The Berlin High Trail – Conquering the Mighty Zillertal Alps
Calling all experienced hikers hungering for a challenge – introducing the Berlin High Trail in the Zillertal Alps! If simply day trips just don’t satisfy your hiking desires, sink your teeth into the mighty Berliner Höhenweg. Covering 80 kilometres and nearly 7000 vertical metres, this 8-stage tour is not for the faint-hearted. You will need about a week to complete this goliath, spending each night between hikes enjoying the crisp mountain air. The rugged, high-altitude peaks that dominate the Zillertal offer incomparable views and a raw nature experience. In this article, we guide you through this quest stage by stage. Lace up your boots, grab your trekking poles, and we’ll see you on the trail!
Stage 1: Finkenberg – Gamshütte
8 kilometres, 3.5 hours, 1019 m ascent, 497 m descent
The Berlin High Trail begins in Finkenberg, a small village near Mayrhofen. We recommend arriving by car and parking here, as reaching Finkenberg with public transport can be difficult. Like pretty much every multi-day tour, the Berlin High Trail will give you a little time to acclimatise and get used to the weight of your backpack. You’ll start off walking through the village until you reach an athletics field, but from here it’s a gruelling uphill hike. Trail number 553, the Hermann-Hecht-Weg, snakes through a mountain forest until it reaches Kraxentrager. At this point, you’ll leave the forest, arriving at your first destination a few moments later. Welcome to the Gamshütte cabins!
Stage 2: Gamshütte – Friesenberghaus
14 kilometres, 9 hours, 1450 m ascent, 865 m descent
The second stage of the Berlin High Trail is a real challenge, both because of the elevation difference and the total hiking time. It’s best to set off early and make the most of the daylight. This way, you won’t arrive too late at the Friesenberghaus – tonight’s accommodation. The landscape of this stage makes up for the effort and will hopefully distract you from the growing ache in your legs. The beginning of the stage is relatively painless. Here, you’ll pass the Feldalm, Pitzenalm and Kesselalm with steady ascents and descents through meadows and pastures. This calm phase ends at the eastern ridge of the Hoher Riffler Mountain. From here on, the path leads you uphill once more. The subsequent descent to the Wendlekarsee lake requires caution, as the coarse, loose scree underfoot can easily give in even to the lightest of steps. From the Wendlekarsee, there’s another moderate climb before you cross the path to the Friesenberghaus. Follow the path for about half an hour until you reach your accommodation, where – in our experience – you’ll fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.
Stage 3: Friesenberghaus – Furtschaglhaus
13.8 kilometres, 5.5 hours, 735 m ascent, 911 m descent
Feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on day three? Set off from the Friesenberghaus, and you’ll quickly meet the winding paths up to the highest point of the trail so far – an impressive 2,620 metres! Once you’ve conquered that giant, you’ll cross the mountain slope over scree and boulders to the Olperer Hütte. We recommend taking a short break to take in the views of the beautiful Sclegeisspeicher reservoir. After a well-deserved snack, it’s time to take on the rest of the stage. From this vantage point, the trail heads steeply downhill. Soon enough, you will be standing right on the shore of the gorgeous turquoise water you were just viewing from above. Take the chance to stroll along the shore for a while and enjoy the wonderful landscape around you – as well as the unfamiliar feeling of not having to go up or downhill for a bit. But don’t get too used to it, as the terrain of the trail is about to change again. You’re about to tackle the snaking ascent up to the Furtschaglhaus. And this certainly won’t be the last winding path that you’ll take on the Berlin High Trail!
Stage 4: Furtschaglhaus – Berliner Hütte
8 kilometres, 6 hours, 903 m ascent, 1164 m descent
The fourth stage of the Berlin High Trail is likely going to be one of the most beautiful, and one of the most challenging stages of your adventure, all at the same time. We say challenging as this stage takes you into the realm of high alpine hiking. This stage is home to noticeably thinner air, as well as narrow and exposed paths. Only for experienced hikers! During today’s high alpine experience, you’ll reach the highest point of the entire route – just below the Schönbichler Horn at 3106 metres above sea level. For this section, you’ll often be dependent on the wire ropes at the edge of the path. Using this support system, you will be able to continue on your way as safely as possible. Only once you’ve reached the significantly lower Waxeggkees can you walk without the additional support. Descend over a rocky moraine until you reach the outlet of the glacier higher up. Then, cross the glacier and climb back up the opposite side of the moraine. Once you have passed this, the last part of the trail takes you through meadows and rock slabs to the Berliner Hütte cabins. This is the main reason this stage is one of the most beautiful, as it offers the Alps’ dreamiest overnight stay.
