2022 July: Swiss Via Alpina trek (National Route 1)

From July 19–August 4 in 2022, our group of five trekked ten stages of the beguiling Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) plus nearby hikes. Surprising wonders were revealed along the journey: the valley that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein’s magical Rivendell in “The Hobbit”; the striking waterfall where fictional Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty tumbled to their deaths; the proud hometown of legendary William Tell; and more. We traversed the Glarus, Uri, and Bernese Alps, ending in Grindelwald under the Eiger’s North Face and beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley at the base of icy Jungfrau.

From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent) in Switzerland, Europe. Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our group jumps for joy in the Bernese Alps, during a hike from Berghotel Faulhorn to Schynige Platte (see Via Alpina alternative Stage 10b further below).

Below: On Via Alpina Day 1, rays of morning sun spotlighted the vista of Mels, Sargans, and the Rhone Valley as we walked along manicured grape vineyards. As we ascended the pastoral Wiesstannen Valley, the urban outlook transitioned into rural farms alternating with lowland forest.
On the first day of our Swiss Via Alpina 1 route, we walked through grape vineyards above Mels (near Sargans) in Switzerland, Europe. We hiked from Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen (6.5 miles, 2200 feet up, 600 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Our itinerary of 5.5 weeks in the Alps included trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc, recharging in Saas-Fee, then hiking the Via Alpina. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided packages. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

In our 17-day Via Alpina itinerary across central Switzerland, we hiked a total of 90 miles, ascending 22,000 vertical feet and descending 20,000 feet. Aided by lifts and rides, this modified Via Alpina sweated uphill about 40% easier per day than our Tour du Mont Blanc. Best guidebook:

Upon afternoon arrival in Sargans in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, record heat reached up to 96 degrees Fahrenheit! Stifling air in the high 80s F. made sleeping uncomfortable in rooms without air-conditioning at Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels. The next day, rising heat caused a very sweaty hike on Stage 1 of the Via Alpina. Fortunately, most ensuing days at higher elevations were more temperate for hiking, in the 50s through 70s F.

Day 1 (Stage 1): We hiked from Hotel Schweizerhof in Mels to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen in Switzerland (6.5 miles, 2200 feet up, 600 ft down).

The Counts of Montfort-Werdenberg-Sargans built Sargans Castle in the 1100s (Schloss Sargans / Château de Sargans) in the village of Sargans, in the Canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Europe. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Counts of Montfort-Werdenberg-Sargans built Sargans Castle in the 1100s (Schloss Sargans / Château de Sargans) in the village of Sargans. Since 1899, it has been run by the local church and now houses the Sarganserland museum.

Below: Watch out for gnomes!
A gnome enlightens the route. Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 1: hike from Mels (near Sargans) to Hotel Gemse Wiesstannen. Switzerland, Europe. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 2 (Stage 2): From Hotel Gemse in Wiesstannen, we arranged a taxi to save 4.2 miles of walking to Alp Walabutz, from where we hiked over Foopass to Elm (9.1 miles, 2840 feet up, 4100 ft down). Upon arrival in Elm in mid afternoon, we bought groceries then skipped around Stage 3 via PostBus to Schwanden and train to Linthal Braunwaldbahn Talstation, to catch the funicular to Braunwald, where we walked 0.6 mile with 340 feet ascent to Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel. Below: we ascend foggy Foopass from Wiesstannen:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 2: ascending foggy Foopass from Wiesstannen in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 2: From Hotel Gemse in Wiesstannen, we arranged a taxi to save 4.2 miles of walking to Alp Walabutz, from where we hiked over Foopass to Elm (9.1 miles, 2840 feet up, 4100 ft down). From Elm, we rode a PostBus to Schwanden then train to Linthal Braunwaldbahn Talstation, to catch the funicular to Braunwald, where we walked 0.6 mile with 340 ft ascent to Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Skipping Stage 3 of the Via Alpina avoided a strenuous hike of 15 miles from Elm via Richetlipass to Linthal, which would have required a punishing 4900-foot ascent and 6000-foot descent.

Day 3 (Stage 4): From Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking).

Below: See the snow-capped Tödi massif (11,854 ft) and Ortstock peak (8,914 ft on right) from Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald.
See the snow-capped Tödi massif (11,854 ft) and Ortstock peak (8,914 ft on right) from Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Blue ridges in upper Linth Valley, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Blue ridges in upper Linth Valley on Day 3 (Via Alpina Stage 4).

Below: Seen from near Braunwal, the snow-capped peak of Bifertenstock rises at the head of the Linth River Valley, carved into a deep U shape by past glaciers.
The snow-capped peak of Bifertenstock rises at the head of the Linth River Valley, seen from near Braunwald. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Urnerboden and Klausenpass seen from upper Linth Valley in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the Postbus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we hike towards Urnerboden and Klausenpass in upper Linth Valley.

Below: Hotel Klausenpass provided comfortable, modern rooms and good meals.
Hotel Klausenpass in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 3: From Alexander´s Tödiblick hotel in Braunwald, we walked to Urnerboden (8 miles, 1080 feet up, 1000 ft down). From Urnerboden, we rode the PostBus up to Hotel Klausenpass (saving 6 miles of walking). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 4 (Stage 5): From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschächen, in Uri canton (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschächen, a PostBus spirited us to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down).

Below: we descend steeply from Klausenpass:
Descending from Klausenpass. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) at the hamlet of Äsch, near Unterschachen village, in Uri canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) punctuates the idyllic hamlet of Äsch, on the way to Unterschächen.

Stäubifall (aka Stäuben or Staublifall) at the hamlet of Äsch, near Unterschachen village, in Uri canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss history and the myth of William Tell

William Tell Museum, in Bürglen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down) in Switzerland. From Unterschachen, we rode the Postbus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The William Tell Museum in Bürglen is worth visiting to contemplate popular myths and moral dilemmas.

Tales of William Tell speak of a Swiss hero who defied a tyrannical Austrian overlord and inspired the creation of Switzerland more than 700 years ago. Despite no evidence for his existence, Tell’s stirring story spread widely in folklore. You may recall the story of him shooting an apple from the head of his son, and also Rossini’s William Tell Overture (popularized as the “The Lone Ranger” theme tune of a US television and radio series). In the early Romantic era of nationalist revolutions, the legend of Tell depicted as a national hero spread worldwide through the evocative 1804 play “Wilhelm Tell” by the German dramatist Friedrich von Schiller.

According to legend, William Tell was a proudly accomplished crossbow marksman who lived under a tyrannical bailiff named Albrecht Gessler, an agent of the Hapsburg duke of Austria, based in Altdorf. One day, risking a penalty of imprisonment, Tell proudly refused to bow to foreign Hapsburg authority represented by Gessler’s hat perched symbolically on a tall pole. After Tell’s arrest, Gessler slyly proposed that William could win freedom by shooting an apple from atop his son’s head in one arrow shot. After doing so and being released, Tell admitted that a second arrow was reserved to kill Gessler if his son had been hurt. Enraged, Gessler rearrested Tell. On the way to prison by boat across Lake Lucerne, Tell escaped and later assassinated Gessler from a sniper position.

Up to this point, the apple story is remarkably close to an earlier tale from Denmark involving the historic figure King Harald Bluetooth in the 900s. But Tell’s legend goes a step further, claiming that Tell incited rebellion and conspired on Rütli meadow with three other men to form a defensive alliance of their three rural communes against foreign influence.

Tell’s story wasn’t recorded on paper until 1569–70 (250 years after the events) by historian Aegidius Tschudi, who among other mistakes gave the wrong year of 1307 for Tell’s rebellion and meeting on Rütli meadow. Much later, in 1758, the original Oath of Rütli was rediscovered on paper, documenting the representatives at Rütli meadow, but none were named Tell! Now corrected to “the beginning of August 1291,” events in the old legend had to be moved 16 years earlier. Today, Uri (where Tell was ostensibly born) remains the only Swiss canton which stubbornly clings to the discounted date of 1307, which they proudly inscribed on the Tell Monument in Altdorf back in 1895 (photo below).

The Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848 established the country of Switzerland as we know it today. Established officially in 1891, Swiss National Day is now celebrated with bonfires and flags every August 1, honoring the famous meeting at Rütli meadow in 1291. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the cantons Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden is now considered the Swiss Confederacy’s founding document (although similar alliances probably existed decades earlier).

Below: Altdorf proudly displays Swiss national flags (with a white cross on red background) around the William Tell Monument. The Uri canton flags display not a bull, but an aurochs, a now extinct European bison, thought to have been plentiful in Uri and domesticated by the locals, hence the nose ring.
William Tell Monument in Altdorf, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss national flags (white cross) & Uri canton flags (where the bull is actually an aurochs, a now extinct European bison, thought to have been plentiful in Uri and domesticated by the locals, hence the nose ring). Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 4: From Hotel Klausenpass, we hiked to Unterschachen (6.25 miles, 115 feet up, 3070 ft down). From Unterschachen, we rode the PostBus to Bürglen, where we walked from the William Tell Museum to Hotel Höfli in Altdorf (1.1 miles, 280 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 5 (Stage 6): From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down) which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg.

Below: we ascend high above Lake Lucerne:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 5: Lake Lucerne, on hike up Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down) which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ascending towards Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: We climb towards Surenenpass.

Ascending towards Surenenpass from Brüsti lift, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mt. Titlis seen below Surenenpass, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Mt. Titlis seen from the trail below Surenenpass.

Mt. Titlis (far right) seen below Surenenpass, in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Hikers walk by cows below Mt Titlis (10,623 ft), near Fürenalp, Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 5: From Altdorf, we rode the PostBus to Attinghausen Seilbahn, a cable car which ascends to Brüsti, from where we hiked over Surenenpass to Fürenalp cable car (8.8 miles, 3360 feet up, 2340 ft down), which we rode plus PostBus to reach Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we walk through a herd of cows in view of Mt Titlis (10,623 ft), near Fürenalp, above Engelberg.

Engelberg

Swiss Via Alpina 1: Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: for a rest break, we enjoyed three nights at comfortable Hotel Sonnwendhof in beautiful Engelberg (seen here at sunrise), in the Swiss Canton of Obwalden.

In Engelberg, Switzerland, we rode the Titlis Rotair, the world's first rotating cable car (completed in 2014). The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We rode the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first rotating cable car (completed in 2014). The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft elevation) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave (shown below) and Titlis Cliff Walk, giving impressive views across the Alps. We then descended to enjoy walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee.
In Engelberg, Switzerland, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss Via Alpina 1: sharp blue ridges of the Alps seen from atop Mt. Titlis, near Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: sharp blue ridges of the Alps came into broad perspective from atop Mt. Titlis.

Below: Opened in 2012, Titlis Cliff Walk is the highest-elevation suspension bridge in Europe.
Swiss Via Alpina 1: Titlis Cliff Walk, above Engelberg, Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Swiss Via Alpina 1: Mt Titlis rises above Trübsee, near Engelberg, in Switzerland, Europe. In Engelberg, we rode the Titlis lift, the world's first rotating cable car. The Titlis cable car system connects Engelberg (996 m or 3,268 ft) to the summit of Klein Titlis (3,028 m or 9,934 ft) via stations at Trübsee and Stand. At Klein Titlis, we visited the illuminated Glacier Cave and Titlis Cliff Walk, the highest elevation suspension bridge in Europe, opened in December 2012, giving views across the Alps. We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We enjoyed walking 2 miles around scenic Trübsee, a circuit where six play stations for kids make an ideal family excursion, suitable for strollers.

Below: Dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, Engelberg Abbey (Kloster Engelberg in German) is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1120 in Engelberg at the head of the Nidwalden Valley.
Engelberg Abbey (Kloster Engelberg in German) is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1120 in Engelberg, at the head of the Nidwalden Valley, in Canton of Obwalden, Switzerland, Europe. It is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. Scheduling 3 nights in Engelberg provided a well-needed rest break in the middle of hiking the first ten stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 6 (Stage 7): From Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, we again rode the Titlis gondola lift to Trübsee, where a 0.7-mile walk reached a chairlift which whisked us through heavy fog to Jochpass, where we walked down to Hotel Engstlenalp, nestled in mountain pastures high above Innertkirchen, in Bern canton (2.3 miles with 1250 feet of descent, our shortest Stage on Via Alpina).
Pretty purple and pink flower pots greet visitors at Hotel Engstlenalp, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 6: From Hotel Sonnwendhof in Engelberg, we rode the Titlis gondola lift to Trübsee, where we walked 0.7 mile to take the Jochpass chairlift to the top, where we walked down to Hotel Engstlenalp (2.3 miles with 1250 feet of descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Colorful flowers greet visitors at Hotel Engstlenalp.

