Crossing the Alps – the L1 from Garmisch to Lake Garda

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Crossing the central mountain range in Europe on foot is a “must-do” for many mountain hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are now a number of ways to do this. As well as the all-time classic, the E5 from Oberstdorf to Merano, in recent years a number of very exciting Alpine crossings have been added, from Salzburg to Trieste, and the dream path from Munich to Venice, to name just two examples. Today we would like to introduce you to an alternative that is rarely mentioned: the L1 from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Lake Garda.

The L1 – a short overview

Legs up on the L1 with a beautiful view of the mountains
At 370km, you simply have to put your feet up sometimes.

The L1 is named after its first climber Hans Losse. Hans Losse and his 15-year-old son Alexander weren’t too keen on the established Alpine crossings, so they decided to plan their own route in 1989. The idea was to find a route across the Alps that would be completely free of buses, cable cars and other aids. This plan took Hans Losse from Garmisch-Partenkirchen through the Kühtai, over the Alpine ridge in the Ötztal, into South Tyrol and finally through the Adamello group to Brescia. A popular alternative has developed in more recent years that leads to the more scenic Lake Garda instead of Brescia, but both variants are, of course, still possible.

This resulted in a route across the Alps that is around 370 kilometres long, covers 60,000 metres of altitude and requires a total of around three-and-a-half weeks of walking. Unlike most other Alpine crossings, the L1 is not a continuously signposted long-distance hiking trail, but is made up of many sections mixed together. This makes the L1 one of the least travelled and least known paths across the Alps. However, navigation and logistics are not too much of a challenge; the destinations and end points for each stage are clearly defined and usually easy to find. It is possible to walk the L1 from the end of June to mid-September, depending on the weather, but you will usually find a few snowfields.

The L1 is a challenging high-altitude tour, which requires basic Alpine experience, sufficient surefootedness and a head for heights. There are many exposed, rope-secured climbing sections and it also includes a short glacier crossing across the Fürkeleferner at the end of the Martell Valley. As the L1 is laid out so that walkers always descend completely into each valley, there is a lot of altitude gain, which requires an appropriate basic level of fitness. If you meet these criteria, you can expect a wonderful Alpine crossing along the L1, with beautiful places to stay, relatively few people and fascinating mountain scenery.

The stages

The L1 can be roughly divided into three sections, a northern section from Garmisch to the Stubaital, a central section from the Ötztal Alps to the Ortler Group, in which the main Alpine ridge is crossed, and a southern section through the Adamello Alps to Lake Garda.

The following stage plan for crossing the Alps shows one option, but it is of course possible to arrange sections differently, and sometimes there is the option of bivouacking instead of spending the night in a hut.

Bivouac on the L1
Alpine Trekker Marco took the opportunity to bivouac.

Stage 1 Garmisch – Partenkirchen – Knorr hut

Climb from Garmisch-Partenkirchen over the Kreuzeckhaus (there is also an alternative route over the Partnach gorge), through the Reintal valley, to the Knorr hut. You can also bivouac about an hour below the Knorr hut. Good, not too strenuous starting stage with beautiful views of the Zugspitze massif.

Stage 2 Knorr hut – Neue Alpl hut

From the Knorr hut, the route goes through the famous Gatterl into Austria. From the Gatterl walk across the Steinerne Hütterl down to the Tillfußalm and from here, it’s a fairly long climb up to the Neue Alpl hut. There is a lot of altitude gain from the Gatterl, but it is not a technically demanding stage.

View of the Zugspitze
The first stage offers a great view of the Zugspitze.

Stage 3 Neue Alpl hut – Untermieming – Dortmund hut

This stage of the Alpine Crossing should be spread over two days and you should stay overnight at the Stamser Alm if you also want to cross the Inntal on foot. This is not very scenic, so we decided to travel through Inntal bus after the descent from the Neue Alpl hut and climb straight up to the Dortmund hut. Very strenuous stage with lots of elevation change.

Stage 4 Dortmund hut – Schweinfurt hut

Relatively unspectacular stage passing the reservoir through the Kühtai with many ski and chair lifts, to the Schweinfurt Hut. One of the less beautiful stages on the L1, but in theory you can also bypass it through Längental, which in retrospect seems nicer.

