So I’ve done it. Trekked some 400k and 20,000m of ascent from Munich across the Alps.
And whilst the numbers sound impressive, what makes it really spectacular is the scenery (which one would expect) and, more importantly, the people you meet (which I wasn’t necessarily expecting). The one thing, that surprised me (and in a good way) was what happens to people when you remove all socio-economic nonsense and make them carry all they have on their back. Suddenly there are no hierarchies and the human being starts to resurface. Epic! – There is a reason why the homo sapiens has become the most influential species on the planet, it just doesn’t show much in frequent flyer lounges.
Quite a few people were surprised that I (caveman, really, surprised?) would go on such a trek by myself (none of you were keen to come along though). Walking out of the city you will be on your own, but once you hit the mountains, the same group of people will walk the same distance on the same day and you will meet again at the hut every evening. I’ve been privileged to be part of a very dynamic and diverse group between 8 and about 20 people that got along extremely well.
A very good friend once told me that he believes that mountain folks in general are more grounded than city folks. One fascinating thing you will find on such a trek (or whenever you spend quality time in the mountains) is the effort the locals make as compared to dysfunctional suburbians. We were there at the height of summer, farmers were doing hay, by hand because it’s too steep for machines. Another example is the lady that carries fresh meat and veg to a summit hut that is only accessible by foot or helicopter. And (going by her facial expression) she was enjoying it too.
Back to trekking though. The first 2 days are tough, your body will need to adjust to the walking and starting out in 35C heat is not helping that process. Once you’re used to it, it’s easier than you think. In our group we had this one guy starting whilst everybody else was having brekkie arriving at about lunchtime on the other hand there was a couple that took their time and did it at their own pace, but always made it to the hut for dinner (go Angelika). – You can achieve whatever you set your mind to!
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t trek all the way to Venice. I went across the Alps and after the highest point I exited (it’s “downhill” from there anyway) and met up with some friends and my parents in Südtirol (aka Kofler-Land) for a week’s holiday (feet-up holiday that is).
Finally a few of my tips, besides what’s in the books, on YouTube and everywhere else.
Enjoy whatever you get up to, just make sure it’s #Epic!
Below you’ll find the diary and the gallery at the end.
Diary of an epic journey
Day 0: Metzingen – München
Who would start with day zero … let’s find out. Being booked on the 12:30h inter-city bus going direct from Metzingen to Munich. It all starts with the bus breaking down at the prior stop and being delayed by at least half an hour (us waiting in 35C heat).
We get on the way and eventually make it to the Autobahn, so far so good. Next, the other side is closed and of course everybody on our side is a spectator, 1 hour delay. Just before Munich the Autobahn on our side is closed. It takes us half an hour to exit and the bus driver did an amazing job finding his way around the villages to rejoin the Autobahn. All up it took us about 5 hours for the 2 hour trip and we arrived after the bus was scheduled to return.
All forgotten after I checked into my favourite Alpen Hotel and went to explore Munich for beer and dinner on a really hot summer evening. It was awesome!
Day 1: München – Wolfratshausen (34k; 140m)
This is were it all begins. Beautiful summer morning and brekkie in the backyard of the hotel. 08:00am-ish I am off to Marienplatz, the centre of Munich and the starting point of the trek. Few other hikers starting as well, must be a “thing” 😉 The track goes along the Isar river for the first couple of days. First you get the early morning cyclists into the city (poor buggers have to work), then the runners, much faster than you think you’re beyond the city.
Still being in greater Munich, lunch stop is the Kloster Schäftlarn. Their beer garden is fantastic, a chair in the shade, a cool beer and an amazing 3 course lunch – the food is sensational! Took my parents there on the way back from Italy. If you’re in Munich, take the train there for lunch…
After lunch the track continues on the Isar dam, plain sun, 35C, it’s almost unbearable. With 8k remaining into Wolfratshausen, there is a barrage… next my pack in the bushes and me in the Isar! It being Friday afternoon, there is quite a few people in or on the river. The hipsters take their dinghy, tie a beer crate to the back and sail down the river – Bavarian life style at its best.
Wolfratshausen turns out to be an awesome suburb, first stop is the ice cream parlour and dinner at the Humplbräu is chanterelle mushrooms – does it get any better?!
Day 2: Wolfratshausen – Bad Tölz (28k; 240m)
In the need to settle into a routine, I try to get up early and wolf down brekkie. German breakfast is not really Paleo / JERF friendly, but I try my best (and it will only be downhill from here). The track keeps going alongside the Isar river seemingly forever. But definitely leaving suburbia behind.
