A spotlight on the Austrian Alpine Club
8 minute read
The AAC(UK) is one of the best UK mountaineering clubs with thousands of UK and overseas members. The mission of the club is to help people get into the mountains they love and to have fun there – a mission and philosophy very similar to Cicerone's. Here we take a closer look at the club, and the benefits of membership.
Austrian Alpine Club (UK) – Sektion Britannia
The AAC(UK) is one of the best UK Mountaineering Clubs with thousands of UK and overseas members. The mission of the club is to help people get into the mountains they love and to have fun there.
The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) is the British Section of the ÖAV, Sektion Britannia! The Österreichischer Alpenverein is the largest mountaineering club in Austria, with 599,000 members in 2020.
The closest translation of its name is the Austrian Alpine Federation as it has 196 Sections plus 122 local groups. The AAC(UK) is one of the largest mountaineering clubs in the UK with over 12,000 UK and overseas members in 2020.
Village Priest Franz Senn who was the initiator in establishing the Austrian Alpine Association, the OeAV in 1862, the German Alpine Association, the DAV, and the Alpenverein Sud in the South Tyrol. Sadly, Franz Senn died aged 52 from pneumonia. He is interred in Neustift village churchyard cemetery in the Stubai valley close to Innsbruck. The Franz Senn Hut is named in his honour.
History of the Oesterreichisher Alpenverein (ÖAV)
Austrian Alpine Association
The Österreichischer Alpenverein (ÖAV) was founded in Vienna in November 1862 to foster and encourage the developing sport of mountaineering. In 1869 a number of German and Austrian Sektions got together to establish the Deutscher Alpenverein (DAV) which is largely credited to Franz Senn, the village priest in Vent (Ötztal) then later in Neustift (Stubai).
His associates were Johann Stüdl, a wealthy Prague businessman, and Karl Hofmann, a young lawyer from Munich. Franz Senn maintained that the two associations-clubs should work together and issued a joint statement of intent in 1871, later ratified as the DuÖAV in 1873.
The ÖAV [Austrian Alpine Association] was the first alpine club to be established in mainland Europe, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2012. Presently, the ÖAV has over 500,000 members in 210 Sektions including Sektion Britannia. The main strength of the Alpenverein is that membership is totally inclusive and open to everyone who has a love of the mountains, regardless of age or ability despite its semi-elitist title.
After formal amalgamation with the DAV in 1873 much wealth was created resulting in competition between various towns and Sektions to build a network of huts right across Bavaria and Austria, particularly in the mountains of North and South Tyrol. After the First World War, with the collapse and disintegration of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire the Austrian South Tyrol was annexed to Italy as war reparations including the forfeiture of 42 DuOAV huts.1
The intervening war years saw the rise of German and Austrian nationalism in the 1930s and the resurgence of the DuÖAV. When Austria was annexed in 1938 the DuÖAV simply became known as the DAV with many huts being used to train mountain troops.
By the end of the Second World War the DAV was again disbanded leaving many huts abandoned to the elements or simply plundered for whatever utilities or goods could be carried away. Indeed, at this time the occupying Allied Armies [British and French] wanted the huts to be blown up to prevent them being used as bases for guerrilla operations.2
During this time a young British Army Major found himself in the Control Commission back in the beloved Austria of his youth, processing and decommissioning Austrian soldiers returning to their homes.
This man was Major Walter Ingham who opposed the suggestion that mountain huts should be blown up; he believed the Austrians should be encouraged to return to the mountains and re-open the huts so common to their culture and landscape, arguing that it would give the local people and occupying soldiers somewhere to go and something to do.
Prior to the war, Walter Ingham had been running a travel company specialising in skiing holidays in Austria and France. Walter was brought up in Vienna being a member of Sektion Wiener-Lehrer. During this time he came into contact with Heinrich Karl Krausz, to be known after the war as Henry Crowther. Henry was from Graz and a member of ÖAV Sektion Graz, working at that time prior to the war as head of the Austrian Tourist Delegation in London.
