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Hiking Hut-to-Hut in the Alps
Earning a Room with a View, hiking in the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy
For many hikers, the idea of an extended ramble amongst snow covered peaks, through high alpine landscapes, is close to "heaven on earth". However, the need to schlep the necessary tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, food, and water may color the adventure slightly "hellish."
In many alpine areas of Europe it is possible to enjoy all the grandeur of the Alps without the effort and discomfort of becoming a human pack mule. This is made possible by the existence of hundreds of alpine huts and systems of trails that connect them. The term "hut" is a slight misnomer for most European mountain huts. Although the size and configuration of huts varies considerably, many of them are grand structures with architectural beauty to match their stunning locations. Generally, huts, regardless of their size, are not accessible by car. Some can be reached by relatively short hikes and these are often destinations for day-trip hikers.
The opportunity to hike with only a small pack, containing only clothing and personal effects is a huge upgrade to the hiking experience, but only one of many offered by the hut-to-hut experience. The opportunity to kick back on a sunny deck or patio and enjoy a big, cold beer after a hard day's hike is hard to beat. The fun of sharing trail experiences with fellow hikers is part of the camaraderie found in most huts. Hut meals are hearty, simple fare and usually taste like fine dining after a day on the trail.
Sleeping accommodations vary: the traditional hut sleeping arrangement is the matratzenlager, a large, communal, dormitory mattress. Some huts have smaller bunk rooms with a handful of bunks in each. Occasionally, a hut will have private rooms that accommodate one to four people.
My wife and I have experienced what we believe are the sublime and ridiculous extremes of hut sleep experience: the sublime being the night spent in a private room with a cozy down feather bed at the Lasorling Hut above Austria's Virgental valley. The ridiculous night consisted of sharing a 12 bunk room with two friends, a group of British Royal Marine commandoes, and a British couple, the husband being a serious contender for the Guinness Book of Records snoring champion! Our traveling companion good naturedly chided the soldiers at dawn, "And you call yourselves commandoes - six of you and you couldn't even take out one old man!" One Royal Marine's reply: "Don't think we didn't consider it, mate." Our traveling companion's wife finds the discomfort of night a small price to pay for the opportunity to regale listeners with the tale of "the night I slept with six British Marines."
How to Find the Huts
Hut-to-hut hiking information is quite abundant. Alpine hiking is a very mainstream activity in Europe and considerable resources are devoted to the promotion of it, in most countries. The Austrian National Tourist Office has been a very plentiful source of Alpine literature. I would recommend checking with the tourist offices for the countries that you plan to visit.
Joining an alpine club is a very good idea for hut-to-hut hikers. Many of the major huts are owned and operated by the Alpine Clubs (Austrian, German, French, Italian, Swiss). Club membership provides benefits such as discounted hut fees, hut information and perhaps most important, reciprocal agreements with other alpine clubs.
All the clubs operate web sites (see Resources for links to their websites). Unfortunately they are not all available in English versions. However, some of them can be useful in their native languages. An example of this can be found in the DAV (Deutsches Alpinverein) site - click here. By clicking on the various areas of the site's maps, you can navigate your way to maps of hut locations and then to links to the huts, themselves. This is a very fun feature and can provide hours of "virtual hut-to-hut visits".
The Austrian Alpine Club has a United Kingdom branch, which eliminates the language barrier one might encounter with other clubs. Through the club, you can buy the "Green Hut Book" that provides hut information for huts operated by the Austrian and German clubs (over 1,000 huts). Although this book is not written in English, the club provides a sheet of English translations of important hut terminology.
Several good books about hut-to-hut hiking have been written, but the one we found to be most helpful is "Walking Austria's Alps Hut to Hut" by Jonathan Hurdle. He describes 11 different tours. Each tour's route is described day by day, with relevant information about the accommodations, distances, and time requirements. The book also provides a wealth of information in its preface.
So, if you've ever suffered pangs of "Heidi envy" - wishing that you could snuggle in for a cozy sleep, high in the mountains, breathing in the cool, healthy air, after a hearty supper of simple mountain fare, head for the alps, and head for the huts!
www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3416: Overnight at King Alberts, photos from this hike, Steve and Linda Jones
www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3607: Hiking Austria's Virgental, photos from this hike, Steve and Linda Jones
Slow Travel Austria - Hiking Austria's Virgental: Postcard of hiking to a hut in the Austrian Alps, Steve Jones
Slow Travel France - King Albert's Hut: Postcard of hiking to a hut above Chamonix in the French Alps, Steve Jones
Slow Travel Switzerland - Hiking: Pauline's notes about hiking in the Swiss Alps.
www.aacuk.org.uk: Austrian Alpine Club, United Kingdom branch (in English)
www.dav-huettensuche.de: DAV - Deutsches Alpinverein (in German)
www.alpenverein.de: German Alpine Club (in German)
www.ffcam.fr: French Alpine Club (in French)
www.cai.it: Italian Alpine Club (in Italian)
www.sac-cas.ch: Swiss Alpine Club (in German)
www.abmsac.org.uk: Association of British Members of Swiss Alpine Club
© Steve Jones, 2005
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