Swiss Alps Mountain Photography

Swiss Alps Trekking: Hiking trip report from Switzerland, Mountain Photography

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Swiss Alps panorama
Swiss Alps panorama in central Switzerland

Intro :: Hiking Map :: Swiss Alps

Trekking across the Swiss Alps, from the rugged Rätikon Mountain Range and lovely Engadin Valley in the canton of Graubünden to the eastern border with Italy. The Hike continued crossing the wild Ticino Mountains to the most fantastic glacier scenery in Switzerland in the Bernese Alps and finally in the canton of Vaud along Lake Geneva.

Trekking Trip Facts
The trip took 26 days of hiking and additionally a few days of rest. The difference of altitude was roughly 25'000 meters, that would be about three times up Mount Everest ;-)

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FAQ and Trekking Tips >>

Hiking Map Switzerland

Part 1 ¦ Graubünden: Rätikon Mountain Range - Prättigau - Engadin Valley - Val Müstair

Hiking Day 1 and 2
It took me two days to hike from the city of Chur along the valley of the River Rhein and finally to climb through blossoming alpine meadows to the peak of Mt. Vilan. On the way down to the valley I was chased by a herd of about 20 cows till I saved myself leaping over a fence.

Hiking Day 3
Following a long valley I accessed the remote area of the Rätikon Mountains . Today's highest point, Cavelljoch, is common border with the neighboring country Austria . At an altitude of around 2000 m above sea level there still lay massive snowfields that made the passage too risky. But matter-of-factly the detour through an area full of loose stone and rubble was not much less dangerous. Just as the sun disappeared I set up an open-air camp at the foot of the so-called "Swiss Gate". After a quick bath in the freezing cold glacier brook I cooked some mushroom noodles for dinner. 

Hiking Day 4
Steep ascent. Snow had buried the path and the markings underneath. With the compass and the diverse maps I navigated up to Carschina refuge hut where I was offered a hot soup by the host. 4 hours later I passed the farmer hamlet of St. Antönien whose touristy slogan is indeed appropriate: "behind the moon on the left!" As I still had enough provisions for another day I just refilled the water bottles and headed straight on. I was climbing up on the other side of the valley, when all of a sudden a fierce thunderstorm thrashed down. On the map I located a tiny brown spot close by, any kind of building. Hurriedly I balanced over the river and soon found shelter in an unoccupied stable. As it already got dark I decided to stay here for the night. The pattering rain, roaring thunder and striking lightning throwing light through the cracks of the wooden walls woke me up several times... what an eerie feeling!

Hiking Day 5
Early in the morning I climbed up the last part to the pass and then hiked all day long on a path high above the valley of the Prättigau.

Hiking Day 6

Today I travel across a magical u-shaped valley with its brook zigzagging through a marsh, large boulders, light mist and drizzle. I somehow expected to see some elves, dwarfs, hobbits or other creatures out of “Lord of the Rings”. The further up I climbed the thicker the fog got. The magic of the beginning turned into a hard and difficult stage. Finally the view was limited to a mere arm's length. Often I had to guess the way, as there weren't any points of orientation. A big help posed the murmur of the river underneath the ice of the glacier, which guided my up to the top of the pass of Vereina. Once in a while the strong and icy wind cleared the sky and gave view to a wild, rocky and sandy landscape, reminding me of a beach and several lakes covered by ice floes but just seconds later the fog veiled everything again. Snowfall set in and spoiled the plan for a lunch break. I needed all afternoon to descend to the famous valley of the Engadin and thus the Romanish speaking part of Switzerland. There I passed some lovely villages, well known for its unique architecture. 11 hours pure walking time, 1700 m of altitude difference and an estimated 50 km made me fall asleep within the blink of an eye!

Hiking Day 7
A spectacular gorge led into the valley bordering the Swiss National Park. Grazing cows stared at me absently while I invaded their pasture on the way to the Pass da Costainas. Now what do you do high up there, knowing the last post bus out of the following godforsaken valley was going to leave in three hours and the hiking time indicated was 6 hours? Well you could spend another night out in the wilderness but wouldn't you like to enjoy the comfort of your own bed again? That's why I hurried down the mountain as fast as I possibly could and finally ran the last 10 km along the paved main road to Müstair, the most easterly point of the country, right at the border to Italy. I made it right on time... well actually in half the time!

