Frequently Asked Questions

It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home.
-- Rumi

  1. Why is it called the "House to House" hike?
  2. How did the H2H come to be?
  3. But why do you want to hike from house to house?
  4. Why does the H2H take the route it does?
  5. How did you estimate hiking times?
  6. Are there any signposts for the H2H?
  7. When will you hike the H2H?
  8. And who are you, anyway?
  9. Why did you build this website and who is it for?
  10. What are Klettersteige and does the H2H go along them?
  11. What is the GR4 (or GR5, or GR...)?
  12. How difficult is the H2H?
  13. I have questions or comments or corrections... can I contact you?

  1. Why is it called the "House to House" hike?

For a simple reason: I have a house in Bavaria, my family has a house in Provence, and my wife and I split our time between the two places. The H2H goes from one house to the other house... hence the name.

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  1. How did the H2H come to be?

Out of the blue, really. I have always loved hiking, and especially hiking in the Alps, but I had never hiked for more than two weeks at a time. And then one day, while in Provence I just thought, "you know, instead of always flying or driving here from Bavaria, one day I should hike." I mentioned this to my wife, and she was immediately supportive, so I started to think about it more constructively and it sort of took on a life of its own after that.

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  1. But why did you want to hike from house to house?

First, I wanted to psychologically bind together the two houses together into one. I love both places, and want them both to be "home", but I was having some difficulty avoiding thinking of one as the "main" house, and the other as the "holiday" house. So I thought that perhaps by walking between the two I could somehow make them into two halves of a whole. Sounds a little esoteric, perhaps, but it made sense to me. Having now done the hike I can say that it has helped a lot, but that there are a couple of last pieces to the puzzle (for example, a wireless LAN :-).

Second, I had reached that stage in life where one starts to think about what one has done that is remarkable... and realizes that the answer lies somewhere between nothing and not enough. In an earlier age I might have gone exploring, but there are no blank areas on the maps of the world today.

Moreover, having travelled a fair amount I had increasingly concluded that there isn't as much difference between elsewhere and here as I wish were the case... although having read a great deal of science fiction, I'm probably jaded as regards what a sufficient difference might be! Anyway, being a tourist wouldn't have been "doing" something in the way I wanted.

So, I started to think about an expedition, along the lines of climbing Everest or skiing to the South Pole, something that would be an extreme physical challenge. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that -- aside from the fact that I don't have the skills or experience to do that sort of thing by myself, and thus would be, in a sense, just baggage for those (the guides) who do -- I simply wasn't interested in the suffering that is an intrinsic part of both of these expeditions and of most others of their ilk. Climbing over a thousand meters a day up a mountain is hard, but suffering comes from the lack of oxygen over 4,000m. Cross-country skiing for days on end is hard enough, without adding killing cold to the mix.

No, I realized that I wanted something paradoxical: a civilized expedition. Challenging and remarkable... but without undue suffering. And what's more, I wanted to plan and execute it myself.

And then I thought of the House to House hike. Challenging both physically and psychologically -- a marathon of marathons, with vast amounts of altitude to gain and lose. Remarkable -- I personally knew no-one who had done anything remotely similar (not having people such as the 200+ per year Appalachian Trail through-hikers among my friends). But civilized -- the Alps have some of the best tourist infrastructure in the world, so that at the end of almost every day there would be hot showers, good food, and real beds. And I knew enough about hiking and the Alps to plan and carry out the expedition by myself. Perfect. And it was.

Lastly, I first read Tolkien's "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" when I was 10... and I have read them more than fifteen times since, as well as several times watched Peter Jackson's frustratingly flawed although entertaining films. The myths of Middle Earth and the journeys of the hobbits are part of me... and going out of my front door one morning with nothing but a pack on my back for a walk to and through the mountains that would take many months just seemed... right.

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  1. Why does the H2H take the route it does?

On the macro-level, the answer is a combination of pragmatism and philosophy.

