Allgäuer Alps

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

We are relaxing in the lovely Bavarian town of Oberstdorf in southern Germany after having trekked for the last 7 days through the Allgäuer Alps, a fantastic mountain range which runs along the border of Germany and Austria. Read more about the trek and see more photos below!

Allgäuer Alps, Germany

Here we are, so stoked to finally be in the Alps after nearly six months of anticipation! And what an awesome place to spend our first night – at the Rappensee Hut, situated near an idyllic alpine lake surrounded by wildflower-filled green meadows and a trio of rugged peaks. Life is good!!!

Rappensee, Allgäuer Alps, Germany, wildflowers, sunset, Kleiner Rappenkopf, reflection
Rappensee : Prints Available

Wildflowers and a pleasant sunset at Rappensee, with a reflection of the Kleiner Rappenkopf (2276m).

Our main reason for choosing the Allgäuer Alps as our first trekking destination was to visit Claudia’s good friend Susanne who is working at one of the huts here for the summer. Claudia and I had planned to trek for two days before arriving at her hut, so we were surprised and thrilled to randomly see Susanne and her friend Dominik here at the Rappenseehütte! We immediately changed our plans to join them on their tour in the other direction from our planned route.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

Scrambling up Mädelegabel (2645m), one of the tallest peaks in the Allgäuer Alps.

Allgauer Alps, Germany, hiking

One of the great things about trekking in the Allgäuer Alps is the nearly constant vistas that surround while hiking. The photo above looks north towards the town of Oberstdorf which is located in the valley at the upper right, nearly 1600m (5,250 ft.) below.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

The Allgäuer Alps are known for their wildflowers and did not disappoint! The basin near the Kemptner Hut, our second hut of the trek, was verdant green and filled with wildflowers. This basin reminded me of Fravert or Wetterhorn Basins back home in Colorado, only more vertically oriented!

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, Trettachtal, Kemptner, green
Trettachtal Light : Prints Available

Evening light shines on the green, undulating slopes of the Trettachtal valley near the Kemptner Hut.

A hike down from the mountains, a couple bus rides, and a hike up the other side of the valley brought us to the Fiderapasshütte, where Susanne is working for the summer. We stayed there for two nights to visit more with her and relax for a full day.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, Mittelberg, Austria, Fiderapass, sunset, panorama, Wildental
Fiderapass Sunset Panorama : Prints Available

Sunset on Fiderapass, on the border between Germany and Austria, looking down the Wildental towards the town of Mittelberg far below.

Steinbock above Mittelberg, Austria
Steinbock above Mittelberg, Austria

The classic trek through the Allgäuer Alps (of which we did an odd variation), is often referred to as the “Steinbock Tour” because of all the wild steinbock (aka ibex) that live in these mountains. These are young ones above, be we saw many of them with their large majestic curving horns.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, Fiderapasshütte, Fiderapass, sunrise
Fiderapass Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Schüsser (2259m) above the Fiderapasshütte.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

From the Fiderapasshütte, the route becomes a klettersteig (aka via ferrata) – a high ridge route with fixed cables and ladder rungs where needed. Using a climbing harness with two short ropes with locking carabiners, it’s possible to safely climb fairly burly routes without technical climbing skills.

Here Claudia is about to descend a big vertical rock face via a long series of ladder rungs embedded into the rock. The Mindelheimer Klettersteig route continues all the way up the ridge seen in the photo.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

Now climbing up that ridge, looking back at the ridge from the previous photo.

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, hiking

Heading towards the Mindelheimer Hut. Alpine huts are a deeply engrained part of the culture here in the Alps, where people have been living up high in the mountains for many generations. Unlike the relatively wild mountains of North America where it’s necessary to bring all your camping gear and food, here in the Alps you can carry a light pack and sleep in the huts where they also cook delicious meals and even provide beer and wine!

Every hut has a different character and feel; some are small and cozy while other large ones can be a somewhat commercial affair. But so far they’ve all been friendly and welcoming. The huts can sleep a surprising number of hikers – the Mindelheimer Hut above can accommodate something like 200 people! Usually everyone sleeps side by side on sleeping pads in long dormitory rooms, but sometimes it’s possible to get a smaller room with less people (and less snoring). If there’s an overflow of people, like over the weekends, they have extra emergency pads so people can sleep in the dining room or hallways. Fortunately we haven’t had to do this yet!

