Sunday 28 September 2014

Swiss Alpine Pass Route

An 11-day hike across Switzerland via the so-called Alpine Pass route, or Via Alpina (marked as National Route #1).  The hike started at Sargans near Liechtenstein, and finished at St Gingolph by Lake Geneva.  Link to online map
Roughly 360km with 21,500 metres of ascent.

Photo albums:
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11

View Alpine Pass Route in a larger map

Day 1 - Sargans to Weisstannen (Sat 6th Sept)   Photos from Day 1 
2h10m, 14km, 640 metres ascent
The trip started at 5am in Glasgow with a train and bus to Edinburgh Airport. Then an Easyjet flight to Geneva, and 3 trains to Sargans, via Biel and Zurich. So it was after 5pm before I started hiking. I faffed around a bit leaving the train station at Sargans, trying to decide to whether to buy any food, but decided on balance it was better to get a move on since I was pressed for daylight hours. I reached Hotel Gemse after 2 hours, just as the light was starting to fade. I was in a shared dorm, but nobody else was staying. Dinner was schweineschnitzel, beer and chips, accompanied by traditional folk music.

Leaving Sargans on Day 1
Approaching Weisstannen on Day 1

Day 2 - Weisstannen to Martinsmad-Hütte (Sun 7th Sept)   Photos from Day 2
6h58m, 30km, 2193 metres ascent
I set off at 8:25am just as the locals were heading to church. The trail was wooded and cool with heavily dewed grass. Gradually the trail climbed above the treeline to the Foopass at 2223m, the first major pass of the route. On the descent I stopped for a while at a small farmstead to eat bread and cheese, and chat with some local hunters and cheese-makers (blessed are the cheese-makers), before battering down a long stony track towards Elm. Just before reaching Elm, I decided to head steeply back uphill again to the Swiss Alpine Club Martinsmad-Hütte at 2002m. It was a good sociable evening chatting with Swiss hikers, who were all doing short multi-day hikes in the region.
Foopass 2223m
Martinsmad Hutte 2002m
Day 3 - Martinsmad-Hütte to Klausenpass Hotel (Mon 8th Sept)   Photos from Day 3
12h27m, 45km, 3055 metres ascent
7:10am start with a steep descent to Elm. A quick snack at the village bakery in Elm, then upwards and onwards towards the Richetlipass. The pass has a false col then flattens out before the real pass at 2261m.  The descent entered some slightly wilder country, and a short sharp rain storm added to the effect.  Once down in Linthal I re-grouped for a few minutes, then decided to head for the Klausenpass, having read that the Klausenpass Hotel is "unmissable". I summited the Klausenpass just as it was getting dark, only to discover the hotel is still another 2km down the other side. Schweineschnitzel, beer and chips again for dinner, although I was too exhausted to finish the beer.  The night was creepily quiet in the bunkhouse on the opposite side of the road.

Richetlipass 2261m

Approaching Klausenpass

Klausenpass Hotel
Day 4 - Klausenpass Hotel to Spannort Hutte (Tue 9th Sept)   Photos from Day 4
11h02m, 42km, 2506 metres ascent
After a leisurely breakfast in the Klausenpass Hotel, I was away just before 8am. The route fiddled around below Schachentaler Windgallen before dropping into the Schachental valley.  Unfortunately I was day-dreaming so ended up in Unterschachen and had to hike along the road to Spiringen. There was quite a bit more hiking down the road to get to the outskirts of Altdorf. I missed out going to the town centre to see the famous statue of William Tell, but instead headed straight across to Attinghausen for the steep slog up to Brusti.  I had thought of staying the night in Brusti, but instead decided to press on over the Surenenpass 2291m.  The weather got iffy on the descent.  Misty. Pouring with rain. Full waterproofs required. I got a bit confused in the mist, but eventually found a sign pointing upward to the Spannort Hut. It was getting pretty late by this stage, and the climb to hut was steep and rocky. I arrived just as it was getting dark.  The guardian was surprised to have a visitor.  Nobody had visited the hut for several days. It was a very quiet night, with just the sound of rain and running water outside.
Sunrise at Klausenpass (Schärhorn)
Surenenpass 2291m
Approaching Spannort Hutte (Titlis)
Day 5 - Spannort Hutte to Meiringen (Wed 10th Sept)   Photos from Day 5
11h43m, 45km, 1864 metres ascent
Misty, murky weather leaving the Spannort Hutte. Mass migration of cattle, bringing them down for the winter, as I dropped into the Surenen valley. A long gradual descent to Engelberg, then quick supermarket stop before heading back uphill towards the Jochpass.

The Swiss have an uncanny knack of converting their wonderful natural landscapes into industrial building sites, and the Jochpass was no exception with an enormous new hotel in mid-construction. I headed on past various lakes to the Tannensee at which point the weather really closed in. One minute it was quite tolerable, and the next I was scrambling for full waterproofs and getting a real pelting from the rain and wind.  The route headed along an undulating ridge to Planplatten 2245m on the edge of a ski area. It really was pretty grim, and I was glad when the trail finally started descending towards Meiringen.  It took a fair old while to descend the 1650m to reach the "Sherlock Holmes" town of Meiringen, and then I had to try a few hotels before finally getting a very quiet room at the Hotel Rebstock.