Below: The Bernese Alps are lit by sunrise seen from Hotel Engstlenalp.
The Bernese Alps are lit by sunrise seen from Hotel Engstlenalp, Innertkirchen, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 7 (Stage 8): From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles), in the valley of Haslital, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland.

Below: Rays of sunrise highlight the peak of Titlis over Engstlenalp:
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 7: Titlis mountain seen at sunrise over Engstlenalp in Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 7: From Hotel Engstlenalp, we hiked along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down) in Switzerland, Europe. From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On our way to Planplatten lift, walking the airy Erzegg Ridge hogsback was one of the highlights of the Via Alpina.

As the last ice age melted 10,000 years ago, the impressive Aare Gorge (German: Aareschlucht) was carved by the river Aare through a limestone ridge, near the present town of Meiringen, in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. A reasonable fee is charged to access this elaborate walkway, a series of tunnels and cantilevered boardwalks open to the public since 1889. The Entrances (aboveground West and underground East) are each linked to stations on the Meiringen-Innertkirchen railway. Walking to Aareschlucht from our Hotel Victoria was worthwhile as a 3-mile addition from 3-5:00pm on our Day 7 of hiking on the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1). Day 7 began with hiking from Hotel Engstlenalp along Erzegg Ridge to Planplatten (6.7 miles, 1990 feet up, 750 ft down). From Planplatten, we rode 4 lifts down to Meiringen [via Gondelbahn to Mägisalp (Eagle-Express), Bidmi, and Reuti then via Luftseilbahn to Meiringen], where we walked to Hotel Victoria (0.4 miles). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: As the last ice age melted 10,000 years ago, the impressive Aare Gorge was carved by the river Aare through a limestone ridge, near the present town of Meiringen. Walking to Aareschlucht (its German name) from our Hotel Victoria was worthwhile as a 3-mile addition from 3-5:00pm on Day 7. A reasonable fee is charged to access this elaborate walkway, a series of tunnels and cantilevered boardwalks open to the public since 1889. The Entrances (aboveground West and underground East) are each linked to stations on the Meiringen-Innertkirchen railway.

Day 8 (Stage 9): From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls, a striking series of cascades. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald.

The death of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls

Reichenbach Falls, in Meiringen, Haslital, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper Reichenbach Falls, shown here. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. Below: Rychenbach stream cascades in the upper steps of Reichenbach Falls:
Reichenbach Falls, in Meiringen, Haslital, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after falling while fighting from a ledge near the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rosenlaui Glacier and Klein Wellhorn, Meiringen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: From Reichenbach Falls, we followed Rychenbach stream upwards via roadway and paths to views of Rosenlaui Glacier and Klein Wellhorn, heading towards Schwartzwaldalp Postbus stop.

Below: We enjoyed apricot kuchen dessert served with coffee at Hotel Rosenlaui during our 6-mile hike to Schwartzwaldalp.
Swiss Via Alpina 1, Day 8: apricot kuchen dessert & coffee at Hotel Rosenlaui, Meiringen, Switzerland, Europe. Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), Day 8: From Hotel Victoria in Meiringen, we walked 0.8 miles to the Reichenbachfallbahn, a funicular which ascends to a viewpoint between the lower and upper Reichenbach Falls. This impressive series of cascades plunges 820 feet. Then we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. Fictional Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty died after they fell while fighting from a ledge by the 320-foot upper falls. After 10 years of reader complaints, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Holmes in a short story where the famous detective reappeared and told his astonished friend Dr. Watson about faking his own death to fool his enemies. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Grindelwald

The Eiger at sunset seen from Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Admire the Eiger at sunset from Hotel Gletschergarten in Grindelwald.

Staying two nights in Grindelwald allowed options for rest or more hiking.

Rebecca and I chose a steep hike to Gleckstein Hut (Glecksteinhütte), a steep hike high above Grindelwald (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet up and down). Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 7600 feet elevation, with great views of the Upper Grindelwald Glacier. Climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. It makes a wonderful goal for hardy hikers or overnight trekkers. A couple of adventurous families brought their children, with everyone roped and harnessed. Beware of cliff exposure which may frighten those who are afraid of heights. What was exciting for me was scary for others. Cables are provided to hang onto for security. A fun feature was walking behind a small waterfall, where metal gratings provided secure steps. Directions: From Grindelwald, take the PostBus towards Grosse Scheidegg and stop at Abzweigung Gleckstein at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Note: hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.)

The Schreckhorn and Upper Grindelwald Glacier seen from Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald, in Switzerland, Europe. Gleckstein Hut (German: Glecksteinhütte) is a steep hike (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet gain and loss) high above Grindelwald in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 2,317 meters elevation, above the Upper Grindelwald Glacier in the Bernese Alps. It's a popular goal for hikers, and climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. From Grindelwald, take the PostBus to Abzweigung Gleckstein stop at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Admire the Schreckhorn and Upper Grindelwald Glacier from Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald.

Below: Gleckstein Hut is a good place to spot ibex (Capra ibex, steinbock, or bouquetin), a species of wild goat native to the European Alps. Ibex were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s but were successfully reintroduced and protected.
Capra ibex / steinbock / bouquetin at Glecksteinhütte above Grindelwald, in Switzerland, Europe. The ibex, a species of wild goat in the European Alps, was hunted to near extinction in the 1800s but was successfully reintroduced and protected. Gleckstein Hut (German: Glecksteinhütte) is a steep hike (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet gain and loss) high above Grindelwald in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 2,317 meters elevation, above the Upper Grindelwald Glacier in the Bernese Alps. It's a popular goal for hikers, and climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. From Grindelwald, take the PostBus to Abzweigung Gleckstein stop at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Hiking from Hotel Wetterhorn trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Stage 10, the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald portion, was hiked downhill by Tom in 2016. However, he instead recommends replacing Stage 10 with two superior hikes: 1) from First to Schynige Platte (optionally via Faulhorn overnight) and 2) from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg (further below).

Overnight stay at Berghotel Faulhorn

Day 9 (alternative Stage 10a) from Bort to Faulhorn: The fantastic hike from First to Schynige Platte makes a spectacular alternative to Via Alpina Stage 10 (to get from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen). We enhanced further by stay overnight at Berghotel Faulhorn to experience the impressive vistas in magical light at sunset and sunrise. Directions: From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent). (Or you can save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.)

Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers’ tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut’s roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter failed to remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls.

Hiking near First gondola, Grindelwald, Switzerland, Europe. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise.. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Easy, wide paths atop First gondola give sublime panoramas of the Bernese Alps.

Below: Escape crowds at Bachalpsee and find good mountain reflections (if no wind) by proceeding to the lake’s northwest end, where I found purple flowers of Aconitum genus blooming (also known as aconite, monkshood, wolf’s-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae.
A purple flower of Aconitum genus (aka aconite, monkshood, wolf's-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae) at Bachalpsee. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise, in Switzerland, Europe. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset seen from Berghotel Faulhorn, in Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. From Grindelwald, we took the First gondola to Bort, then hiked via First to Berghotel Faulhorn (6 miles with 3650 feet ascent, 130 ft descent) to stay for an impressive sunset and sunrise. (Or save effort by starting at First instead of Bort.) Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Berghotel Faulhorn provides a scenic platform for photographing sunset (above photo) and sunrise (below with purple monkshood flowers):
A purple flower of Aconitum genus (aka aconite, monkshood, wolf's-bane, in the family Ranunculaceae) at sunrise, seen from Berghotel Faulhorn, in Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, making it one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 10 (alternative Stage 10b): From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked a spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Below: A delightful cliff walk near Schynige Platte affords impressive views over Lake Thun, Interlaken, and Lake Brienz (Brienzersee).
Lake Thun, Interlaken, and Lake Brienz (German: Brienzersee) seen from a ridge near Schynige Platte, Switzerland, Europe. From Berghotel Faulhorn, we hiked the spectacular trail to Schynige Platte (6.9 miles, 400 feet ascent, 2660 ft descent). Then we took the scenic Schynige Platte cog train down to Wilderswil, where a train took us to Lauterbrunnen Bahnhof and adjacent Hotel Silberhorn. Berghotel Faulhorn was built in 1830, one of the oldest mountain hotels in the Alps. Earplugs are recommended for sleeping, as the old walls are thin. Perched on a remote precipice with great views especially at sunset and sunrise, Berghotel Faulhorn has flush toilets, but no drinking-water supply, nor guest showers. To save money, carry extra liters of drinking water from Grindelwald. In 2022, Berghotel Faulhorn charged 4 CHF per liter for hikers' tea, and 12 CHF per 1.5-liter bottle of drinking water. The hut's roof-gathered water is undrinkable (and our squeeze-filter didn't remove the bad taste). For personal hygiene, cold water is provided in the dormitory washroom, and the private rooms have nostalgic water jugs and bowls. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Lauterbrunnen

We stayed three nights at comfy Hotel Silberhorn in gorgeous Lauterbrunnen, the valley which may have inspired the invention of fictional Rivendell, a magical elvish sanctuary featured in “The Hobbit” (1937) by J.R.R. Tolkein, who visited Switzerland in 1911.

Swiss Rösti or rööschti is a dish made mainly of potatoes sautéed in a pan. It was originally a breakfast dish, commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now eaten all over Switzerland and around the world. The French call it röstis bernois, which refers to the dish's origins. Many Swiss people consider rösti to be a national dish. This Rösti (Swiss potato cake) dinner at the Hotel Silberhorn in Lauterbrunnen village, in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
In Lauterbrunnen, Hotel Silberhorn features a great breakfast and superb restaurant. For dinner, one of us ordered a delicious Swiss Rösti (above photo), the national dish, made mainly of potatoes sautéed in a pan. Rösti was originally a breakfast dish, commonly eaten by farmers in the canton of Bern, but is now eaten all over Switzerland and around the world, for any meal of the day. It’s also known as rööschti, or röstis bernois in French.

Below: My “Fitness Trout” dinner was exquisite!
Fitness trout dinner at Hotel Silberhorn, Lauterbrunnen village, in the Berner Oberland region of Switzerland, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

From Kleine Scheidegg we took the Wengernalpbahn train to Lauterbrunnen in the Berner Oberland of Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. Wengernalpbahn is the world's longest continuous rack and pinion railway; runs from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: After a favorite walk from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, we rode the Wengernalpbahn down to Lauterbrunnen (2,631 feet elevation), shown nestled between cliffs under the Lauterbrunnen Breithorn (12,402 feet). Wengernalpbahn is the world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway — running from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen.

Below: In Lauterbrunnen Valley, don’t miss seeing Trümmelbach Falls (German: Trümmelbachfälle), a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls plunging inside the mountain, ingeniously made accessible by stairs, illumination, and a tunnel-funicular built in 1913. The creek called Trümmelbach drains the northerly glaciers of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks. To avoid crowds, arrive in the morning a few minutes before first opening. Walking the stairs both up and down avoids lines of people waiting for the optional lift.
Trümmelbach Falls (German: Trümmelbachfälle) are a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls inside the mountain made accessible by a tunnel-funicular (built in 1913), stairs, and illumination, in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, Europe. In the Lauterbrunnen Valley, the creek called Trümmelbach drains the northerly glaciers of the Eiger (3967 m), Mönch (4099 m), and Jungfrau (4158 m) peaks. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Views of Sefinenfurgge Pass (or Sefinafurgga) from the Schilthorn, in Berner Oberland, Switzerland, Europe. We rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (2,970 metres or 9,744 ft), which overlooks Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Bernese Alps. The panoramic revolving restaurant at the summit, Piz Gloria, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," the first and only Bond film starring George Lazenby. After considering a number of locations, the stalled construction of the sports bar atop the Schilthorn was adopted when the film's producer financed the completion of the now-famous revolving platform for the right to use it for his film. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On a clear day, the Schilthorn offers fine views of Sefinenfurgge Pass (aka Sefinenfurke or Sefinafurgga), seen on the upper right. Hikers labored on steep slopes far below. Stage 11 of the Via Alpina goes from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren then over Sefinenfurgge Pass and very steeply down to tiny Griesalp village.

Below: Looking the other direction, southeast from Birg station of Schilthornbahn cable car, we contemplated the stunning array of Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and other peaks framing the entire Lauterbrunnen Valley.
View Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and other peaks of the Bernese Alps above Lauterbrunnen Valley from Birg station of the Schilthornbahn cable car, in Switzerland, Europe. We rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (2,970 metres or 9,744 ft). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 11 (Stage 11 softened): Taking the easy way up in summer 2022, we rode the Schilthornbahn cable car from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (9,744 ft / 2,970 m), which offer grand views over Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Bernese Alps.

