5 Reasons Why Mountain Huts Are Special

Huts are more than just shelters. They can be meeting places for climbers. They can be staging posts for trekkers on a multi-day tour. Or they can be somewhere to visit on a there-and-back day’s hike from a valley base; somewhere to stop for lunch perhaps, to sit outside in the sunshine, enjoy the view, and then move on. In The Mountain Hut Book, author Kev Reynolds draws on his vast experience of mountain exploration, giving examples of huts throughout the Alps,  outlining his favourites and suggesting hut-to-hut routes. Here he tells us why mountain huts are so special:

1: They provide the ultimate rooms with a view.


The spectacle of alpenglow on the Combin massif is one of the rewards of a night spent at the Cabane de Panossière

Days spent among mountains are full of wonderful views – they’re a major reason for heading for the hills anyway, whether to walk, trek, climb or ski – but usually we pause, take a photo or two and then move on. But mountain huts make it possible to linger for hours at a time, to bathe in the beauty of a scene and moment by moment soak in every aspect of the majesty revealed and to feel part of the landscape itself. Whether lounging on the balcony, or sitting nose pressed against the dining room or dormitory window, you can depend on having a room with a view you’ll never forget.

2: They are gathering places for like-minded folk.


Gathered around communal tables, mealtimes are a perfect opportunity to share experiences and route information with strangers-turned-friends

After a hard day on the hill, it’s good to share your memories and experiences with other walkers or climbers; it’s where strangers become friends. Gathered round a table when the sun goes down, you can trade up-to-date route details with one another, and if you’re new to the game, make a note of recommendations from those who have been there, done that and got the tee shirt before you. And the guardian (warden) in charge is often an excellent source of information and ready to offer guidance.

3: They’re nearly always lodged somewhere special.


High above Zinal in Val d’Anniviers, Cabane d’Arpittetaz nestles among 4000m peaks and a cascade of glaciers

Every hut is unique, as is its location. There are huts clinging to summits, huts wedged among the clefts of narrow mountain passes, huts projecting from rocky spurs secured with cables. There are huts built on moraine walls, huts in gentle meadows, and there’s at least one that occupies the basement of a cable car station. When I stayed there I had the dorm and washroom to myself, but at mealtimes was generously looked after by the couple in charge who fed me as though I’d not eaten for a month, then left me in peace to enjoy the night sky with stars for neighbours.

4: They are often good for watching wildlife.


The warden at the Gleckstein Hut in the Bernese Alps spreads salt on the terrace wall to attract ibex in the early morning

Nestling in some remote location far from the nearest road, it’s no wonder that binoculars are rarely needed to study wildlife from many a mountain hut, when chamois, marmot, ibex and deer will often be seen grazing of an evening or early morning. Huts in national parks such as Italy’s Gran Paradiso, the Vanoise in France, or that sited in Switzerland’s Engadine Valley seem to attract a rich variety of wildlife, while guardians of other huts sometimes entice ibex to their door by sprinkling salt on nearby rocks.

5: They make multi-day tours possible without backpacking.


Trekking group on the trail leading to the Schesaplana Hut in the Rätikon Alps

With huts in practically every district of the 1200km alpine chain stretching from the Maritime Alps above Nice, through France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Austria before sliding into the Julian Alps and Karavanke of Slovenia, it would be virtually possible – given sufficient time, energy and ready cash – to walk from one end to the other and stay in a different hut each night. In many regions there’s no need to backpack with tent, cooking stove and food; simply travel light and enjoy each step knowing there’s a bed, a meal, and an unforgettable view waiting at the end of the day.

All photos © Kev Reynolds

The Mountain Hut Book by Kev Reynolds £14.95

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