Swiss Alps Graubünden
Swiss Alps scenery in the Rätikon Mountain Range in Graubünden
Rätikon mountain trail
Hiking trail in the Raetikon mountains
Veraina mountain pass
Ascend to the Vereina mountain pass
Engadin valley Graubünden
Engadin valley is one of the most attractive areas for hiking in the Swiss Alps
 
 

Part 2 ¦ Graubünden: Rhein Valley - Vals Valley - San Bernardino

Hiking Day 8
The trekking trip continued in western direction, upstream the River Rhein. The fascinating Swiss Grand Canyon of Ruinaulta was today's undisputed highlight.  Set up the camp on the sandy shore of the river.

Hiking Day 9
The valley of Vals is famous for its hot springs and mineral water. It rained cats and dogs so that I sought shelter under the protruding roof of a wooden shack. But after having waited for over an hour and as it didn't seem to get better soon, I set off anyway. Indeed it poured down all day long, but no harm done, you can't get wetter than wet! In a last effort I reached Mt. Vals and camped halfway down, hidden in the waist-high grass.

Hiking Day 10
Today I followed the ancient trading route over the mountain pass of San Bernardino. Unfortunately on the other side a glacier blocked the way and made the passage to Calanca Valley too risky without the adequate equipment. I was compelled to a two-day-detour.

Ruinaulta Swiss Grand Canyon
The Ruinaulta gorge of the river Rhein is also called the Gran Canyon of Switzerland

Part 3 ¦ Ticino: Val Verzasca - Valle Leventina - Val Bedretto - Nufenen

Hiking Day 11 and 12
In two days I hiked in southern direction, passing the capital of Ticino Bellinzona and Locarno on the lovely Lago Maggiore, a big lake shared with Italy.

Hiking Day 13
Val Verzasca: everything was made of stone: impressive stone bridges, typical stone houses with stone roofs, stone fences, stone sculptures, stone pavement and stone markings on the hiking trail... The river formed loads of small pools, ideal to take a bath or just cool the aching feet off. Camped in a light rain deep inside the valley, just at the starting point of tomorrow's climb.

Hiking Day 14
With the help of ropes, iron ladders and steps cut into the rock I worked my way upward. I had to stop quite a lot as my heart beat like crazy from the strenuous effort. I felt quite exhausted this morning, the last couple of days were indeed rather intensive. The constant rain added to the difficulty, made everything wet and very slippery. One wrong step and there would have been a free fall of several hundred meters down the almost vertical rocky wall. Mountain goats greeted me on the top of Passo di Piatto. I descended carefully to a small lake veiled in fog. When I passed a dilapidated stable I was scared to death by other hikers that sought refuge there. We quickly exchanged information about the condition of the trail and while they waited in their hideout for the rain to stop I opted for the further descent. All of a sudden a huge waterfall appeared out of nowhere behind the mist. But I had to keep on moving, the cold was getting to me, my fingers were completely white from the cold, I didn't feel them anymore. Anyway, soaking wet, shaking, hungry and totally exhausted I hit a small village and called it a day.

Hiking Day 15 and 16
Valle Leventina: two-day-hike on a trail high up on the western flank of the valley.

Hiking Day 17
Val Bedretto/ Val Corno: once more I underestimated the presence of not retreated glaciers. There weren't sufficient sunny days so far to have reduced them to their usual summer size. I advanced as far as I thought reasonable but when the steep slope got completely icy and led far down directly into an ice floe-covered glacier lake, which in the worst case scenario would be a terribly cold grave, I decided to turn around. To make up for some of the time lost I walked along the road of the Nufenen, the highest pass for motorized vehicles in Switzerland. On both sides towered 5-meter-high walls of snow. Tonight I camped down in the valley of Wallis where I found the perfect spot with an old bathtub. Actually it is meant to provide cattle with fresh water but it served me just as well doing laundry and taking a bath in the freezing water.

Mountain lake northern Ticino
Frozen mountain lake in northern Ticino
Suspension bridge in the Nufenen valley
Suspension bridge in the Nufenen valley
Wild camping Alps
Wild camping with a luxurious bathtub

Part 4 ¦ Bernese Alps: Grimsel - Scheidegg - Sefinen - Gstaad

Hiking Day 18
On today's program was the ancient and historic trading route Grimsel, an important connection over the Alps between Northern Europe and Italy in those days.

Hiking Day 19 and 20

Great Scheidegg/ Little Scheidegg: Hiked just below some of the biggest glaciers of Switzerland, in the Bernese Alps, also known as the Bear Trek. Impressive alpine scenery around the mountains Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, the latter with the famous railway up to the Aletsch Glacier. This is a wonderful region for a Mountainbike Tour too.

Hiking Day 21
Right after a modest breakfast of bananas I started climbing out of the deep Sefinen Tal, up to the mountain pass of the same name at an altitude of 2'600 m above sea level.