Back in 2005, Carol and I day hiked part of the spectacular Stage 11 area, from Mürren via Wasenegg Ridge to Birg (3500 ft gain in 4 or 5 miles), and descended on the Schilthornbahn (avoiding the Schilthorn top due to obscuring clouds). This time in 2022 the clouds partially cleared atop the Schilthorn, making the pricey ride round trip worthwhile.

Piz Gloria, the panoramic revolving restaurant at Schilthorn summit, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” After considering a number of locations, the stalled construction of the sports bar atop the Schilthorn was chosen when the film’s producer financed the completion of the now-famous revolving platform for the right to use it for his film. In 2022, the James Bond exhibits at Piz Gloria were mostly hokey and passé, but the short video about making the 1969 Bond film was fascinating, albeit cringe-worthy for its sexist 1960s sensibilities.

Panorama of the Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet on the left), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin 13,600 feet on right) above Lauterbrunnen Valley, seen from atop Männlichen gondola station, Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Since 1981, one of my favorite viewpoints in the Alps is the area around Männlichen gondola station, featuring a superb panorama of the Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin or Maiden 13,600) above Lauterbrunnen Valley.

With world-class wonders around every bend, a delightful path goes from Männlichen Gipfel to Kleine Scheidegg under the looming Eiger North Wall (Nordwand). Grindelwald Valley drops to the left and Lauterbrunnen Valley to the right. The world’s longest continuous rack and pinion railway (Wengernalpbahn) serves the area from Grindelwald up to Kleine Scheidegg and down to Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. A gondola (gondelbahn) connects Grindelwald with Männlichen, where a cable car goes down to Wengen (Luftseilbahn Wengen-Männlichen). From Männlichen station, first walk northwards uphill to Männlichen Gipfel (0.4 miles, 335 ft gain) for a stunning summit view, then walk to Kleine Scheidegg (for a total of 4.6 miles, 400 feet ascent, 900 ft descent). This is a spectacular side trip from the Via AlpinaStage 10, or worthy replacement.

Stage 12 of the Via Alpina was day hiked by Carol and I in the direction from Kandersteg to Griesalp in 2016. Starting with a lift from Kandersteg, we followed cliff trails above the beautiful turquoise lake of Oeschinensee, then traversed steeply over Hohtürli Pass (highest point of the Via Alpina 9,114 feet) and down to Griesalp in the remote valley of Kiental, Switzerland. The ascent of 3670 feet (1120 m) and descent of 4500 feet (1380 m) over 8 miles (13 km) was challenging due to steep, exposed scree slopes, assisted by stairs and ladders. It was an epic adventure! (You can optionally stay overnight at Hohtürli Pass in Blüemlisalp Hut to spread the effort over two days instead of one.)

Stages mentioned in this article are from the excellent book by Kev Reynolds (Third Edition 2017):
Swiss Alpine Pass Route — Via Alpina 1: East to West across Switzerland [Amazon]

Created in 2000, Europe’s Via Alpina covers five international trails through eight countries (Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monaco) over 3100 miles and 342 stages. The National Route 1 Via Alpina spans Switzerland from East to West, from Liechtenstein and the Rhine Valley to Montreux and the shores of Lake Geneva, covering 230 miles in 19 stages, of which Carol and I have walked eleven stages.

Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz

An excellent cultural side trip from Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, or Interlaken is the Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz (1.5 hours one way via train and bus, seen on our way to Zurich Airport). Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking.

This 1797 farmhouse, originally from Ostermundigen, is now building #331 in Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: This 1797 farmhouse, originally from Ostermundigen, is now building #331 in Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.

Below: Back in poorer times in rural Switzerland, this 1800s bridal wagon publicly paraded the proud newlywed couple’s cherished wealth of bedding and furniture.
1800s bridal wagon at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Canton of Bern, Switzerland, Europe. Back in poorer times in rural Switzerland, this 1800s bridal wagon publicly paraded the proud newlywed couple's wealth in bedding and furniture.  Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Half-timbered walls are filled with wattle and daub in this 1750-1800 public laundry structure (originally from Ruschlikon, Zurich canton), building #612 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Half-timbered walls are filled with wattle and daub in this 1750-1800 public laundry structure (originally from Ruschlikon, Zurich canton), building #612 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.

Below: This 1780 vintner’s house with half-timbered walls was originally from Richterswil in Zurich canton and is now building #611 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum.
This 1780 vintner's house with half-timbered walls filled with wattle & daub, was originally from Richterswil in Zurich canton and is now building #611 at Ballenberg Swiss Open-Air Museum, near Brienz, Bern canton, Switzerland, Europe. Founded in 1978, Ballenberg displays traditional buildings and architecture from all over the country, making it a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Over 100 original buildings have been transported from their original sites. Farmyard animals are raised, and some of the  buildings give live demonstrations of traditional rural crafts, techniques, and cheesemaking. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “SWITZERLAND: Via Alpina“. Click any image to load into my Portfolio where images can be added to your cart for licensing.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK).
I previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan your next trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

2022 July: hiking Saas-Fee resort, Switzerland

Five refreshing nights were well spent visiting the beautiful car-free resort of Saas-Fee, the main village in Saastal (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, Switzerland. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) elevation, surrounded by thirteen peaks above 13,123 feet (4,000 meters). This year-round, classic ski resort has a heart of well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (Bustling Zermatt and the Matterhorn lie in the adjacent valley branching west.)

Riding the lifts of Saas-Fee (July 15–18) provided a well-needed break between two strenuous treks: the Tour du Mont Blanc and Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1), during 5.5 weeks in the Alps. From June 28–August 5 in 2022, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided packages. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

Alphubel peak. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Alphubel peak rises above Saas-Fee village.

Alphubel peak at sunrise seen from Hotel Allalin, Saas-Fee village, Switzerland, Europe. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Our room’s deck in the luxurious Hotel Allalin afforded a great view of Alphubel peak, seen here at sunrise in Saas-Fee.

Allalinhorn at sunrise. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Allalinhorn during sunrise.

The scenic Gspon Hohenweg day hike was tougher than an internet article said (adding 800 feet of gain), forcing us to speed walk to finish before the last lift down. Gspon Hohenweg was actually 9 miles with 2650 feet cumulative ascent, 1063 ft descent (measured on Gaia GPS and Suunto altimeter). A sunny weather forecast had tempted us to walk too soon, with bodies still exhausted from the strenuous TMB finished just two days previously. TIPS: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). At the end of the hike, take Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. (Be sure to examine hiking descriptions closely, as some only report net altitude gain, instead of cumulative vertical ascent, which more accurately represents the actual work required, as I always report here on PhotoSeek.com.)

Below: the Hohenweg starts in the charming village of Gspon:

Scenes from the Gspon Hohenweg (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A butterfly and bumblebee share a magenta pink Knapweed (Centaurea genus) flower. Scenes from the Gspon Hohenweg (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A butterfly and bumblebee share a magenta pink Knapweed (Centaurea genus) flower.

Saas-Fee village, seen from hiking the Gspon Hohenweg in Switzerland (9 miles, 2650 feet ascent, 1063 ft descent). From left to right are: Allalinhorn; Alphubel peak; and Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Tips: Start with the earliest bus from Saas-Fee to Stalden-Saas bus stop. Buy a one-way ticket to the top of the Stalden- Gspon Luftseilbahn (Cable Car). The hike ends by taking Kreuzboden gondola down to Saas Grund, where a bus ascends to Saas-Fee. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: along the Gspon Hohenweg, admire peaks rising above Saas-Fee village: from left to right are the Allalinhorn, Alphubel, and Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Behind Dom lies busier Zermatt, hidden to the west.

In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift.
Below: A short stroll from the lift reaches this turquoise pond; on the right is Dom, the seventh highest summit in the Alps.

On the right is Dom (4,545 m or 14,911 ft), the main summit of the Mischabel group (German: Mischabelhörner), which is the highest massif lying entirely within Switzerland. Dom is the seventh highest summit in the Alps, overall. This pond is reached via the Spielboden-Längfluh lift from Saas-Fee, the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau in the Pennine Alps at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: Roped climbers descend a glacier above Längfluh.
Climbers descend a glacier above Längfluh, Saas-Fee, Valais canton, Switzerland, Europe. In Saas-Fee, we enjoyed sightseeing on the Spielboden-Längfluh lift. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley) in the district of Visp. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Traditional rodent-proof granary in Saas-Fee village. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: one of the many historic rodent-proof granaries preserved in Saas-Fee village.

For a rewarding walk above Saas-Fee village, we rode the Hannig gondola round trip for a hike to the peak of Mallig (2.6 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain). Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: For a rewarding outing directly above Saas-Fee, we rode the Hannig gondola round trip for a hike to the peak of Mallig (2.6 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain).

Carved wooden face. Saas-Fee is the main village in the Saastal, (Saas Valley), in the district of Visp, canton of Valais, in Switzerland, Europe. The village perches on a high mountain plateau at 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) elevation, surrounded 13 peaks above 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). This classic ski resort features a car-free city center and well-preserved Swiss wood architecture. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: a carved wooden face in Saas-Fee.

In four days based in Saas-Fee, we walked 16 miles, accumulating 3800 feet of vertical ascent and 2200 feet descent.

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “SWITZERLAND: Saas Fee“.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK). We previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan a trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

2022 July: trek Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) in Europe

After years of anticipation, our group of three completed the magnificent Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). Twelve days of strenuous walking up and down covered 30,000 vertical feet over 100 miles. This 16-day TMB itinerary started with afternoon arrival in Geneva (Switzerland) and included 5 nights in Chamonix (France) and 3 nights in Courmayeur (Italy), in 2022 June 29–July 14.

Our Tour du Mont Blanc was part of 5.5 weeks of glorious trekking in the Alps, including 10 stages of the Swiss Via Alpina (National Route 1) and 4 days at Saas-Fee resort. From June 28–August 5, we walked 200+ miles and ascended 56,000 vertical feet. Alpenwild.com sponsored my photography and booked our epic Self-Guided package. Luggage transfers provided between comfortable hotels lightened our day packs every day (except for three overnights in refuges). See Tom’s abridged gallery “2022 Alps favorites: TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee“; or full portfolio “2022 Alps: all TMB, Via Alpina, Saas Fee

Seen from Le Signal Forbes trail, the Mer de Glace ("Sea of Ice") glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix. We hiked the Grand North Balcony from Plan de l'Aiguille to Montenvers (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 ft descent), above Chamonix, in France, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: seen from Le Signal Forbes Trail, the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) glacier emerges from the Mont Blanc massif below the Needles of Chamonix, in France.

TIPS: The eleven TMB “Stages” are well documented in the excellent book below by Kev Reynolds. Taxi Besson provided luggage transfers. Since lynchpin lodgings on the popular Tour du Mont Blanc requires booking about 9 months in advance, consider instead trekking its highlights more spontaneously as day hikes done in good weather (assisted by weather forecasts 1–2 days in advance), based comfortably in Chamonix and Courmayeur for Stages 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, & 11 as described in my Alps Guide.