Philosophy first. I decided early on that the H2H would not be about getting from Munich to St.-Rémy as quickly or as easily as possible... it would be about experiencing and enjoying the Alps.

That is why the H2H zig-zags: dropping south from Munich to follow the curve of the Alps west through Switzerland to Lac Léman and Montreux, and then all the way south via Chamonix and then the Maritime Alps to where they meet the Mediterranean at Monaco, before finally turning west to cross Provence to St.-Rémy.

Furthermore, the essence of hiking in the mountains is the views you get from on high… but in order to minimize weight (pragmatism intrudes) I didn't want to carry climbing equipment… so I decided that although the H2H wouldn't scale many peaks, it should take as many high-level trails and passes as possible (rather than walking along the bottoms of valleys).

Lastly (and now I am being almost completely pragmatic), while there are many, many wonderful places to visit and things to do along the way, the need to have stages of reasonable length, and to allow for bad weather and rest days, while nevertheless fitting the whole H2H into one summer (between the melting of one winter's snows and the first falls of the next) meant that the primary focus had to be on hiking rather than sightseeing. The H2H visits many interesting places, but it is a hike, not a tour.

On the micro-level, the specific trails were chosen using 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale topographic hiking maps with an eye to avoiding Klettersteige and leading to places to stay at reasonable intervals. I soon found out that the general route I thought would be most interesting to hike was fairly similar to routes chosen by the Via Alpina and the E4, as well as the GR4, GR5, and GR6 in France. However, the H2H diverges from these other long-distance hikes in various ways large and small. For more information about long distance paths, see here.

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  1. How did you estimate hiking times?

The German Alpine Club uses -- or at least, used to use... I can't find a reference to it on their site at this time -- a formula to estimate hiking times given the total distance covered and altitude gained and lost. It was:

A = (Altitude Gained / 300m) + (Altitude Lost / 500m)
B = Distance / 4km
Hiking time = (the greater of A and B) + (half of the lesser of A and B)

So, if you climb 900m, descend 1000m, and walk a total distance of 16km in a day, then the calculation is as follows:

A = (900/300) + (1000/500) = 5 hours.
B = 16km / 4 = 4 hours
Hiking time = (5 hours) + (4 hours / 2) = 7 hours

Of course, to use a formula, you have to have data... in this case, the distance and altitude gained / lost for each stage... and to produce the data I spent many, many hours poring over the topographical map or maps for each stage, counting contour lines and measuring trail lengths.

I also did a number of practice hikes to double-check my results, and found that when hiking the whole day with a full pack I in general required between 80% and 90% of the times produced by this formula. I therefore applied a 90% correction factor across the board when coming up with the final time estimates used on this site (and I recommend that you take the same approach to work out your own correction factor). Note too that since you will get fitter (and probably much fitter) over time, your correction factor will also change... as ours did (I think we ended up around 75%, which meant that most days we finished earlier than projected... which was always nice).

Having now done the H2H I have made a few changes where experience revealed that unusual features of the terrain rendered the formulaic estimate invalid. For example, where the trails although flat were particularly rough (e.g., when hiking along the Isar between Einöd and Bad Tölz), or when there were many small ups and downs that were not visible on the topographical map (as was the case on the stage to Schröcken).

What I haven't done is to change estimates to reflect our actual times. The reason for this is that these varied depending upon factors that had nothing to do with the terrain... such as whether or not the day before was a rest day, if we had any nagging injuries, if the weather was bad, if the trails were covered by snow, and so on. Moreover, our general hiking fitness, as noted above, improved over the course of the H2H (but if you are not doing the whole H2H in one summer, then this might not apply to you). Lastly, we often had "guest" hikers with us... and in some cases their condition also affected our hiking times.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: take the estimates as just that: estimates. Your times will almost certainly differ.

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  1. Are there any signposts for the H2H?

No. The H2H is not an "official" route like the Via Alpina or the E4 or the GR5, nor is it identical to any of these. Don't try to hike the H2H (or any other hike in the Alps, whether "official" or not, for that matter) without maps.

