon that occurs only on the highest alpine mountains. “Even in Bavaria, for example on the Zugspitze, the Allgäu High Alps or the Watzmann there is permafrost,” says Hanspeter Mair.
The alpine infrastructure also suffers from the warming of the soil: The statics of some mountain huts are threatened by the decline of the frosty ground. For example, the Hochwildehaus in the Ötztal Alps is already closed until further notice due to damage to the foundation – a direct consequence of the permafrost decline.
Not only mountain climbers, climate change will face ever greater challenges today and in the future. The mountains will change forever.