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Backpacker Magazine – February 2000

Once Upon The Alps

In the European high-country Alps you can wander through the most stunning mountains in the world. Vive la difference!

by: John Harlin

The Alps On Foot

All these routes have huts, but most allow bivouacking and tenting. Every hike can be shortened simply by adjusting the starting and ending points.

1. Maritime Alps, Parc National du Mercantour, France

The author's hiking route. Be sure to catch the Vallee;e des Merveilles, where 3,500-year-old Bronze-Age engravings abound.

Length: 4 to 6 days.

Guide: Walking the Alpine Parks, by Marcia Lieberman (Mountaineers Books; 1001 SW Klickitat Way, Seattle, WA 98134, 800-553-4453;

2. Tour of the Oisans, Parc National des Ecrins, France

This rugged loop in France's largest national park climbs over impossibly high passes, plunges into abysmally low valleys, and repeats the pattern day after day until you arrive where you started. In reward, you'll witness the full glacier-clad glory of three of France's highest mountains, and you'll complete a hike that's similar in distance and magnificence to the world-renowned circuit around Mont Blanc-but in a setting that's vastly more remote and with a fraction of the crowds.

Length: 10 days.

Guide: Tour of the Oisans, by Andrew Harper (Cicerone Press,

3. Tour of the Vanoise, Parc National de la Vanoise, France

The long circuit takes in many a gentle valley with modest ridge--crossing interludes where you'll see ibex (wild goats) or chamois (small antelope).

The short version, Tour des Glaciers de la Vanoise, sticks to the high country with intimate views of its namesake ice floes.

Length: 3 to 4 days or 10 to 12 days.

Guide: Tour of the Vanoise, by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press).

4. Alta Via della Valle d'Aosta No. 2 Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, Italy

This is the best place to see herds of the Alps's largest wild animal, the ibex, which provide perhaps the finest wildlife spectacle on the continent. This ibex trail offers views of many of the park's 57 glaciers and traverses valleys that have been called "as you can find outside a real wilderness." This isn't a circuit, so you'll need transportation to return to the trailhead.

Length: 7 days.

Guide: Walking the Alpine Parks, by Marcia Lieberman (The Mountaineers Books) for piecing together dayhikes. Long Distance Walks in the Gran Paradiso, by J.W. Akitt (Cicerone Press) for the long stuff.

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