Stage 5: Berliner Hütte – Greizer Hütte
8.8 kilometres, 6 hours, 1193 m ascent, 1030 m descent
An evening spent at the “Castle in the Alps” – as the Berliner Hütte affectionately known – is perhaps a spot too relaxing. You’ll certainly need a little extra motivation to set off on your fifth day. The first energetic climb up to an altitude of 2,820 metres is testament to that. You will reach this altitude via – no surprises here – a snaking path. The trial first leads you up to the Schwarzsee lake, until the path changes and runs almost vertically up the mountain. Battle your way further and further up, and you’ll finally reach the Mörcherscharte at a mighty 2,820 metres. Finally, you can breathe a sigh of relief as the uphill slog finally comes to an end. Next up is a steep descent, ending at the so-called Floitengrund. You just need to cross a stream, and then you’re already on the descent to today’s end goal, the Greizer Hütte cabins.
Stage 6: Greizer Hütte – Kasseler Hütte
9.7 kilometres, 5.5 hours, 1051 m ascent, 1088 m descent
We are now slowly but surely entering the home stretch of your Berlin High Trail quest. The sixth day also starts out with a climb, which will take you up to Lapenscharte, located above the Greizer Hütte to the right. There’s no chance you’ll miss the trail, as you’ll simply follow the path marked with the number 502 for the entire stage, just like the day before. Once you reach the Lapenscharte, it is a good idea to whip out your trekking poles if you have them! A sometimes steep, but above all incredibly lengthy, descent lies before you. It ends in the parting of the ways, where you continue in the direction of the Kasseler Hütte and finally cross the Elsenklamm gorge, where part of the path is rope-secured. Once this section is behind you, follow the path through the open basin to today’s destination, the Kasseler Hütte cabins.
Stage 7: Kasseler Hütte – Edelhütte
12.6 kilometres, 9 hours, 1157 m ascent, 1072 m descent
You’ve already come so far, and this penultimate stage is really a considerable final push towards the end of this mountainous feat. This shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as you’ll be treated to plenty of spectacular views as a reward for the effort. Two things are even more important today than for other stages: you need to take enough water with you and make sure that the weather is going to be stable. You won’t find the possibility to refill your water or descend into the valley during this considerably long stage. With this in mind, it’s best to set off on the trail early in the day. For much of the hike, the route leads through forbidden cirques that really do look like a stone desert. Nonetheless, the landscape is fascinating, and the surrounding peaks make great subjects for photos or filming. You will cross a total of six ridges and furrows on your route, as you have to pass some mountain ranges to reach your destination. Once you’ve reached the Popbergkar, the last in the long series of cirques littered with boulders and scree, you will recognise the green tones of the mountain and alpine meadows again. After you’ve crossed the Popbergnieder, the last transition between different mountain massifs, There’s another rope-secured descent between you and the Karl-von-Edelhütte cabins. Once you’ve achieved this, it’s not much further to a hard-earned hot meal and the cosy accommodation for your last night on the Berlin High Trail!
Stage 8: Edelhütte – Mayrhofen
7 kilometres, 1 hour, 32 m ascent, 300 m descent
There is some mercy in this world – the final stage of this multi-day tour is by far the shortest. From the Edelhütte, simply take a leisurely walk to the nearby upper station of the Ahornbahn cable car and descend into the valley in a gondola. Enjoy the chance to kick back and relax! Alternatively, you could also take the forest path to Mayrhofen. Exercise caution here, though, as this route takes around four hours and, with a descent of 1600 metres, could be pretty tough on your already-tired knees. From Mayrhofen, you can either take the bus back to your car in Finkenberg or end your hike with a leisurely hour-long walk and a big pat on the back!
We hope this has inspired you to also take on the challenge offered by the Berlin High Trail. We can guarantee one thing: it won’t be boring! The eight stages offer diverse paths and countless spectacular views, but will also push you to your physical and mental limits. Keep that in mind and nothing will stop you!