Main Alpine Divide / About

Introduction to the walk

The Alps started to form some 65 million years ago and still continues today when the African tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian  tectonic plate.  In general the the Eurasian plate remained on the bottom while the sediment from the intervening Tethys and then Mediterranean seas were thrust up on top of it. Finally the African plate was thrust into the mix also. The Matterhorn for instance has a summit of African gneiss onto top of metamorphic oceanic sediments, which is sitting on basement European gneiss.

These huge masses of rock, or nappes, which were thrust up onto the Eurasian plate formed a confused arc of mountains which stretch 1200km from Monaco round to Vienna. In many places other nappes have been thrust onto the Eurasian tectonic plate to the south of the main alpine arc these form the Dinaric and Apennine Mountain chains of today. The Apennine Mountains of Italy abut the Main Alpine Arc in the Ligurian Alps and the and the Dinaric Mountains merge with the Main Arc of the Alps in the Julian Alps.

On one side of the Main alpine Arc three of Europes biggest rivers, The Rhone, the Rhine and the Danube,  drain the northern and western slopes.  While on the other side the Po and Drava are the two main drainage basins on the southern and eastern slopes of the Main Alpine Arc.

This walk is intended to go along the whole length of this Main Alpine Arc keeping to the watershed of the Drava and Po on one side, and the Danube and Rhine and Rhone on the other side. It would be very difficult to follow the watershed exactly and still finish the entire walk in a summer season so one has to follow it as closely as possible in spirit, without scaling the highest peaks and meandering up and down every valley.

The walk here is devised to strike the compromise of the following the near impossible highest ridgeline and taking the shortest route. It is a challenge of magnanimity and sportsmanship. The 102 stages which make up the entire 1850km route are varied, but all have their challenges and many are quite long with huge elevation changes. However, built into in are some 24 rest days which are spaced so if one is delayed by bad weather or heavy rains it will be possible to catch up with the schedule.

It is not really possible to start much earlier than the middle of May as lying snow will make the first stages difficult and many of the mountain huts do not open until early mid June in the Niedere Tauern and late Mid June in the Hohe Tauern. While at the finishing end many of the mountain huts in the Maritime Alps close mid to late September when the first snow might also arrive and make hiking very difficult. So for this reason it is best to start 18th May and Finish on the 20th of September.

The accommodation is a mixture of camp, mountain hut and simple gites or gasthaus. The mountain huts and gites usually have dormitories with 6-15 beds in each but make have some smaller rooms if you book early in the season. The mountain huts and gites all serve food, often as a half pension package, which is the cheapest option, especially if you are a member of a national Alpine or mountaineering club. Throughout the walk there are also about 15 gasthaus or hotels where it is possible to recharge you batteries and pick up supply boxes.

Even though one may plan to almost exclusively use huts, gites or simple hotels it is still imperative to take camping equipment as the weather in the Alps can change quicly and it might not al;ways be possible to reach your planned destination for the day. It is vital this is high quality, lightweight proven equipment which is likely to be expensive. There are nearly 120,000 metres of ascent on the entire walk and there is a high likelihood of injury to hips, knees and especially feet if the complete rucksack is more that 10 kg. So the rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, mat, gas stove and pot must not weigh more than 4 kg. 2 days rations of food will be a further 2 kg, leaving just 4 kg for everything else.

The walk is intended to be done in one pure continious journey so it is easy to immerse into the rural alpine culture and not sully it with journeys down to the comercial valleys and plains which surround the Alps. It is easily possible to do this countinious journey without resorting to “flipping”, or skipping sections to come back and do them later when the conditions are more favourable. It is a feature of the walk that the snows will melt in the Eastern Alps of Austria as the walk proceeds through them climbing higher every week from mid May to late June.  Keeping this journey a smooth continious flow is not only to become engulfed by the slow unflolding nature of the walk, and to be fully able to savour its peace and beauty, but is also part of the sporting challenge


There is a map of the intended route here. You can zoom in on this map which is the intended route and not the actual route. You can zoom right in to see the anticipated overnight stops and the nature of the terrain.

There is anternative map here of the route and stops which is also zoomable with the mouse control

There is a spreadsheet here with information on each of the 102 Day Stages including a Strava map and statistics. This spreadsheet is a work in progress and will change continually. However it is broken down into Day stages with the current favoured overnight stop, statistics of the route and a Strava map of the route.