326km FROM SARGANS TO MONTREAUX
(All the photos in a slideshow at the bottom of this page)
If you like mountains, walking and happen to have three weeks extra time in your pockets, don’t hesitate anymore but to take this challenge. That is what happened to us and the experience was indescribable amazing. Well, not completely since I’m able to write few words about it.
The idea of this post is to get someone inspired of walking in the great Swiss Alps, and also to provide some first-hand information of this long distance route called Via Alpina, or Alpine Pass Route, to those who are planning to do it.
For me it all began by finding Lonely Planet’s guidebook Walking in Switzerland (link below) from my local library and the following holiday trip to Zurich eastern 2009. That was my first visit to Switzerland, and also the first glimpse to the distant snow covered range of the Alps. From that moment I started to seriously plan some hiking there and the name Alpine Pass Route came into my awareness.
If going to hike, let’s hike through the whole country then! The Alpine Pass Route traverses from east to west through the country, from Sargans to Montreaux taking in over 300 km of landscapes of mountains and valleys, and 16 mountain passes in total.
I introduced this idea to my good old friend; let me call him by some secret name, for example Jack Wolfskin sounds good, and soon the deal was made.
We thought to go in July when there should be no snow in the high passes, and not so much people than in August. The weather in July could be hot though… We decided to have 22 days in total so there would be few extra for bad weather. It was a bit difficult to know beforehand and also to find good multi-city flights, going to Zurich and returning from Geneva but we were lucky to found some.
We had Kev Reynold’s The Alpine Pass Route (found a good price in Amazon) and basically it was all we needed. So either have good maps or a good guidebook. In addition I printed maps from every bigger village and tried to place the possible hotels/hostels there since those could be trickier to find. And after a long day you really don’t want to spend an hour for looking a place to sleep.
I recommend this guidebook to all though sometimes we had to guess a bit where to go next. It became our joke to wonder if the author had used all the time some different transportations, how Kev would write the instructions from a helicopter or something:)
Here is also a good web site to see more detailed route information
DAY 1, 11th of July
*Helsinki – Zurich – Sargans – Weisstannen
*Walking time 13:15 – 17:00
*Height gain: 538m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Gemse, dormitory with breakfast 32CHF/person
My alarm clock, actually two of them, woke me up around four in the morning after a restless sleeping. The last night at home didn’t offer much rest since the coming weeks and adventures filled my thoughts with anxiety. It was time to take the gear and head to the airport.
The flights went smoothly, as the train to Zurich and all the way to Sargans, which I reached a bit after mid-day and where I met with Jack.
On a station while getting ourselves ready an older, a bit weary looking backpacker came to have a coffee or something and asked if we were doing the Via Alpina? Yes yes, for sure we were going to do it, but he had already done it, walked all the way and just reached his final destination. It was encouraging to meet this French man who had accomplished the very same route but with a tent and in much more unstable weather conditions.
The walk to Weisstannen was a good warm-up walk, a bit less than four hours of gentle climbing and walking along a beautiful valley. It rained when we left Sargans and Mels but finished soon. The Hotel Gemse was the first building of the village and offered a good place for us to rest. There were no other guests in the dorm. The village itself was tiny, having a bit Emmerdale –feeling in it (if someone knows the tv-show) and it already felt like being in a very remote place.
DAY 2, 12th of July
*Weisstannen – Foopass (2223m) – Elm
*Walking time 07:50 – 15:30
*Height gain: 1219m
*Overnight stay in Gasthaus Sonne, double room with breakfast 52CHF/person
After a good rest and the most excellent breakfast we headed to the trail in an overcast weather. Leaving the village behind paths became very muddy and we realized why good hiking boots are so essential. The wall of rocks that leads to Foopass looked surprisingly steep from the last farmhouse in the bottom of the valley floor. Like mr. Reynolds says in his book, after this pass you’ll have no doubts how the coming days will be.
(Watch out the dogs in Fooalp farm, they tried to steal my boots very seriously!)