For a warmup hike, we walked the Grand North Balcony, from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers via Le Signal Forbes Trail (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 feet descent), which was harder than expected due to jet-lagged bodies unaccustomed to exercising in thin air at 7500 feet above sea level. This scenic saunter isn’t an official Stage, or Étape, of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but our subsequent 11 hiking days covered all eleven TMB Stages, numbered as Days 0 through 10 as follows:

TMB Day 0 (Stage 10): For a second superlative warmup hike above Chamonix, we looped to Lac Blanc (shown below) and Lac de Chéserys, starting atop the lift, “Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz” (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent). TIP: This rewarding lake circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but with much less effort than the standard one-way version that starts from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets.
Lac Blanc. We hiked a loop to Lac Blanc and Lac de Chéserys, starting from atop the lift, "Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz" (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent) above Chamonix, in France, Europe. This rewarding circuit covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 (Étape 10) of the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), but with less effort than starting from Tré-le-Champ or Col des Montets. This hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 1 (Alternative Stage 1) : The majority of hikers do the Tour du Mont Blanc in a counterclockwise direction, as we did. After taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked the more dramatic option of Stage 1 via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village in France (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent). Below: Refuge de Miage provided a welcome lunch break at the foot of Mont Blanc (which looks remarkably like Mount Rainier from this angle):
Refuge de Miage, at the foot of Mont Blanc in the Alps, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 1: after taking a bus from Chamonix to Les Houches and riding the Téléphérique de Bellevue, we hiked via Col du Tricot to Hotel La Chemenaz in Les Contamines-Montjoie village (8 miles, 2100 feet ascent, 4000 ft descent) in France, Europe. For this photo’s licensing options, please inquire. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 2 (Stage 2): hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme (photo below) to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent):
Looking southwest from Col du Bonhomme. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 2: hike from Les Contamines-Montjoie via Col du Bonhomme to Les Chambres du Soleil in Les Chapieux hamlet, in Bourg-Saint-Maurice commune, France, Europe (11.4 miles with 4200 feet ascent, 3000 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 3 (Stage 3): hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Elisabetta Refuge doesn’t support luggage transfers. Although the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge valiantly provided a good dinner, we were underwhelmed by slow check-in, long lines waiting for delayed flooded showers, a cubbyhole bunkroom for three, and very rudimentary breakfast. In retrospect, we appreciate the showers being hot and the tiny room being private (versus the densely stacked dormitory). The post-pandemic staffing problems will hopefully be corrected in the future.
Below: Aiguille Noire de Peuterey rises above us in the Mont Blanc massif near La Casermetta in Val Veny, Italy:
Aiguille Noire de Peuterey in the Mont Blanc massif, seen between La Casermetta & Elisabetta Refuges, Val Veny, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 3: hike from Les Chapieux in France via Col de la Seigne to Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (8.8 miles miles with 3450 feet ascent, 1440 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 4 (Stage 4): hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny (Italy) to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne).
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A beautiful sunrise experience compensated for understaffed services at Elisabetta Refuge.
Below: Sunrise highlights pink alpenrose flowers (Rhododendron ferrugineum) near Elisabetta Refuge:
Pink alpenrose flowers / Rhododendron ferrugineum at sunrise near Elisabetta Refuge, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny during sunrise seen from the deck of Elisabetta Refuge:
Sunrise scenes around Elisabetta Refuge, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: One of the highlights of the TMB is traversing this scenic ridge on the way to Col Chécrouit, high above La Visaille in Val Veny (a branch of Aosta Valley):
TMB trek Day 4: the Mont Blanc massif rises above Val Veny, above La Visaille, near Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 4: hike from Elisabetta Refuge in Val Veny to Hotel Pavillion in Courmayeur (walking 6.9 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2320 ft descent along the main TMB ridge route to Rifugio Maison Vieille, then taking the chairlift from Col Chécrouit and gondola lift down to Dolonne). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Dolonne, an historic neighborhood of Courmayeur, in Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Tour du Mont Blanc passes through historic Dolonne, a charming neighborhood of Courmayeur (where we recommend staying for at least 3 nights).

From Courmayeur, don’t miss breathtaking vistas from Skyway Monte Bianco cable car system:
View Mont Blanc from Pointe Helbronner station of Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, Courmayeur, Italy, Europe. The Skyway Monte Bianco opened in 2015 in the Italian Alps, linking the town of Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner on the southern side of the Mont Blanc massif. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Pointe Helbronner station at the top of Skyway Monte Bianco reveals stunning perspectives on the Mont Blanc massif.
Below: My peak experience of the month was the 5-kilometer ride on “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc,” an incredible system of triplet cabins strung between Pointe Helbronner (Italy) across France to Aiguille du Midi (which is alternatively reachable by lift from Chamonix):

The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below: climbers rise to the challenge on Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft), in the Mont Blanc massif, France:
Mont Blanc Massif seen from atop Aiguille du Midi, France, Europe. We reached Aiguille du Midi via the "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car, which crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rise above the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice) Glacier. The "Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc" cable car crosses 5 kilometers of the Mont Blanc Massif in France from Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner. To reach Pointe Helbronner, we used Skyway Monte Bianco cable car, where the top platform splits the border between Italy & France, and the bottom station is in La Palud village just north of Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley, Italy, Europe. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: While dangling from the spine-tingling “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc” cable car in France, admire the Aiguille Verte (left) and Dent du Géant (right) rising high above the Sea of Ice Glacier (Mer de Glace).

TMB Day 5 (Stage 5): Rebecca and I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option of TMB, to Walter Bonatti Refuge (10 miles with vigorous 5200 feet ascent, 2700 feet descent). Carol separately hiked the standard TMB Stage 5 (8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). Each route rewards you with beautiful vistas proportionate to the effort. Our packs were slightly heavier on this day and the next, because remote Rifugio Bonatti doesn’t support luggage transfers. After the understaffed Elisabetta Refuge had disappointed us on Stage 3, the elegant Rifugio Bonatti surprised us with a spacious private quad bunkroom for our group of three, excellent bathrooms & showers, and tasty generous meals served promptly by lots of happy staff! Both refuges offer impressive mountain settings, but Bonatti has a newer, superior design.
Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae, a black insect with 6 red wing spots, in the Zygaenidae family) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Six-spot Burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) sip nectar from a Knapweed (Centaurea) flower.

Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 5: I hiked from Courmayeur via the Mont de la Saxe option to Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy, Europe (10 miles with 5200 feet ascent, 2700 ft descent) (whereas the standard TMB route hiked separately by Carol was 8 miles with 3300 ft up, 700 ft down). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mont Blanc seen from Mont de la Saxe ridge (a harder option for Stage 5 of the counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc).

TMB Day 6 (Stage 6): hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent).
Helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 6: hike from Walter Bonatti Refuge in Italy to Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Switzerland (12.9 miles with 3000 feet ascent, 4300 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Large white helicopter bags service Bonatti Refuge in Val Ferret, Italy. In the background, a golden sunrise spotlights Mont Blanc.

TMB Day 7 (Stage 7): hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent).
TMB trek Day 7: sunrise seen around Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise at Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly, Val Ferret, Switzerland.
Below: Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, before ascending to Champex-Lac.
Garden gnomes in Val Ferret, near Orsières, Switzerland, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 7: hike from Hotel Edelweiss in La Fouly to Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac, Switzerland, Europe (9.3 miles with 1585 feet ascent, 1910 ft descent). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 8 (Stage 8): continuing within Switzerland, Carol and I hiked from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac via Alp Bovine to Hotel Col de la Forclaz (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). Rebecca chose the more difficult Alternative Stage 8, via the daunting Fenêtre d’Arpette pass (8.5 miles with 3900 ft gain & loss, which Carol and I had already done in the opposite direction during our Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route trek in 2005). Below: trekkers take a lunch break at Alp Bovine, which overlooks Martigny and the Rhone Valley of Switzerland.
Alp Bovine. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 8: hike from Hotel du Glacier in Champex-Lac to Hotel Col de la Forclaz, in Switzerland, Europe (8.6 miles with 2500 feet ascent, 2360 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

TMB Day 9 (Stage 9): hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent).
Below: Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland.
Sunrise on Aiguille du Tour seen from Col de la Forclaz, Switzerland, the Alps, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte & Mont Blanc seen from L' Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France, Europe. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we celebrate a vista of Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, and Mont Blanc from the side of L’ Aiguillettes des Possettes, on the way from Col de Balme to Argentiere, France.

Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: we fell in love with our room with a view at Hotel de la Couronne in Argentière, France.

Picnic dinner. Hotel de la Couronne. Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 9: hike from Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland via Col de Balme to Hotel de la Couronne in Argentiere, France, Europe (10 miles, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
TIP: In Northern Europe, shopping at local groceries for delicious gourmet picnic dinners & lunches saves lots of money and time! In comparison, when dining at hotels or restaurants in the Alps, we were frequently frustrated by slow multi-course service and meal times which often started later than desired. Instead of using hotels’ Half or Full Board meal plans, we prefer Breakfast Only (or no meal plan) for greater flexibility.

TMB Day 10 (Stage 11): Today, we walked a modified TMB Stage 11, instead of repeating Lac Blanc (TMB Stage 10, already done for initial training on a sunny day forecast). I chose a route that covered the main highlights of Stage 11 but was much easier. Starting from atop Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent). From Planpraz, we rode Le Brévent cable car round trip for sightseeing on high, then caught the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix.

Below: don’t miss the impressive panorama atop Le Brévent cable car station above Chamonix. (Multiple images were stitched to make this picture, which shows the same cable car twice, a few seconds apart.)
Views atop Le Brévent lift. Chamonix, France, Europe. Our Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trek Day 10: starting from atop the Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent) to catch Le Brévent cable car for sightseeing above, then took the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix. This routing covers the main highlights of "Stage 11" (Étape 11) of the standard counterclockwise Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) but with much less effort. Multiple images were stitched to make this panorama picture, showing the same cable car in two different positions. This hiking day on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is also part of the Walker’s Haute Route (from Chamonix to Zermatt). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The above photo highlights are excerpted from my trip gallery “TMB | Tour du Mont Blanc (FRANCE, ITALY, SWITZERLAND)“.

We were ecstatic to return to Europe since our last visit five years ago (in 2017 to the UK). We previously visited the Alps in 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, & 1981.

To plan your trip, see Tom’s online guide to the Alps.

There you have it, our first 16 days in the Alps in summer 2022, trekking all 11 stages of the Tour du Mont Blanc, with some options done harder, some easier. The next phase began by train from Chamonix (France) to reach Saas-Fee resort in Switzerland, covered in the next article.

2016 August: Switzerland via Alpenwild tours

In one of our best trips ever, Carol and I hiked in Switzerland from July 27 to August 30, 2016. We walked for 200 miles (on 25 days out of 35 total) via trailheads connected by the world’s handiest public transportation. Included was my professional photography of two wonderful tours by Alpenwild.com, the world’s largest provider of English-language Alps tours.

See my trip images: 2016 Switzerland galleries.

To plan your next trip, see my online guide to the Alps.

In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

Switzerland itinerary map 2016

Switzerland travel map: Zurich, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais, Engadine. (Tom Dempsey)

A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe.

Alpenwild.com

As an Artist in Residence for Alpenwild.com in summer 2016, I captured 4000 images in Switzerland (see my galleries) for company promotion. Alpenwild is the world’s largest provider of English-speaking tours in Switzerland. In response to my photos, Alpenwild founder Greg Witt said:

These are absolutely stunning—I couldn’t be happier. Some of us in the office today going through your 342 favorites and each one brought back a lot of memories and also generated a lot of excitement as we discussed where and how we can best use these for maximum impact.

While I had already designed a detailed self-guided trip covering 5 weeks, Alpenwild’s expert guidance further refined the trip, adding much to our comfort and enjoyment, including the following two wonderful week-long packages:

Recommended Alps travel guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Alps travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

Bring a good country guide plus a detailed hiking guidebook:

2018: 2020: 2019:
2014:

SWITZERLAND and the ALPS hiking guide 2022

The Alps of Europe are a paradise for hikers. This article describes how to plan your hiking trip beneath spectacular peaks such as Eiger, Jungfrau, Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Piz Palü. Here are the Alps in a nutshell:

  1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland & neighboring Loetschental.
  2. France–Switzerland: The Walker’s Haute Route & Valais Canton: from Chamonix to Zermatt & the Matterhorn; Saas-Fee; Bettmerhorn & Eggishorn
  3. France–Italy–Switzerland: Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)
  4. Switzerland: Engadine Valley: trek 5+ days admiring distinctive architecture & icy peaks.
  5. Switzerland: Appenzell: trek 1-5 days via a splendid microcosm of Swiss mountain traditions.
  6. Switzerland: Schaffhausen canton: 1-2 days old town, Rhine Falls & historic Stein am Rhein. 

Separate articles cover the Dolomites plus Venice in ITALY and Julian/Slovenian Alps in SLOVENIA.

My Alps trips include 2022 (Tour du Mont Blanc, Saas-Fee, Swiss Via Alpina), 2016, 2013, 2011, 2005, and 1981.

