Switzerland's Via Alpina Trek

Read about our recent Global Adventures trip to Switzerland, Via Alpina.
Craig Miller
October 23, 2014

Guten Morgen family and friends,

I just completed leading The Mountaineers club Switzerland Via Alpina trek. It was outstanding, fabulous, perfect - one of the best ever. Everyone loved it!

Switzerland’s Alpine Pass Route traverses across the country from Sargans in the east to Montreux in the west. It parallels the entire Swiss Alps on the north side, but crosses 16 spur ridges (one pass per day). More recently, the relatively newer Via Alpina included the Swiss Alpine Pass Route in its trans-Europe trail. Backpacker magazine rated Switzerland's Via Alpina as the best hike in the world, and we agree it is superb.

We flew into Zurich, where I gave a walking tour of the old town. We carried our 20-pound daypacks across Switzerland; life was simple – trek, eat, sleep. We had a layover day in Altdorf, when some of us rode a delightful boat on the Vierwaldstattersee to Lucerne, I gave a walking tour of Lucerne, and then we trained back to Altdorf (with a statue of William Tell). We had a layover day in Grindelwald, when some of us hiked from Schynige Platte to Faulhorn to First. One of the best trek days of our lives was from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg (photograph attached) down along the valley rim to Lauterbrunnen (photograph attached). We had a layover day in Lauterbrunnen, when some of us rode the cog railroad to the Jungfraujoch, then hiked the Eiger north face trail (which I did five years ago). We had a layover day in Lenk, when some of us rode a gondola up and trottinets (scooters) down 20 kilometers. We toured Monteux’s old castle Chateau de Chillon. In Geneva I gave another walking tour of the old town, then we flew out of Geneva.

We had a wonderful group of 10 people plus me, for a total of 11 people. Half (5) of the participants had been on previous Himalayan treks I led, while the other half (5) were new folks. Everyone got along fine. We met lots of very nice local people. One of the joys was getting to know the folks who manage the small lodgings. I enjoyed practicing the German and French languages, and two of our German-born participants were helpful in translating.

Accommodations were in valley villages (rather than mountain huts) which gave us better lodging choices, transportation options, food, internet Wi-Fi, etc. The 18 great lodgings included hotels, hostels, dormitories, a scout camp, and a religious guest house. Many of the lodges were beautiful old wooden chalet architecture with balconies and colorful red flowers in boxes. We used transportation infrastructure (buses, trains, cable cars, gondolas, funiculars) to help save time at the beginning or end of some days. If someone wanted a day off, they could ride a bus and/or train down the valley, then up the next valley to the following village.

For food, when possible I had reserved full pension/board (bed, dinner, breakfast, and packed lunch to go). We ate our way across Switzerland with outstanding food – veal Zurich style, rösti, cheese fondue, raclette, and tasty pastries. If there was a mountain hut at lunchtime, I bought each person  hot soup, hot chocolate, or coffee while we ate our picnic lunches. Some participants researched the best cheeses, chocolates, and apple strudels in Switzerland. We had a delicious Swiss cuisine welcome dinner in Zurich, and another gourmet Swiss cuisine farewell dinner in Geneva.

Medically people stayed very healthy. Switzerland is a clean country. Despite walking in cow manure, no one got diarrhea. One person caught a cold, and passed it on to one other person.

The weather was excellent. We had perfect weather in the Bernese Oberland, when we really wanted it. While we trekked, there were only two half-days of rain, through which we hiked OK. There was no snow at all on the entire trip.

 I worked harder planning this outing than any other I have led (reserved 18 different lodgings, changed the reservations from 10 to 12 to 11 people, etc), but it was worth it. The itinerary I had planned was perfect.

Here are my trekking statistics:

  • Trek days: 16.
  • Layover days: 5.
  • Distance: 340 kilometers or 200 miles.
  • Total cumulative ascent: 14,774 meters or 48,468 feet.
  • Total cumulative descent: 18,948 meters or 62,163 feet.
  • High point: 2,840 meters or 9,320 feet (Blümlisalp Hut above Hohturli Pass).

A special merci to:

  • Global Adventures Committee (Steve, Patti, Shari, Cindy, and Cheryl) for reviewing and approving this outing.
  • Martinique for executive director.
  • Suzanne for marketing in the Mountaineer magazine and Activities & Events e-newsletter.
  • Jeff for marketing on the Mountaineers’ website.
  • Kristina for general marketing.
  • Leann for finance.
  • Piper for accounting.
  • Tess for member services.
  • Shauna for Program Center room reservations.
  • Rick for suggesting the day hike from Schynige Platte to Faulhorn to First.

My food diet starts today,

Craig


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