At the top of the pass we felt like having reached something, the first major pass along the many and the view was spectacular –snowy peaks after another so far as you can see, almost surrealistic feeling.
The Descend to Elm was long and exhausting and that was true during the whole trip, coming down made your feet hurt much more, especially if walking long parts in tarmac.
The village of Elm was disappointing what comes to accommodations. There were 3 or 4 hotels without dormitories and that left us no other option but to take the “cheapest”. The room was small but the only complain was the breakfast, which included only few slices of bread and tea. No muesli or serials or something an real APR-trekker would need!
DAY 3, 13th of July
*Elm – Richetlipass (2261m) – Linthal
*Walking time 08:30 – 17:00
*Height gain: 1418m
*Overnight stay in B&B Claudia Manser, dorm with breakfast 30CHF/person
A tough day… The morning revealed itself sunny and hot, and the whole ascend to the pass was very demanding. The views were awesome and we also saw a lot of military activity along the way since Swiss army was practising, for what, I do not know. Because of that the pass next of ours, Panixerpass, was closed from hikers for that time so take this into consideration if planning alternative routes in this area.
Coming down was even more demanding and it had some dangerous parts. Well maybe dangerous is too strong word, but parts that you had to be more careful than usual.
The Descend to Linthal with cow and sheep waste everywhere seemed to take forever. For me the problem became my soles, some parts under my feet became always very sore in those long descends.
In Linthal we heard that every place was full but I was not completely sure why. Some happening I guess. Luckily Mrs. Fortune was with us and we found this private B&B along our way. Very nice family and sehr gut breakfast. The dorm itself was made into their garage but nothing bad to say about it. Altogether it was a nice experience with the locals and my German studies finally paid themselves of!
DAY 4, 14th of July
*Linthal – Urnerboden
*Height gain: ~900m
*Walking time 07:45 – 12:00
*Overnight stay in Gasthaus Urnerboden, dorm with breakfast 35CHF/person
The plan was to reach the Klausenpass today but we kind of got lost. We didn’t consult the guidebook carefully enough and that gave us some one and half hour of extra walking. In other words we climbed too high but the reward was unforgettable views.
Around the mid-day when finally reaching Urnerboden couple of hours behind the schedule we decided to halt. Not a bad choice at all since the valley itself was fabulous, we found a grocery store and were able to wash our dirty clothes, in every way very refreshing evening after the demanding first part of our journey.
DAY 5, 15th of July
*Urnerboden – Klausenpass (1948m) – Altdorf – Attinghausen
*Walking time 07:50 – 16:30
*Height gain: ~700m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Krone, dorm with breakfast 25CHF/person
This day became one of the most memorable days of the whole APR, full of magic, as our Mr. Reynolds would say. In the morning it was raining a bit but what really surprised us was the fog. The visibility was maybe twenty meters so no last glance to that beautiful valley.
A word of warning, in those conditions is not very recommendable to tackle any alpine passes but we made an exception since Klausenpass is not very demanding or remote pass having a road leading over it following close to the trail.
So deeply covered in the mist we approached Klausenpass cow bells ringing everywhere until suddenly a herd of cows were standing in front of us. That was more memorable event than reaching the pass itself but coming down from there was magical. The weather cleared for a while, just enough to see the coming long and steep way down to the hamlet of Äsch and the spectacular 90m Stäubifall. And at that very same moment the fog covered everything again leaving us only with our imagination about the surrounding landscapes.
When reaching the Äsch the weather cleared again making rest of the days walk beautiful though very exhausting. It was a long walk until reaching Attinghausen 30 minutes beyond Altdorf. It was worth of our effort since the hotel was very nice with the pool and being the cheapest of the whole route. As it had been so far we shared again the whole dorm just with Jack.
In the evening we did a two-hour evening walk, which surely was not very smart. (Why there were no more bridges over that river running between Altdorf and Attinghausen???) Yes, we saw the statue of Wilhem Tell but missed the opening hours of local supermarkets.