Hiking Day 22
Rather unexciting day along channeled rivers, roads, railroad tracks and ski lifts. The Alps can be the loneliest place on earth and at the same time packed with human infrastructure. At least I had a good sleep in the hay in an old barn.

Hiking Day 23
After having crossed another mountain pass I reached the snobby resort town of Gstaad, the last outpost of the German speaking territory. I quickly stocked up on provisions and a new map and continued my way.

Aletsch glacierAletsch glacier in the Bernese Alps
Sefinen mountain passSefinen mountain pass

Part 5 ¦ Vaud and Lake Geneva: Col de Jaman - Montreux - Geneva

Hiking Day 24
When I got up at 6 in the morning the tent was frozen and it was quite tough to put it in the backpack. As it was still dark I started the walk with a lamp on my forehead. On top of Col de Jaman I was supposed to glance at lake Geneva for the first time but instead just a thick layer of fog outlined the lake. Through a spectacular, narrow gorge I reached Montreux. Now the hardest part of the trip, the crossing of the Alps was over, what followed was another 100 km along Lake Geneva.

Hiking Day 25 and 26
Partly I hiked on the beautiful promenades of the towns or through many vineyards that the region is famous for. The nicest possible weather offered me a glorious entry in Geneva, the final destination!!

Swiss mountain river
Mountain river on the way to lake Geneva

FAQ - Frequently asked Questions and Trekking Tips about the Swiss Alps

Where to hike?
A good question that will remain unanswered. There are over 60’000 km of uniformly marked hiking trails and therefore infinite options for hiking. The most attractive areas might be Graubünden, Bernese Alps and Wallis. By reading this travelogue you might find a place of your liking.

How to get there?
Public transportation in Switzerland is quite efficient and you can get to virtually any village either by train (www.sbb.ch) or the yellow post bus (www.postbus.ch).

When to hike?
Snow is a big issue. It can be dangerous to hike in unknown territory on snow and ice and some alpine passages might be impossible to pass if you set out too early in spring. Besides it can be hard to find the paths as marks often consist of painted rocks on the ground.

The trekking season may start in May or June, in July and August the temperature rises considerably and you may refresh yourself in the many mountain lakes and rivers, September could be the most attractive month with beautifully colored forests and often very nice weather conditions.

How much does it cost?
Depends mostly on your choice of accommodation and if you prefer to stock up in supermarkets or eat out in restaurants often. Generally speaking Switzerland is a rather expensive country. Then again, long distance hiking is an excellent alternative to get to know the beauty of the country on the cheap.

Where to sleep?
Many villages of some size offer at least basic lodging. The Swiss Alpine Club (www.sac-cas.ch) operates about 300 huts and shelters throughout the Swiss Alps. Wild camping or stealth camping is not really allowed. Nevertheless, if you are discreet, pitch your tent at nightfall and disappear early in the morning and definitely don’t leave any trace, you won’t have any problems. To be on the save side you can always ask the landowner or farmer for permission.

Food
Only bigger villages have supermarkets and mostly with very limited opening hours. You might inquire in restaurants or at farms if they can sell some fruit or prepare some sandwiches to go. Plan your trips well for your stomach’s sake.

Water
The higher up on the mountain and closer to the source you are, the saver it is to drink natural water. If there are villages or cattle around, you better purify the water.

Requirements
For mountain walking you must be physically fit and well prepared. You should be able to judge correctly the conditions and dangers in the mountains. Some footpaths are narrow and steep and may be exposed.

Hiking Equipment
Basic equipment includes stout hiking boots with soles that grip and protection against cold, sun, wind and rain. A first aid kit comes in handy. Don’t forget enough food and drink. Carry a small FM receiver or ask locals for weather conditions.

Hiking Maps
Kümmerly+Frey edits the excellent yellow “Excursion Maps” hiking series (Scale: 1:60’000), available at local bookstores, tourist information outlets or www.swissmaps.ch

Hiking and Mountain Biking Guide Service
Last but not least, if you're interested in a guided trekking tour in central Switzerland around Lucerne (on special request as well the Bernese Alps or Graubünden), do not hesitate to contact us. We're from here, we're locals, we know the area, we can offer you a customized trip in this fantastic mountain scenery. You chose the location, kind of accomodation, hint at your interests and we do the rest. From easy day trips to more challenging hikes - everything is possible.

Grimsel mountain pass Bernese Alps
Grimsel mountain pass in the Bernese Alps
Misty mountain valley
Misty mountain valley
Swiss cow
Swiss cow enjoying the alpine scenery
Alpine Ibex
Alpine Ibex hiking in the Swiss Alps
 
 

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