Trekking the Swiss Alps

The Jungfrau
By Karen Walker, Ryder Walker Alpine Adventures

Perhaps the most famous touristic destination in Switzerland is the Jungfrau region. Here, the infamous trio of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau loom over pastoral meadows, quaint chalets and a number of well-known resort villages, including Grindelwald, Wengen, and Murren. The hiking between these villages is quite flexible as a lift and cog railway system allows hikers the options of riding up or down segments of many hiking routes. Of course, this does not lead to an entirely pristine, wilderness experience. Instead, convenience is king, and, if your group has hikers of different abilities, you can all hike point to point-- some by the more challenging trails and others with mechanical assistance. In the Grindelwald, Wengen, Murren region, you can hike between the main villages in two to four days, or make a loop of the entire region in three to five hiking days. The possibilities are almost endless.

From Murren, if you want to continue on across the Oberland in a westerly direction, a number of high, remote passes stand in your way. The hiking becomes more pristine and less crowded as the lift set is left behind on the trails to two of the passes: the Sefinenfurke, between Murren and the remote Kiental, and the notorious Hohturli, separating Kiental from Kandersteg. If you are in shape, you will be rewarded for your stiff ascents with views of the Blumlisalp Massif, tumbling glaciers and, above Kandersteg, the spectacular Oeschinensee, a cobalt blue lake nestled in an amphitheater of limestone and fed by innumerable waterfalls cascading from the glaciers above.

From Kandersteg, you can continue westward through the Oberland and into the Saanenland region and the Pays D'Enhaut, where the terrain grows increasingly pastoral. From Kandersteg, a number of strenuous routes cross high passes to Adelboden and on to Lenk. Beyond Lenk, the temperament of the region changes as towering, gray peaks give way to rolling, green hills. Between Gstaad and Chateau D'Oex, as one crosses into the dairy region known as the Pays D'Enhaut, home to such famous Swiss cheeses as Gruyeres, the language changes, too, to French. If your goals include a desire to end on the shores of Lac Leman, which borders on France, you can cross by L'Etivaz, with its model cheese dairy, to Caux, above Montreux.

Once in Kandersteg it is also possible to cross into the Valais, a canton known for its sunny, arid climate, the majestic Pennine Alps, including the Matterhorn, and the resort villages of Zermatt and Saas Fee. The Valais also offers virtually endless hiking in reliably warm, sunny weather. To cross to the remote and atmospheric Lotschental, a valley almost forgotten by time and tourism, you can walk along the floor of the pastoral Gasterntal, with its sheer limestone walls, then ascend to the remote Lotschenpass. Near the pass, you'll have to cross a small bit of glacier before descending to Wiler, a village where the strange, anomalous fright masks indigenous to the valley are manufactured in a number of small workshops. Alternately, the Gemmipass allows a more gentle passage into the Valais, with mechanical transport both up from Kandersteg and down into the strange town of Leuk with its old fashioned spas offering waters and therapies for various ailments. This straightforward route, though offering the advantage of gentle walking is somewhat marred by ugly, high voltage powerlines near the Daubensee.

From the Valais, the most famous point to point excursion is along the path of the famous ski tour, the Haute Route. This is a highly underutilized, remote and spectacular trek linking the tiny villages of the western, French speaking portion of the canton to the booming resort villages of Zermatt and Saas Fee. The Haute Route crosses through the lofty Pennine Alps with some of western Europe's highest, most renowned peaks and mightiest glaciers. It is however, a route for strong experienced hikers with good map reading skills. Though you'll reap the rewards of uncrowded trails and unspoiled villages, you will also pay when ascending valleys where no means of mechanical transport exist. The trails are not as highly developed either and in some places disappear altogether. Bring a map and compass and know how to use them!

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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