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Hut transport: mules as an alternative

Sustainable hut transport: heavily-laden mules make their way through rocky terrain. (c) L. Ellena

For centuries, mules and horses have transported goods in mountainous regions. What used to be the only means of transport has nowadays mostly been replaced by helicopter. A nature park in Piedmont, Italy, is now organising the delivery of goods to mountain huts by mule, while environmentally friendly alternatives to helicopters are also being tested elsewhere.

For six hours a convoy of heavily-laden mules trudges through rugged terrain towards the Pagari refuge in the Italian Maritime Alps. On their backs they carry all sorts of food, especially fresh produce. Breeder Luciano Ellena is the man behind the mule transports. The Maritime Alps Nature Park is organising the event as part of the EU Alpimed Clima project: following last year’s positive experiences, seven huts are now receiving regular deliveries in this way. “The mules are a flexible way of transporting goods up to the huts in a climate-neutral way”, says Giuseppe Canavese, director of the Maritime Alps Natural Park. He adds that transport by helicopter has also had be reduced to a minimum on account of Covid-19 and its associated uncertainties. “With this project we also want to encourage other regions to focus on sustainable hut transport”, adds Canavese.

Guests who pull their weight

In 2019, the Swiss team from the non-profit organisation Protect our Winters (POW) launched its “Climate Protection on a Plate” project. The idea was that guests would collect their food from a central point and carry it up to the mountain huts themselves. In this way, ten people carried some 60 kilos of supplies up to the Adula hut in Switzerland, subsequently enjoying a climate-friendly weekend high up in the mountains. “We want to raise awareness among visitors and show them that huts can be supplied on a local, sustainable basis. If everyone made even a small contribution, we could literally get things moving”, says Nicholas Bornstein of POW Switzerland.

Flying pack mules

Drones are also being discussed as a means of transporting goods up to huts. In 2017, the Austrian Friends of Nature initiated a pilot project in Zell am See. During a test flight, one drone transported a load of up to 50 kilograms to the Pinzgauer Hut in a low-noise and above all environmentally-friendly manner. Legal issues and the effects on wild animals and mountain hikers still however pose challenges for this form of transport. Supply by helicopter has until now been the order of the day in many places, as large volumes can be efficiently flown to remote regions.

 

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