Ever since humans came to the Alps we’ve been crossing them to find food, trade – and have fun. Here’s the lowdown on history’s greatest Alpine traverses.
Oetzi the Iceman
When: 3400-3100 BC
Where: Italian / Austrian border at the head of the Oetztal.
Hiking over the Tisenjoch at the head of the Oetztal in 1991, tourists were astonished to discover the well preserved body of a hiker who’d been around a LOT earlier. No GORE-TEX® for this guy; he was wearing little more than a loin cloth and a coat made of grass. (But his footwear was both waterproof and breathable, made of bearskin for the soles, deer hide for the uppers and a netting made of bark.) He was also found with a copper-headed axe, longbow, arrows and a knife. Christened Oetzi, the alpine hunter now resides at the archaeology museum in Bolzano.
Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps
When: 218 BC
Where: French / Italian Alps
The original epic traverse of the Alps. Eager to catch the Roman armies unawares, the Carthaginian ruler Hannibal had the genius idea to march his army – elephants included – across the Alps into Italy where the Romans would least expect them. His exact route is still debated; contenders include the Col de Montgenèvre, the Col de Mt Cenis or the Little St Bernard pass. The boldness almost paid off. Despite losing his elephants and much of his men and equipment, he only narrowly failed to take Rome.
Napoleon Crosses the Alps
When: 1800Where: St. Bernard Pass
Inspired by his hero Hannibal, the young 30-year-old leader of France tried the same tactic in 1800, leading his army over the Alps to take the Austrians by surprise in Italy and expel them from the region. This time it worked. Over several days in late May, the 40,000 strong army crossed over in single file, 6,000 men a day, each man carrying approximately 30kg of gear. As every Red Bull X-Alps athlete knows, you’re only as good as your support team, and the French had the best. At the top they were greeted by monks of the St Bernard’s hospice, who served them cheese, bread and wine. They were thirsty, getting through 22,000 bottles!
The Haute Route first crossed
When: 1861, 1903Where: Zermatt to Chamonix
The classic ‘high-level’ route across the Alps linking its most iconic mountains, the Matterhorn and Mt Blanc, was first hiked in 1861 by members of the English Alpine Club. In 1903 Dr Payot, Joseph Coutted, Alfred Simond and Joseph Ravanel made the first winter crossing attempt, using modified skis from Norway. It wasn’t until 1911 that the first complete ski traverse was made.
The most impressive unknown adventure crossing
When: 1933Where: Grenoble - Nice - Zermatt - St Moritz - Chamonix
Leon Zwingelstein, known as ‘Zwing’ is a largely unknown legend of ski mountaineering. Over 90 days in 1933 he journeyed 2,000km over 50 glaciers, 45 passes over 2,000m, climbing 58,500m of elevation. Something of a mountain vagabond, he would write afterwards: “To create an objective, the crazier the better and to head off in search of it with nothing else in mind… devoting both body and soul to it with a sort of solemn rage, how wonderful.”
Toni Bender hikes and flies north to south over Alps
When: 1999Where: Northern Alps to Bassano, Italy
When German paragliding test pilot Toni Bender flew north to south over the Alps in 1999, he could not have known the impact of his remarkable flight. Watching the TV documentary of his flight was the late Hannes Arch. So inspired, Arch resolved to create a race. “I thought it would be cool to base a paragliding competition on this format and together with Red Bull, the idea was born!” The rest as they say, is history.
The first Red Bull X-Alps
When: 2003Where: The Dachstein to Monaco!
The first Red Bull X-Alps was a different beast to what the race is today. Back then it started on the summit slopes of the Dachstein glacier and the 17 athletes who took part were much more self-sufficient. As a result they often carried camping supplies which together with their heavier rigs, meant they were often hiking with 20kg+ of weight. Kaspar Henny was the first to make Monaco, in just under 12 days.
Completing the (Adriatic) Circle
When: 2014 - 2015
Where: Ancona to Ancona
In 2014, race veterans Paul Guschlbauer and Tom de Dorlodot embarked on what they believed could be the longest hike-and-fly ever attempted, a clockwise route from Ancona, Italy, west to east across the Alps, then south to Croatia before crossing the Adriatic in paramotors. It didn’t quite work out as planned; the pair were forced to quit after Tom had an accident. But the following year they returned to complete the circle.
Ueli Steck’s summer vacation
When: 2015 Where: The Western Alps
One of many remarkable feats of the late Swiss climbing legend Ueli Steck was his successful project to climb all 82 peaks over 4,000m in the Alps in one summer. He completed the challenge in just 62 days. What made the achievement all the more remarkable is that he used human power alone, cycling and hiking between peaks. By the end he’d pedalled over 1,000km and climbed 100,000 vertical meters.
The world’s toughest adventure race returns
Where: Salzburg (maybe?)
The race returns in 2019. What can we expect from the ninth edition? So many questions? Where will the route go this time? (It will be revealed in March.) Who will this year challenge Chrigel Maurer for the crown? Can anyone take him on? As always, you’ll be able to follow all the action as it happens, wherever you are, on Live Tracking. Get ready for the adventure to begin.
Mark your calendars for the official athletes announcement on October 16th! Follow us on Facebook to not miss a thing!
Photos by © zooom / Harald Tauderer, © zooom / Sebastian Marko