Waterwalker is the title of Bill Mason's iconic movie on canoeing. And indeed, canoeing and walking have got a lot in common. Not only the same traveling speed of about 4 kilometers per hour, but also a meditative rhythm. Countless steps on a hike match numerous paddle strokes on rivers and lakes. Difficult rapids, where each paddle stroke better be placed correctly, correspond to rugged mountain stages, where likewise every single step better be placed well. Similarly, the lessons to be learned - either in high mountains or on remote rivers. Lessons about one’s own insignificance in such oversized settings. Modesty and humility will take you farther.
But there are also marked differences. While you can wander around in Central Europe with, let's say, 10 kilograms of equipment (all told), a canoe trip in Canada's Back of Beyond may require an outfit that soon weighs 10 times as much (excluding food). Take drinking water: In Canada, it carries your canoe. On a hike you carry the water. Or the margin for error: Whereas on a hike one single wrong step can wreak havoc to your journey, it is unlikely that an erroneous paddle stroke will bring your journey to a halt. Take the consequences of a blunder, or bad luck: Where in Central Europe a rescue helicopter is often not too far away, a distress signal triggered in the far reaches of the Canadian North may activate a Hercules CC-130 many thousands of miles away. Or take free miles: Where you may well travel long distances on a river without expending yourself, you won't cover a single meter on a hike if you don't push yourself. Take silence and solitude, so closely associated with Canada's North. Even in ancient forests or on high mountain slopes in Central Europe, it is a matter of good fortune. While solitude in the Canadian North can be measured in weeks, in central Europe it is more a matter of hours - or, if you are lucky, a day or two. Whereas many mountains north of 60 are still nameless, in Central Europe every hillock has a name. In short: Canada's North is good for great escapes, Central Europe's mountains for the lesser ones.
These galleries are intended to convey an idea of what is in store along the way. For those who are planning to go and those who share an interest into long distance hiking and mountains but cannot go have a look for themselves. From Munich to Venice entices by traversing three different countries with their traditional food, customs and languages. Whereas the special charm of the Pyrenees for me was crossing Spain from one ocean to the other. The Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA) is a physical challenge accompanied by Italian food. The Dientes are hardly worth mentioning from a hiking perspective. It takes only a few days to complete the circuit. But this trail is truly south of 60 degrees (north) and the southern beech tree is a noteworthy beauty. The Via Dinarica was born out of the necessity to start early (June) with mountains en route but avoiding issues with snow. With regards to through-going natural beauty, I would not rank the Via Dinarica in first place. This hike is for those who are particularly interested in the Balkans. And it is a good idea to learn about the complicated and tragic history of this region beforehand. There is a very good 3-part documentation: "Balkan in Flammen". Revisiting the Pyrenees was owed to the virus. And with travel restrictions changing every fortnight in 2021, a jaunt into the Alps seemed the most promising and straightforward.
This site is also a plea for one’s own tent. Some campsites and the hours you spend there cannot be matched by anything you could ever get in a (serviced) mountain hut.
In terms of numbers, the above routes work out as follows:
GR 11: 800 KM distance – 50 days – 34 KM ascent and descent.
HRP: 740 KM distance – 58 days – 37 KM ascent and descent.
GTA: 700 KM distance – 50 days – 46 KM ascent and descent.
Munich to Venice: 610 KM distance – 33 days – 30 KM ascent and descent.
Via Dinarica: 1130 KM distance – 74 days – 42 KM ascent and descent.
Vienna to Lago di Como: 1080 KM distance – 73 days – 57 KM ascent and descent.
Now, especially the numbers for ascents and descents are to be taken with caution. Different algorithms result in different numbers for one and the same GPX file. For example: Outdooractive estimates 43 KM for the ascent and descent of the HRP, Google in comparison only 37 KM. Even more serious is Google's limit for the maximum file size for a GPX track (5MB). The GPX file of the hike from Vienna into the Alps, for example, had 8.7 MB (55787 positions) and came to about 82KM in ascent and descent using the Routeconverter. The file for Google (4.3 MB and half of the positions) resulted in the same algorithm (Routeconverter) only 77 KM for ascent and descent. With the Google algorithm it was down to 57.6 KM. So, in absolute terms, the numbers appear therefore not very meaningful. When comparing different routes, calculated with the same algorithm, they are, to me.
All routes on one map can be found here.