The green side of Switzer­land

Top Swiss sum­mer ex­pe­ri­ences

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Contents - Words Pat Kin­sella Pho­tos Switzer­land Tourism

It seems such a waste, in so many ways, that many out­door-ori­en­tated ex­plor­ers only ven­ture into the em­brace of Switzer­land’s moun­tains when they’re all tucked up un­der a blan­ket of snow. The coun­try has some of the planet’s pre­mier ski­ing, no doubt about it, but some of the best fun comes when the sun melts the white stuff and the frozen crys­tals turn to cold cas­cades, crash­ing down canyons and beau­ti­fy­ing al­ready stun­ning cy­cling and trekking trails with wa­ter­falls such as Staub­bach­fall and the rum­bling, tum­bling Trüm­mel­bach.

Each spring Switzer­land re­veals its not-so-se­cret bank ac­count of green-sea­son ad­ven­tures – a tidy for­tune spread across some 60,000km of back­coun­try trails. There are myr­iad ways to en­joy this newly hatched won­der­land – in the sad­dle or with a pad­dle, hel­meted and hang­ing from a rope in the fold of a canyon or fly­ing high upon the alpine ther­mals be­neath a blue­bird sky – but all you re­ally need is a pair of boots, maybe a map, and a will­ing­ness to go wan­der­ing about.

Fol­low­ing are some seeds of in­spi­ra­tion to be sown into your di­ary, for in­tended flow­er­ing in the lazy, hazy days of the early sum­mer up in the North­ern Hemi­sphere: plant them in the reach of full sun and sprin­kle with a lit­tle gla-

SWITZER­LAND IS Europe’s most moun­tain­ous coun­try, but you don’t have to climb to the very pointy part of those peaks to en­joy them – hik­ing through the val­leys and around the flanks of the volup­tuous hills is just as en­joy­able an ex­pe­ri­ence, com­ing com­plete with all the Toblerone-style vis­tas and of­ten pos­si­ble in shorts and Tshirt, but mi­nus much of the huff­ing, puff­ing and pant­ing.


The 17.6km Four-Lake Hike is a five-hour per­am­bu­la­tion in the cen­tral Joch­pass re­gion, which is one of Switzer­land’s best sin­gle-day ad­ven­tures. The four-pud­dle route leads in­ter­lop­ers along a trail that wends around the won­der­fully hued H2O of the mag­i­cal Melch, blue-eyed Engstlen, turquoise Tan­nen and fi­nally the translu­cent Trüeb­see, where the shim­mer­ing face of an aquatic alpine mir­ror turns sur­round­ing moun­tains – in­clud­ing tow­er­ing Mt Titlis – up­side down.

Start from the sta­tion of Melch­see-Frutt, pass the lit­tle chapel, mooch by Lake Melch and Tan­nen Lake, and then trek to­wards Tan­nalp. Af­ter you’ve dropped down to ap­pre­ci­ate the azure al­lure of Engstlen Lake – a pic­turesque place for a pic­nic – the as­cent to Joch­pass beck­ons, tak­ing you up and over the toes of the Titlis Mas­sive. Your sweat and sweat­ing are am­ply re­warded when you reach the sen­sa­tional sad­dle, which strad­dles the di­vide be­tween the Ber­nese Ober­land and Cen­tral Switzer­land, with eye-pop­ping views over Trüeb­see, the fin­ish­ing point shim­mer­ing and wink­ing at you to come hither.


For more one-day dal­liances with Europe’s most co­quet­tish coun­try­side, check out the low-traf­fic trail from Pf­in­g­stegg to the hut at Bäregg, above the lower Grindel­wald glacier, or lux­u­ri­ate in the land­scape on dis­play dur­ing the me­an­der from Mür­ren to the Lauter­brun­nen val­ley floor. Al­ter­na­tively, test your knees and lungs dur­ing the oneway hilly hike from sen­sa­tional Schynige Platte to the sum­mit sta­tion of the Grindel­wald-First ca­ble­way (take the easy way down), or wan­der the na­tional Swiss Wil­liam Tell Path from Rütli to Bauen. Still got en­ergy to burn? Go and gal­lop the Glacier Trail be­tween Bettmer­horn and Fi­escher­alp, via Grosses Gufer and Mär­je­len lakes, or dare to leg wres­tle the ogre on the iconic Eiger Trail from Grindel­wald to Alpiglen sta­tion, con­tem­plat­ing the dark moun­tain’s in­fa­mous Mord­wand (Mur­der Wall) as its no­to­ri­ous North Face frowns down from above.