Click here to view Tom’s Portfolio of Alps favorite images from hiking in Switzerland, France, Italy, and Slovenia. In the following video captured at unforgettable Eigeralp farm in Bussalp above Grindelwald, the cheesemaker gave an impromptu accordion concert, inspiring some to dance:

Practical advice for self-guided trips in Switzerland and the Alps
  • Transportation:
    • In your home country before departure, buy a Swiss Pass [Rick Steves external link] for significant travel savings on most Swiss rail lines, PostBuses, and lifts. Good for a month, the Swiss Half Fare Card was the best value for doing the Swiss Via Alpina (where we had a few long rail trips across the country and frequently sought 50% discounts on pricey lifts). Compare to the price versus savings of the Swiss Travel Pass Flex, which is valid on 3, 4, 6, 8, or 15 freely selectable days within one month.
    • For one-way hikes within Switzerland: Post your luggage ahead to train and Post stations, or have hotels send your bags ahead.
    • Renting a car can beat train prices for 3 or more people traveling together (though parking can be a problem in big cities).
  • Money: travel costs in Switzerland are on par with resort areas of the USA, except restaurants may be more expensive. In 2022, the Euro and Swiss Franc exchange rates with the US dollar were at parity, good for American visitors. From 2005-2016, exchanging the US dollar for Swiss Francs was better than for the Euro (used in France, Italy, and Austria). 
  • Food: In Northern Europe, shopping at local grocery stores for delicious gourmet picnic dinners & lunches saves lots of money and time! Most major train stations, airports, and town centers include full grocery outlets. When dining at hotels or restaurants in the Alps, we were frequently frustrated by slow multi-course service and meal times which often started later than desired. Instead of using hotels’ Half or Full Board meal plans, we prefer Breakfast Only (or no meal plan) for greater flexibility. Finding a flat with kitchen worked great in the Dolomites! Spend less on food by assembling a sack lunch and dinner from grocery stores (such as Coop, our Swiss favorite, Migros, or Carrefour) and by carrying a thermos bottle to fill at your hotel in the morning for hot drinks during the day.
  • Use hiking poles (as do Europeans) to assist ascents, protect your joints on descents and improve hiking stamina by 20%.
  • Time change: set your watch +9 hours from Pacific Standard Time (PST=west coast USA) to get Central European time (CEST is GMT+1). Allow a full day to recover from travel weariness and severe jet lag, plus 2 or 3 days to recover your sleep schedule.
  • Guidebooks: Buy a travel guidebook plus hiking guidebook at bottom of this article for planning and reference along the way.
Switzerland map 1: five-week hiking itinerary, August 2016
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley, in Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 1: A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a 5-week itinerary starting from Zurich (doing 25 hikes in 35 days July 27-August 30, 2016) in Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Appenzell, Berner Oberland, Valais canton (Fiesch, Verbier, Zermatt) and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Switzerland map 2: one-month hiking itinerary, September 2005
A geographic travel map of Switzerland shows a month itinerary starting from Zurich and doing 20 hikes in Berner Oberland, Chamonix (France), Zermatt, and Engadine Valley, Europe. (Tom Dempsey)

Map 2: In 2005, Carol and Tom Dempsey hiked 20 days during a month in Switzerland, via Zurich, Berner Oberland, the High Route from Chamonix (France) to Zermatt, and Engadine Valley. (Tom Dempsey)

Weather and hiking season in the Alps (Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy)
  • July 1 through August 15 is high tourist season, after which local kids go back to school and parents don’t have as much time to visit the tourist areas, which are then less crowded. Our trip July 27-August 30, 2016 had almost perfect weather, vast variety of wildflowers, and little problem with crowds (lots of lodging options).
  • July to early August has the best wild flower displays. We were still impressed by flowers in September 2005.
  • Late August through September is a great time to go for good weather and also avoiding crowds. Yellow larch and other impressive fall colors begin in middle to late September. Many mountain huts start closing in early September. Stay in valley hotels all year. Hiking season continues through October in the Dolomites, Italy, which are consistently clearer, warmer and drier than the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria, which are further north.
  • Swiss hiking season ends about late September or early October due to snow in the mountains and the closure of many visitor facilities. When winter snowpack builds up a few months later, the Alps throng with skiers, creating bigger winter crowds than summer in ski areas such as Zermatt, where building booms have provided lots of lodging.

Mountain weather varies by region:

  • A north wind generally means good weather in the Alps.
  • Check the useful weather forecast for specific ranges, peaks, and altitudes:
  • Check weather forecasts and start hiking early in the morning. In many mountain areas, sun heating the ground in the morning can often build up clouds and thunderstorms in the afternoon. Patient photographers can look for attractive cloud breaks in the hours around sunset.
  • Switzerland:
    • The Valais, Zermatt, and Matterhorn tend to be sunny and dry with the highest hikes in the country.
    • Bernese Oberland and the Eiger are much rainier than the Valais and Engadine. The astounding beauty of ice clad peaks soaring high above verdant green pastures sprinkled with wildflowers must be seen to be believed.
  • France: Chamonix climate is somewhere between Geneva and Zermatt, one of the drier alps areas in the rain shadow of Mont Blanc. September to early October is best hiking weather.
  • Dolomites, Italy (click for article): September through October are consistently clearer, warmer, drier in the Dolomites than in the Alps of Switzerland, France & Austria. Southern and southeastern areas are foggier than the rest of the Dolomites. Excellent overnight hut walking options include:
    • Rifugio Lagazuoi
    • Tre Cime di Lavaredo (in Italian), Drei Zinnen (in German), or “Three Pinnacles” (in English) circuit with refugios.
Global warming is quickly melting most Alps glaciers

1. Switzerland: Berner Oberland and neighboring Loetschental

The Berner Oberland (aka Bernese Alps, Bernese Highlands, or Bernese Oberland) is the southern and higher elevation part of Bern canton in Switzerland.

How to get there: From Zurich downtown train station, ride 4 hours to Interlaken, where you board a train to scenic Grindelwald Valley or spectacular Lauterbrunnen Valley.

TIP: by adding 7 to 10 days to your itinerary, the most dramatic way to reach the Berner Oberland is by walking across Switzerland from the eastern border, following the “Swiss Via Alpina trek” which we did in 2022. Best guidebook:


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site.

UNESCO lists Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn as a World Heritage Area featuring the most glaciated part of the Alps, Europe’s largest glacier, and a range of classic glacial features such as U-shaped valleys, cirques, horn peaks, and moraines. The ongoing uplift and compression that formed the High Alps has left an outstanding geological record. A diversity of flora and wildlife thrives in a range of Alpine and sub-Alpine habitats. In the wake of retreating glaciers, witness the colonization and succession of flowers and plants. The impressive vista of the North Wall of the High Alps, centered on the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, has played an important role in European art and literature.

Berner Oberland and Loetschental hiking tips, Switzerland

See the external site: www.myswissalps.com/berneseoberland/ which thoroughly describes most Berner Oberland hikes, of which I’ve done the following:

1a. Mannlichen Gipfel
  • is the wonderful site of my best-selling imageEiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau 81ALP-04-15.
  • Männlichen Royal Walk: Männlichen mountain (2343 meters elevation or 7687 feet) gives a stunning view of the peaks of Eiger (Ogre 13,026 feet), Mönch (Monk), and Jungfrau (Virgin 13,600 feet) with a foreground ridge enhancing the sense of scale. Männlichen can be reached from Wengen by the Luftseilbahn Wengen-Männlichen (LWM) cable car, or from Grindelwald using the Gondelbahn Grindelwald-Männlichen (GM) gondola. Then walk 15 minutes on a paved path to the summit. Go before 1:30PM to avoid frequent afternoon cloud buildup. Return down the hill, then traverse 2 leisurely hours to Kleine Scheidegg train station, facing stunning mountain views at every turn! A special cog train runs from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and back.
1b. Lauterbrunnen Valley
  • Wander around Lauterbrunnen for amazing views, including 1000-foot-high Staubbach Falls, in one of the world’s most spectacular glaciated valleys.
  • Schilthorn cable car affords a spectacular vista of the stunning peaks framing the length of Lauterbrunnen Valley. Ride the Schilthornbahn from Stechelberg via Gimmelwald and Mürren villages to Birg station and the Schilthorn (2,970 metres or 9,744 ft). In 2005, Carol and I loved hiking from Mürren via Wasenegg Ridge to Birg (4700 ft ascent, 1400 ft descent, cumulative) then riding down. Riding up then hiking down would also be spectacular, with less work, if you don’t mind pounding your knees. Piz Gloria, the panoramic revolving restaurant at Schilthorn summit, was featured in the 1969 James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” After considering a number of locations, the stalled construction of the sports bar atop the Schilthorn was chosen when the film’s producer financed the completion of the now-famous revolving platform for the right to use it for his film. In 2022, the James Bond exhibits at Piz Gloria were mostly hokey and passé, but the short video about making the 1969 Bond film was fascinating, albeit cringe-worthy for its sexist 1960s sensibilities.
    • Or walk from Mürren to Griesalp one way 10 miles, 3000-4000 feet gain, then take the Kiental bus out. Optionally stay overnight in Griesalp and continue walking from Griesalp to Kandersteg, following the Via Alpina.
  • Don’t miss Trümmelbach Falls (German: Trümmelbachfälle), a series of ten glacier-fed waterfalls plunging inside the mountain, ingeniously made accessible by stairs, illumination, and a tunnel-funicular built in 1913. The creek called Trümmelbach drains the northerly glaciers of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks. To avoid crowds, arrive in the morning a few minutes before first opening. Walking the stairs both up and down avoids lines of people waiting for the optional lift.
  • We loved hiking to the quiet retreat of Berghotel Obersteinberg, which offers tremendous views of waterfalls and peaks in Upper Lauterbrunnen Valley, spotlit at sunset. Lit by candle light at night, this romantic escape built in the 1880s recalls an earlier era without power. The main luxuries here are flush toilets down the hall, and traditional Swiss hot meals. The private double rooms lack electricity, and bowls of water serve as bath and sink. Obersteinberg is a 2-hour walk from Stechelberg, or 4 hours from Mürren. From Obersteinberg, don’t miss the 2-3 hours round trip to the deep-blue tarn of Oberhornsee in the upper glacial basin, beneath snowcapped Grosshorn, Breithorn and Tschingelhorn.

Video from within the slot canyon of Trummelbach Falls, Lauterbrunnen:

1c. Grindelwald Valley
  • The Faulhorn Trail from Schynige Platte to First is one of the finest hikes in Switzerland (which we did in July 2022).
    • Walk 6.5 hours, 9 miles, ~2700 feet elevation gain. (Optionally reverse direction for less uphill, 2300 feet total, arriving at Schynige Platte by 17:00 or 18:00 to catch the last train.) A sunny uncloudy day is required to see vast mountain views. See hike #39 in “100 Hikes in the Alps” by The Mountaineers. Directions: Stage the hike from lodging in Grindelwald. Take Wilderswil cog rail 1 hour to trailhead at Schynige Platte (2068m). Hike by fantastic rock shapes in a deep valley. Walk on the east side of Bachalpsee. Ascend 15 minutes side trip to Faulhorn. Optionally overnight on top in atmospheric Berghotel Faulhorn for stunning sunset and sunrise views. Photographers should plan to reach spectacular First at the end the hike in the afternoon, because sun striking early morning haze obscures mountain details. At First (2168 meters elevation), lift down to Grindelwald, or from Mittelläger take the ~hourly Post bus.
    • Better yet, start at Eigeralp farm in Bussalp (above Grindelwald) with a fresh farm breakfast, watch alpine cheese-making, then hike a shorter route to First gondola. Hike a very spectacular trail from Eigeralp farm in upper Bussalp, around Faulhorn to Bachalpsee, finishing at the gondola lift station at First, which descends to Grindelwald BGF. Every day, Eigeralp farm produces a variety of artisan cheeses and Alpine butter from raw milk in a large cauldron over an open fire. For breakfast, enjoy fresh bread from the oven, Alpine butter, various cheeses, yogurt, homemade jams, coffee, tea and fresh milk! While Eigeralp’s huts were built in 1892, its traditional cheese hut dates from the 1600s. While breakfasting, gaze over the peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in astoundingly spectacular high meadows. Getting there: ride the private GrindelwaldBus.ch to the last stop in Bussalp, then ascend 40 minutes on foot.
  • Gleckstein Hut (Glecksteinhütte) is an exciting, steep hike high above Grindelwald (6 miles round trip, 3000 feet up and down). Run by the Swiss Alpine Club, the hut is at 7600 feet elevation, with great views of the Upper Grindelwald Glacier. Climbers use it as a base for the ascent of the Wetterhorn and the Schreckhorn. It makes a wonderful goal for hardy hikers or overnight trekkers. Beware of cliff exposure which may frighten those who are afraid of heights — what was thrilling for me was scary for others. Cables are provided to hang onto for security. A fun feature was walking behind a small waterfall, where metal gratings provided secure steps. Directions: From Grindelwald, take the PostBus towards Grosse Scheidegg and stop at Abzweigung Gleckstein at 1557 m elevation, halfway between Hotel Wetterhorn and Grosse Scheidegg pass. (Note: hiking from the Hotel Wetterhorn’s trailhead at 1275 meters elevation will add 900 feet of climb for 3900 ft total gain.)
  • Hike comfortably along a steep hillside from Pfingstegg gondola to eat tasty desserts at scenic Berghaus Bäregg (5 miles round trip, 1500 ft) across from the eastern foot of the Eiger, high above the White Lütschine river.
  • Walk boardwalks and tunnels through the dramatic Gletscherschlucht of Grindelwald, a deep gorge of the White Lütschine river, flowing from Lower Grindelwald Glacier. From Gletscherschlucht Hotel-Restaurant, a wooden walkway leads over raging water, through galleries and rocky tunnels over 1000 meters into the ravine, under 100-meter high cliffs. To test your fear of heights, totter across a blue net over the foaming torrent. Walk there in 35 minutes from the center of Grindelwald (recommended via the LandArt-Grindelwald.ch exhibit along the river), or take the bus.
1d. Rosenlaui valley, Meiringen, and Engstlenalp on Swiss Via Alpina National Route 1
  • The Via Alpina enters the Berner Oberland at Engstlenalp and continues to Meiringen and Grindelwald, as described in “2022 July: Swiss Via Alpina trek (National Route 1)
  • Meringue, the dessert made from whipped egg whites, was invented in Meiringen. As part of our Via Alpina in 2022, starting in Meiringen, we rode the Reichenbachfallbahn funicular to see the impressive Reichenbach Falls. From there, we hiked uphill to Schwartzwaldalp (6 miles, 2000 feet gain), where due to rain, we caught the PostBus over the pass of Grosse Scheidegg to reach the stupendous Grindelwald Valley. Hiking and/or bussing like this in a southwest direction over Grosse Scheidegg is scenically more dramatic than the reverse. We’ve done both ways. In 2016, we hiked from First gondola lift station above Grindelwald, headed northeast across Grosse Sheidegg pass, then down the quiet, protected pastures of Rosenlaui valley beneath soaring peaks, to Rosenlaui PostBus station for a ride down to Meiringen. Along the way, we walked the narrow walkway carved through Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge / Gletscherschlucht. In this deep ravine, the Weissenbach River has eroded potholes into a natural cathedral of slate and limestone. However, if your time is limited, instead visit the more impressive Aare Gorge (German: Aareschlucht) in Meiringen (and best of all, experience Trümmelbach Falls raging through the mountain in Lauterbrunnen).
  • Nearby, Grimselpass / Grimsel Pass has interesting bare granite geology colored by lichen, but the extensive system of hydro-electric dams built in the 1920s and 1950s dominates the scenery and the aging hotels didn’t look attractive. We considered but didn’t do the Sidelhorn hike: Starting at Postbus stop at Historic Alpine Hotel Grimsel Hospiz, take Sidelhorn aerial cable car to the foot of Sidelhorn mountain, an easy hike 1-3.5 hours with panoramic views of Grimsel area, Goms area, Bernese Alps, Rhone & Oberaar glaciers, rivers and 12+ alpine lakes (Lake Grimsel, deep blue Totensee at top of the pass and alpine tarns on southern flanks). Along the descent, see idyllic Triebtenseewli and Bäregg hut from where the panorama opens out onto the UNESCO World Heritage area. Return via Chessituren and the pass road to Grimsel Hospiz or along Oberaar road back to Grimsel pass. Or lift back down.
1e. Kandersteg