Eventually heading into the rolling hills leading towards the Alps which is awesome. The weather is becoming cloudy and unstable, so there is relief from the heat.
Through the hills with their tiny villages (really just a few farms gathered together, happy cows), I make my way back into the Isar valley and into Bad Tölz. Refuelling with some coffee & cake, which is where the rain starts. At least I made it into town on dry.
Taking a rest day in Bad Tölz hoping that the rain will ease (turns out it will increase) and because Haus Sybille, the B&B where I am staying, is absolutely awesome!
Day 4: Bad Tölz – Tutzinger Hütte (21k; 1,250m)
Knowing what I signed up for, I head off in the rain… all my rain gear on, brolly in place (for the record, I hike with a brolly unless there are strong winds, no rain running down my back). The first 5k of the day track (again!) along the Isar river in foggy rain. Looking forward to see the end of the river.
Eventually you turn away from the river (yay), because this is the first day in the mountains. There is a gondola, but you can’t take a gondola on your first ascent, right?! Half way up the mountain, I am more wet under the rain gear than on the outside, decide to take it off (what’s the point), which turns out to be a wise decision.
The Brauneckhaus at the peak, which is the perfect lunch spot, looks like it’s closed… and I am the only visitor for the day (well, first hiker a few more will stop later), I negotiate beer & split pea soup. From there the track leads up onto the saddle. Now the guide book starts to confuse me. It says that going over the Achselköpfe saddle with its few climbs is quite and exercise whereas the track around is terrible in the rain – WTF?
Anyway, I was gonna go over the top, clouds or not, which is not as bad as you think, considering the rain which eventually stops. A brief descent to the Tutzinger Hütte (1,327m), which lies directly at the back of the Benediktenwand. Today the troops will meet for the first time.
Day 5: Tutzinger Hütte – Vorderriß (18k; 710m)
Sunshine! After all the rain from the previous days the sun is up over the Benediktenwand which I quickly climb, almost anyway, until 3 mountain goats block the way. Apparently they are not very aggressive, yet these 3 made clear whose territory it was (for mountain goats, humans on 2 legs with a backpack must look ridiculous).
There is a lot of up and down today, so better keep going. Down a great valley with cascades and waterfalls into Jachenau, which is Germany’s smallest council, where I have lunch with the first Apple Strudel and wheat beer, which comes with phone signal and free wi-fi, so the marathon of booking huts for the next days begins.
From there is a steady climb up the other side towards the Rißsattel. On the way I stop at the Luitpolder Alm tossing up between fresh buttermilk and beer … buttermilk it sold out, though luck 😉 From the saddle it’s a steep descent into Vorderriß. The first one to arrive gets the best pick in the bunk room, yay.
Not only the waiter is the best entertainer, but food is most spectacular. Beef cheeks, which are incredible! Given such a great day, the group really starts to bond, playing games, a great evening and a few beers.
Day 6: Vorderriß – Karwendelhaus (24k; 1,050m)
Well the rain is back… drizzle all, all day long. Plus we’re starting the hike today along the main road (little traffic though). This is where we cross into Austria. After about 10k, we get off the road, eventually into the next village (Hinterriß on the Austrian side) and then turn into 2 valleys with a steady climb. Some of the hikers decide to take the bus for the first part, but I catch them eventually.
It’s a long day to get to the Karwendelhaus (1,765m) being the stop for the night. Getting there early, I score a bed in a shared room (not the bunk room) and a hot shower. The drying room is awesome (boot warmers) and, given we’re in Austria, I am having my first Germknödel (Knödel = dumpling, the European kind), which is one of the famous Mehlspeisen. Not healthy, but I need energy.
Day 7: Karwendelhaus – Hallerangerhaus (15k; 1,550m)
Today will be an early start. Apparently today is THE day. It does start intense with a climb right behind the Karwendelhaus, if you make the 1st 100m you will be OK for the day – that’s what they say.
To make things more challenging the weather is very misty and foggy. So after the climb it’s all about finding your way… so I follow the Kiwi (I always trust New Zealanders), word of advice: don’t, I almost climbed a peak, certainly not trying to reach the saddle on the longest day…
Eventually I get on the right path and go up, more up and, you guessed, more climbing towards the saddle. At the top there is a bivvy hut, great for a quick break in the dry. Now the other side is worth mentioning. First you climb down ropes, wires and steps until you reach the gravel fields, then it’s all about fun. “Skiing” down the gravel fields in your boots makes up for a lot… at the end of the gravel a gentle walk out the valley awaits, awesome. The Kastenalm at the bottom of the valley sells buttermilk and charcuterie boards, one welcome lunch stop… before we continue up the other side. The drizzle subsides, we meet others of the group and reach the hut reasonably early. Being first means the rare hot shower, yay.