For a longer es­capade, con­sider the Hin­tere­gasse, an eight­day mis­sion through the Ber­nese Ober­land. This alpine epic is for those who love to prop­erly im­merse them­selves in moun­tain scenery, overnight­ing in huts op­er­ated by the Swiss Alpine Club, high-el­e­va­tion eyries of­fer­ing stun­ning views across the val­leys and peaks.

The route’s moniker won’t ap­peal to those with a bab­ble­fish im­plant, trans­lat­ing from Ger­man to English as ‘rear al­ley’, but don’t worry, we’re not giv­ing you a bum steer and this is far from an arse-end amble. The name, which can also be in­ter­preted as ‘back­street’, refers to the fact that this trail is an um­bili­cus be­tween Switzer­land’s pre­alpine en­vi­ron­ment and the coun­try’s crack­ing high-alpine peaks, which also gives you a clue to the el­e­va­tion gain in­volved. But you’re here to get high, right? Well, there’s no bet­ter way to score that alpine buzz than by suck­ing hard on some in­creas­ingly oxy­gen-light alpine air.

An it­er­a­tion of the route is also known to the Swiss as the Bären­trek (Bear Trek), al­though sadly (or gladly, de­pend­ing on how you look at it) the real bears have long dis­ap­peared from this lofty part of Europe.

Start­ing from Meirin­gen, the route rambles up to Kleine Schei­degg (2061m), a dra­matic and drop-dead gor­geous pass be­tween the im­pos­ing Eiger and lovely Lauber­horn peaks. From there you stroll to Se­finen­furgge (2612m), cross­ing the col be­tween the Hund­shore and Büt­lasse Ho­htürli. Then head through Hah­nen­moospass (1950m), which splits the peaks of Re­gen­bold­shorn and Al­bristhorn, to Trütlis­berg Pass (2072m) and to fi­nally aim for Chrine.


Un­for­tu­nately, wild camp­ing doesn’t fly in highly reg­u­lated Switzer­land – and there’s scarcely any level land to pitch your tent and lay your head any­way. How­ever, you can splice to­gether some awe­some overnight foot-pow­ered ad­ven­tures by stay­ing at inns, pen­sions and huts all through the Ober­land and many other ar­eas, such as the En­gadin in the south east, where an Alpine val­ley traces the River Inn right across the coun­try, from just west of glitzy St Moritz to Aus­tria.

Mul­ti­day hik­ers can also con­sider tak­ing on the sen­sa­tional Haute Route, an ab­so­lute alpine clas­sic that con­nects Mont Blanc in Cha­monix, France, with the mar­vel­lous Mat­ter­horn above Zer­matt, in Switzer­land. The route is non-tech­ni­cal and stays com­fort­ably be­low 3000m, but it is a 12-day com­mit­ment (and well worth ev­ery minute).

You can splice to­gether some awe­some overnight foot-pow­ered ad­ven­tures by stay­ing at inns, pen­sions and huts all through the Ober­land


FOL­LOW­ING the flow of Switzer­land’s long­est River, the full Aare cy­cling route rolls for 305km, from the glacier-fed lake on the Grim­sep­ass to the river’s con­flu­ence with the re­gal Rhine at Koblenz, via Switzer­land’s out­door ad­ven­ture cap­i­tal In­ter­laken and the coun­try’s ac­tual cap­i­tal, Bern. Al­ter­na­tively, you can join it in In­ter­laken, by Lake Thun, or sim­ply bite it off bit by bit, cy­cling a sec­tion or two at a time.

The big bike ride is best done in seven stages. It’s a way­marked mixed ter­rain ad­ven­ture through ru­ral and ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, with 64km of the route ven­tur­ing off road onto un­sealed ter­rain, so a sturdy tour­ing steed with rea­son­ably knob­bly tyres or a de­cent hard­tail moun­tain bike with re­li­able lock­out on the front forks and tyres that aren’t too ag­gres­sive are both good choices. Myr­iad ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions are avail­able en route, in­clud­ing camp­sites, so pack those pan­niers wisely.

Af­ter hurtling down from Grim­sep­ass (2164m), the trail skirts the Aareschlucht gorge and shad­ows the shores of Brien­z­ersee and Thunersee, with In­ter­laken split­ting the two lovely lakes. Go­ing beyond Bern and Biel­ersee, to­wards the See­land, the route takes a me­an­der­ing ri­par­ian course through Mit­tel­land forests, go­ing via me­di­ae­val Solothurn and Jura’s Baroque towns to the trail’s con­clu­sion at Koblenz on the Rhine, not far from the fa­mous falls.