is a scenic base for several hikes, reached by train or road from Brig to the south or Spiez to the north.

  • Oeschinensee is a wonderful alpine lake walled with high cliffs, one of my favorite Swiss sights. To avoid crowds, start early and go midweek. From the top of Gondelbahn Kandersteg – Oeschinensee, walk 15 minutes to reach the lake. Follow the lakeside trail then complete a counterclockwise loop via Ober Bergli back to the lift (5.2 miles with 1395 feet gain) via the higher, more-spectacular ledge trail. Overnight options: On a one-way traverse, we took the higher trail for the best lake views then climbed steeply over Hohtürli Pass (where you could sleep in dorms at Blüemlisalp hut), then down to comfy Griesalp Hotels where we rested in the remote valley of Kiental (1120 meters up and 1380 m down in 13.3 km). Although stairs and ladders helped handle the exposure, the route felt much longer than 8 miles due to steep, exposed rocky & gravelly slopes for a grueling 3700 feet up and 4500 feet down. We rode the Postbus (steepest in Europe) out of Kiental instead of hiking over Sefinenfurke pass to Lauterbrunnen Valley (which saved our weary bodies from climbing another 4000 feet in the same scenery that we had just descended). (See Stages 11 & 12 of the Swiss Via Alpina.)
  • Walk through the deeply glaciated U-shaped valley of Gasterntal (or Gasteretal / Gasterental) to explore the idyllic headwaters of the Kander River. A family-friendly 7 km walk (390 m gain) wanders up to Selden, starting from the bus stop for Luftseilbahn Kandersteg-Sunnbüel (a lift to the scenic Gemmipass hike, for next time). From Selden, take the PostBus back (reservations required) to Kandersteg Hauptbahnhof (train station). Or stay in quiet Selden at Hotel Gasterntal or Hotel Steinbock. The next day offers an epic traverse of a rapidly-melting glacier (where hiking poles help you to cross the snowfield and to hop rocks):
  • The next day from Selden, we enjoyed an adventurous traverse across Lötsch glacier and Lötschen Pass (German: Lötschenpass, Swiss German: Lötschepass) to neighboring Lötschental in Valais canton. The walk starts with a reserved Postbus ride from Kandersteg to Selden, climbs 1350 meters, descends 925 m, and ends 13 km later at Lauchernalp lift station, which descends to Wiler in Lötschental, to reach Goppenstein via Postbus, back to Kandersteg via train. You can also reverse the route or stay overnight in dorms at Lötschepass hut.
1f. Lötschental / Loetschental

is a lesser-visited valley in Valais Canton (over Lötschen Pass, just south of Kandersteg):

  • Stay in attractive Blatten. Enjoy a 3-mile walk one way up valley to Kuhmad Chapel (built 1758), past historic wood hayloft buildings and restored wooden chalets. Catch bus at Fafleralp and return to Blatten.
  • For best views of Loetschental and the sharp ridge of the Bietschorn, from Fafleralp, hike to Krindellücke (5 miles round trip, 2.5 hours, 1542 feet gain). See Hike #30 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”

2. France–Switzerland: The Walker’s Haute Route & Valais Canton

The Walker’s Haute Route (2b) starts from the Mont Blanc Massif in Chamonix (France), crosses Switzerland’s Valais canton, and ends at the Matterhorn in Zermatt. This section also covers hiking in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (2a) in France and walking in the Valais Canton of Switzerland, including Zermatt (2c), Saas-Fee resort (2d), Bettmerhorn and Eggishorn (2e) (to view the vast Aletsch Glacier). “Valais” = French for “Valley” = “Wallis” in German.


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2a. Mountain excursions from Chamonix, France
  • Lac Blanc: a superlative circuit visits both Lac Blanc and Lac de Chéserys, starting atop the lift, “Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz” (5.8 miles with 1930 feet ascent and descent). This rewarding lake loop covers the most scenic parts of Stage 10 of the Tour du Mont Blanc, but with much less effort. Behold the stunning Mont Blanc Massif across the valley. Lifts and weather may allow hiking from June 1 to Nov 1. Directions: La Flégère cable car ascends from Les Praz de Chamonix, one train stop from Chamonix or 10 minutes by bus. A shorter version we’ve done goes 4 miles with 2300 feet vertical gain one way from atop La Flégère station to Lac Blanc, finishing with an hour walk up to L’Index lift station (Google maps). Optionally stay in overnight dormitories at Refuge du Lac Blanc for sunset and sunrise reflections of the spectacular rock needles rising above Chamonix Valley. In 2005 during our Haute Route, we walked the “TMB Stage 10” backwards, from La Flégère in the direction of Argentière, along the Col de Montet route. (We avoided the version that connects to Tré-le-Champ via a series of exposed ladders near the imposing Aiguillette d’Argentière.) TMB hikers doing the full Stage 10 including the Lac Blanc extension might start with the earliest bus to Col des Montets, then walk southwest to Lac Blanc and finish at L’Index lift (5 miles one way, 3000 ft gain).
  • Lacs Noirs and Cornu: Take the lift from Chamonix to Planpraz to access the trail to these remote lakes (5.5 miles round trip, 2000 feet up and down). Lac Blanc can be added as follows, in a spectacular Aiguilles Rouges Traverse: start from Planpraz lift station, hike to Col Cornu and Col de la Gliere (8,074 ft), walk past L’Index top station to Lac Blanc, then head for La Flégère lift station (7.6 mi/2500 ft up/2900 ft down). If you have extra energy, loop back from La Flégère to where you started at Planpraz (11.2 miles total circuit, with 3500 feet up and down vertically). Doing either hike in effect covers the best views from TMB Stage 11. In 2022, we did the shortest version (without lakes), following the Grand Balcony South: starting from atop Télécabine Flégère–Les Praz lift, we hiked from La Flégère to Planpraz (3.6 miles, 940 feet ascent, 600 ft descent). From Planpraz, we rode Le Brévent cable car round trip for sightseeing on high, then caught the Télécabine Planpraz lift down to Chamonix.
  • While you’re at Planpraz (such as before or after hiking), don’t miss the round trip upwards to the stunning Le Brévent viewpoint via télécabine gondola lift.
  • Aiguille du Midi: Don’t miss the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi cable car from Chamonix (France) to a spectacular shoulder of the Mont Blanc Massif.
    • Take the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car, from 1035 meters to 3842 m (12,605 feet elevation) for an unforgettable, must-do experience. Optionally hike from Plan de l’Aiguille (below).
    • If weather is clear atop Aiguille du Midi, don’t miss the breathtaking Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc which connects to Pointe Helbronner in Italy (which is alternatively accessible from Skyway Monte Bianco in Courmayeur).
    • In good weather, take the lifts round trip. Or bus from La Palud (near Courmayeur) through the Mont Blanc Tunnel back to Chamonix.
  • Grand North Balcony: walk from Plan de l’Aiguille to Montenvers via Le Signal Forbes Trail option (4.3 miles one way with 2000 feet vertical ascent and 700 feet descent). Admire the Mer de Glace (“Sea of Ice”) glacier emerging from a vast cirque under the Needles of Chamonix. Return via the Montenvers train to Chamonix (or else add 2800 feet of descent by trail). This makes a good first hike for acclimatization to the thin air at 7500 feet above sea level.
  • TMB Stage 9 could be done as a day hike from Chamonix or Argentière. From high green pastures, admire a broad vista of Aiguille du Chardonnet, Aiguille Verte, and Mont Blanc. Directions: Take public transportation to reach Col de la Forclaz in Switzerland then hike via Col de Balme and L’ Aiguillettes des Possettes to Argentière, France (10 miles one way, 3000 feet ascent, 3835 ft descent). Or for simpler logistics, hike a counterclockwise loop starting from Argentière, Montroc, or “Parking du Tour – Balme” in France. Check if lifts are operational.
  • Les Grands Montets to Chamonix (Google maps): 6 miles back to your hotel, 3125 feet down. Directions: take transit to Chamonix-Lognan les Grands Montets lift (near Argentiere), then lift to Les Grands Montets for views, take the same lift back down to TPH Lognan station, then walk to scenic Le Chapeau Chalet for lunch or snack, then walk to Chamonix.
  • Bellevue lift and Tramway du Mont-Blanc (external link) (coincidental acronym TMB): starting from Les Houches, lift to the top station of Bellevue gondola (PDF map external link). Option A: catch the Tramway (cash only here) to top station Nid d’Aigle (first reached by this cog railway in 1913). Option B: after sightseeing the top, get off at Bellevue or Col de Voza to start Stage 1 of the Tour du Mont Blanc, thereby saving 2600 feet gain. Optionally return from Les Contamines to your Chamonix hotel via taxi in 40 minutes (whereas bus would require changing in St Gervais where infrequent connections leave every 2 hours). Between Voza Pass (1,653m) and Bellevue (1,794m), the ridge trail and tramway give a 360° view over Contamines Valley, Aiguille du Goûter, Aiguilles Rouges massif and Aiguille du Midi. Option C: Day hike to Col de Tricot and Mont Vorassay (external link) round trip from Bellevue (5 miles round trip, 1900 ft up and down).
  • Chalet du Glacier des Bossons and Chalet des Pyramides Trail: views become every more spectacular as you ascend the steep, airy ridge towards the Gîte at Balmat and La Jonction (see external trail guide), very close to the Glacier des Bossons and Taconnaz. See a magnificent panorama of the peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges reserve.
2b. The Walker’s Haute Route (High Route)

The 112-mile Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (France) to Zermatt (Switzerland) offers Old World charm and dramatic scenery from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. If desired, the trip’s highlights can be done piecemeal on separate trips, in a more relaxed fashion. Tips below come from our luxury trip in 2005 (edited in 2021) trekking the “Hiker’s Haute Route” on photographic assignment for Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures, self-guided. Best guidebook with detailed maps:

History: “The High Level Route” was originally developed as a mountaineering route from Chamonix to Zermatt in the mid 1800s by the English Alpine Club. This technical route became known as the Haute Route when done on skis in 1911. In modern times, an easier non-technical path was developed, called the Walker’s High Route, or Haute Route, which is a portion of what the Swiss call the “Alpine Passes Trail” (labelled Trail #6 in their online maps) which passes through the Graubunden and Valais Alps in 39 stages.

