So the idea of walking from Munich to Venice across the Alps has sparked your interest; you've had a look at my blog about how tough it is, and it hasn't put you off; the next question might be "when can I do it?"
Sandwiched between the start and finish of a long winter, the Alpine walking season is short but there does seem to be some debate about how short. Is it two months, July and August, or should you consider a third month, September.
There are four things to think about:
Is it open, or put another way, are the passes clear of snow?
Are the huts (refugios in Italy) open?
What's the risk of bad weather?
How crowded will it be and how easy is it find accommodation?
Long-distance hikers heading south over the Alps need to cross a series of high-level passes. Although the snow will have disappeared from the valleys, and local walkers will be out looking for early signs of spring, in all probability the paths across the passes will be blocked until into July (varies from season to season). So although the huts start to open in June, the hiking season doesn’t really start until July with some risk of blocked passes early in the month.
Mountain walking starts mid-way through Day 3 and finishes on Day 26, so out of the 30 days hiking about 23 are spent in the Alps. Chances are you will stop for three nights in the towns along the route (Hall, Alleghe and Belluno) staying for the rest of the time in mountain huts or small hotels on the passes. The earliest you can start is determined by the snow on the passes and the latest by the availability of accommodation in the mountains towards the end. The last stage of high mountain walking, and perhaps the most remote, crosses the Civetta Dolomites between Alleghe and Belluno and as the huts in these mountains start to close in the last week of September you should aim to start this stage by the 22nd September. So if you want to do the whole Traumpfad, all the way to Venice, you should have left Munich before the end of August.
Snow the on the passes determines the earliest start date and the huts closing the latest, so what about determines the best time?
Weather is a consideration and although it varies from season to season, July and August are the hottest. In August the heat brings a risk of thunderstorms, dangerous if you're exposed on the mountains. Wet weather is always a possibility and if you're high this often means snow, even in August, and although the snow doesn’t last long staying an extra night in a hut can be the best option. As the heat starts to drop off the risk of thunderstorms declines and September is usually the most settled month.
In the Dolomites in August things get busy, and huts need to be booked ahead, weeks ahead if you’re in a group. It also means that anywhere near a chairlift, on the Sella Massif in particular, will be busy in the daytime. The crowds all disappear before the lifts close and sharing a sunset and a beer in a full hut is a fun way to end the day. Personally however I don’t like having to book ahead preferring scheduling flexibility. If the weather is good and I'm feeling good, than I don't want the day to end preferring to press on through the golden hour before the sun sets to turn up at a hut confident it will be only half full. This means avoiding August.
July, August or September are all great months to make the trip across the Alps, adventure guaranteed but if you’re totally flexible with your calendar there is a lot to be said for getting to Munich in August, enjoying a couple of days warm-up heading up the side of the River Isar and then getting stuck into the mountains in September.