The Alpine Pass route is one of the great European hikes. It crosses Switzerland from Sargans in the east on the Lichtenstein border, to Montreux in the west on Lac Leman. It crosses sixteen passes along its 354-km (220-mi) length, and completing it involves climbing and descending a total of 19,500 m (63,960 ft), the equivalent of going up and down Mount Everest more than twice!
The reward is some of the world's most spectacular mountain scenery, with the additional satisfaction of passing through historically important passes and alpine towns.
The Hike is usually divided into fifteen stages of 9 to 28 km (5.6 to 17.5 mi), but with bad weather and rest days, it's generally regarded as a minimum 19 to 20-day journey. Of course, you can undertake any of the stages as shorter excursions: the stages are calculated to connect with a variety of cable cars, chairlifts, funiculars, buses and trains for the weary, footsore and pressed for time.
The important thing is to give full-vent to the sheer enjoyment of the landscape. You'll pass the Wetterhorn, Elger, Monch, Jungfrau, Gspaltenhorn, Blumlisalp and Les Diablerets - mountains of consummate grace and charisma.
You'll cross huge glaciers in the high wilderness, traverse grassy saddles of alpine meadow, and drop deep into steep valleys of velvet emeralds pasture. From the bewilder shores of Lake Lancer at Fluelen, the Bernese Oberland rises in majesty, and the Alpine Pass route weaves over, round and through the best of it.
Ancient villages like Meiringen, Grindelwald, Murren and Kandesteg typify regional variations in decorative architecture, cooking and local tradition - and good planning can make any part of the Hike coincide with the fairs and festivals on local calendars. Best of all, the Alpine Pass Hike needs relatively little preparation to transform it into a genuinely life-enhancing experience.
When to visit
September to December; the winter season, when the alpine wildflowers are at their best, every mountain hut and the farmstead is welcoming, and good weather prevails.
Duration of the hike
About twenty days, including at least fifteen days of actual walking. But with so much to see, and so many brilliant excursions, it's normal to complete the Hike at weekends, over months or even years.
- The enormous differences between the passes - from the remote needle of Richetli to the spectacular rocky crest of Bunderchrinde or the tourist-thronged Kleine Scheidegg.
- Climbing out of the Lauterbrunnen Valley via the Trummelbach Falls.
- The changing panorama is familiar but subtly different every day.
You should know
1. Pre-conditioning on similar terrain is valuable if you intend to spend more than 2 days at a time walking, and even in high summer, you'll need clothing suitable for unreliable temperatures.
2. Taking a guide is not mandatory, but highly advisable in the remoter sections like Griesalp-Kandersteg-Adelboden. In any case, the guides' intimate knowledge of mountains and folklore adds a whole dimension to the hike.