Day by day description of the Walker’s Haute Route:

  • Day 0: The Haute Route starts in Chamonix, which demands extra days for spectacular exploration, as described above. Don’t miss the stunning hike to Lac Blanc (4+ miles using lifts). In 2005, we began our Haute Route by hiking 5.3 miles from La Flégère lift station eastwards to Argentiere, where the descent from Lac Blanc was a knee-pounding 3700 feet (avoidable by exiting via l’Index lift). If you’ve already done or plan to do the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), consider skipping the following days which overlap (from Chamonix to Argentiere to Champex):
  • Day 1 (5-7 hours hiking): A short hop by train takes you from Chamonix to Argentiere to begin trekking. Look for ibex (wild goats) on the way to Col de Balme, the first of up to 11 high passes on the Haute Route. End the day in Trient, where Alpenwild recommends the Grande Ourse hotel.
  • Day 2 (5-7 hours, 11 miles, 4600 feet up, 4200 feet down): After a rocky climb to Fênetre d’Arpette, with views of the Glacier du Trient, descend through meadows to Champex.

Departing Champex on the morning of Day 3, you can keep walking, or skip ahead via bus and public transit to Verbier or Arolla. If walking, the 4 days from Champex to Arolla can be trekked mostly via shared dormitory huts, or else day hiked entirely from hotels, as noted.

  • Day 3a: In 2005, we skipped the 4-day trek from Champex to Arolla, and instead took public transit directly to Arolla, staying in a private ensuite double room in Hotel du Pigne d’Arolla with nice balcony view. If you choose this shorter option, jump to Day 4a further below.
  • Day 3b: If time is limited, you may want to skip the 8-mile trail from Champex to Le Châble (Verbier), which ascends 350 feet and descends 2457 feet — a path via quaint Swiss towns having pastoral beauty but lacking in views of glacier-capped peaks. If staying in Verbier, consider Hotel Ermitage. Then for the next 3 days (two nights), only shared dormitory accommodation is available (in Cabane de Louvie or Cabane de Mont Fort, and in Cabane de Prafleuri) along the Walker’s Haute Route. To better recharge for the next day, we prefer private rooms (with hot showers), which are available using alternative routings, as described.
  • Day 4b: The next hiking stage starts atop a lift station of Verbier and treks to a mountain hut with dormitory-style beds, either Cabane Mont-Fort or Cabane de Louvie. Alternatives include:
    • Based from nearby Martigny in 2016, we enjoyed a dramatic day hike to Lac Louvie (which we had skipped in 2005). The scenic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at Verbier’s La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus (traversing 8 miles/13km, 2100 ft/640 m up, 4640 ft/1415 m down in 8.5 hours). We crossed Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descended southwards via 1800s stone barns to Lake Louvie, then pounded down to Fionnay.
    • For a more challenging, higher-altitude day hike, consider the Tour du Mont Fort for 10-11 miles, with a punishing descent of 4000+ feet, despite help from lifts. Staying overnight in a hut partway would mitigate the descent per day to protect knees.
    • For an easier day, simply explore Verbier’s extensive lift system, climaxing atop Mont Fort itself. Optionally day hike along the lift system, as the spirit moves you. One could stay 2 nights at Hotel Ermitage in Verbier.
  • Day 5b: If you don’t mind dormitory accommodation, hike to Cabane de Louvie on Day 4b to stay overnight. Then on Day 5b, continue hiking the Haute Route over the passes of Col de Louvie and Col de Prafleuri, to reach Cabane Prafleuri (10 mi, 3609 ft up, 2247 ft down) to sleep overnight.
    • This trekking day can be replaced with an easier day hike, based at a comfortable hotel in Sion, or at the trailhead Hôtel – Restaurant du Barrage at the lift station for Grande Dixence dam. Take the dam lift and hike the Alpine Ibex Trail (Sentier des Bouquetins) to Cabane de Prafleuri (2636m elev) and loop back, for a total distance of 6 miles with 2000 ft gain and loss. Adding the side trip to Mont Blava (1-mile roundtrip, 300 ft gain and loss) affords sweeping views across Lac des Dix. Directions: take the PostBus from Sion to Grande Dixence dam (tallest dam in Europe, 285 meters high; see sbb.ch or Google timetables), and lift to the top. Extending this hike to Col de Prafleuri reaches some of the best views (8.6 miles total round trip with 3100 ft gain and loss).
  • Day 6b: The standard stage from Cabane de Prafleuri crosses Pas de Chevres to Arolla village, in the municipality of Evolène, in Val d’Hérens. The standard stage can be shortened as follows (saving a net 0.8 miles and 1065 feet of downhill, by avoiding the descent from Prafleuri):
    • From atop Grande Dixence dam, hike the Tour du Val d’Hérens “Stage 2” (11.2 miles/17.9 km, ascent 2923 ft/891 m, descent 3373 ft/1028 m). This stage requires grappling with a series of ladders that are secured on exposed rock faces.
The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland, Europe. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie. The dramatic Chamois Path (Sentier des Chamois) starts at La Chaux ski lift and ends at Fionnay PostBus. Cross Col Termin (2648m/8688 ft) in Haut Val de Bagnes nature reserve and descend to Lake Louvie via 1800s stone barns to the north, then to Fionnay (640 m up, 1415 m down in 8.5 hours). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The peaks of Grand Combin (4314 metres / 14,154 feet on left), Combin de Corbassière (center), and Petit Combin (right) rise above Cabane de Louvie hut on Lake Louvie in the Pennine/Valais Alps, Switzerland. Optionally stay overnight in dorms at Cabane de Louvie.  

My High Route photographs continue as follows, with help from lifts and buses letting us hike high in the alps then sleep low in comfortable valley hotels:

  • Day 4a (or 7b): From Arolla in 2005, we day hiked upwards via herding sheds in Alp Pra Gra to see the peaks of Les Dents des Veisivi reflected in a tarn. On this trail, one can optionally stay in dormitories in mountain refuge Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges overlooking Aiguilles de la Tsa and Mont Collon (3637 meters / 11,932 feet) at the head of Val d’Hérens. After the scenic day hike, we bused down the valley to stay overnight in Les Haudères (through a section walked by some Haute Route package tours, such as Pygmy-Elephant.com, whereas others stay in La Sage, closer to tomorrow’s trailhead).
  • Day 5a (or 8b): From Les Haudères in Val d’Hérens, we crossed Col du Torrent, seeing Dent Blanche (“White Tooth” 14,291 feet / 4356 m) in the Pennine Alps, and descended to the beautiful turquoise reservoir of Lake Moiry. Fireweed bloomed pink along the trail. Overnight in ritzy Hotel Bella Tolla in the French village of Saint Luc.
  • Day 6a (or 9b): We walked eastwards from St. Luc, rode up the Tignousa funicular, hiked up 2500 feet to Meidpass, then descended 3400 feet to the German village of Gruben, accumulating 9 miles on foot. Meidpass is the boundary between French and German cultural areas in Valais/Wallis canton.
  • Day 7a (or 10b): In Gruben the next day, snow in Augstborgpass caused us to take public transit to reach Zermatt instead of hiking (8 miles with 3517 ft ascent, and taking St Niklaus cable car reduces the mighty descent to 3079 ft).

Lodging options:

  • Huts/refuges provide meals and lodging at reasonable cost. Photographs can capture more spectacular sunrise/sunset light up in huts than from hotels down in valleys. Swiss Alpine Club.
  • Valley hotels: Take lifts, hike high, and sleep low in comfortable hotels or hostels nestled in each valley. Alpenwild.com (where I’m an “Artist in Residence”) offers great package trips, both self-guided and guided. We loved a 10-day self-guided Hiker’s Haute Route luxury package from Ryder-Walker Alpine Adventures done in 2005 on photographic commission.
2c. Hikes in Zermatt, in the Pennine Alps, Switzerland
  • How to get there: The famous mountaineering and ski resort of Zermatt lies at 1620 meters (5310 feet) elevation at the head of Mattertal (Matter Valley) in the Pennine Alps, Valais canton, Switzerland. Most visitors reach Zermatt by cog railway train from the nearby town of Täsch (Zermatt shuttle). Trains also depart for Zermatt from farther down the valley at Visp and Brig on the main Swiss rail network. Small electric taxis serve Zermatt, which bars combustion-engine cars to help preserve small village atmosphere and prevent air pollution.
  • Gornergrat is spectacular cog train terminus located at 10,134 feet / 3130m elevation. The Gornergrat is the first point on a ridge that runs out to Hohtälligrat (3286m) and Stockhorn (3407m amidst a sea of ice) all linked by cable car from Gornergrat.
    • The Gornergrat cog wheel train ride takes 47 minutes from Zermatt station. 25% discount for holders of the Swiss Pass. Take the special dawn train for great a sunrise lighting up the Matterhorn. Leaving Zermatt, the earliest departures are 07:10, 08:00, 08:24… and the last departure is 19:12 as of 2005.
    • Sit on right-hand side of Gornergrat cog train for magical Matterhorn vistas. Hike up or down any portion:
      1. Take the cog rail to the Rotenboden stop, then hike east to Gornergrat 1000feet / 300m up in 1 hour, in 2.1 miles / 3.5 kilometers.
      2. A short walk on foot will reveal a sunrise reflection of the Matterhorn in Riffelsee and other tarns (ponds). Hike back via Gagihaupt peak (2568m).
      3. Hiking one way from Gornergrat down to Zermatt is 7.5 miles, down 5060 feet/1535meters, down in about 4 hours.
      4. Overnight option: Riffelberg Hotel (a stop of Gornergrat cog train) sits on spectacular exposed platform above the valley. Dorm beds 75 Swiss Francs per person with half board (dinner & breakfast, 2005); open until mid-October.
    • See hike #33 in “100 Hikes in the Alps.”
  • Höhbalmen offers great views of the Matterhorn from high pastures uncluttered by ski lifts. We hiked this 13.4-mile loop (21.6 km) via Bergrestaurant Edelweiss, Trift Hut, Hohenweg trail, and the interesting Zmutt Valley, with a punishing 4000 feet cumulative gain and loss. I was delighted by the route, except Carol’s feet hurt badly on the final stretch.
  • Stellisee & Fluhalp: the popular Five Lakes Trail (5-Seenweg) starts from Sunnegga Express funicular (a fast 7-minute underground train on east side of Visp River in Zermatt halfway between cemetery and Gornergrat cog rail).
    • Although especially nice for families, the 5 Seenweg (7 miles with 1800 ft gain circling up to Fluhalp) is blemished with ski slope infrastructure throughout (dusty roads, power lines, lifts, snow-making sprinklers, 5 dammed artificial lakes, etc). In compensation are the venerable wood buildings in upper Findeln, the beautiful reflecting lakes of Grindjisee and Stellisee, and majestic views of the Matterhorn.
    • Directions: Exiting atop Sunnegga, follow 5-Seenweg Trail past Leisee pond and switchback down 60 meters to upper Findeln (Findelen) village to admire authentic Walser houses, barns, and stores built of larch timber blackened by the sun. [The Walser people are named after Wallis (Valais, the uppermost Rhône valley), where they settled from the 900s in the late phase of the migration of the Alamanni (confederation of Germanic tribes) crossing from the Bernese Oberland.] Among the five lakes, the dammed Mosjesee and Grüensee (halfway dried up in August) were least attractive and can be skipped by returning to Sunnegga and taking the lift to Blauherd for quickest access to Stellisee:
    • Scenic Stellisee is a 30-minute walk up from Blauherd lift station. Stellisee best reflects the Matterhorn during the glow of sunrise, which you can see after an overnight stay at Bergrestaurant Fluhalp (half board meals, coin showers, private rooms & dormitory; 40 minutes walk up from Blauherd lift, or 1.5 hours hike up from Sunnegga). Views around the Sunnegga-Blauherd-Rothorn lifts may be prettiest when covered in snow during ski season.
  • Gorner Gorge (Gornerschlucht) is a pleasant outing if you have extra time, such as on a rainy day.
2d. Valais/Wallis Canton: Hikes in Saas-Fee, Switzerland

See “2022 July: hiking Saas-Fee resort, Switzerland

2e. Valais/Wallis Canton: Bettmerhorn & Eggishorn: Grosser Aletsch Glacier 


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When passing through Valais Canton in clear weather, don’t miss seeing the magnificent Grosser Aletsch Glacier (Großer Aletschgletscher) which flows from the Jungfrau. For weather flexibility, I recommend for hikers to stay 1 or 2 nights at the car-free village of Bettmeralp, where frequent lifts can reach the walkable ridge for viewing the Aletschgletscher. Easily reached by lift from Betten Talstation (a railway station in the valley below), Bettmeralp offers charming Swiss atmosphere and a handy Coop grocery store.