Day 8: Hallerangerhaus – Voldertalhütte (22k; 880m)
Another big day today. First a “quick” climb to the saddle behind the hut, just 600m ascent to get the heart rate going. Then a looong descent into the Inn valley, of course I get lost again (refer to the tips and use GPS). Through a muddy episode (Tobi’s favourite), I make it into Hall.
Civilisation, yay. One would think, the people, the noise, the hustle and bustle (in Hall mind you), stress me out. As does the booking marathon of the huts to the end of the trek, the lack of phone signal has thought me to get it organised, now! Worth mentioning is the free internet throughout town, so I have my apple strudel and beer (pattern!) whilst making a dozen phone calls (beer helping my non-existent Italian-English-French).
You take the bus out of town, up the other side of the valley. The troops meet at the bus stop… not planned, it just so happens, awesome! Most got the Glungezer Hütte booked whilst I was too late and walk up the Voldertal to, you guessed it, Voldertalhütte. Tobi and I are the only 2 from the group staying there… even though it’s Friday night, it is a quiet one.
Day 9: Voldertalhütte – Lizumer Hütte (17k; 1,350m)
Tobi and I continue up the valley towards Naviser Jöchel where you reach the ridge – from Glungezer you have 5 summits by then. Given we have zero summits, we are fresh and the 1st ones (of the troops) to make the long way to Lizumer Hütte. Today is a bit of a drag, but walking on the ridge makes for some great vistas of the Central Alps leaving the Karwendel mountains behind.
This is quite something. The hut is run by the coolest couple ever. He’s Austrian in his 60ies, she’s… Thai. All prejudices aside, I don’t know who is cooler… The hut is great as well, this Austrian combo of old and new… and again early in the shower. Now, it being a Saturday nigh the hut fills quickly (I got a room, thank you Hall for free wifi), as do the hallways with spare mattresses – not a preferred option.
Day 10: Lizumer Hütte – Tuxer-Joch-Haus (13k; 1,230m)
Today is an early start as we’re not sure whether we got a booking for the night or not, so hoping for ‘first come, hot shower’. It is quite a hike as well, always above 2,000m and 2 saddles (2,800m and 2,700m), making for some awesome vistas on the Tuxer mountains and glaciers though (the latter a bit sad in summer).
On our descent into the Weitental (where we get lost again), there is an abundance of marmots. They are checking us out, as much as we stare at them – they win bot the cuteness and whistle challenge.
Today I am the first one in the shower (and a bed), plus early enough to have another laundry day (“stink management”) as it is sunny… what to do whilst the clothes are on the line? Of course have some Mehlspeise, Topfenstrudel today, which completes my circuit around Austrian deserts.
Day 11: Tuxer-Joch-Haus – Olpererhütte (12k; 930m)
Another day in the Central Alps, the terrain is quite high. Today THE saddle (one of the highest on the trek) is above 2,900m. We start descending into into the valley, which is a ski resort, a bit sad in summer… and then up again under the gondolas.
On our way up cloud increases and it starts to rain. The wind is really strong and it’s hard to stay on track – not really what you need on one of the highest saddles. Turn out it’s not too bad though… down the other side (cables & steps again) is a bit of a challenge in the wet. Eventually the rain eases into drizzle and it’s a level hike across to the Olpererhütte.
The hut is sensational. It’s pretty new and autarkic, not connected to electric or water grid. No access by road either, everything has to be flown in. Given the circumstances, the offering is awesome (second one in the shower, after the Kiwi) and we have some strudel and beer with no view (weather) beyond the panoramic window.
Dinner is awesome and we have an epic night (trying to finish all the beer, given there is helicopter delivery 2 days later). – Oliver’s lesson for the day: read the menu properly to prevent ordering beer €27.50 the (champagne) bottle, tastes good but.
Day 12: Olpererhütte – Pfitscherjoch-Haus (12k; 460m)
As awesome as the night was, today is shocking. Let’s start with snow. Yeap, at the height of summer, it’s snowing, raining, snowing, raining… whilst we stay in the warmth of the hut and play Uno hoping for the weather to come around. Eventually we interview each of the team members at the hut for the forecast, fishing for good news, without success.
