This was my second long distance hike and here I fell in love with Austria and its hospitable huts. The Berliner Höhenweg is one of the quitessential Austrian hut tours, taking in high alpine scenery consistently for all of its 8 stages. I hiked the Berliner Hohenweg in 2014 and to this day I still rank this trip as the most enjoyable so far.
There are a plethora of reasons for this: The Berliner Höhenweg requires less exertion than most long distance treks, with only two stages taking 9 hours or more to complete. At the same time, the huts offer splendid views, shelter and food for a reasonable price, so one does not have to carry camping gear and heavy food rations.
Then there is the landscape. The upper Zillertal is very remote and is therefore largely unspoiled. Combined with the alpine nature of the hike the scenery remains impressive and rugged all throughout the hike, taking in alpine meadows, barren stony wastelands and huge, deep blue glaciers.
Practical information about the Berliner Höhenweg
The Berliner Höhenweg is a hut tour of about 80 kilometers and features a total of 6300 meters of ascent. The hike starts in Finkenberg, a small village just beyond the large ski resort of Mayrhofen. The hike ends in the Karl-von-Edel-Hütte, from whence it is an easy hike to the cable car descending down to Mayrhofen.
Nature of the hike
This is a very serious mountain hike. Despite the fact that overall the hike is quite easy it also features some of the trickiest passages of mountain hiking I’ve ever encountered. Compared to the GR20 I’ve found that most of the trail is relatively smooth and well graded, but the scrambling is definitely harder than on the GR20. In bad weather or lingering snow some of the stages feature truly dangerous passages. Therefore, some experience as well as good circumstances are required to bring the trek to a good end.
Passages of note are: The crossing of the Schönbichler Scharte at 3081 meter, the crossing of the Mörchenscharte at 2872 meter and the entire second half of the eighth stage, where seemingly endless boulderfields alternate with awkward and exposed scrambling. In wet circumstances this is a dangerous stage to complete.
Weather on the Berliner Höhenweg
The weather on the Berliner Höhenweg can be somewhat precarious. Some summers Austria has great, stable weather, but others see a and endless procession of rainclouds colliding with the northern alpine ranges. Summersnow is a real possibility. In any case, prepare for both circumstances. When I did the hike in 2014 I had two separate occasions of fresh snow and a proper heat wave.
Because the hike is located at the head of the mighty Zillertal, even in good weather clouds will form and drift up, often blocking the sun and making for chilly afternoons. Thunderstorms are likely to occur on warm days so getting up early is necessary.
When to Go?
The huts on the Berliner Höhenweg open in late June but it is wise to plan your trip only from the second half of July onward as ofttimes lingering snow makes the hike very hard to complete in early season. In August most of the snow should be gone, but the huts will be crowded as this month coincides with the summer holidays in most of Europe. The beginning of September ofttimes sees good weather and a diminishing of the crowds, making for a good window to complete the hike. With the arrival of autumn late September the huts will close and the Berliner Höhenweg will become impassable on many key passages.
Reaching the Berliner Höhenweg
The Berliner Höhenweg is easily reached by flying or taking the train to Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol. From there it takes some two hours to reach Mayrhofen by train. First you take the intercity train to Jenbach where you change trains to the Zillertal Bahn to Mayrhofen. From Mayrhofen one can take the bus to Finkenberg where the trailhead is located. If you arrive early you can start your hike on the same day as the first stage only takes three hours.
Accommodation along the Berliner Höhenweg is without an exception in mountain huts, owned either by the German or Austrian Alpine Club. These are non-profit organisations, but nonetheless you’ll find that basic luxuries as warm showers can be very expensive, depending on the remoteness and altitude of the hut. Members of the European Alpine Clubs pay a discounted price for spending the night and can order the cheap ‘Bergsteigeressen’, greatly reducing the price of an overnight stay. To see the list of coöperating mountain huts, see the following link about the so called ‘Gegenrecht‘.
Huts are often times ‘basic’ and, in high season, can be a little crowded. To make your stay (and of the other guests) more pleasant there is a basic hut etiquette:
- Leave your shoes, trekking poles and other dirty and wet gear at the door. Flip flops (hut shoes) will be provided for you.
- Quiet time (Hüttenruhe) is early in the evening. Respect this as many people need to get up early for their alpine ascents.
- You can leave as early as you want but try to do this silently. Don’t shine your flashlight in other people’s eyes.
- You cannot leave your trash at the hut as it is very hard and expensive to transport it off of the mountain.
- This last rule is the one mostly ignored: The hut is no hotel and you can’t just order the staff around. The staff works very hard for little pay. Running a hut is a labour of love. Don’t expect luxury or low prices as even flushing a toilet is extremely expensive at high altitudes. Allways respect the staff and especially the warden (hüttenwart) as he is quite literally the captain of the hut.
More information for download can be found on the website of Naturpark Zillertal. On the same website there is also a very detailed trip itinerary with possible sidetrips. Some German reading skill will be required.
There is also a Cicerone Guidebook by Allan Hartley to the Zillertal, which includes information of various alpine ascents and the Zillertal South Tyrol Tour as well as the Berliner Höhenweg. Strangely however, here the Berliner Höhenweg is described the other way round (from the Karl-von-Edel-Hütte to Finkenberg) as the official, recommended route. In my opinion, it is better to start in Finkenberg and follow the route counterclockwise to the Karl-von-Edel-Hütte.