DAY 6, 16th of July
*Attinghausen – Surenenpass (2291m) – Engelberg
*Walking time 07:30 – 16:00
*Height gain: ~800m
*Overnight stay in Jugendherberge, dorm with breakfast 39CHF/person
We left our hotel in a beautiful sunny weather and decided to shorten over ten-hour walk by taking the Brusti cable car. We felt a bit bad by this but there we still a lot of climbing to reach the Surenenpass and eventually it was a good choice like said in the guidebook. The Brusti cable car has three stations, the middle one having the operator and where the payment is made. You’ll order it by phone and ask for “Bergfahrt, bitte” and that’s it.
This leg was the first one with a lot of other hikers on the way after many more remote parts and no wonder why, the views were stunning in a good weather, having the ice-crowned Titlis in our sight.
On a way down we stopped in Blackenalp and had a bit of refreshments there (yes, one beer and a sandwich) since it was a very alluring place to do so.
Reaching finally the other side of the Engelberg resort and our hostel took surprisingly long especially having very painful blisters under my toes.
DAY 7, 17th of July
*Engelberg – Jochpass (2207m) – Engstlenalp
*Walking time 09:00 – 13:30
*Height gain: ~1205m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Engstlenalp, dorm with breakfast 38CHF/person
The weather forecast looked bad for the following two days and I mean really bad… pouring rain, heavy thunderstorms and snow all over the Alps. We were troubled with what to do since the next leg would be demanding in length and the idea of staying two days in Engelberg didn’t make us happy. Around nine in the morning we decided to face the nature and to climb few hours either to Trubsee or Jochpass since both had a hotel, or at least should have had.
In a heavy rain we finally stepped out from the door. Gore-tex jacket would have done its job but when going uphill my body was sweating so much from inside that soon everything was soaking wet. And on the plateau of Trubsee came the wind making us feeling very chilly. We also found out that the hotel there was closed, as well as the one on top of Jochpass. A Call to Engstlenalp, dry clothes and ceased rain make us to tackle the final ascend to the pass and to Engstlenalp one hour behind it. A good choice! The rest of the evening and night it was thundering, raining, snowing and who knows what. And there were no heating in our dorm.
DAY 8, 18th of July
*Engstlenalp – Meiringen
*Walking time 10:00 – 14:30
*Overnight stay in Simon’s Herberge, dorm with breakfast 32CHF/person
Very cold night in our opinion, but the jolly innkeeper said that “Nonsense! Only in winter it would be cold.” It was still raining though everything was covered with a fresh layer of snow.
It was cold but we were anyway high, somewhere in 1834m. We waited until ten o’clock when deciding to start the day. It was raining all the way down to Meiringen. I have to say it was a relief to be there. The worst days were behind what comes to the weather and length of the legs.
DAY 9, 19th of July
*Meiringen – Grosse Scheidegg (1962m) – Grindelwald
*Walking time 08:50 – 16:20
*Height gain: 1367m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Alpenblick, dorm with breakfast 40CHF/person
We were excited about the next few days. The best-known region of Bernese Oberland was lying in front of us with all the great peaks you’ll see in Switzerland photos. Not very demanding walk but needless to stay how awesome the views were having first the mighty Wetterhorn on our way and finally seeing the famous Eiger.
If small RC airplanes are your passion, then the top of this pass is closest to heaven. Having the break there with all those big mountains in our sight it was fascinating to watch people flying them. Especially Jack was fascinated. The walk down to Grindelwald was great absorbing the mountain scenery with every step. However we were a bit tired when reaching the main street of the village so we took the first hotel we saw, very nice place with a great atmosphere and terrace. Grindelwald surprised us with the amount of tourists there were. We even run into a Finnish couple in the local chocolate shop.
DAY 10, 20th of July
*Grindelwald – Kleine Scheidegg (2061m) – Lauterbrunnen
*Walking time 08:30 – 16:00
*Height gain: ~1118m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Steubboch, double room with breakfast 50CHF/person
The morning showed itself sunny and warm, a perfect day for a perfect walk. If yesterday was unforgettable, this day would be even more. Unfortunately it means you wouldn’t be alone on the trail, no feeling of any remote wilderness.
