Alps on the cheap

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seano

 
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Alps on the cheap

by seano » Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:27 pm

I'm from the States, hoping to spend some time climbing in the Alps on the cheap. In most parts of the States (except the Wasatch and Front Range) and western Canada, I've had no trouble sleeping in my car at the trailheads before climbs, saving a night at a hut/hostel/hotel. Could I do that in the Alps, or would I quickly end up in a polite but stern Austrian jail awaiting deportation? What do people here do to climb in the Alps cheaply?

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Sean

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Scott

 
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Re: Alps on the cheap

by Scott » Sun Apr 15, 2018 6:00 pm

Wouldn't renting a car (especially one big enough to sleep in), plus paying for gas be more expensive than staying in a hostel or mountain hut? It would seem cheaper to use public transport, campgrounds, hostels, and mountain huts rather than renting a car, especially if you are going on overnight climbs. Also, on longer climbers (as you know) most people stay in mountain huts on climbs and they aren't that expensive. Camping in the backcountry is banned in many areas.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by seano » Sun Apr 15, 2018 6:21 pm

Maybe I'm way off here, but... What I've seen online suggests renting a car long-term is $12-15/day for a small thing, big enough to sleep in uncomfortably. Add in gas and it's maybe $20-25/day, even with expensive Euro-gas? Plus, a car gives me a relatively secure place to store gear I'm not using, so I don't have to carry everything on my back all the time (e.g. street clothes, extra food, either boots/crampons or trail-runners/mini-crampons).

I wasn't planning to use many mountain huts, other than in cases where the only feasible approach is to take a tram from the valley. I've heard from a couple other people that hostels and huts aren't that cheap -- huts weren't even that cheap in Ecuador, and those were stocked by mule, not helicopter. The Hornli Hut is probably on the high end, but it's $155/night in a communal room.

Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and accept that visiting the Alps is crazy-expensive, but I hope not.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by Scott » Sun Apr 15, 2018 6:32 pm

What I've seen online suggests renting a car long-term is $12-15/day


I'd read the small print. The $12-15 you see online doesn't included sales tax, insurance, airport fees, VAT, etc. VAT tax alone is typically at least 20%.

From Vienna, for example, the cheapest I see a rental car than includes all that actually works out to be $57 per day (even though the advertised price is $30 a day before all the extras are added) and that's for a dinky little car that you wouldn't want to sleep in.

Fuel in Europe is also a lot more expensive than it is in the US. In Austria right now it is equivalent to about $6 a gallon in the city to $10 in the resort areas.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by mtnjim » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:45 pm

I rented a car for a trip to the French alps in 2013. I chose to rent because it was very difficult to get to one of the areas I wanted to see by public transportation. In winter it would have been easy because of all the ski traffic but in summer it would have been very difficult and time consuming.

I slept in it a few nights, mostly to sleep as high as I could, and as far as I could tell, in France at least, it was accepted. There were areas where there would be several RVs parked, no 'no camping' signs, no hassles. I would assume that there might be more restrictions around the more popular areas but I really don't know. I'm thinking around Chamonix, specifically. I also don't know about trailheads. One thing I did notice was that none of the trailheads or overnight spots I saw in the Val d'Isere, Trois Vallees region had restrooms. I never saw a public restroom outside of a town, and I never did figure that part out. I stopped at commercial campgrounds to pay for a shower just as I have in the American west.

I flew into Geneva (GVA) and walked over to the French side (GGV) because the cost of a rental there was less than half what it was on the Swiss side. The EU requires that liability insurance is included with the rental so with that and the insurance included with your credit card you should be covered. I had no surprises on my bill from that rental or from one the previous year in Spain. I normally use carrentals.com and have had no problems cancelling through them. I have also booked through rentalcars.com and have had no problem cancelling with them, either, when a better rate comes up. I checked for a GGV rental on rentalcars.com July10-25 and came up with $301 for the 15 days. Both the rentals in Spain and France were in the range of cost you mention. When you know your dates, find the best price, book it, and keep checking back. If a cheaper one comes up, book that and cancel the other. Repeat. Just make sure it says "Free Cancellation".

