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Transalp: A Civilized Hiking Experience

Once upon a time using your legs as transport was considered a poor man’s choice, and you could be pegged a vagabond or hobo. Today it’s more a sign of the complete opposite.

In a world where time is money, and spare time is in short supply, the experience of moving your legs and spending time outside is almost considered a privilege. To put one foot in front of the other is a basic skill most of us learn as children, but to use this skill to carry ourselves out into nature can suddenly add a whole new aspect to this essential activity.

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The Alps are commonly known as a winter paradise, but one should not forget the Alps by summer. This is the biggest mountain massif in Europe, and you’ll find people biking, climbing, running, and hiking in these areas as soon as the snow is gone. The Germans even have their own expression for crossing the Alps: “transalp,” or “over the Alps.” A well-known transalp route is the classic mountaineering “Haute Route” between Chamonix and Zermatt.

Photographer Hans Herbig wanted to find a new Transalp route for hiking, starting in Garmisch in Germany, ending somewhere close to Meran, in South Tyrol in northern Italy. The goal was to hike quickly with as little luggage as possible. To keep him company, he recruited a cyclist, Martin Matthes; a PR specialist and avid trail runner, Marie Meixner; and a dental technician and sub-10-hours Ironman finisher, Olaf Fidorra. Together they finished 89 km with 6940 meters of ascent and 8841 meters of descent in a total of 24 hours and 20 minutes.

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A rather detailed description of their trip follows. Warning: the next paragraphs will contain a lot of German names of cabins, lakes, mountains, and places.

Day 1: 20 km / 3 hours and 20 minutes
Hans and Olaf started out from the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, following the river Partnach towards Reintal. Although time was of the essence they still made time for a cup of joe at the Reintalanger cabin before they continued on towards the first overnight lodging of the trip at a cabin called Knorrhütten.

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Day 2: 24 km / 6 hours
The next morning the trip continued on, setting the course towards Austria through Gatterl and Erwalder Alm where Martin the cyclist, now bikeless, joined the crew. They passed the beautiful Seeben Lake here, and continued up the steep hills to the Coburger cabin. Passing another beautiful lake called the Dragon Sea, up to a small couloir named Grünstein Scharte, before the tracks finally started to lead a little downhill again to the Lemberghaus cabin, where they were served a very satisfying Kaiserschmarn lunch.

“We were recommended a special trail going down from this mountain called ‘the wild hunter’s trail,’ so after gaining some strength we decided to hike up a small part to get on the correct trail downwards to Mieming,” Hans recalls. After arriving in Mieming, the group was driven to the town of Lüsens for a good night’s sleep, and to meet up with the final hiker, Marie the PR specialist and trail runner.

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Day 3: 24 km / 7 hours
The group started with hiking up to Schafgrübler, a nice mountaintop just below 3000 meters. After a quick lunch at Franz Senn cabin, the trip continued on along the Stubai High Trail towards the Regensburger cabin. “We didn’t stop at this cabin, but took a slightly different approach to get to the ‘Ring,’ a local place of myth in this area,” says Hans. Exactly what this myth is about is not common knowledge, but that the place is worth a visit was still agreed on.  The quartet passed this and followed the trail until they got to Midlaun Alm, where they could walk down to the village for the last overnight stop.

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Day 4: 21 km / 8 hours
The last day started with the gondola going up to “The Top of Tirol,” as it’s called. From here they went down to the Hildesheimer cabin, through some exposed areas in high alpine terrain over the Gamsplatz ridge. After a little bit of down and a little bit of up the group passed by the secluded Timmler Schwarzsee, which, despite its name (literally, ‘Black Lake’), is not black but instead a beautiful emerald green. They crossed another ridge, and then entered the final stage of the trip at Schneeberg (a former mine, now a museum) where the trip was concluded with an incredible dinner.

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As you have probably figured out by now, a hiking trip in the Alps does not have to be primitive. It can be rather civilized, with beds, running water,and all the comforts of home. There are great huts along the trails that offer proper food and “schnaps” to keep the motivation going. The advantage to traveling from one hut to the next is that it’s easy to travel lightweight. Two pair of undies, two pair of socks, a pair of shorts, a zip-off pant, a long-sleeve shirt, T-shirt, a light shell jacket, and an insulation piece is all you need, according to this group. You don’t have to bring much water as long as you have a foldable cup to drink easily from the creeks. You don’t have to bring food, except maybe some emergency snacks, as you can refuel in the cabins along the way. You just have to hike.

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