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Pyrenees Traverse, France | Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland | Zillertal Alps, Austria | Tongariro Northern Circuit and Heaphy Track, New Zealand | Cordillera Apolobamba, Bolivia | Overland Track, Australia | Sarek National Park, Sweden | Rolwaling and Khumbu Valleys, Nepal | Polar Route, Greenland | Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Catholics have the Vatican. Muslims have Mecca. And hikers have the Alps. Make your pilgrimage on the Zillertal Rucksack Route. This 50-mile, nine-day loop has it all: glaciated 11,000-foot mountains, high alpine passes, deep valleys, waterfalls, gemsbok mountain antelopes, alpine roses, and martigon lilies. The well-marked route requires no technical expertise, but expect long, strenuous days (despite the relatively short mileage) and adrenaline-fueled climbing with fixed ropes and ladders.
Life-list moment: Catch your breath–and savor it all–on the small terrace at the Olperer Hut, perched hundreds of feet above the Schlegeisspeicher reservoir, with a view of the serrated ridge of Grosser Moseler in front and a cold Austrian lager in hand.
Hike the loop clockwise, starting in Mayrhofen–the views get better every day, and this way you’ll start with an easy two-mile hike to Edel Hut, so you can sleep in the mountains the same day you arrive in Austria. From Edel, get your bearings by hiking the three-hour round-trip to 9,754-foot Ahornspitze, a rocky summit high above the Zillertal Valley. You’ll know you’re in the heart of the Alps on day 4, en route from Greizer Hut to Berliner Hut, when in one short section you cross a picturesque–if rickety–footbridge over a glacial stream, scramble through a field of avalanche debris, and climb fixed ropes and a 16-foot ladder bolted to sheer rock. Be sure to stop on Lake Schwarzsee’s north shore and snap a photo of the reflected peaks–visual proof of your epic trek.
Tip: On day 8, from Friesenberg Haus to Gams Hut, allow 10-12 hours for the deceptively hard eight-mile section. End at Ginzling and catch a bus back to Mayrhofen. And pack light: In the best Alps tradition, meals are included with hut stays (no reservations needed for small groups).