Allgäuer Alps, Germany, Hochalpsee, Widderstein, sunset
Hochalpsee Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset over the Hochalpsee below Widderstein.

After the Mindelheim Hut we headed to the Widderstein Hut and climbed up the Widderstein – at 2533m, another prominent peak of the range.

Although the Allgäuer Alps are not nearly as famous as other mountains in the Alps, I couldn’t be more impressed so far! I will update this post when I’m back home in December to add all my landscape shots from the trek. UPDATE 9/26/13: I have added my landscape photos from this trek, taken with a Canon SLR (you can tell which ones these are by the Print-ordering links below them).

Ricoh GR

As a sidenote for any photographers reading this, all the hiking photos above were taken with a Ricoh GR, which I picked up in Dresden before heading down here. I had become increasingly frustrated with the Fujifilm X100S and its limited, quirky firmware.

Using the Ricoh GR is a breath of fresh air; its firmware capabilities are so far beyond Fujifilm’s offering it’s silly. It almost makes you embarrassed for Fujifilm, for powering their cameras with such a weak, limited firmware. Ricoh, on the other hand, has clearly put very much effort into developing a kick ass firmware system which allows you to control and customize virtually every aspect of the camera, and to save all those customizations into three custom settings which are immediately accessible with the control dial. Using the GR makes me realize what a neanderthal the X100S is in comparison. If you’ve used both cameras you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve also found that I love the GR’s wider 28mm lens in the mountains. Time after time I was glad to have that wider view, and the 35mm crop option is still available for times when I want it. Such a better solution than the Fujifilm 35mm lens with the clumsy 28mm wideangle converter.

I won’t post a full review here now, but in short the Ricoh GR is a very well thought out camera and a pleasure to use. The Fujifilm X100S is now sitting in storage until I can go back home and sell it. I’m glad to have sorted this out at the beginning of our big trip!

40 thoughts on “Allgäuer Alps

  1. You know how much I like these. Disappointing on the Fuji since I was really hoping it would help me fill a gap in my camera bag. Keep me posted on your ‘thinking’ small camera wise.

    1. Hi Rich, after trying both the X-E1 and the X100S, I’m convinced that Fuji makes great cameras and lenses, but their firmware and user interface is not up to par. I’ve never really thought of firmware as a major factor with cameras before now. Using the Ricoh really puts this all into perspective, seeing how well it can be done.

  2. Jack, Glad you tried the GR. It is a very impressive camera! Nice to have a GR with a larger sensor. These photos are very inspiring! After several years of easy beach vacations with the young kids I’m ready to take them to the mountains. I’m not sure we’re ready to travel to Germany, but we’re looking at Western Canada or simply may start with our home state of California.

    One of these days you should write up a summary of all of the places you’ve been and what you liked about each one. Not quite a travel guide, but simply a personal reflection of your experiences to help guide others.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for you comment and compliment! My blog is pretty much my travel journal, but yeah that’s a good idea to organize it all into one comprehensive “guide” or summarized journal of sorts. I just need to find the time!

  3. Brilliant photos as usual, Jack! It’s great to see all the momentum in the direction of cameras of smaller form factors, especially for more strenuous hiking situations. A lighter pack for me means I get to enjoy the trip even more. It would definitely be great to hear your thoughts about this camera at the end of your travels to Europe. Thanks!

    1. Hi Niran, YES I too am excited about all the recent camera progressions towards high quality compacts. Especially as I get older I find that my “limit” of acceptable backpack weight gets gradually less and less. I’m still hauling around the Canon with tilt/shift lenses but in a few years I may have to reconsider that. My ideal camera would be the Canon with tilt/shifts, but half the size. Not going to happen, I’m afraid. But if Ricoh came out with something like the GR with a high quality zoom lens I’d be pretty darn happy!

      1. Jack,

        When I first discovered your photos you seemed very proud of the detail possible w/ your 4×5–now, I may not be keeping up but the last I remember you were using a Canon 5D.
        I don’t mean any of this as criticism I think you can usually do better w/ a small APS-c sensor than I can do w/ my Nikon D800*
        I’m just shocked that YOU’RE doing it 🙂

        *I do understand wanting to travel light…I took my favorite Sneffels shot w/ the D800, and 70-200 F/2.8 plus extra grip and two batteries–it’s a combo I love, but one that weighs over 6 lbs.

