Hiking the Swiss Alps

If you have never had the pleasure of visiting the Swiss Alps, you have truly missed an experience of a lifetime!  Whenever I mention that I hiked the Swiss Alps, I'm often asked what precipitated such an excursion. Well here is the story of how I got to hike the Swiss Alps.

I was brought up in New York and often hiked and camped in the Catskill and Adirondack mountains. While I was dating my wife Denise, who is from Switzerland, I once tried to impress her by showing her the Adirondack High Peaks area. Being the largest mountains I had ever seen personally, I knew she would be more than impressed.

After driving down through Keene, I asked what she thought. Although she felt the area was beautiful, she lacked the excitement I thought she would exhibit. When I asked why she was not in awe of the height of the peaks, she asked, "Have you ever seen the Swiss Alps?" I indicated that I had not, but that we had the Rocky Mountains here in the America, and it was my understanding they were rather formidable. She explained, that although she had been to the Rockies, and they were also beautiful, they lacked the intimacy of the views provided by the Swiss Alp. She explained, that the Rockies started at about 1 mile above sea level, whereby you are already over 5,000 feet. With the largest peak being Mount Elbert, at 14,440 feet, you are only seeing about 9,000 feet of mountain face. The Alps start almost at sea level, so when you look at summits, you get the full effect of their height. She indicated that although the Matterhorn is 14,691 feet, there are over one hundred summits higher than 13,123 feet. Needless to say, I was sold.

The following year, I was on a plane to meet my future wife in Switzerland. After visiting her parents for the day, we headed out for a small town called Grindelwald. After driving extensive switchbacks, first going up and then back down, and traveling through extensive tunnel systems, we finally arrived after dark at the small town of Grindelwald. We headed to a small Swiss chalet which Denise had rented for a week. It had wonderful overhanging eves and an enchanting little balcony on which to view the surrounding countryside. I was excited, but only morning would satisfy my desire to see the Swiss Alps. I wondered how far we would have to travel to get a glimpse of these famous mountains, what made them so special, and were they really that big? 

I woke up early, as I normally do, made a cup of coffee, and wandered out onto the balcony. I was immediately awe struck! My mind could not comprehend what was before my eyes. I yelled to Denise who strode out onto the balcony with a smile that concealed her inner feeling of delight in my reaction to the stunning splendor before me.

Immediately in front of me was the enormous surface of a mountain face that was so imposing I almost fell over backwards looking up at it. Seeing the quizzical look on my face, Denise simply retorted, "Oh, that is the North Face of Eiger". I said, "like the one in the movie "The Eiger Sanction" with Clint Eastwood?" She simply stated, "That would be the one".

As I looked around, I realized that Grindelwald was a small town that was situated as if it were in the bottom of a small cup. The sides of the cup surrounded the bottom as the Swiss Alps surrounded us. Denise started pointing, indicating that is Lauteraarhorn, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Männlichen, Rothorn, Grossenegg, Schwarzhorn, etc. There were many more, but I got the idea.

Looking at the surrounding mountains from our balcony.

The colossal magnificence of the Swiss Alps is more than breathtaking. The height of the snow covered peaks are an imposing beauty that is difficult to comprehend visually as a reality. Mere photographs can never convey or reveal the magnitude or immensity of their size. A human can only feel insignificant in the presence of their splendor.

The first day we would be hiking a trail around Tschuggen, from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg.

A view of Tschuggen from Grindelwald.

This is a zoomed in shot of the trail around Tschuggen which is a horizontal line at the center of the photo.

Cable Cars that take you up to Männlichen.

Looking down at Grindelwald from Männlichen.

View from inside eatery on Männlichen.    

Further view from inside eatery on Männlichen.
Further views continuing around the windows at the eatery on Männlichen.

A view showing the North Face of Eiger behind building.

We get a good view of the North Face of Eiger before hitting the trail.

Photo before hiking Tschuggen. North Face of Eiger to left and Moench at right rear.

We then headed for a hiking trail that wound around the edge of Tschuggen, from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. From snow covered trails to open Alpine areas with delicate and exquisite flowers reaching toward the sun. Some areas of the trail had been covered by mini avalanches, but my guide, Denise, said not to worry. She had negotiated these type of trails many times before. The trail continued winding first up and then down, until we arrived at Kleine Scheidegg which was at 6,760 feet. It had been a long hike and I was able to rehydrate by partaking in a wonderful ale at an outdoor beer garden, know as a Biergarten.

Denise Leading the way on the hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg.

Denise gets a photo of me leading for awhile on Tschuggen.

Rounding a corner, I saw the trail ahead that we would be on after turning right and taking a switchback left.

Trail can be seen at lower right as we get closer to snow covered trail at left. The North Face of Eiger can seen
at the top left of the photo.

Later in the day, as we got towards the end of the trail, we were much lower and we began to find various types of flowers. We had to take the opportunity to get some photos.

Denise gets some close-up photos of the flower Gentian.

Here are some of the flowers we encountered.

Here are some more flowers we encountered.

Rehydrating at the Biergarten on Kleine Scheidegg before taking the rail car back down to Grindelwald.

The next day we took a cable car in the opposite direction as the previous day and arrived at First, and took a trail up to Lake Bachalpsee, which is hidden behind Mount Röthorn, at 7,429 feet. It was a steep hike, and colder than the previous day. Looking at the trail map, we decided to hike down and vertical, across to Grosse Scheidegg, which took the rest of the day. A ride on a small bus down an extremely narrow switchback road was as memorable as the hike up.

We stopped at Bachlager to get a shot of me with Eiger and Mönch in the background.

A view of the glacier melting from Schreckhorn at my right, across the valley.

Another view from Bachlager.
Up at Lake Bachalpsee which was frozen.

Stopped to take a photo with the timer hiking down from Lake Bachalpsee.

Looking back at the trail we hiked down from Lake Bachalpsee.

 A view of the surrounding mountains while hiking back to our Swiss chalet from the bus stop.

A well deserved dinner in Grindelwald after a very long day.

Each day went this was. A new trail from a new angle allowed us to view the surrounding expanse of peaks from various perspectives. The sights I saw are indelibly etched in my mind. Many days I have closed my eyes and recall the splendor of the magnificent spectacle I will always know as the Swiss Alps. If you have never been there, it is a trip worthy of the time and expense.    

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Copyright © 2008 by John D. McCann

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