For those who would pre­fer to stay away from sealed sur­faces al­to­gether, Switzer­land of­fers end­less moun­tain­bike trails to mooch around and bomb down, from the sin­gle­track-stacked re­sorts of Zer­matt and Ver­bier, to the pedal pow­ered play­ground that is Crans-Mon­tana in Valais, and the less-rid­den trails around Saint-Luc. If you fancy cy­cling on the shoul­ders of the Ogre, Grindel­wald’s an­nual Eiger Bike Chal­lenge (www.eiger­ sees 1500 rough riders tak­ing on an 88km cir­cuit with 3900m of al­ti­tude gain ev­ery Au­gust.

Af­ter hurtling down from Grim­sep­ass, the trail skirts the Aareschlucht gorge and shad­ows the shores of Brien­z­ersee and Thunersee…

SWITZER­LAND’S shud­der­ingly cold high alpine lakes are, by and large, placid pud­dles, per­fect for play­ing around on if you’re into sail­ing, stand-up pad­dle­board­ing and flat­wa­ter ca­noe­ing. Those look­ing for more of a boat­ing buzz can ex­plore the nu­mer­ous whiter wa­ter­ways that plunge down the side of the Alps as the snow and ice melts each spring.

Kayak­ing and raft­ing are both pos­si­ble on the class IIIIV rapids of the River Sarine, which charges dra­mat­i­cally into the Pays-d’En­haut just out­side In­ter­laken, thun­der­ing through spec­tac­u­lar Vanel and Gérig­noz gorges. The sport of river­board­ing is pop­u­lar here too – which sees rapid run­ners re­place their boats with body­boards, to get a lot more close and per­sonal with the churn­ing wa­ter. The Ruin­aulta, oc­ca­sion­ally re­ferred to as the Swiss Grand Canyon, is a su­per scenic gorge on the Swiss sec­tion of the Rhine, a wa­ter­way that boasts III-IV rapids and some im­pres­sive falls, and shouldn’t be missed by pad­dlers. Both the Aare and the Arve are far calmer, but well worth ex­plor­ing by ca­noe or kayak.


A tragic ac­ci­dent in 1999, when 21 young peo­ple in­clud­ing sev­eral An­tipodeans were killed by a freak del­uge of wa­ter while cany­on­ing in Saxet Brook near In­ter­laken, proved that this niche sport isn’t with­out its dan­gers. This is still the first thing many peo­ple read about when they look into cany­on­ing in Switzer­land, how­ever the aw­ful in­ci­dent forced a com­plete re­think of the out­door in­dus­try in the coun­try – and well beyond, as shock­waves were sent around Europe – and now, al­most two decades later, such guided ad­ven­ture ac­tiv­i­ties are su­per-or­gan­ised, and pop­u­lated by reg­u­lated and highly qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als.

Cany­on­ing in­volves a mix­ture of scram­bling, clam­ber­ing, ab­seil­ing, jump­ing, slid­ing and swim­ming. It is not un­com­mon to find your­self re­verse climb­ing through wa­ter­falls, and the sport is some­times de­scribed as white­wa­ter pad­dling with­out a boat. The pur­suit ar­guably reaches its ab­so­lute apex within the oth­er­worldly emer­ald gorges of Switzer­land, es­pe­cially the Ti­cino re­gion, where ghostly white-walled caves and long slip­pery chutes cause it to be con­sid­ered the coun­try’s cany­on­ing cap­i­tal. Stand­out gorges in­clude Chli Sch­liere, Lo­drino, Pon­tirone, and Iragna.

As his­tory has shown, ex­pert guid­ance and proper equip­ment is es­sen­tial when cany­on­ing, and it’s not some­thing you should un­der­take in­de­pen­dently, un­less you are ex­pe­ri­enced and have ex­cel­lent lo­cal knowl­edge.

Switzer­land 52

Pic: Switzer­land Tourism/Alessan­dra Meni­conzi

Au­tumn evening mood on the Susten Pass.

Pic: Switzer­land Tourism/Lu­cia De­gonda

The small church on the shores of Lake Melch at Melch­see-Frutt, a hol­i­day re­sort above the Melch Val­ley, Ob­walden.

Pic: Switzer­land Tourism/Lorenz Andreas Fis­cher

High al­ti­tude hik­ing is one of the most pop­u­lar out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in Switzer­land and it is easy to see why.

Pic: Switzer­land Tourism/Chris­tian Per­ret

Moun­tain bik­ers at Lake Stel­lisee in Zer­matt. In the back­ground is the mighty Mat­ter­horn (4478m).

Pic: Switzer­land Tourism/Ivo Scholz

A cany­on­ing group ex­plor­ing the Via­mala gorge.

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