The Alps are my daily inspiration. When I walk the dog every morning, I see these mountains – they’re right on our doorstep. I usually turn around after half an hour. But what if I carried on walking all the way to the Alps?
I’ve been dreaming about taking a multi-day hike with my dog for a long time. And now I’m going for it. My goal is to trek from Schäftlarn, where I live, to Innsbruck, a good 130 kilometres away. In one week. My dog, Oskar, is a very fit, three-year-old black Labrador. I reckon he’ll manage the distance and the 3,000 metres of height gain.
It’s a summery day and ideal for hiking. Sunny, but not too hot, the sky’s a bit hazy and the mountains are a bluish silhouette. Oskar’s raring to go, wagging his tail and panting enthusiastically. My dog senses we’re off on a major walk because I’m carrying my backpack, which I don’t otherwise do.
I want to stay in guest houses and huts. Because of Oskar, I’m not doing any climbing or staying in alpine club huts with lots of people. I’ve chosen slight variations of the quiet and not very busy route via the Isar-Loisach-Jakobsweg instead. To start with, we stroll through the avenue towards the forest, just like we do every morning. Oskar knows every tree by name.
During hikes or skiing trips in the Tyrol, or en route to a holiday in Italy, I’ve covered the distance from Munich to Innsbruck by car or train very often. By car, it takes me one and a half hours to Innsbruck, but I’ve planned seven days for hiking through the Alps with my dog.
At the beginning, Oskar can’t go fast enough. He’s tugging at the elastic leash that I tied around my hips to keep my hands free. The first two days are great for breaking us in and the gravel crunches reassuringly under my boots. While Oskar’s a natural (and doesn’t have to carry a backpack), I need to slowly get used to things and find a good pace.
Most importantly, your backpack should be as light as possible and weigh ten kilos max. When it comes to equipment, long-distance hikers need to take a minimalist approach. We recommend ankle hiking boots, trekking poles, a water bottle, headlamp, two pairs of trousers, two shirts (Merino wool if possible), two changes of underwear, two pairs of hiking socks, a soft shell or fleece jacket, a rain jacket, waterproof trousers, gloves, a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, a sleeping bag for huts and a toothbrush. A pair of lightweight shoes is also a good idea. And don’t forget a first aid kit, blister plasters and some cream for your feet. (–> Find out more: How to prevent and treat blisters when hiking)
Which is fine on the almost 10-km-long, straight route along the Loisach canal from Wolfratshausen to Beuerberg. We’re only interrupted by Oskar jumping into the water to cool off. During the evening of day one, I sit, tired but happy, in the Zur Mühle beer garden.
The leg from Beuerberg to Benediktbeuern is a superbly panoramic tour through the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. We hike through the hilly landscape and gaze at cow pastures and church steeples. It’s humid and oppressive and Oskar keeps jumping into springs at the side of the trail. In this section, the route no longer leads directly along the Isar or Loisach rivers, but through forests and across fields, which smell of freshly mown grass and cows.
Two days later, we arrive in Benediktbeuern at the foot of the mountains. From here onwards, it’s pretty much uphill. I feed Oskar and then set off for something to eat too. When I come back to the room, the dog’s snoring peacefully. Outside, the wind’s howling.
The following morning, it’s cool and damp, mist covers the pastures. The hiking trail leads up towards a forest-covered peak called Rabenkopf at an elevation of 1,555 metres in the foothills of the Alps. Oskar works like a Trojan, trudging ahead and pulling me uphill.
I wonder what aliens looking down on us through a telescope would think. They’d see a creature on two legs carrying ten kilos of luggage plus dog food on its back, pulled by a black four-legged animal on a leash. They would probably speculate which one’s the smart one in command of this planet. Whatever, the other hikers without dogs that we overtake are jealous of four-legged motor.
This sign says: “A head for heights required”. The descent from Rabenkopf towards Jachenau is very steep and passes through the Rappin gorge. It rained during the night and the rocks could be slippery. At the edge of the forest, I encounter a group of 70-year-olds trudging uphill and panting. I ask the first one what the trail’s like and she growls that it’s ok, but boring.
Further down, I’m rewarded by spectacularly beautiful scenery with high rock faces, turquoise green water in pools below and the narrow path winding through a dizzyingly deep gorge. I ask myself what’s boring about that and how that lady’s life must be if she finds this vista anything other than stunning.
At around noon, we reach Lake Walchen, which resembles a Caribbean lagoon and a Norwegian fjord in one. The turquoise water’s crystal clear and the beach white. Oskar immediately jumps into the pleasantly cool water and chases round in circles, paddling and grunting happily.
I put my swimming trunks on and copy him, but manage not to grunt. A few metres away, young people are lying on towels, filming anything and everything that moves on their smartphones. I don’t want to be the ageing white sea monster in some YouTube clip, even if the young black sea monster next to me is very photogenic.
From Mittenwald, I hike to the right of the Isar through a nature reserve. Pines creak in the wind, the white-blue water of the mountain river plunges over large rocks. Just 200 metres away, on the other side of the Isar, traffic speeds along the B11, which runs from Munich to Innsbruck. The proximity of the main thoroughfares to the Alps and their positive and negative impact on each other always surprises me.
Towards the evening, we reach Scharnitz on the border. Since 2018, traffic has bypassed the village through a tunnel, which has made it even quieter than before. “You could say it’s dead,” says Helga Schallhart, the landlady of Pension Helga, where Oskar and I are staying. Since the bypass was completed, even more shops and guesthouses have closed. The kindly landlady suggests making a vegetable soup for me – an offer I can’t refuse. With a full stomach, I fall into bed with a picture of a majestic stag on the wall behind me under which a snoring Labrador is lying.
The last two legs of my hike are the most tricky. We negotiate steep paths through the Karwendel mountains. After Scharnitz, a narrow path turns into the Gleirsch gorge. Steep rock faces rise up on the right and left, with the white water rushing past below. Fallen tree trunks are stuck like toothpicks in the open mouth of the gorge. Oskar senses trouble, growls, and tugs at the leash. He can smell something that I don’t see until much later…
A chamois is standing in the middle of a steep face on the other side of the gorge, not 20 metres away as the crow flies. It’s making a whistling noise to warn us off. I’m worried that the dog might jump into the gorge out of sheer fright, so I click the carabiner on his leash into a wire rope attached next to the path.
I give him a lot of treats to distract and guide him out of the danger zone. Shortly afterwards, we encounter a herd of nosey young cows. I can only stop them from taking a nibble from the dog by shouting loudly at them and brandishing my stick. Later on, we pass a colony of ibex with their young. Oskar is in awe of these big creatures with horns. And they keep a watchful eye on him.
Hiking the long trail with a dog in the Alps isn’t a piece of cake. Which is why familiarising yourself with the rules beforehand is a must. In addition to the distraction of deer and animals grazing near the trail, the weather is another hazard on our most challenging leg of the trail.
Cattle grazing, deer running around, and steep drops are some of the many reasons why letting your dog off the lead in the mountains is unwise. Our four-legged friends often have to stay on the leash for safety reasons. We recommend a long, flexible jogging leash with a shock absorber, attached to your hips with a belt, and matching harness. Accidents with cows on alpine pastures can be serious, which is why hikers trekking with dogs need to comply with the following rules (and practice beforehand): Always keep dogs on a leash in areas where animals are grazing on pastures.
However, if cattle attack a dog, which can occur with dairy cows with calves and young bulls, take it off the lead so that it can escape. Hiking a long trail with a dog requires careful planning. It can be hard for people with dogs to find anywhere to stay in mountain huts. What’s more, each stage of the hike can’t be too long or too steep so that your dog isn’t exhausted.
Oskar’s paws have covered some pretty rough terrain on this tour, but they came through it well. Our author Titus had no problems with blisters or sore feet either. The well-known journalist who specialises in alpine and travel reporting wears his trusty, well worn-in HANWAG Alverstone II GTX boots. Find out more about our proven and award-winning trekking model here.
The day before, it was so warm and sunny that I hiked in my shorts and T-shirt. Now the weather’s closing in and it’s time to get out my jacket, hat, and gloves. In the mountains, the weather can often change quickly and even in midsummer it can snow at 2,000 metres. Once the thunder and lightning start, I run even faster, the rocks get slippery and the lead gets caught repeatedly in pine trees.
Soaked to the skin, we reach the Pfeishütte. Wisps of clouds waft around the building, snowfields, and fog blur into a whitish grey.
My knees and back hurt, but the pain’s not the most important thing. After just under a week, I’m noticing the impact of the big outdoors on my well-being. In my case, hiking has a spiritual aspect and walking is like meditating. I’m in the zone and the resulting energy almost automatically propels me over the mountains.
I’ve seldom experienced such a feeling of balance and inner peace, as here on the silent days of hiking through these high, desolate mountains.
And I seem to have burnt off the extra calories I acquired through working more at home too.
I’m pretty exhausted after descending 1,500 metres from the Pfeishütte to Inntal. A friend of my son’s who’s studying in Innsbruck picks Oskar and me up by car. The return journey to Munich is incredibly fast. Just an hour and a half later I’m back in front of my garden gate, where I started out a week ago.
Oskar trots joyfully into the house, as if he’s coming back from a little walk. I enter a little less joyfully as I’m tired out and my back’s aching. An all-inclusive holiday where you pamper yourself is less tiring than a long-distance hike. But hiking through the mountains for a week is unbeatable.
Hundewelt Kleinwalsertal: This company specialises in organising guided hiking tours with dogs in the Alps. In addition to the traditional crossing of the Alps on the E5, the range on offer also includes quieter and gentler routes. The advantage of a guided tour with a dog is that your luggage is transported and the legs of the trail are all suitable for dogs. Click here for the website (in German only)