Stage 5 Schweinfurt hut – Amberg hut

From the Schweinfurte hut you walk past the Lake Winnebach hut down to Grieß, where there are also shops. Then follows a long ascent up to the Amberg hut. A good level of fitness is required here, but there’s nothing technically demanding. 

Stage 6 Amberg hut – Sölden/Vent

One of the most difficult stages on the L1 Alpine Crossing. From the Amberger hut, there is a rope-secured climbing passage to the very exposed Attakarjoch, but you can walk around the small glacier. Surefootedness and a head for heights are essential here. This is followed by a long, very steep and technically demanding descent to Sölden. You can then walk here along the Ache River as far as Zwieselstein. We decided to take the bus directly from Sölden to Vent because the path is right next to the road.

Glacier on the L1
Smaller glacial sections also await you on the L1.

Stage 7 Vent – Schöne Aussicht hut

The official L1 now goes past the Martin Busch hut to the Saykogel, which at 3360 metres is also the highest point of the tour. From here, it continues to the Schöne Aussicht hut. Unfortunately, due to the weather, we had to choose the alternative route past the Similaun hut and then descend from there to Vernagt. Most hikers then avoid the very long descent to Schlanders, and instead take the bus from Kurzras or, like us, from Vernagt to Schlanders.

Stage 8 Schöne Aussicht hut – Schlanders

This is a particularly good time to take a rest day in Silandro and put your feet up and enjoy South Tyrolean specialities in the small town of Vinschgau, especially if you choose the bus option.

Stage 9 Schlanders – Berggasthaus Stallwies

From Silandro, the route first leads through vineyards, then on rather boring forest paths across the Göflaner Alm up to the Göflaner Scharte. Watch out for thunderstorms here. From the Scharte you have the first impressive views of the Ortler group. From the Scharte, the trail then leads up and then down to the wonderfully positioned Stallwieshof, one of the most beautiful places to spend the night on the L1.

Stage 10 Berggasthaus Stallwies – Martell hut

The route runs through the Martell valley, which is initially quite level, to the reservoir below the Martell hut. From there, there are then different options for the climb to the hut, the option from the reservoir to the left is steeper and more demanding, but also more beautiful, otherwise the stage offers no major difficulties.

Stage 11 Martell hut – Peio

Another very demanding stage awaits you today. From the Martell hut, the trail climbs over the crevasse-free Fürkeleferner glacier up to the Fürkelescharte at 3032 metres.. The short glacier crossing requires perfect surefootedness, and the last few metres of the ascent to the Scharte are on technically demanding, slippery scree. From the Scharte, which crosses the German-Italian language border, there is a long, tiring descent to Peio.

Stage 12 Peio – Rifugio Bozzi

This short stage of the Alpine Crossing is initially flat until you reach the reservoir at the end of the valley. From there it is a long but not incredibly steep climb up to the Rifugio Bozzi. Here you can still see some bunkers and other remnants from the First World War, which saw fierce fighting here, but otherwise it is not particularly spectacular.

Stage 13 Rifugio Bozzi – Temú

Theoretically, and if you are very fit, you could also walk directly from Rifugio Bozzi to Rifugio Garibaldi. If you want to do some shopping and relax, however, it is nicer to take the longer descent from the Rifugio Bozzi to Ponte di Legno and then walk along the valley to Temú and spend the night there. Alternatively, you can stay overnight in the larger Ponte di Legno and then take the bus to Temú. 

Stage 14 Temú – Rifugio Garibaldi

From here, the L1 follows the Sentiero No.1 trail, which is easy to find with the white and red signs. From Temú, the route follows rather boring forest paths, at first moderate, but then steadily steeper, to the reservoirs and then on to Rifugio Garibaldi. The trail is not technically demanding, but can be very strenuous in high temperatures because there is barely any shade. You will be rewarded with the beautifully located Rifugio Garibaldi and the view of Monte Adamello.

Monte Adamello.
What’s the better reward? The beautiful Rifugio Garibaldi or the view of Monte Adamello.

Stage 15 Rifugio Garibaldi – Rifugio Gnutti

From Rifugio Garibaldi, the trail first descends to the upper reservoir before it becomes progressively steeper and, because of the larger granite rocks, increasingly strenuous to Passo di Premassone. At the end, there is also a short rope-secured climbing passage to overcome. From the top of the pass with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, the trail continues down over large granite boulders which make orientation difficult, and then over the Passo del Gatto to the Rifugio Gnutti.

Stage 16 Rifugio Gnutti – Rifugio Citta di Lissone

From Rifugio Gnutti, the trail climbs steeply over the granite boulders that are typical here to Passo Miller, and then descends very steeply via Rifugio Prudenzini back up to Passo di Paio.. The paths here are heavily overgrown with grass and you often have to be careful not to fall over because holes are hidden under the tall grass. There is then a steep descent into the Paio valley, which you follow to the Rifugio Citta di Lissone, although you could also bivouac here. A long, difficult stage that could theoretically be spread over two days.

Granite blocks at Rifugio Gnutti
The 16th stage starts with a climb over granite boulders.

Stage 17 Rifugio Citta di Lissone – Rifugio Maria e Franco

Initially the route is level, then it quickly becomes steeper over some rope-secured passages over smaller passes, then it continues more level along the valley. The path here is underlaid with railway planks to prevent erosion, which makes walking easier in dry conditions. The route leads over the Passo Ignaga, which also takes you from South Tyrol to Lombardy, and is very steep and partly rope-secured down to the Rifugio Maria e Franco.

Stage 18 Rifugio Maria e Franco – Rifugio Tita Secchi

One of the shortest stages on the L1 Alpine Crossing leads first over the Passo Dernal, then quite steeply downhill into the valley with many sheep. There are two more smaller passes with some granite rocks before you reach the very beautifully located Rifugio Tita Secchi.  

Stage 19 Rifugio Tita Secchi – Bagolino

From this stage onwards, the plan now departs from the official L1 and turns left towards Lake Garda instead of continuing towards Brescia. It follows a long, rather boring descent towards the small village of Bagolino

Stage 20 Bagolino – Idro

From Bagolino, the route follows the east coast of Lake Idro towards Idro. Unfortunately, there are longer sections along the road here, so you can also bypass parts of the stage by bus

Stage 21 Idro – Saló 

The last stage leads steeply uphill out of Idro, then there is a long, rather flat descent to Lake Garda near Manerba, often along tarmac roads. You can either stay in Manerba, or alternatively we decided to take the bus to the neighbouring, larger town of Saló. You have definitely earned a jump into the cool waters of Lake Garda.

View of Lake Garda
And finally it appears – Lake Garda.

Notes on equipment

The following information is not only for the L1, but can also be used for other Alpine crossings. The same applies as for any mountain hike or trekking tour: the lighter the better. Make sure you keep your backpack weight as low as possible and limit yourself to the essentials. You will always have the opportunity to wash clothes on the way, so you can easily avoid taking too many changes of clothes. All you need is a hiking layer, a merino wool baselayer, an insulating layer and a hardshell jacket on top for weather protection. We took overtrousers with us, but they are not absolutely necessary.

Another note on the topic of shoes for an Alpine crossing. We used stable trail running shoes in Alpine terrain, but approach shoes would also be a lightweight alternative to classic, mid-cut walking boots. However, this is not for everyone and crossing Alpine terrain in such shoes requires experience. It is up to you to decide which footwear to wear on such an alpine tour. Snow spikes can be helpful for the short glacier crossings and the occasional snowfield crossings, but are not absolutely essential.

In terms of other equipment, it depends on whether you plan to stay in huts exclusively, or whether you also want to bivouac occasionally. For the first case, COVID rules mean you need a full sleeping bag with a comfort limit of around eight degrees, even in the huts. If you also plan to bivouac, you will need a sleeping mat with an R-value of roughly three, a base mat and a tarp or bivvy bag for weather protection. The sleeping bag should have a comfort limit of around freezing. The packing list below is based on the second option. The only other equipment you could need are good walking poles, some toiletries, a head torch and a first aid kit.

Alpine crossing packing list

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Alpinetrek-Expert Marco

Alpinetrek-Expert Marco

My fascination for the mountains arose during my trips in the Alps and was reinforced on the John Muir Trail in the USA.

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