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  1. When did you hike the H2H?

In the summer of 2007. We started on June 22nd and finished just over four months later on October 26th. However, if I were to hike it again I think I'd start a week or two earlier -- say around June 10th. Starting earlier than this would be risky because there is often still a lot of snow left above 1800m in the Alps at the beginning of June. But starting as late (or later) than we did is also risky, because it often starts snowing again in the Alpes Maritimes in early October (and thus the mountain huts that the H2H relies on there for accommodation are usually closed for the winter by the end of September). The refuge at Bousiéyas (Stage 65), for example closed in 2007 on September 18th (three days after we passed through), and in fact when we looked back a week later the mountains we had hiked through were all white with snow.

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  1. And who are you, anyway?

"I" am just someone who likes to hike and who was fortunate enough to have sufficient free time to plan and hike the H2H and build this website.

"We" are the first group to hike the H2H: myself, one of my brothers, and his girlfriend (and of course a fair number of very welcome "guest" hikers!).

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  1. Why did you build this website and who is it for?

I built it for several reasons:

  • As a means of communicating with friends and family who expressed interest either in accompanying us on the hike, or in tracking our progress during the hike, or just in knowing more about where we were going to be hiking through.
  • To inspire and encourage others to take long-distance hikes in the Alps... whether along an "official" trail, the H2H, or some other self-defined path.
  • To entertain and inform anyone interested in the Alps, or hiking in the Alps, or in the experiences of a "normal" (as opposed to professional or semi-professional) group of hikers on a long-distance hike.
  • As a sort of memoir of my "civilized expedition".

And so it is for family, friends, and anyone else who either wants to do a long distance hike or likes reading about one.

One other thing: although it is of course possible to do the H2H piecemeal over several summers (or indeed to do just a part of the H2H), this website -- and indeed the H2H itself -- has been created under the assumption that the reader/hiker is planning to go the whole way from Munich to St.-Rémy in a single summer.

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  1. What are Klettersteige and does the H2H go along them?

Klettersteig (plural Klettersteige) is a German word that literally translates to "climbing path". In the Alps, however, it has a specific meaning: it refers to a path that has been secured with cables, ladders, and bars to allow hikers to pass where normally only climbers would be able to go. You may have heard of the Italian equivalent: via ferrata... it means the same thing. For more information see the wikipedia article on via ferrata.

Easy Klettersteige can be traversed by experienced hikers and climbers without special equipment, but for more difficult routes specialized equipment designed for Klettersteige is necessary. The problem is that there is no reliable way to identify how difficult a given Klettersteig is. There are books that list Klettersteige and grade them by difficulty... but in my experience their assessment has frequently differed from mine, and they usually concentrate upon longer or more popular Klettersteige so that the absence of a given trail from a book doesn't mean that it isn't a Klettersteig or that it isn't difficult.

Furthermore, even the definition of a trail as a Klettersteig is an imprecise science. Most high-level trails in the Alps have cables and other aids at one point or another along their length where the trailmakers felt that additional security was necessary. Very few of these are indicated on maps or in books as being Klettersteige... even though they might be as difficult as a Klettersteig at that point.

The hiking maps I use typically have a little red ladder symbol for difficult stretches, but sometimes one map will show the symbol and another overlapping map (even from the same company) won't. Sometimes there are even differences between different editions of the same map from the same company! And there is no difficulty indicator that accompanies the ladder symbol.

So, what does the H2H do? Basically it avoids all trails that are clearly identifiable as being Klettersteige. By identifiable I mean that either the name of the trail indicates that it is a Klettersteig, or I have found it listed as a Klettersteig in a book. In cases where there were red ladders at specific points on a map, but the trail was not otherwise identifiable as a Klettersteig, then where possible I suggest optional routes that avoid these points. But this is not always possible... and anyway I know from experience that there will be many difficult stretches that are not shown upon the map with a ladder symbol.

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  1. What is the GR4 (or GR5, or GR...)?

GR stands for Grande Randonnée, which roughly translates as "long-distance trail". There is an extensive network of such trails in France (for a complete list, see here), and these are in turn part of other even-longer-distance trails that criss-cross Europe (for more information, see here). They are perhaps best thought of as logical overlays on the existing physical trail infrastructure (just like the H2H), although as they have become well-known in some cases new trails have been created specifically to improve their weaker sections. The H2H goes along the same trails as a number of these paths, most notably the:

  • GR4, which goes from Royan (on the Atlantic Coast of France) to Grasse (near Nice).
  • GR5, which goes from the North Sea Coast of Holland, through Belgium, down to Nice.
  • GR5c, a variant of the GR5.
  • GR6, which goes from Saint-Véran (near Briançon) to Langon (on the Atlantic Coast of France)
  • GR51, which goes from Menton to Marseilles.
  • GR52A, a variant of the GR52 which goes from St.-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Menton.
  • GR55
  • GR97
  • GR510
  • E4, which goes from Cape St. Vincent in Portugal to the Russian border in Estonia.
  • Via Alpina Purple Route, which goes from Slovenia through Austria to Oberstdorf in Germany.
  • Via Alpina Green Route, which goes from Liechtenstein across Switzerland.
  • Via Alpina Red Route, which follows the entire arc of the Alps from Trieste to Monaco.
  • Via Alpina Blue Route, which goes from Monte Rosa on the Swiss / Italian border to Monaco.

A word of caution, from the perspective of hiking the H2H, about these official long-distance paths: since they are usually (but not always!) well sign-posted, it can frequently be useful to orient yourself by their signs when the H2H goes along the same trails. However, this can quickly become a source of problems when the H2H goes off along a different trail. In the route descriptions for the various stages I have tried to draw attention to such potential points of confusion whenever they occur.

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  1. How difficult is the H2H?

The general philosophy of the H2H is that it is for hikers, not climbers. You need to have a good head for heights but you don't need climbing equipment. Drop-offs on one or both sides, steep scrambles, cables and the occasional ladder are OK, but not climbing routes or overhangs or anything like that.

From the perspective of the trails that the H2H follows: it is moderately difficult. It doesn't do Klettersteige, it doesn't cross glaciers, it doesn't go over 3000m, and it doesn't go cross-country (i.e., it stickes to maintained trails). But it frequently does go over 2500m, along ridge walks with steep drop offs on both sides, and up and down stretches with ladders and cables (and sometimes all of the above at the same time). If you haven't done long hikes on Alpine mountain paths, then I'd recommend doing a few before trying the H2H.

From a through-hiker's perspective (i.e., someone trying to do the whole hike in one go as opposed to spreading it out over a number of seasons), in comparison with other long-distance trails: it is moderately difficult. A few trails (such as the GR5 or the E4 or the Pacific Coast Trail or the Appalachian Trail) are longer, but most other long-distance hikes (such as Munich to Venice, or the Walker's Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, or the Milford Track, or the Coast to Coast across England) are much shorter. Although you are not under the continual pressure to hike almost every day in order to avoid being caught by the onset of winter (as is the case with the Appalachian Trail, for example), you can't dawdle and your window of opportunity for starting the hike is quite narrow (which is not the case for most long-distance trails).

From the perspective of extreme expeditions (Everest, South Pole, etc.): it is easy. You aren't likely to suffer from hypoxia, hypothermia, heat-stroke, diseases, predator attacks, political instability, or lack of good food and water on the H2H!

In comparison with what the vast majority of people would regard as the most difficult physical thing that they have done in their lives: it is exceedingly difficult. I doubt that one person in a thousand will ever do anything as difficult as the H2H. Each day is a marathon, and you have to do 66 of the 92 marathons within about 100 days (i.e., between snowmelt in early summer and the first serious snows of autumn). Physically and psychologically, the H2H is really, really tough.

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  1. I have questions or comments or corrections... can I contact you?

Sure, but I can't promise to answer (it depends upon the volume of mail and how busy I am). You can email me at:

Spam-minimizing email address

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