Members of the Austrian Alpine Club seen here enjoying pre-dinner drinks in the Gaststube (restaurant) at the Heidelberger Hutte
Austrian Alpine Club (UK)
Some time around 1947 Walter Ingham and Henry Crowther (now a British Citizen) floated the idea of forming a British Section of the Österreichischer Alpenverein as a means of fostering post-war Anglo-Austrian relationships, but also to encourage British mountaineers to visit the Eastern Alps where both men had grown up. Both men, post war, were also keen to re-establish their travel company business.3
On 27 July 1948 the United Kingdom Section was established. This Section was initially known as 'Sektion England' but later changed its name to the more inclusive 'Sektion Britannia'. Henry became the first President of AAC(UK).
Notes from above
1 These huts are now owned and managed by either the Italian Alpine Club, CAI, or the Alpenverein Sud Tyrol, AVS
2 Glockner Haus post war was used by the British Army to train Royal Marine Commandos
3 Inghams Travel Company continues to operate as Inghams Holidays specialising in Lakes and Mountains
The AAC(UK) has grown steadily with 12,000 members and now has a ranking of 9th within the Alpenverein family. While the majority of members are from within the United Kingdom there are sizeable groups of members from outside the UK whose second language is English such as members in Sweden, Finland, Poland, Czech, Slovenia, as well as English speaking members in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
Helen Steer on Sentieri Olivieri Tofana in the Dolomites. This high route provides walkers with a magnificent view down onto Cortina and the d'Ampezzo valley
Photo © Ben Ankers
This steady growth has led to increasing benefits for members most notably being the provision of a (mountain) Rescue and Repatriation Service [AWS] included within the membership fee.
Second to this is the ever-increasing need for training across the whole spectrum of the outdoor mountain environment from rock climbing to flora from skiing to hut management. While most training courses are in German special provision has been, and continues to be made for English speakers, all of which can be found on the Alpenverein website, the most popular being Alpine Skills and Ski-Touring.
An extension of this for AAC(UK) members is the provision of its training programme in collaboration with National Outdoor Centres of Plas y Brenin for England and Wales and Glenmore Lodge for Scotland, all of which are heavily subsidised including grants for members undertaking Mountain Leader training from Hill and Moorland Leader to the internationally recognised Bergfuehrer IFMGA Mountain Guide Carnet.
Additionally, the Club has a vigorous outdoor programme organised by members for members by the AAC(UK) Activities Team culminating in an event at the annual AGM, with free training being provided for activities such as first aid, navigation, mountain biking, rock climbing and mountain skills.
The AAC(UK) is increasingly called upon to help finance other Sektions with hut repairs, general maintenance and improvements ranging in variety from repairs to the huts Seilbahn (goods lift) to kitchen improvements (Salm Hut) and major renovations.
Presently, one major commitment by the Alpenverein is to be more ECO-Friendly with the modernisation of water and sanitation systems and installation of solar powered electricity. With around 200 huts, many over 100 years old, that’s a major task in itself.
The George Starkey hut is the only AAC(UK) owned hut and is located at the foot of Helvellyn in Patterdale in the Lake District. It offers a good venue and good value for AAC(UK) members – at a special AAC(UK) rate.
Being a major club and organisation within the UK, the club is often called upon to support members who are undertaking mountain expeditions to the Greater Ranges through the Grant Application procedure, in this way the Club have helped support recent expeditions to Tengkangpoche and British Yarkhun Expedition.
The AAC(UK) has also secured a Member_discount in several mountaineering equipment shops, as well as with Cicerone.
With all the benefits of membership available at a modest annual fee, that includes mountain rescue and repatriation, access to hundreds of huts including reciprocal rights to hundreds of others, access to subsidised training, why wouldn’t you want to be a member of the Austrian Alpine Club (UK)?
Find out more about the Austrian Alpine Club (UK)
Photo below: Winter sunset Central Gulley. Photo © Alex Mecalf
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