Optimally start from Betten Talstation, lift to Bettmeralp, then lift to Bettmerhorn for great views. From the Bettmerhorn (Bettmergrat gondola station) you can walk 5 miles almost entirely downhill along the spectacular ridge to Hohbalm, Moosfluh, Hohfluh, fancy Berghotel Riederfurka, and Riederalp, where a cable car goes down to Mörel train station. From Mörel, you can ride up valley towards Fiesch or down valley towards Brig. Fiesch is only 1.5 hours by train from Kandersteg or Bern. From Fiesch, the Eggishorn lift also offers fabulous views, highly recommended. (However, we learned that starting our ridge walk from the Eggishorn cable car’s mid station Fiesheralp unnecessarily added 1100 feet of elevation gain when hiking across ski slopes to reach Bettmerhorn.)

3. France–Italy–Switzerland: Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB)

Delayed for 2 years by the pandemic, we finally hiked the TMB, described here: “2022 July: trek Tour du Mont Blanc.” Trekkers most commonly walk this circuit around Europe’s highest peak in 8 to 11 stages in a counterclockwise direction, from France to Italy to Switzerland to France, staying each night in mountain hotels and/or refuges.

Because the popular Tour du Mont Blanc requires booking about 9 months in advance, consider instead hiking it more spontaneously as day hikes. Avoiding a package tour allows aligning hikes with good 1- or 2-day weather forecasts. Using a base hotel for multiple day hikes requires fewer luggage transfers, but adds commuting time. Chamonix, France and Courmayeur, Italy serve as convenient bases for day hiking Stages 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, & 11 as described under “2a. Chamonix” and “3a. Courmayeur”. (If you’ve already done or plan to do the Walker’s Haute Route, then skip the days which overlap with TMB, between Champex and Chamonix).

3a. Hikes and lifts in Courmayeur, Italy
  • Mont Blanc in French is called Monte Bianco in Italian.
  • Courmayeur is a short bus or car ride from Chamonix through the convenient Mont Blanc Tunnel. I felt more relaxed in quiet Courmayeur than in teeming Chamonix.
  • In clear weather, don’t miss the breathtaking vistas from Skyway Monte Bianco cable car system. Pointe Helbronner station unveils stunning perspectives on the Mont Blanc massif. One of the peak experiences of my life is the 5-kilometer ride on “Télécabine Panoramic Mont-Blanc” – an incredible system of triplet cabins strung between Pointe Helbronner (Italy) across France to the stunning Aiguille du Midi station (which is alternatively reachable by lift from Chamonix).
  • Monte Bianco View (TMB Stage 4): See stunning views of mountain savagery including Aiguile Noir from a spur of Mount Favre (5 miles with 1600 feet ascent and 2000 ft descent one way). Along the way Lac Chécrouit reflects the mountain splendor. Directions: From Courmayeur take the Val Veni bus westwards to Cabane du Combal, then hike to Rifugio Maison Vieille (which offers a festive lunch) at Col Chécrouit, where a chairlift and gondola descend to Dolonne, where a bus connects further into Courmayeur.
  • Hike northeast of Courmayeur:
    • Montagne de la Saxe ridge (TMB Stage 5): 11 miles, 5200 feet gain one way Courmayeur to Lavachey, sleep there or bus back. Hike high above Val Ferret through larch forest to some of the widest and grandest panoramas of the Mont Blanc Circuit. Look up Val Veni to Col de la Seigne and the Mont Blanc Massif. Close rocky peaks form an impressive wall: Géant, Grandes Jorasses, Leschaux, Triolet, and Mont Dolent.
    • Grand Col du Ferret (TMB Stage 6): Drive a car or take the bus to Chalet Val Ferret, then hike round trip steeply up 3000 feet. Or hike into Swiss Val Ferret, and bus/train back to Courmayeur via Martigny, or continue hiking around the popular Mont Blanc Circuit.

4. Switzerland: Engadine trekking advice: Itinerary for 5+ days

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The Swiss valley of Engadine translates as the “garden of the En (or Inn) River” (Engadin in German, Engiadina in Romansh, Engadina in Italian), and is part of the Danube basin. Don’t miss hikes near glacier-clad Bernina Range in this suggested itinerary:

Ratings Key:  **** four stars = Fantastic.  *** three stars = Must do.  ** two stars = Worthwhile.  * one star = only if time allows.

  1. ** Day 1: Stay at in Scuol**, which has very attractive historic buildings and a covered bridge over the Inn/En River, with high mountains for an impressive backdrop. Hotel Guardaval** in Scuol has a great view and very friendly staff.
  2. ** Day 2: Walk from Scuol** to Guarda***, via Tarasp** historic castle and Ardez** (great sgraffito).
    • Alternative Route: Hike a longer, remote, higher route which starts from atop Motta Naluns ski lift, hiking via the pleasant & remote Tasna valley* along high pastures and forest to Guarda***.
    • Stay at Hotel Meisser** in beautifully preserved historic Guarda*** (call ahead).
    • * Optional Extra Day: Hike from Cinuos Chel Brail train station to Val Susauna* (a small village with a pretty church in an isolated valley) to Zuoz*, which is bigger but has a pleasant town square. A nice view of Upper Engadine opens out as you approach within a mile of Zuoz and on into the town.
  3. ** Day 3: From Muottas Muragl funicular** hike to Segantini Hut down to Pontresina via Alp Languard’s Sessellift (chair lift)**.
    • Optional extension: From Alp Languard, you can also add (or do on its own) a great loop trip along a ridge to Chamanna Paradis** Restaurant, which has a spectacular view of Piz Bernina massif and Morterasch Glacier. Nice moderate grades and great views, but very popular, so don’t expect solitude.
    • Pontresina lodging: Hotel Steinbock** had a tasty buffet included with excellent dinner.
  4. **** Day 4: Walk from Morteratsch (second train stop from Pontresina towards Bernina Pass) to Boval Hut. Boval Hut offers close views of Morteratsch Glacier amid an impressive cirque of the icy Bernina Massif. Optionally stay overnight in Boval Hut for a good sunrise light on the spectacular massif. The trail is well graded, not steep, only 5 or 6 miles round trip and 2700 feet gain/loss. Return via lower trail for partial loop. A world favorite day hike!
    • *** Alternative or extra day: continue from Pontresina on the Bernina Express*** train line (the most spectacular train in Switzerland) to the top of the pass, and get off at an interesting area such as Alp Grüm. Optional day hike to Sassal Mason hut. Optionally take the Diavolezza*** lift to stunning views, similar to Boval Hut but 1500-feet higher.
    • *** Alternative or extra day: Spectacular hike from Pontresina up the Roseg Valley to Coaz Hut and over Surlej Pass down to St Moritz. Or hike round trip to Tschierva Hut (a long day, 15.5 miles roundtrip, 2800 ft), also in Roseg Valley.
    • Sils Maria* is a quiet, pretty village on attractive Lake Segl*, reached via Post Bus, more relaxed and cheaper than staying in St Moritz. In Sils Maria, Hotel Edelweiss** is very luxurious, with dinner and good breakfast in a huge ornate ballroom with live piano. Alternative: Explore scraffito in the village of **Samedan, overnight.
    • * Extra Day: Walk from Sils Maria to “pasturesque” Grevasalvas* (setting for the movie Heidi, with some nice old stone buildings), to Lake Lunghin, and optionally up to alpine Piz Lunghin** then descend to Maloja Pass to catch the Post Bus back to Sils Maria.
  5. **** Day 5: Ride the Bernina-Diavolezza cable car for spectacular views of the Bernina Range. If not afraid of heights at Diavolezza, don’t miss the short, scenic, rocky hike to Munt Pers*** which gains 265 meters over 2 km one way.
  6. *** Day 6: Hike from comfy 1881 SportHotel Pontresina*** up idyllic Roseg Valley** to Fuorcla Surlej**** for stunning views of Piz Bernina and Piz Roseg, finishing at Corvatsch Mittelstation Murtel cable car. Walking 14 km, we went up 1100 meters and down 150 m. Then take the cable car upwards to Corvatsch top station to see the impressive view, before lifting downwards to Murtel and Lake Silvaplana to catch the PostBus. Optionally shorten the day to an easy out-and-back hike of just 4 kilometers via round trip lift from Murtel.
  7. *** Day 7: Walk from Cassacia (or Vicosoprano) to Soglio*** village (11 miles, 2000 feet up, 2900 feet down) on the Sentiero Panaramico***, a scenic trail marked with little yellow hiking signs. All three villages are on the Post Bus line. If starting at Cassacia (via Post Bus), the first hiking hour is through pleasant pastures and woods, but within earshot of a busy highway, and follows powerlines, past a dam retaining pretty turquoise water, and within view of another dam (forming lake Lagh da L’Albigna) looming amazingly high on the other side of the valley. After a few hours the Sentiero Panaramico leaves the power lines and progressively gets more aesthetically pleasing, with more and more spectacular views of the Sciora Range*** the closer you get to Soglio***, an attractive town with medieval narrow streets.
    • Lodging in Soglio***: Hotel La Soglina*** has a great view and large, modern, comfortable rooms.

5. Switzerland: Appenzell

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Appenzell offers wonderful trekking for 1-5 days in picture-perfect Swiss scenery, supported by lifts and cozy private double mountain hotels! Appenzell Innerrhoden is Switzerland’s most traditional and smallest-population canton (second smallest by area). The Appenzell Alps rise in northeast Switzerland between Lake Walen and Lake Constance.

Appenzell: a perfect trek of 2-4 days

  1. Our great walking trek (with Alpenwild.com tours) started with a 10-minute bus ride from quaint Appenzell village to Brülisau, where a cable car whisks up to Hoher Kasten (1795 m/5876 ft) mountain in the Alpstein limestone range of the Appenzell Alps. A spectacular ridge walk above the Rhine Valley reaches Berggasthaus Bollenwees, founded in 1903 at scenic Fälensee lake, a wonderful place to stay overnight in private double ensuite (or dormitory rooms). If you choose to ascend Hoher Kasten summit (1794 m) on foot instead of taking the lift, optionally stay overnight midway at Berggasthaus Staubern. Via cable car, Hoher Kasten ridge can also be done as a long day hike.
  2. The next day, admire sunrise on Fälensee lake. Cross Bötzel pass (in sight of Santis peak, our goal for day 3). Descend to Berggasthaus Meglisalp, which can only be reached on foot in the spectacular heart of the Alpstein range. This authentic mountain hostelry, owned by the same family for five generations, dates from 1897. Meglisalp is a working dairy farm, restaurant and guest house surrounded by majestic peaks (Altmann peak 2435m) rising above green pastures.
  3. From Meglisalp, a long ascent reaches Berggasthaus Rotsteinpass (2120 m) for lunch at a remote restaurant. Everyone was excited to see a large family of ibex crossing rocky & snowy slopes above. Weaving through limestone outcroppings, we ascended the stunning Lisengrat, a sinuous chain-protected trail to the summit of Säntis, one of the most exciting trails in the Alps. The rocky route is safely assisted by chains, but can be scary for those with fear of heights. Shared by three cantons, Säntis can be reached easily via cable car or with effort via trails, to see vast mountain views across six countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy. Säntis makes a great day trip, dining experience, or overnighter including fun walking the Lisengrat. When starting at Säntis (2502 m / 8218 feet elevation), the full Lisengrat ridge route goes down to Rotsteinpass then up to Altmann (2435 m / 7989 ft), connecting the two highest peaks in the Alpstein.
  4. In good morning weather atop Säntis, continue walking to scenic EbenalpBerggasthaus Aescher, and Wildkirchli cave, then descend to Wasserauen via cable car to catch the bus. (On Day 4 we escaped rain with a quick cable car descent from Säntis back to Appenzell via bus.)

6. Switzerland: Schaffhausen canton

is worth an excursion from Zurich or staying overnight a few days exploring the impressive Munot castle reflecting in the Rhine River at night, Schaffhausen’s Old Town, and nearby Rhine Falls:


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If you have extra days near Zurich or Schaffhausen, don’t miss the photogenic fresco-covered village of Stein am Rhein and historic St. George’s Abbey:


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Recommended Alps travel guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Alps travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years). Bring a good country guide plus a detailed hiking guidebook:

Alps hiking books by Cicerone Guides are essential for planning a hiking trip and carrying along.

2022: 2020: 2019:
2021: 2019: 2014: