This is part of a three-part series. See here for details.

At the beginning of July, it was finally time to start the big hike. I had booked a guided tour with Bergschule Oberallgäu for the most popular part of the E5, the hike from German Oberstdorf through the Austrian Alps to Merano in Italy. With its planned duration of one week, this would give me enough time to hike some more between Italian Rovereto and Verona during my second week of vacation.

Day 1: Oberstdorf (813 m) – Kemptner Hütte (1846 m)

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The Sperrbachtobel on the way to Kemptner Hütte.

I arrived in Oberstdorf by train and soon met the guides as well as the group I would be hiking with. Our meeting point was right at the station and I was stunned to find out we would be more than 30 people in total. But with three guides, we would mostly be hiking in groups of ten, which seemed like a much more manageable group size.

With a small bus, we were driven to Spielmannsau, a tiny village where we would begin our hike. After a short walk, we arrived at the material ropeway leading up to the Kemptner Hütte, the first refuge we would be staying at. We were given the option of sending our backpacks up to the hut. This would facilitate our climb through the Sperrbachtobel ravine. The way up was easy and the perfect start. And with the first bits of snow and several rivulets we had to pass, it felt like a foretaste of the hikes to come within the next days.

After three hours or so, we arrived at the hut. With beds to ourselves and a large 4-course dinner, it felt like a perfect welcome to the Alps. During a little walk after dinner, we saw our first marmots and even some ibex climbing a mountain slope in the distance.

Day 2: Kemptner Hütte – Memminger Hütte (2242 m)

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At the suspension bridge close to Holzgau.

On our second day, we climbed up to the Mädelejoch saddle (1973 m above sea level) and crossed the border to Austria – which feels quite weird up there in the mountains, with nothing much to indicate you’re actually entering another country. Then followed a long descent through the beautiful Höhenbachtal valley to the village of Holzgau (1070 m ASL) in the Lechtal valley. On the way, we passed an impressive suspension bridge, with a height of 100 and a length of 200 m. In Holzgau, we had time for a lunch break.

After lunch, another bus ride took us to the next material ropeway. However, I decided at this point that repacking my backpack meant far more effort than actually carrying it. So I usually carried the thing up myself from that point on. We then spent the afternoon climbing up to the Memminger Hütte. The hut is prominently located amidst high mountains and we were rewarded with stunning views when we reached it. Only the horses grazing right in front of the hut felt a little out of place at this altitude.

Day 3: Memminger Hütte – Zams (780 m)

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Early morning ascent to the Seescharte from Memminger Hütte.

After our first night in the infamous communal bunks, most of us were still feeling drowsy when we started hiking in the morning. But with a maximum width of 50 cm for yourself and 20 other (snoring) people in the same room, I guess nobody was expecting a good night’s sleep anyway. The crisp morning air and the steep climb up to the Seescharte (2600 m ASL) helped clear our heads pretty quickly. We also had to cross several snow fields – and with a few 100 meters of air on our right side, we all rustled up the necessary concentration in no time.

When we finally passed the gorge, the previously foggy weather suddenly changed and we could see the sun shine on the valleys both behind and in front of us. It was an impressive and extremely beautiful sight – especially at 7 in the morning after a night like that. With the sun now shining on our heads, we started the longest descent of our tour: almost 2000 m down to the village of Zams. While the path was challenging in the beginning, it soon became moderate, as it wound along a creek for quite some time.

We stopped for a break at Oberlochalm – where I ate the largest cheese sandwich of my life. While eating we were surrounded by a herd of cows, which was a nice distraction somehow. On and on we hiked, along an impressive canyon, until we could finally see the city beneath us. We would spend the night at a hotel in double rooms – a very welcome opportunity to catch up on some sleep!

Day 4: Zams – Braunschweiger Hütte (2760 m)

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Breathtaking view on the glacier from Braunschweiger Hütte.

The next morning started with a very welcome announcement: We would take the Venet cable car to bring us to an altitude of 2208 m ASL, saving us the long ascent. From the Krahberg, where the cable car ends, we hiked on a very nice, panoramic path past the Goglesalm and Gaflunalm – where we had some great cake!

On we went to the village of Wenns, where a bus was already waiting for us. We were taken through the Pitztal valley to Mittelberg (1700 m ASL), a ride of about 45 minutes. Most E5 hikers take a bus here, to avoid hiking the 30 km through the valley.  There was time for an extensive lunch break before we began our ascent to the Braunschweiger Hütte. The climb itself, then, was amazing: A very steep path lead us past a large waterfall and offered amazing views on the neighboring glaciers.

The first night I spent at an altitude like this took some getting used to. But after my body had finally understood that the lower amount of oxygen in the air would not kill it, I did fall asleep eventually.

Day 5: Braunschweiger Hütte – Martin-Busch-Hütte (2500 m)

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Great view from the “Panorama Path” above Vent.

Again, we started the morning with a climb – this time up to the Pitztalerjöchl at almost 3000 m ASL. When we had passed the saddle, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the popular Sölden skiing area. There was still a decent amount of snow left and it was great fun walking, running and jumping down the slopes on our heels. Several other hikers just sat on their backpack – or jumped directly in the snow – and slid down the slope.

A break and a short bus ride later, we had passed a tunnel and found ourselves on the other side of the skiing area. Here, we hiked on the “Panorama Path” all the way to the village of Vent. Again, we had great views of the surrounding mountains, including several streams and waterfalls.

After the lunch break in Vent, we had to hike up another 500 m in altitude the our next refuge, the Martin-Busch-Hütte. Blame it one my opulent meal of Kässpätzle for lunch, on the rather boring and seemingly endless way, or on my general lack of stamina, but I really had to fight to get up to that darned hut. In the end, I made it though – supported by some glucose sweets kindly provided to me by our guide.

Day 6: Martin-Busch-Hütte – Merano (320 m)

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Tisenhof and Vernagt reservoir. We made it across the Alps!

The night was – again – short. This time, we were disturbed by a man claiming we had “stolen” his bed in the communal bunks – which we didn’t, because our bunks had been reserved long beforehand. In the end, after lots of late-night shouting and flashlight-waving, one of our group ended up sleeping on the floor. Tired as we were, we still managed the climb to the famous Similaun pass the next morning – where we finally passed the magical altitude of 3000 m ASL and the border to Italy.

The descent into Italy was then much easier than expected. In the end, we arrived at the beautiful Tisenhof, where we were rewarded with some great Speckknödel for lunch as well as a perfect view of the adjacent turquoise Vernagt water reservoir. We covered the last kilometers to Merano by bus. Finally, we finished out tour with a leisurely stroll through the city, a great Italian dinner, and lots of reminiscing about an amazing week in the Alps.