Trübsee before the Jochpass 
Descending to Meiringen after the storm
Day 6 - Meiringen to Lauterbrunnen (Thu 11th Sept)   Photos from Day 6
10h13m, 42km, 2477 metres ascent
Another fairly cloudy overcast day.  Pretty cool dull weather all the way to the Grosse Scheidegg 1962m, which I hadn't appreciated has a road up it from both sides, so not exactly a wilderness experience. The view from the pass must be stunning on a clear day, but we had to make do with fleeting glimpses of the Eiger. The descent to Grindelwald was pleasant enough, with great views of the Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn and Lauteraarhorn taking me back to 1997 when I climbed the Wetterhorn with Jeff Knight and Micky Ross.

Entering Grindelwald was awful after solo-hiking for several days. Far too many people, and commercialisation gone mad. I stopped to grab food from the Coop, then kept walking without stopping for a break. The trail to Kleine Scheidegg couldn't have been more straightfoward. A steady trail of tourists. It does feel bizarre when you reach the col, and the Swiss have built a major railway station, with hordes of people, and cigarette smoke blowing in your face. Needless to stay, I kept on hiking straight over the other side and down towards Wengen and Lauterbrunnen.  It was quite late, and getting dark when I reached Lauterbrunnen, but I found a room at the Hotel Schutzen right beside the very spectacular Staubbach Falls.

Hotel Rosenlaui 
The Eiger from Grosse Scheidegg
Wetterhorn above Grindelwald
Day 7 - Lauterbrunnen to Griesalp (Fri 12th Sept)   Photos from Day 7
7h02m, 28km, 1866 metres ascent
The day dawned with torrential rain in Lauterbrunnen. I faffed around getting waterproofs on, by which time the rain had more or less stopped.  It was still pretty damp and cool for the hike up to Murren.  For a while on the hike to the Rotstock Hut the weather threatened to improve with the odd fleeting of a snowy peak. I stopped at the hut for a bowl of soup, and chat with an American guy from San Francisco, and then ventured out into the increasingly cold and grey conditions for the climb to the Sefinenfurgge 2612m.  The rain was turning into sleet, and the descent was on black shale for a while. Lower down it started raining properly for the hike out to Griesalp. I checked into the Naturfreundehaus Gorneren, which turned out to be a good evening chatting with an American guy Damon, and Swiss guy Chris over dinner and a few beers.

Staubbach Falls at Lauterbrunnen

Gspaltenhorn above Mürren
Day 8 - Griesalp to Adelboden (Sat 13th Sept)   Photos from Day 8
11h08m, 36km, 2671 metres ascent
An early 6:45am start for the climb to the impressive Hohtürli Pass 2778m, the highest point on the Alpine Pass Route. For once, the weather didn't disappointment. Great views of snowy peaks, with wispy low-lying clouds. I pottered down the other side the outstandingly scenic Oeschinensee, then continued down to Kandersteg for a supermarket stop. After eating as much as I could in 10 minutes, I headed up to the surprisingly dramatic Bunderchrinde 2385m, and impressive rocky gash reminiscent of the Breche de Rolande. The hike out to Adelboden had an uphill sting in the tail. It was not the kind of place to find cheap accommodation, so I checked into the Hotel Waldhaus Huldi at the end of the main street.

Hohtürli Pass 2778m

Hohtürli Pass 2778m

Oeschinensee above Kandersteg
Day 9 - Adelboden to Gsteig (Sun 14th Sept)   Photos from Day 9
9h20m, 36km, 1984 metres ascent
A leisurely breakfast at the Waldhaus Huldi then an easy hike over the Hahnenpass 1956m to Lenk. Everything was shut in Lenk, apart from a bakery with virtually nothing left, so I just kept on hiking, for once in pretty hot and sunny conditions. I crossed the Truttlisberg Pass 2038m to Launen, then kept going straight over the Krinnen Pass 1659m to Gsteig, where I checked into the Hotel Bären which had an incredible chilled-out atmosphere, with great music in the bar restaurant.

Descending towards Lenk

Hotel Bären at Gsteig
Day 10 - Gsteig to Col des Mosses (Mon 15th Sept)   Photos from Day 10
6h31m, 23km, 1366 metres ascent
Today marked the transition back into French-speaking Switzerland after crossing the Blattipass 1900m. After the Col des Anderets 2034m the trail fiddled around contouring for a while before reaching some chalets at Chersaule, where I took a break to sit out of the sun and relax for a few minutes. It was quite hot and oppressive when I reached Col des Mosses a short while later. It was early afternoon, but there was no point in continuing today, so I checked into the Hôtel Le Relais Alpin and watched a re-run of yesterday's Vuelta final time-trial in my room.
Arnensee after the Blattipass
Col des Mosses in pouring rain
Day 11 - Col des Mosses to St Gingolph (Tue 16th Sept)   Photos from Day 11
8h45m, 35km, 816 metres ascent
The final day. A gentle descent to Lac de l'Hongrin past some sort of Swiss Army training camp. Around the lake some huge barrages, then through a tunnel, and down a road to a scruffy farm at Vuichaude d'en Bas.  Some nice autumnal colours on the hike up to Col de Chaude1621m, when Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) opens out below. The 1200m descent lead down to the vineyards above the historic town of Villeneuve.  I took a break for a while looking out across Lake Geneva, before hiking around the lake through the Grangette Nature Reserve and over the Rhone to reach St Gingolph on the French border, and where I started the GR5 hike to the Mediterranean 2 years ago.

Leaving Col des Mosses

Lac de l'Hongrin

Approaching Col de Chaude

Col de Chaude

Lake Geneva at Villeneuve
Looking back to Col de Chaude from edge of Villeneuve

Grand Canal at Les Grangettes

Lake Geneva at Le Bouveret
Lake Geneva from St Gingolph