General Hiking Advice

Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen. -- Louis L'Amour

This is a small collection of tips and suggestions concerning hiking in general, long-distance hikes in particular, and very specifically the H2H. Very much in the category of FWIW, not gospel.

Enjoying Stage 61 (and 62, and...)

You must love hiking if you are thinking of doing a long-distance hike like the H2H. Unfortunately I have some bad news for you: that won't be enough. If you are going to enjoy a long-distance hike, you will have to work at it. Here are some thoughts:

  • Don't try to finish each day as quickly as possible. Make the hike a pleasure, not a forced march. Look around, breathe the air, practice a zen-like awareness of your surroundings, notice things.
  • Think before the hike how to make each and every day interesting. It would be a pity to get to the end and for your memories of it to be a blur because after all one mountain looks pretty much like the next and once you have done one or two passes you have done them all. And yet that is what happens to most people.
  • When I read journals on the Net written by people who have done long-distance hikes, in almost every case I am struck by how little they seem to have paid attention to or enjoyed the areas they were hiking through (other than the almost mechanical "wow, it sure is beautiful here" comment from time to time). Both the pleasure of being outside surrounded by spectacular nature, and the sense of excitement at undertaking a grand physical challenge, wear off after a while, and very few seem to have anything else to fall back on to provide enjoyment.
  • IMHO the best way to do this is to recognize that interest and understanding occur when reality encounters knowledge. In other words, learn as much as possible about the areas you are going to be passing through before the hike, so that when you see them in reality, you will know something about what you are looking at (and it will therefore be interesting to you).
  • Some ideas for things you could research beforehand:
    • Local place names (and their origins) and languages.
    • Local plants and animals, birds and insects.
    • History of the area / country, including political control, warfare, settlement timing and patterns....
    • Local geology, geography, and weather patterns.
    • Local society and culture (famous people from the area, or who visited often or moved here, cuisine, music, architecture...).
    • Local economy (farming, mining, tourism, industry) and how it has changed over time.
  • Other things that you could do to heighten your enjoyment:
    • Arrange to have friends and family meet you at specific places along the way, either to hike a few stages with you, or just for an interim celebration and to spend a free day with them. Fresh friendly faces can do wonders for one's mood....
    • Set your expectations appropriately beforehand: you won't enjoy all day every day on the H2H, especially when the weather is bad. This is of course obviously more about avoiding disappointment... but if you are not disappointed, then you'll be able to recommence enjoying things more quickly when conditions change.
    • Well, what occurs to you? Think....

Decide in Advance if you are going to be on an Expedition or on Holiday

If you intend to try to complete the H2H in a single summer, then you should be aware that it will be an expedition, not a holiday. The difference is crucial. On holiday you do what you want, and if you aren't having fun, well then you do something else. An expedition isn't like that. An expedition has a goal, and to a large extent individual needs and desires are subordinate to that goal. This raises tensions and creates stresses between expedition members, and indeed if you read first-hand accounts of expeditions almost invariably they describe an inordinate amount of interpersonal friction. The H2H will be no different, and you should set your expectations accordingly, since the worst friction occurs when expectations clash with contrary reality. I'll give an example (a painful one, as such examples tend to be).

When we did the H2H, and despite extensive preparation and discussion, somehow we did not reach a common understanding of what it was going to be: for me it was an expedition, for Russell and Sally it was a holiday. As a result, by the end of Stage 13 in Oberstdorf, after a couple of tough weeks, during a prolonged spell of bad weather and while suffering from various and sundry ailments, matters came to a head. They wanted to take a few days off to rest and recover while the weather was bad. If it meant that we fell behind schedule and therefore weren't able to complete the H2H entirely on foot as planned (due to not getting out of the High Alps before the onset of winter)... well that wasn't so tragic: we'd just take a train to Monaco and then continue from there. After all, they weren't having fun... and a holiday is supposed to be fun.

Well, I wasn't exactly enjoying hiking in the rain, and my feet hurt too, but for me it was an expedition, and so I told them that I wasn't willing to put the goal at risk. If they wanted or needed to take time off, they were of course free to do so... but I was going to continue (despite the reduction in safety that going on alone would entail). Since they are good people and did not want to, even through inaction, expose me to danger, this put them in a difficult situation, and ultimately they decided to "suck it up" and continue. But it was a difficult decision, and one which left them unhappy and annoyed (at least until the weather got better :-). If, however, we had had a shared understanding that the H2H was an expedition then I think that they would not have been as upset... and we might not even have had the discussion. Ultimately it wasn't that they were unable to continue, but rather that it wasn't (at that time) fun. And since they expected fun, that was a major problem for them. My expectation was different, and the lack of fun wasn't a major problem for me... but the friction was!

Starting Early

You should start early every day, because:

  • If anything goes wrong, then you have more time to recover before darkness.
  • If you want to stop for a while somewhere or make a little detour or talk with someone you meet, you can.
  • The weather in the Northern Alps often gets worse from mid-afternoon on (thunderstorms).
  • In high summer, the issue is heat... and since many days are "up and over", you'd prefer to be heading down before the midday sun.
  • The earlier you arrive at busy huts/hotels, the better rooms/beds you get.

As a general rule, I would recommend starting by 7:30 if the estimated hiking time (not including breaks) is 7 hours or longer, and by 6:30 if the hiking time is 8.5 hours or more.

Weather and Hiking (and Not Hiking)

Roughly one day in four or five in the Alps in the summer the weather is bad enough for hiking to be unpleasant. On a long-distance hike like the H2H luck averages out: i.e., you are going to have bad weather and for various reasons (mostly to do with the difficulty of making and changing accommodation plans in the Alps in high-season) you are probably going to hike through a fair amount of it. Spend therefore some time before the hike thinking about how you are going to deal with it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Before the hike, research alternative routes that you can take even in bad weather.
  • Leave enough flexibility in your plans to have the option of not hiking when the weather is too bad. We scheduled over four months to hike the H2H... although there are only 92 stages. Those extra days were like buffers in our plans, giving us the option of taking a day off or a different route if the weather was bad.
  • Extra days provide a double pleasure when they come after one or more days of hiking in bad weather. And a triple pleasure when the weather remains bad on a day off!
  • Lastly, even if the weather is fine why not take a day off if you have hiked several days in a row? The pleasure of not hiking can be as enjoyable as the pleasure of hiking....


  • Take along more than you think you need, drink more than you feel you need, refill whenever you can.
  • If you don't need to pee once every couple of hours, you aren't drinking enough.