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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

5. Walker's Haute Route, Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland

From the foot of 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, to the base of 14,692-foot Matterhorn, the continent's most beautiful and famous summit, this route serves up a daily dose of the world's most gorgeous scenery and Alpine hamlets picturesque beyond imagination.

Length: 14 days.

Guides: Chamonix to Zermatt, the Walker's Haute Route, by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press).

6. Tour des Combin, Western Pennine Alps, Switzerland and Italy

On this little-known circuit hike, you'll witness "as fine an assortment of mountain profiles as you could wish to see," according to guidebook author Kev Reynolds. Towering peaks, massive glaciers, hanging valleys, high lakes, turbulent streams, quaint villages, and rustic farm huts. On the Italian side of the border, the route is poorly marked in places and you'll have to be careful not to get lost.

Length: 8 days.

Guide: Walking in the Alps, by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press).

7. Alpine Pass Route, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

The 200-mile, 16-pass, 60,000-foot vertical gain and loss, 15-day Alpine Pass Route nearly traverses the length of Switzerland and fully absorbs much of her most sublime terrain. Or take a seven-day abbreviation through the best of the best past the Eiger and the Jungfrau. While much of the route can be walked by anyone with two moving legs, a thru-hike of even the short course requires exceptional fitness and the willingness to cross steep, icy ground that in places has fixed handlines for steadier traveling.

Length: 7 or 15 days.

Guide: Alpine Pass Route, by Kev Reynolds (Cicerone Press).

8. The Stubai High Route, Stubai Alps, Austria

This route crosses ridges so steep you'll wish you had goat hooves for feet; hang onto the cables during vertigo attacks. If you want to bag a few mountains during your Alpine holiday, this is the place to do it. And the lodging and dining each night are the finest in the land.

Length: 7 to 9 days.

Guide: Hut to Hut in the Stubai Alps, by Allan Hartley (Cicerone Press).

9. Seven Lakes Valley, Julian Alps, Slovenia

"A bit of western America in Europe," is how one world traveler described the rolling plains, jewel lakes, and open pine forests in this nook of an otherwise rugged range of limestone crags. Wander through some of the wildest landscapes in the Alps and on up 9,400-foot Triglav.

Length: 3 to 30 days.

Guide: Walking in the Julian Alps, by Simon Brown (Cicerone Press).

10. Tour of the Central Brenta, Dolomites, Italy

Come to the Dolomites to witness the most spectacular mountains you've ever seen. Surreal shapes of towering limestone walls-often more towerlike even than a castle's turret-stand atop exquisite Alpine meadows. But don't come here if you aren't willing to tolerate throngs of fellow mountain lovers busily snapping pictures. The really adventurous can try one of Italy's famous via ferratae, or "iron ways,"-steel ladders that ascend into terrain unreachable by mountain goats. The classic and awe-inspiring Sentiero delle Bocchette provides one of the most spectacular and hair-raising "hikes" in the Alps.

Length: 4 days for the tour; more if you add a via ferrata.

Guides: Walking in the Dolomites, by Gillian Price. And, if you're so inclined, Via Ferratae-Scrambles in the Dolomites, by H?fler/Werner (both Cicerone Press).

-J. Harlin

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