The mountains look very peaceful from a distance. But with this beauty, comes a little bit of risk. In order to get the most out of your alpine trips, please be aware of the following safety tips when hiking in the Alps. Keep in mind: Happy adventuring is always linked to safe adventuring!
The Alps in all its glory.
9. Signage is more oriented to destinations than it is to trail names or numbers
This applies to all navigation, whether it be driving, hiking, bicycling, etc. It took me two years to figure this out. I tend to geek out on maps, so when I first moved to Germany, I would check the map for where I wanted to go, and then figure out which roads I needed to turn which direction on. I would get out there on the road, and there would be few road names. I could never tell which direction I was turning, because they are often cloverleaf intersections and you don’t know until you get there.
Navigating became much easier for me when I learned to look for the destinations along my route (although it is always a guessing game as to which ones will be signed out), rather than road names and cardinal directions.
The exact same approach applies to hiking. Follow signs for the next mountain pass, village, hut, etc., rather than searching for trail names and numbers. At Alpenventures UNGUIDED we also provide our clients with a premium access to the Outdooractive App throughout the duration of their booked adventures. Thus, everyone stays on the right track.
How to use Outdooractive App
8. There is an abundance of flowing water, but it needs to be treated
Cows are just about as abundant in the Alps as water. There are only a few areas where flowing water will be difficult to come by, such as at higher elevations in Slovenia, as well as in some areas in the Italian Dolomites. Otherwise, water should be plentiful. Just make sure to treat it, even at the higher elevations, and even if you know somebody who got away without treating their water. Girardia is nothing to mess with.
7. The most dangerous animals you need to worry about are ticks
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, the hunters in Europe killed off most of the predators long ago. There are only a few bears remaining in Northern Italy, and there have been attempts to re-introduce wolfs, but none of this wildlife is known to present a safety problem for us homo-sapiens in the Alps.
The ticks, on the other hand, are lurking and waiting for you in the wooded areas of the Alps, so make sure to do tick checks if you end up off trail in the woods for any reason and carry tweezers in your first aid kit.
Have you met your friendly traveling companions yet?
6. You will be charged for rescue, so make sure you have rescue insurance
You are never very far from help in the Alps, and this generally makes rescue swifter than it may be in other parts of the world. But you will be charged, and it will be expensive, so make sure you have travel insurance that covers evacuation, at least up to 3,500 m. if you are hiking, and even higher if you will be mountaineering. Travel with peace of mind due to the right travel insurance.
5. Beware of rockfall when on or near glaciers
It is no secret that the glaciers are rapidly receding in the Alps. What most people do not realize are the safety issues this is causing. Many trails in the Alps have been re-routed, or even closed, due to the rockfall caused by melting glaciers. Do not cross below a glacier without seeking local knowledge from a nearby mountain hut or guiding company.
Last year the main route up the Mont Blanc mountain was closed for several weeks due to rockfall in one of the couloirs, just on the approach to the hut. This situation is only expected to worsen over time (hint: don't wait too long to climb the glaciers in the Alps)
If you plan on glacier mountaineering and crossing these glaciers, also be aware that often the freshly exposed terrain that needs to be crossed to get onto and off the glacier may be much sketchier than the glacier itself.
4. Summer thunderstorms build slower than in other parts of the world
My passion for hiking blossomed in the Arizona desert, where summer monsoons are the norm. It grew in Colorado, where thunderstorms are one of the greatest threats to safety on the summits in the summer. In both Arizona and Colorado, thunderstorms build fast and move fast.
During my first years in the Alps, there were many times when I turned around due to the threat of thunderstorms, only to realize that they never actually materialized. It took time to learn that they build slower, and it took experience to learn that when they start, the rain does not stop for hours.
Of course, it is possible for a thunderstorm to build fast, so do not ever assume it will not. I recommend consulting hut staff and local guides for their thoughts about upcoming weather forecasts, and to make sure you have rain gear.
The Alps can be enjoyed in all seasons.
3. Snow storms can have a huge impact on visibility
A snow storm can happen in the mountains any time of year. Most of us know that, and many of us have experienced a snowstorm in the middle of summer. Snow rarely stopped me from climbing a mountain when I lived in Colorado. Usually (but not always), it was just a magical experience with adequate visibility.
I have yet to experience a snow storm in the Alps with decent visibility. My Colorado optimism has led to many failed summit attempts, both in winter and in summer, due to visibility. Do not underestimate the impact a snow storm will have on navigation and travel time, regardless of what time of year it is.
2. The alpine environment starts at 1,800 m. (5,900 ft.)
Those who spend a lot of time at higher elevations are likely to underestimate conditions at specific elevations in the Alps. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience. 1,800 m. may be the altitude of your trailheads in tree-covered forest at home (ahem, Coloradans), but in the Alps, it is the start of the alpine environment and needs to be respected as such.
1. The emergency phone number for mountain rescue is 112
If you are in danger, hurt or witness an accident, dial this number.
Are you going on an adventure in summer or autumn and want to learn about seasonal differences? Then these two blog articles might interest you as well:
I hope this article about safety tips for adventuring in the Alps was helpful and will prepare you for your upcoming adventures. We wish you happy and safe adventuring!