Canyoning, Hiking & Glacier Trekking Switzerland
Pearls of Valais
Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, a private audience with the Pope and the mightiest glacier in the Alps – how is it all connected? This is the subject of the report by our Lead Explorer Malte Clavin. In Saas-Fee and the Aletsch, he explored a via ferrata, suspension bridges, nature hikes, monster scooters, delicious local hut cuisine and the adventurous highlight of a glacier hike – all embedded in the warm hospitality of the Swiss.
A ladder? Yes, it’s a ladder I’m balancing on, but I’m not holding on to it. Because it spans a gorge near Saas-Fee, I can see many meters down to the rushing torrent below me through the rungs. I feel safe because I’m wearing a harness connected to a steel cable along the ladder with ropes and two snap hooks. Welcome to the via ferrata Gorge Alpine!
For the next two hours, with eight companions and two guides, I repeatedly shimmy from one side of the gorge to the other, sometimes on wooden planks only a few centimeters wide, sometimes over suspension bridges. Twice I slide down a slope alone on the rope over somewhat longer stretches. Man becomes a ropeway! The most exciting section leads into a cave suspended on steel. A long ladder leads out again – through an opening in the cave ceiling. Then once again a ladder walkway through airy heights past impressive coniferous trees. Abruptly, the horizontal ladder ends nowhere. And now? Once I hang on to the karabiner, I am in the vertical and float about 20 meters down to the solid ground. Already over? Too bad, I could have gone on for hours. But the day has only just begun.
In Saas Grund, we fortify ourselves with hearty home cooking before the chairlift takes us to the starting point of the Saas-Almagell adventure trail. After an almost vertical ascent via iron stairs clinging to the mountain flanks, two spectacular suspension bridges follow, 45m and 60m long. At the behest of our guide, we only walk on them in pairs so as not to put too much weight and sway on the bridges. In summer, numerous alpine flowers line the path, and the view of the unique backdrop of the Mischabel chain with Täschhorn, Dom, and Lenzspitze should be clearer then than it is now. After a little over two hours, we have covered almost 400 meters in altitude, and we can see our destination: the cozy Almagellerhütte, nestled in the most beautiful mountain scenery, hosted by Urs Anthamatten. We fortify ourselves with Urs’ hot soup and tasty home cooking and fall into bed early.
Down with a monster
“When you get up in the morning, and the weather is nice, the sun colors the mountain peaks. It’s a wonderful moment. I’m already working then, and when the others get up, there are already two cakes in the oven,” says Urs Anthamatten. Unfortunately, these cakes are not available to us early breakfast guests. But that doesn’t matter. After our morning refreshment, we prepare for the march ahead.
We are the first on the trail. The ones in front scare up an Alpine ibex. The path repeatedly opens up magnificent views of more than ten peaks over 4,000 meters high. The section around “Triftgrätji” follows the Alpine Flower Promenade, which presents around 240 different species of flowers including edelweiss and gentian. Now, unfortunately, only a fraction of them, but all the more so when they bloom. Unspoiled nature, indescribable tranquillity, and beautiful views over the valley towards Stalden reward us for the endurable exertions. Our hike ends at the Kreuzboden cable car station, with a mountain lake.
After lunch, a unique alternative to the cable car awaits us: the ‘Monster Scooter’! A manual scooter with thick tread tires! You can’t miss that kind of fun! While our backpacks travel down in the gondola, we jet 11 kilometers and about 1,000 meters in altitude down to Saas Grund – without having to use our feet to bump into it even once.
In 2009, Volken felt that prayer had to be changed so that the glaciers would grow again. He traveled to Rome for a private audience with Pope Benedict
On the back of the Alpine giant
In the meantime, we have landed in Visp, starting point to another highlight we should not yet suspect. The cable car takes us up to Fiescheralp at 2,212 meters. After another 90 minutes walk along the Obere Tälli and through the one-kilometer-long Tälligrattunnel, we reach the Gletscherhütte at 2,363 meters. It is snowing lightly. Wonderful!
A group is just leaving the glacier hut to explore the Aletsch Glacier. Their guide immediately catches my eye. What an exciting, story-telling face, especially his steel-blue eyes! At my request, he has his portrait taken. Later I learn that this is Herbert Volken, former prefect and thus the highest-ranking politician in Valais. There are many anecdotes about him. Here is a true one.
About 300 years ago, the ice grew in Valais, causing floods and costing human lives. At that time, the church allowed a vow to be made so that the glaciers would shrink. In 2009, Volken felt that prayer had to be changed so that the glaciers would grow again. He traveled to Rome for a private audience with the then Pope Benedict. His request for divine assistance for glacier growth was heard. Since then, people in Valais and beyond have been praying ‘the other way round.’
After the lunch break in the glacier hut, we gear up for an ascent of the Aletsch Glacier. Only when we get closer to the monster of ice and snow do I realize what a giant we are dealing with.
The Great Aletsch Glacier forms the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch” and is an ice stream of superlatives: it is the longest (20 km), the largest (81.7 km), the thickest (up to 900 m) and the most powerful (approx. 10 billion tonnes) glacier in the Alps! It flows slowly down into the valley at 80 to 200 meters per year. Because the ice flows more slowly on the sides and at the bottom due to frictional resistance, tensions arise that tear open deep crevasses.
After about 20 minutes of walking, we reach the edge of the ice titan. We attach crampons to our hiking boots, to give extra grip on the glacier skin of ice, snow
A few minutes later, two human chains move caterpillar-like on the Aletsch. It seems that we are hardly making any progress; the opposite mountain range doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. No wonder the glacier is almost two kilometers wide here. Next to us, deep ice crevasses open up, becoming darker and darker towards the bottom. Voices fade away, everything is amazed and wondering. Silently.
Experts assume that the Aletsch forest below the glacier served Tolkien as a model for the Bleak Forest in Lord of the Rings
Rockfall or Rollibock?
Up the Eggishorn
We leave the glacier hut in the sunshine. The trail climbs, and snow covers the ground. Again and again, we are rewarded with magnificent views of the Aletsch Glacier. Usually, you can see the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc on a clear day. But not today. The increasing altitude allows expansive views of majestic mountain ranges to the east. After a last, somewhat steeper stretch, we reach the Bettmergrat gondola station. Here we linger, enjoying the magnificent view of the Aletschtitanen and the Eggishorn one last time.
The legend of “Rollibock”: it had the shape of a giant goat with long horns and fiery eyes. His whole body was covered with ice floes instead of hair
Johann Siegen wrote in 1921 in his Gletschermärchen: “Who knows the mysterious life of these giants that are dead and yet live, that stand still and yet go backwards and forwards, that lie lifeless and yet always change their shape, that are silent and yet calls out with a voice of thunder […] ?”
The view of mighty, almost imperishable glaciers makes sensitive travelers humble. A question suggests itself: Can these mountains ever belong to anyone? Or are they part of a common heritage to be protected and passed on? Those who choose the latter should ask themselves another critical question: Do my actions contribute to the promotion of the heritage?
You have the choice
Whether you love sports, hiking in nature, hitting the slopes, cycling, mountain biking, treating yourself to new culinary or wellness experiences or if you are just looking for inspiration for your next trip to the mountains, Valais offers a huge playground of activities to be enjoyed as a couple, with friends, on your own or as a family.