        1. Hi Mark, I am still using and carrying the Canon 5DII with tilt/shift and Contax/Zeiss lenses and am very pleased with the detail I can get with that combo. I just haven’t posted those photo here yet since it’s nearly impossible to process them correctly on my little laptop that I have with me here. The Ricoh GR is just my handheld “action” camera, for hiking photos and whatnot. All the “real” landscape shots I take with the Canon on the tripod. Anyhow, at some point I would love to find a lighter replacement solution for the Canon system, but so far I’m unwilling to give up the tilt/shift lenses!

          1. Sir,

            Thank you for your time, consideration, and interest!
            Oh those Canon T/S lenses! I wish Nikon had T/S lenses w/ the same versatility.

            Sincerely,
            Mark

  4. GR is great for landscapes. Skin tones on the other hand, are weak. Note even in sunny conditions, the GR manages to make half the faces dark! Too much contrast on the skin. Blowouts on the bright parts of the face, dark on the other side. Some reviews write GR is great on landscapes, and in B/W. The Nikon A does colors right. The Fuji would have complimented the faces and bodies more. But for the Alps, the GR is best.

    1. Thanks for the comment; I hadn’t thought about that. To be honest skin tones are a low priority for me, since the vast majority of my photos are landscapes, hiking, or snowboarding where the people (if any at all) are usually small in the frame anyways. I’ll keep an eye on that anyhow, though.

      1. Well I am not a photographer, just a camera collector. I do read that reviewers like the GR better in general, but even they say that the GR has better B/W and the Nikon A better skin tones. The GR is sharp whereas the A has fuzzy corners. I did see some other GR pictures somewhere of outdoor meetings and the GR did people like film, it reminded me of ASA 400, 40 years ago. In your case with the spectacular landscapes the GR is the choice, all would agree with that. I wish I was there in the Alps, but I am here in Miami 100F 100% humidity for 4 months.

  5. Hello Jack, nice trip in the Allgäuer. They were also my first contact with the Alps and I was fascinated by them at the beginning. They are nevertheless just the beginning. The deeper you go into the mountains (Lechtaler, Stubaier, Ötztaler, etc) the more beautiful it gets. Once you get to know the Alps a bit better, you discover small, very old and charming villages. Oberstdorf is, or should be, just the first station. Best regards from Stuttgart, Caterina.

    1. Thanks Caterina! We just got back from an 8-day trek through the Lechtal Alps… more terrific mountains! The Alps seem endless to me and I can’t wait to see more of them.

  6. Great photos Jack – and thanks for the tips about the Ricoh GR vs. Fuji X100S… I have been meaning to go for a great compact camera but have not found one “just right yet”. My jpg-only Nikon AW100 (water/shock-proof) really disappoints when zooming in on images. I usually just shoot my iPhone but pack a DSLR (old slow 5D, considering lighter 6D).

    If you had one short weekend in the Alps – where would you go (again) for the best landscape photos? I’m in Stuttgart now for only a short time and it sounds like Caterina might have suggestions too! It’s always tough to gauge the beauty of a hike from some photos on the internet unless they are good photos like yours. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Brian, that’s a tough question, and I’m certainly no expert about the Alps… From Stuttgart to the Alps you have a big radius… maybe go to Garmisch and see the Zugspitze? Or maybe go into Switzerland and check out the Interlaken/Jungfrau area if you really want to see some enormous mountains! But I really don’t know… In any case you can’t really go wrong!

  7. Hey Jack,

    Looks like you guys had a great trip and the photos are breathtaking! My wife and I are going to be in Munich in September and are looking into heading to the Alps for 2 days (would like to spend more but don’t have the time) and it looks like Oberstdorf is a good option. I noticed that your first night was at the Rappensee Hut. Did you go there straight from Oberstdorf in a day? I would love to stay at one of these mountain huts for a night and have a beer like you guys on that outdoor patio and I would love to see Lake Rappensee. Do you remember how long of a hike it was to Rappensee Hut or the name of the trail? If possible we would love to hike in spend the night and then hike out the next day. Not even sure if it would be possible. It’s just tough finding info online that’s not in German! Thank you for any info and have a great night 🙂 – Jake & Amanda Sullivan

    1. Hi Jake and Amanda, yes, we hiked to Rappensee Hut from Oberstdorf in one day, and I agree it would be a great spot to spend a night! It was a pretty strenuous hike; I don’t remember exactly how long or high it was, but it’s definitely doable if you’re in reasonably good hiking shape and get an early start. Oberstdorf has many outdoor shops with maps, information, etc… and there are also lots of other huts around there too, so you’ll have plenty of options. But Rappensee was my favorite!