The path up goes on the shoulder of the Eiger and that is a one fine mountain to admire! On the pass the view gets even better with Mönch and Jungfrau in your view. By the way, there is a busy railway station up there, connecting Grindelwald, Wengen and Jungfraujoch so the pass is full of people. We found a quieter place for the lunch break by climbing a bit higher to the grassy saddle and it took nearly one hour when we were able to move again and leave the pass behind. Such a wonderful place it was.
Coming down the first part was interesting, walking along with cows and group of Chinese tourists. The Final descend from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen valley was steep but nothing we hadn’t faced so far. In Lauterbrunnen everything was full, at least the lower priced hostels. The local tourist information helped us to find one hotel, which was not “too” expensive or fully booked.
Ten days of constant walking behind and we were feeling good. The blisters had healed and no big problems. Still we began to think that the rest day would do some good. But we didn’t want to linger now at this point when we had the two highest passes coming, Sefinenfurke and Hohturli, since the weather looked good only for the next two days and those passes should be avoided in bad weather.
DAY 11, 21th of July
*Lauterbrunnen – Sefinenfurke (2612m) – Griesalp
*Walking time 08:30 – 16:15
*Height gain: ~1100m
*Overnight stay in Berggasthaus Golderli, dorm with half-pension 58CHF/person
We eased today’s demanding walk by taking first the cable car to Murren thus saving few hours in walking time. Another good choice since the Rotstock Hut close to the pass was fully booked and we then walked all the way to Griesalp.
The scenery was still spectacular though now having a bit more remote feeling in it, if we’ll forget the famous Schilthorn next to our path and the James Bond restaurant up there. The Ascend was steep and the pass was very narrow rocky ridge. I felt a bit unease there so our lunch break took place after coming down the steepest part. Like said in the guidebook, extra caution here was necessary. When on those timber steps leading down we saw near few mountain goats and their huge horns, the only ones during the whole APR.
Griesalp and the gasthaus were both pleasant. The Atmosphere was very serene and we met nice people with interesting stories like one older British lady who became a good friend of ours and who shared the next day’s walk with us.
DAY 12, 22th of July
*Griesalp – Hohturli (2778m) – Kandersteg
*Walking time 07:50 – 15:45
*Height gain: 1370m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Rendezvous, dorm with breakfast 38CHF/person
The moment of truth, the highest point of the whole route, was waiting. The weather for the morning didn’t look too bad, overcast with light showers but no real reason not to do it.
There’s no nonsense with this pass since the ascend starts right away from the Griesalp becoming soon very steep leading eventually in somewhat four hours to the top, demanding but rewarding, and more wild and untamed than anything seen so far.
On the way down it started to rain a bit more making the trail very slippery. Still it was a great walk on a balcony admiring huge ice massif on the other side of the canyon.
We were weary when finally reaching Kandersteg, and after finding a nice place to stay we thought now would be the perfect time to have the first rest day of the journey.
DAY 13, 23th of July
*Overnight stay in Hotel Rendezvous, dorm without breakfast 25CHF/person
What a weird but nice feeling to wake up in no hurry and not needing to get ready for walking. So the day went resting and keeping from the thunderstorm that broke out in the afternoon. Kandersteg was a nice village having an International Scout Centre there, so the streets were full of scouts of all age.
In the evening we met an older Irish man in our dorm, really nice and inspiring hiker who showed us the meaning of ultra-light backpacking. For example my light micro-towel, which I was so proud of, was nothing when he took out his own towel, half the size of mine, similar to those you use in the kitchen!
DAY 14, 24th of July
*Kandersteg – Bunderchrinde (2385m) – Adelboden
*Walking time 07:45 – 14:30
*Height gain: 1209m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Schönegg, double room with breakfast 30CHF/person
Back again to the road and to climb the last “real” pass on the route. Beautiful day and very pleasant walk altogether, and not crowded. It was steep time to times but nothing unusual.
