Massenlager, Via Alpina, Switzerland

Mini Walking Stories: Massenlager


Mini Walking Stories is a project I’m doing this month to catalog a fabulous year of walking. Every day during December, I’m going to choose one photo and invite you to come along with me for a few minutes on one of the walks I took in 2022. Read more stories here.

Massenlager, Via Alpina, Switzerland

The Massenlager

It’s a bit like Grandma’s Feather Bed, only without the hound dogs and pig.

We didn’t get much sleep, but we had a lot of fun.

At least I think we did.

The Massenlager is the Swiss German word for where you sleep in an alpine hut.

It’s not just a hostel, it’s a room with one or two long beds where you huddle up with your friends (and a few strangers) after a long day of hiking.

You’re allotted a pillow the size of a tea cup and one scratchy wool blanket. So between the fabric-covered bed and the blanket, you use a sleeping bag liner. The liner is a small, lightweight sleeping bag that you carry in your pack.

If you move around a lot in your sleep, you might find the sleeping bag liner to be similar to a straitjacket, especially once it twists and tangles around your body while you try to sleep.

A Massenlager usually holds 20-30 people, often with one long bed on the bottom and another long one above. With that number of folks in the room, the odds are pretty decent that someone is going to snore, loudly. So ear plugs are a must. I also recommend melatonin.

On my first night in a Massenlager in Switzerland, I was lamenting how little sleep I thought I would get, when my sister, who joined us for our first few days on the Via Alpina, made an interesting perspective-shifting point:

On a long-haul flight, you would pay a lot of money for this much space to sleep. 

This was  a strangely helpful thought.

I still didn’t get that much sleep, but I did begin to enter the Massenlagers at night with gratitude for the warm, dry space to stretch out. After miles and miles of marching up (and down) mountains, I was thankful for every hour of rest.

I actively decided not to be jealous of those who could fall right asleep in the Massenlager.

I found myself actually thankful for snores and heavy breathing around me, because it meant that at least someone was getting good sleep. (Maybe that someone could carry my backpack the next day.)

And then one night, when we walked into the youth hostel in Grindelwald and were assigned to rooms with bunk beds, all of a sudden the luxury of having an entire twin mattress all to myself felt like winning the lottery!

It was like we had checked into the Ritz-Carlton! I was several whole feet away from the next person, and could flop about in my straitjacket liner without disturbing anyone else!

Oh the deliciously deep sleep that I got that night!

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