Until the late 1800s, very few people vacationed in the Alps. The mountains were a harsh, dangerous environment, clothing and equipment were crude and heavy, and roads were rough and unpaved. The mountains were inhabited by hardy villagers and ethnic groups like the Walsers (German descent), but they worked the hard land out of necessity, not vacation. Traders, pilgrims, and soldiers had crossed the Alps for thousands of years using mountain passes, but they did not linger.
But in the mid-1800s, mountain tourism became popular, and towns like Zermatt and Chamonix became fashionable ski and climbing centers. Alpine associations built huts in high altitude for their members to use while ascending peaks. The first huts were basic stone sheds with bunks. The highest bivouac huts are still like this, but most in lower altitude or on popular trekking routes have grown into comfortable mountain hotels. Now they have excellent kitchens, semi-private bunk rooms, warm stoves, selection of wines, wifi or telephone, drying rooms for wet clothing, and many have showers!! No more stinky nights in an over-crowded bunk-room. Often the shower works with a token you insert in a box next to the valve. You get about two minutes of hot water, so lather and rinse quickly. The cold water is, literally, ice-cold because sometimes it comes from the local glacier. If you hike, stay in a hut. Not only is the food and companionship welcome, but it is nice to be in a sturdy stone building with professionally-installed lightning protection when it rains and thunders outside.
Let's take a tour of mountain huts in Switzerland, France, and Italy.
Walk a long, hard day south to Rifugio G.B. Ferraro at 2066 m. In the guidebook, I wrote, "Ferraro very nice! Hot showers, espresso. Amazing library of Tibet, Nepal, and Apache books."
Several hard days walk further along the tour, and a long grind up to the Monte Moro Pass at 2984 m, and you reach the Rifugio Oberto Gaspare. I am not sure of its age, but it was renovated in 2007. In 2009, the gondola was out of commission, and the hut master was glad to see my friends and me as his only overnight guests. The view of the Monte Rosa massif is inspiring.
with an elevation of 4,061 m. It is a long way up across several kilometers of glacier and some exposed rock near the summit. The view is incredible, and a sunny day like this makes it all worthwhile.
Photographs taken with a Fuji F31fd digital camera.