It was late in November and I had just checked into the flat that would be my home in Garmisch, Germany for the weekend. Before me stood a sweet, gray-haired lady, called “Mutti,” which is affectionate for “Mutter” in German, or “mother” in English. The flat was a tip from a mountaineering buddy I had climbed Mount Rainier with, and the lady in front of me, the grandmother of his friend.
Just three weeks before, I landed in Frankfurt for the first time. This was the beginning of, what I thought would be, a 2- to 4-year stay. My mind was on information overload – how to take out the trash (more complicated than it should be), traffic rules, German vocabulary, and the enormous challenge I had taken on at work. Most of all, at this time, I was alone. I did not have a single friend or hiking buddy on the continent.
As Mutti handed me the key and turned to head out the door, she paused for a moment, “What will you be doing here this weekend?” Thankful that there was somebody who would know where I was, I responded eagerly with the hikes I was planning to do – the Kraemerspitze and the Alpsspitze. Mutti’s eyes widened with surprise as she responded, “Oh, but you know you are going to have to carry all your own food with you. The huts are all closed.”
Carry my own food with me? At that time, I had no idea how much Mutti’s question characterizes adventuring in the Alps. But, of course! Who wouldn’t? After nearly four years now in Europe I now know the answer to that question, and the answer now is sometimes even me! Instead, I bring cash.
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Living The Hut Life
The Alps are sprinkled with huts, often less than 10 kilometers from each other. There are staffed huts where you can almost always count on a warm meal and bed, there are self-service huts where you will need to bring your own food, and there are other huts that are open only for lunch. Some of the huts have paved roads to them, some just dirt roads, and many receive their supplies by helicopter drops and dedicated staff members who regularly carry heavy loads to the hut.
Upon arriving at your overnight hut, I often sit out on the patio or deck and enjoy a drink before checking in. After checking in, I leave my shoes in the shoe room or dry room. “Mountain shoes,” are not allowed, by law, in the sleeping rooms of the huts. I always have my own “hut shoes” with me.
Sleeping arrangements can vary. There are large rooms with mattresses all lined up in a row, where I might sleep side by side with 10, 20 or more other guests, and smaller rooms with 2, 4, or 6 beds. Ear plugs are highly recommended. Each bed is equipped with a sheet, one or two warm blankets and a pillow. The bedding is not washed between each guest. Guests need to bring a sleeping bag liner for hygienic reasons.
It is normal to share sleeping space with strangers, and common respect is required. I keep my voice low, my items tucked away in a corner somewhere nice and tidy, and use a headlamp instead of the light when others are sleeping. I have learned not to expect any modesty from my roommates. Walking around in just underwear in front of strangers is perfectly acceptable in a hut.
The following amenities are not guaranteed at the huts. Flexibility is required here:
Showers (many that do have showers are coin operated)
Power outlets accessible to guests
Cell phone reception
Internet (very few huts have WiFi, but I have yet to find one with WiFi that works well)
Despite the lack of certain reliable amenities, huts are true luxury in comparison to tenting with a freeze-dried dinner. A hut in the Alps is a must-have bucket list item for any outdoor adventure lover, and hut trips are not just limited to hiking. Hut tours can be for climbing, mountain biking, snowshoeing, skiing and doing via ferratas.
Recommended hut packing list:
Sleeping bag liner
Small pack towel
Minimalist toiletries (I carry a toothbrush, toothpaste deodorant – nothing more)