Here on this days walk I was feeling for the first time the end of our journey drawing near. The view from Bunderchrinde pass was different and you could notice the mountains were changing.
When arriving to Adelboden the hotel was a bit of a shock, but anyway cheap with a double room. It looked like from a horror movie, old, stinky gloomy atmosphere. We were the only guests, I think for a long time. There were no hot water from the shower and one door on the hallway was closed with a police tape. Suspicious?
DAY 15, 25th of July
*Adelboden – Hahnenmoospass (1956m) – Lenk
*Walking time 09:30 – 14:30
*Height gain: 696m
*Overnight stay in Ferienwohnung Gässli, double room without breakfast 36CHF/person
It was not very motivating walk at all, short and unchallenging without any spectacular views. Maybe the feeling of the end and going soon home had something to do with the lack of inspiration? Anyway on the way down we met a French couple who were doing the Via Alpina as well though only until Lenk. They had started from Sargans and walked a day behind us reaching us when we kept the rest day in Kandersteg.
Lenk was idyllic, and we were lucky to find very nice accommodation for the night by talking some friendly people along the way.
DAY 16, 26th of July
*Lenk – Truttlisberg Pass (2038m) – Krinnen Pass (1659m) – Gsteig
*Walking time 08:00 – 16:00
*Height gain: 1388m
*Overnight stay in some guesthouse, dorm without breakfast 27CHF/person
Interesting day including two different passes, so something to look forward. The muscles in my legs were in wonder when in the afternoon we had to start climbing again from Lauenen to the second pass. When arriving to Gsteig very tired we faced what we were afraid of – in this French-speaking village, close to the elitist Gstaad, there were only three very expensive hotels. We sat down next to the main street trying to figure out what to do, when again the locals came into our rescue and showed us a really nice private dorm upstairs of a local fire station.
DAY 17, 27th of July
*Gsteig – Blattipass (1900m) – Col des Anderets (2034m) – Col des Mosses – La Lecherette
*Walking time 08:00 – 18:00
*Height gain: 1050m
*Overnight stay in hotel La Lecherette, double room with breakfast 50CHF/person
Again there were two different passes on days walk. The Weather was perfect for this beautiful hiking route, and to make the last glance to the range of beautiful mountains far behind. Only drawback was my allergic nose, which started to react to all the flowering flowers everywhere.
Eventually the day became long and strenuous, and when finally reaching Col des Mosses we faced the same problem with hotels. With the help of tourist info we were able to book the cheapest hotel in this area, but to reach La Lecherette we had to face another half an hour of road walking.
DAY 18, 28th of July
*La Lecherette – Col de Chaude (1621m) – Montreaux
*Walking time 09:00 – 17:30
*Height gain: 520m
*Overnight stay in Hotel Bon Port, double room without breakfast 75CHF/person
The Feelings were great in every way when we woke up for this final day of our expedition. We were blessed with a good weather on these last days and the warm sunny weather stayed until we left Switzerland behind.
For reaching the pass we had to see some serious effort but when we finally saw it there we almost ran the last meters celebrating in joy, shouting and singing. It’s done. The Lake Geneva was waiting us down there like an oasis in the middle of the hottest desert.
The Descend to Montreaux was unforgettable. And tiring since it was not easy to find the best place to reach the city centre or the hostel we were looking for. Montreaux was beautiful and interesting but too expensive for us. It looked like a playground of rich families from all over the world.
DAYS 19-22, 29th of July to 1st of August
*Montreaux – Vevey – Lausanne – Helsinki
We finished our hike in good time, having mostly good weather and keeping only one rest day along the way, so finally we had three full days to rest on the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva before our return flight to Finland. However we left Montreaux behind as soon as possible and moved to Vevey, a copy of Montreaux but not so full of rich tourists. After two nights in Vevey and one in Lausanne in cheap but nice hostels it was time to fly back home.
To put it short, quoting Kev Reynolds: “We were lucky to be there, and we knew it!”
I think that’ll tell everything!