Well then, off into the rain. Today I won’t walk with the troops, I just want to get there as fast as possible, thank God it is a short day. To make it worse, the trail goes across some serious boulders (of course I slip and ruin my knee) and the rain is continuously pouring down on us.
Oh and didn’t the book say you want to leave early on warm days because there is a river crossing where the water will be high on sunny afternoons, try that in a downpour. Yeap, it takes me that long to figure out a route across that the troops are catching up.
Eventually I am reaching the Pfitschjoch-Haus “pitsch-nass” (pun intended). I am glad I am staying up on the mountain and not in the valley as the book recommends, a) you’re walking less, the valley is another hour, b) we get individual rooms (not beds) with ensuite, hello hot shower (plus a dry room with boot heaters, yay.) and c) you don’t have to climb first thing the next morning as the track start half way down the valley.
The Pfitscher Joch (saddle) also marks the border between Austria and Italy. So from tomorrow weather, food & wine should be good 😉
Day 13: Pfitscherjoch-Haus – Pfunders (20k; 970m)
Day 12 was really tough, my immune system was way down and I needed the afternoon recovery nap. The evening was great, bonding with the maturer side of the group. They got so many stories and experiences to share… and there is a bit of Vernatsch to be killed. And did I mention, somewhere through that Vernatsch the weather clears up.
The next few days are long treks. First we have a short descent, then a steady climb up the most amazingly green and luscious valley – definitely on the Italian side of things. Crossing over the Gliederscharte (2,644m) a long way down the valley awaits, just as green with lakes, Alms (hello fresh goat’s cheese and Schüttelbrot) and streams. It’s almost like the Scottish highlands and islands (except we’re in continental Europe).
Albergo Brugger is the stop for today. By now we’re a group of about 20-ish people that just get a house on fire, well better put: we all have strudel and beer in the yard, awesome. The last night for Edmund & Angelika and it is an epic one… I might or might not have used Swabian slang with the people from Hamburg getting funny looks. Vernatsch might or might not have been involved (pattern!).
Day 14: Pfunders – Kreuzwiesen Alm (25k; 1,300m)
Another long day… but it starts with a bus ride down the valley, glad we do that, it’d be a long trek out. Jumping off the bus in the village, we leave Angelika & Edmund behind, quick but sad good-bye for now. Shopping is on, light shopping, you gotta carry it. But some fresh fruit to be eaten straight away goes down a treat.
We cross the Pustertal and climb up the other side. First steep, then a steady, but long climb. It is very hot today (2 days after snow), this means laundry not optional. Eventually the track levels on the Lüsener Alm (a plateau at about 1,000m) which is amazing. We stop for a fancy lunch (we’ve earned it, we took the bus).
The stop for the day is the Kreuzwiesen Hütte. An awesome combination of old and new. The food is fantastic, beyond of what we’ve already experienced. We have an epic sunset being quite high … and with vistas of the most amazing mountain ranges.
Day 15: Kreuzwiesen Alm – Schlüterhütte (22k; 1,370m)
Somehow I sleep terribly. Brekkie helps a little (which is as good as dinner the night before). Being on a highly plateau, we get confused a little and get off track. We get lost a bit (the 12 of us).
Being on our way early we should be OK though. So we do some Geocaching, gather some blueberries from the meadows, it’s a great day. We stop for lunch at the Maurerberghütte (2,157m) with awesome vista of is climbing up a valley, almost like a chimney, after a 20k trek. For the record, it’s 35C again as well. It seems it’s just not ending. Out of the whole trek, this part was one of the toughest… and reaching the saddle is one hell of a relief. (bild)
From there it’s a level walk to the Schlüterhütte – another shower (this time a bit of a wait) and another laundry day followed by a nap in the meadow outside the hut, bliss.
At this point we’re a massive group of people and fill the biggest table, meaning it takes a while for dinner to arrive, and we eat way to much. From there it’s an early night, it was one tough day.
Day 16: Schlüterhütte – Puezhütte (14k; 740m)
Today is going to be another epic in the heart of the Dolomite mountains. Starting out with a level walk from the Schlüterhütte towards the Puez-Geisler range. There is only one way: up. So we climb the Roa-Scharte, which is probably the most spectacular saddle climb of the trek, we’re in the Dolomites now, so highlights are lining up. Once in the saddle you can do a simple via ferrata through the Nives Scharte or walk around the mountain.
The via ferrata is awesome (some people jump in excitement) and we climb to the Piz Duleda (2,909m) for another Geocache. From there we walk around the Southern side of the range towards to Puezhütte.