  8. Hi Jack.

    I must say this trip looks fantastic. Would you be able to tell me your route or what resources you used to plan the original trip.

    Kind regards

    Harvey

    1. Hi Harvey, the main thing would be to get a map of the area, which will show all the trails, huts, towns, lifts, etc. With that in hand it would be easy to trace our route from the descriptions I wrote in this post. With the plethora of huts in the region, it’s easy to plan and tailor your itinerary as you see fit. Take care, Jack

  9. Hi Jack,

    My wife and I have been backpacking the midwest and northeast of the US for that last couple years, and are ready to plan our first hiking trip to Europe. Your blog has been our single greatest inspiration. We are looking to do a ~7 day trek in the Alps (Germany, Austria, or Switzerland seems the most attractive). I had two questions:

    1. Do you know if it’s possible to do any of these hut-to-hut treks but sleep in our own tent? We’ve really become accustomed to sleeping in our tent, and the group sleeping arrangement in the huts does not really appeal to my wife. If not immediately at the huts, are there other places to tent camp along these trails?

    2. Could you provide any more details about your itineraries in the Allgauer and Lechtal alps? I think I can piece it together hut-by-hut from your narrative, but I didn’t know if you had a summary or itinerary that you’d be willing to share.

    Thanks for any help. Your blog and photography are inspiring…every time I’m bored at work I find myself just slowly scrolling through your photos, living vicariously. Thanks for your great work!

    Best,
    Noel

    1. Hi Noel, thanks for your comment!

      Good question about the tent at the huts… I’m not quite sure about that. I think in general camping is discouraged if not outright forbidden. This page might help: http://www.alpenverein.at/portal/news/aktuelle_news/2014/2014_06_18_zelten-im-gebirge.php In my honest opinion, I’d recommend to just embrace the hut style and take the pros (light pack) with the cons (snoring). The Alps in general are much more “civilized” than the wild mountains of north america; wild camping just doesn’t really fit with the program in the Alps. Instead of a tent you can bring a via ferrata kit to enjoy the cabled climbing routes along the way!

      As for itineraries, if you get your hands on a map of the areas, it’s easy to just pick a route, because there are huts in almost every basin. In the Allgauer Alps we generally did a horseshoe route around Oberstdorf. The Lechtal Alps was a straight end-to-end route starting from St. Anton ski area along most of the length of the range.

      1. Amazing photos,

        Do you mind me asking what time of the year you made this trip? My brother and I would like to replicate it this Summer.

        Many Thanks,

        Ian

  10. Great shots Jack!

    I too am quite fond of the GR. I just picked up the camera two months ago. I love the customization!

    I assume that every one of these shots were done in raw format and post processed? I’ve noticed that the Ricoh’s Jpeg colors are a bit muted. May I ask what processing software you used for these?

    You are quite talented!

    Thanks,
    Tom

    1. Thanks Tom! Some of the photos above were taken with a Canon 5DII; these are the ones that have the “prints available” labels. All the others (mainly the “action” shots) were taken with the Ricoh GR. I think I actually shot most of these in JPG which was a mistake since RAWs from the GR are much much sharper; I think I did this at the time because the continuous shooting mode on the GR works much longer in JPG mode (only a burst of 4 in RAW, which is kind of a bummer).

      Anyhow, I probably processed those JPGs in Photoshop, usually to increase contrast and saturation a bit. But normally with RAW I use Lightroom first, then sometimes Photoshop if I need to do something more complex.

      1. Thanks for the response!

        Your Ricoh images have a very realistic feel to them – kind of crisp, I can imagine the atmosphere there. You captured some dramatic, interesting candid moments! Your very talented – jpegs wow?!

        Sometimes, I find the colors in landscapes can be somewhat sad and dead out of the Ricoh (in my case). The image settings work great in low artificial light.

        Did you boost up the saturation in the camera settings at all? – change the settings a bit? Or was it all in post? I’d love to read your review on this camera. I hope im not prying too much. I’m just amazed by what you’ve done with this little P&S (in this post and others).

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