In September 2018, I was lucky enough to spend over 2 weeks in an epic hiking trip up in the alps of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria. This impulsive trip was neatly planned within a month and all the trails were day hikes due to a lack of camping equipment.
This marked my first experience tackling actual alpine trails where summit crosses and dramatic views were the rewards. We completed a total of 11 trails, pretty good record for the 1st hiking trip and with a hobbling leg!
Links to my experience at each trail:
1) Eastern Switzerland and Liechtenstein
– Fürstin Gina Weg (Malbun, Liechtenstein)
– Schäfler (Wasserauen, Appenzell, Switzerland)
– Hohe Köpfe (Rätikon, Austria)
– Fürstensteig (Liechtenstein)
2) Tyrol, Austria
– Pfeishütte via Seegrube (Innsbruck)
– Serles von der Maria Waldrast
– Faltegartenköpfl (Innsbruck)
3) Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland
– Albula Pass
4) Canton of Uri, Switzerland
– Furka (Realp)
5) Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
To prep for the trip, I spent July and August frantically visiting my physiotherapist to treat an IT band issue that caused pain to my left kneecap when I walked. Being able to walk might be helpful here!
Since the trip occurred in the Fall at high elevations, I put my “Canadian Fall hat” on and filled my suitcase with mostly long sleeves and base-layers. Only a few summer pieces were thrown in as decor. That was a fail – summer was here to stay! My summer tops were worn and hand-washed in rapid rotations, while all my base-layers were only useful for wrapping my fragile souvenirs.
Coming from relatively flat parts of the world, it took a lot of self-restraint to not stop everywhere on our drive to the 1st hike. Everywhere was the perfect photo op! We were in awe of being surrounded by mountains with smokey clouds covering the mountaintops, giving the environment a mysterious feel.
The trail signage (yellow sign posts) and markers (painted on trees/rocks) were abundant. A hiker’s paradise! The signage states the destination and difficulty levels; and sometimes estimated duration. Due to the vast number of paths in each area, knowing the summit or hut names instead of just the trail name is beneficial as they are stated on the sign posts. “Maps.me” is also a handy app on your phone as it shows trail routes and elevations that are both lacking in google maps.
The trails are categorized in 3 main technical difficulty levels in these countries and described below based on my personal experience:
1) Pedestrian/walking trails (Swiss: Standard yellow signs; Austria: White dot) – Wide paths that are suitable for anyone and require no special equipment.
2) Mountain Hiking Trails (Swiss: Red/White stripes; Austria: Red dot) – Rugged terrains with potential steep, narrow, and exposed sections. Generally low to medium technical level but stamina is an asset. Difficult sections are secured with fixed cables or railing. Sure-footedness, a good head for heights, and decent fitness level are essentials. No special equipment required other than basic hiking gear (ie. hiking boots).
3) Alpine Hiking Trails (Swiss: Blue/White stripes; Austria: Black dot) – Terrain can involve loose gravel, rock climbing (hands involved), and snow-covered areas. Pathways are mostly steep, narrow, and exposed. Difficult sections are typically secured with fixed cables or railing, but be prepared to come across missing pathways without any fixed cables that require short scrambles. Sure-footedness, a good head for heights as there will be steep drop-offs on the side, and decent fitness level are essentials. Though websites mention the need for extra equipment like ropes and crampons, the trails I hiked only required basic hiking gear.
“Mountain hiking trails” made up the majority of this trip, with a few trails that had sections of “Alpine hiking trails“.
Having company who was more fearless and had more stamina definitely pushed myself beyond my perceived limits and conquered paths that would’ve otherwise stopped me in my tracks. This trip increased my confidence on narrow trails with steep drop-offs – the type of trails which I had difficulties with in my mountain hikes in Faroe Islands the previous year.