Another Kaiserschmarrn is great recovery. The hut is relatively new, but small, so are the portion sizes, we keep ordering seconds… until the services just ends – obviously we’re in Italy now, service is optional.
So the hut is a bit awkward / disappointing. Most of the group didn’t get a spot and the ones that got one are in the roof. Literally, we’re talking 30cm headspace before you hit one of the beams. Mattresses are Italian size (end about your knee). Though I am the lucky one, I get a single mattress next to the door.
The showers are another story. No separation between men and women and no separation between washroom and showers. So I end up in the shower whilst the Dutch ladies do their laundry… then there is the electricity outage – fair enough, considering where we are – but no bathrooms and no service is weird.
Once we get around to dinner time, Magda just keeps ordering trying to order, but eventually we all just give up and go to bed hungry.
Day 17: Puezhütte – Rifugio Capanna Fassa (15k; 1,550m)
Brekkie is as small as dinner the night before, true Italian continental breakfast. Not really getting us ready for the long day ahead. We get going and continue around the Puez-Geisler range, eventually descending onto the pass. It is Sunday and full of locals, it’s the last day of the school holidays in Italy on a beautiful day, everybody is out there… making it quite an obstacle course.
From the pass we start to climb the Sella stock via a really tough via ferrata (pun intended!). At the top of which is the Pisciadù Hütte, what a welcome spot for a second breakfast and the first beer of the day. Now we feel like humans again.
On a beautiful day, we climb to the highest point of “official” trek at 2,962m (bild) and great spot it is in the middle of the Sella range. Now this is unless you go up to Capanna Fassa, the summit hut on Piz Boè at 3,152m – and you can see the hut, sitting at the top of the peak, all day long, actually we saw it the night before already.
This being my last day, is quite emotional. It’s a beautiful day… and after today the group will separate for a bit, some go one way, others are having a rest day and I am out.
We lunch in the middle of the Sella stock before climbing Piz Boè. We all climb as a group knowing though there isn’t enough space in the tiny hut for all of us, so some of us will stay, whilst other re-descent. We share some peak chocolate, a geocache before we sit down for some strudel and a “mass” (1 litre stein of beer).
The lady that checks us into the hut is responsible for the fresh food deliveries. So it being a summit hut that means she takes the gondola as far as it goes and hikes the residual 2 hours to get to Piz Boè. I have so much respect for that women!
Eventually all the day guests (remember, the sunny Sunday thing) start making their way back into the valley ergo the 20 people staying for the night have the peak to themselves.
Top that (pun intended!) with being on one of the highest peaks in the Dolomites and you’re in for 2 amazing shows: sunset and sunrise. As if the last day in the mountains
wasn’t already emotional enough for the caveman, an epic sunset makes for goosebumps.
Day 18: Rifugio Capanna Fassa – Tisens
Sleeping over 3,000m in the roof of the summit hut is quite something, but it is a short night, because we’re all getting up early to see the sunrise. It’s windy and cold – especially after temperatures the mid 30ies the day before. The thing with sunrises is that the air has cleared the haze of the previous day and you see really far. We’re trying to find where we have been hiking from. At this point we’re somewhere beyond the 400k mark.
Then we get interrupted. The sun comes up between some rocky peaks engulfing the ranges in it’s orange colour. It is one hell of a show!
Packing my backpack one final time, getting my non-stinky t-shirt out. And we have a long breakfast – being amazed how much better this is compared to the day before … and given the location … and knowing it’s my last one with the troops. Eventually we get ready to descent. Once coming down from the summit, Tobi and I take the gondola to the valley (me because I need to catch the 1 bus a day, Tobi for his knees). The others hike down before going up the other side. Another farewell at the gondola, then another one at the coffee shop (always time for a cappuccino).
The Südtirol bus network is amazing. I take the bus from the mountain pass, change over (3min wait) in one of the towns and the other bus stops at the main train line between Austria and Italy. Unfortunately the ticket machine doesn’t take my money and I get to see the train from behind, another hour’s wait in the middle of nowhere. Probably a good buffer before heading full on into civilisation in Bozen.
My friends that will pick me up took the kids swimming, so I got time for lunch and a walk-around. All a bit too hectic for me. Too many people. So I am really glad once my friends arrive.
It is a very / awkward transition back into normality. As much as I appreciate the hot shower, fresh set of clothes and a glass of amazing red on the balcony, I am sad my epic experience has come to an end. (Not to worry, the next one is already in planning…)
Gallery of an epic journey
(click on a picture to enter gallery view)