At large camping rules vary from country to country so it will all depend on where you'll be. I was looking this up a couple of weeks ago and found a site that had the rules listed country by country. Thought I had it bookmarked but I can't seem to find it. I do remember that it isn't allowed in Spain and, I think, not in Switzerland. Hopefully, my info on France is correct. If I stumble over it again, I'll post it. Good luck.

p.s. I did notice that my credit card insurance would not cover Italy. I guess the reputation of Italian drivers may be true, or at least the cc company thinks so. If Italy is part of your plans, be sure to check into that first
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Re: Alps on the cheap

by McCannster » Sun Apr 15, 2018 10:51 pm

Hey Sean,

Been in Europe a year now and took a couple dirtbag style trips to the Alps last year.

Traveling in the Alps is expensive unfortunately. Huts and public transport in Switzerland and Austria are stupidly expensive. I think a one way train ticket from Zurich to Zermatt is like 75 bucks.

Renting a car is actually pretty cheap, especially if you are splitting it with a partner. You might be able to get away with sleeping in it at some of the emptier trailheads, but it can be tricky in a place like, say Zermatt. An open bivy is possible pretty much anywhere, just keep it low key and you'll be fine. Apparently it's against the "rules" (more of a cultural rule rather than a legal law), but totally doable...there are plenty of out of the way forested areas for a stealth bivy for a night.

For example, my partner and I rented a car out of the Zurich airport for about 30 bucks a day, drove to Zermatt (well, almost to Zermatt, you have to park about 7 km down the valley from town), bivied at the base of the Matterhorn, climbed the following day, scored a free hotel room in town (long story), and then tooled around climbing for 3 more days before returning the car. Had we replicated the same itinerary using public transport and huts...well, it would have costed a lot more money. Even with the high gas prices, you aren't driving very long distances. I think we probably paid about 70 bucks in gas total. Plus the trains and buses would have been kind of a pain shlepping all our gear, not to mention more time consuming.

Moral of the story; infrastructure in the Alps isn't really conducive to the American dirtbag agenda, however with a little pre planning and willingness to sleep in odd places, it's totally do-able.

With that, there is something to be said about the hut culture in the Alps, which is an experience in itself, but if you are mainly looking to do things as cheap as you can (and it won't be "cheap" either way), rent a car and either sleep in it or bivy nearby.

150 bucks a night at the Hörnli Hut is goddam highway robbery. There's a sweet bivy spot 1000 feet below it, at the base of the initial cliffs, I'd highly recommend it.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by mtnjim » Mon Apr 16, 2018 12:11 am

Here's the site I was thinking of: http://www.momgoescamping.com/wild-camping-laws-europe/ According to this info, my anecdotal info is incorrect. It isn't legal in France but appears to be tolerated. I did also spend a night in a parking lot in Yvoire among the RVs with no problems. I hope you get more specific trailhead and Alps info. If I do make it back to Europe this fall, I'll need to decide between public transport and campgrounds or sleeping in a rental car when possible. I'll be looking to keep costs way down, too.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by seano » Mon Apr 16, 2018 12:19 am

Wow, thanks for all the helpful replies! I hope I can make this happen...

Scott -- Thanks for doing the math. I believe credit cards carry enough insurance for Europe. Also, I'll be renting in Spain (after visiting friends), where prices are much cheaper. Even at twice the online listed prices, it still seems reasonable for transportation plus lodging plus storage. I'll probably go for the model one up from the bottom; I've spent a whole summer in a Celica before, but not a Smart.

Jim -- Nice summary. I'm renting in Spain, and I guess I'll steer clear of Italy (lol!).

McCannster -- No partner, as that is not how I roll, but this may be my only trip to the Alps, so I'd rather not waste the time I have. The bivy rules sound like what I've experienced in most places here: don't park right in front of a "no camping" sign, be a nuisance, or trash the place, and you'll be fine. No harm, no foul.

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Re: Alps on the cheap

by seano » Fri May 18, 2018 12:05 am

I just thought I'd update this thread to say that, while it didn't end up being quite as cheap as I had hoped, I'll be in the Alps (mostly Chamonix and Zermatt areas) from about the second week of July through the fourth week of August. Drop me an email if you want to meet a middle-aged American and grab a coffee or dayhike a peak.


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