You don’t have to carry the world on your back to get up amongst the high peaks of the Bavarian Alps.
The Alps are threaded with long-distance paths, many of them originally routes used by cattle drovers, bandits and the military. In Germany they are well organized, carefully signposted and made more accessible thanks to a network of mountain refuges, or alpine huts, which mean you don’t have to carry a whole lot of gear, or even food, when you set off for a high-level hike.
These alpine huts are often substantial buildings, maintained (and usually staffed) by the local alpine associations, sometimes with sufficient accommodation for 60 or 70 people. Many of them serve hot food (bewirtschaftet in hut specifications), and have bunk beds with mattresses, arranged in a combinations of dormitories (Matratzenlager) and smaller rooms. Overnight costs are minimal, although food and drink is likely to be a bit more expensive than down in the towns and villages below, if just because of the transport involved. Supplies (including the mountaineer’s essential, beer) arrive via a choice of methods: either by rugged all-terrain vehicle from the nearest road end, or by improvised cable car system, or even by helicopter.
You don’t have to carry the world on your back
However they are serviced, these huts transform the upper alpine experience. They allow hikers to set off with only a small pack, containing only clothing and personal effects, and the opportunity to kick back on a sunny deck and enjoy a beer and a magnificent view after a hard day on the trail. There’s usually plenty of international camaraderie, and hut meals are hearty and simple.
Coming out of the resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, for example, there are a handful of huts in the Oberreintal region, just below the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. If you start out from Elmau, one of the main access points, you can reach the first, the Schachenhaus, in around three hours, and two thirds of the way up you pass the Wetterstein-Alm, a high pasture where cows spend two or three months in the summer, where the herdsman run a refreshment hut and sell their cheese. The rambling, full-service Schachenhaus itself was originally the staff quarters for King Ludwig’s villa at Schachen, so isn’t really your typical alpine hut, but up beyond it another couple of hours is the Meilerhütte, a more rugged and exposed place where mountaineers gather, ready for early morning assaults on the peaks. Alternatively at Schachen you could choose to go on towards the Zugspitze and stay in the Reintalangerhütte before returning to Garmisch on a path that brings you out by the giant ski jump.
Huts like these are generally open from June to September or early October, and usually have a telephone contact, so it is possible to check in advance that there’s not going to be a shortage of space (actually very rare).
And although they facilitate quick and relatively un-burdened sorties up into the Alps, they are not there to encourage recklessness: you do need to check the weather before setting out, to make sure you know your route and your abilities, and to carry suitable emergency supplies.
A website for huts in Germany (including Meilerhütte and Reintalangerhütte).
Schachenhaus hut website. (site in German only)
For more informationon the region: www.bavarian-alps.travel/zugspitze