‘Les Cols du Grand St. Bernard’ – “The Passes of Great St. Bernard” is a border-crossing, circular hiking route in the southwestern Swiss (and Italian) Alps.
Having always been an important point of transit between Italy and Switzerland, the region features several historic (pedestrian) passes, three of which are part of this route.
From the lacs de fenetre (“The window lakes”), hikers get to enjoy views of the Mont Blanc range in the distance across the valley. Not that there’s a shortage of spectacular views along this high alpine trail.
Finally, the hospice at the Lac du Grand Saint Bernard – where the route starts and ends – offers a local history museum and in Summer, guided tours with St. Bernard dogs are available for booking. This is where they were originally bred, after all.
You may have noticed the two maps; We went off route twice during this hike, the second instance of which we were more than a bit confused for longer than we care to admit, due to a sign that was contradicting the map. I’m including our failed route in this report so that you may learn from our mistakes.
- I made them aware of one particularly misleading sign near the Lacs de Fenetre, so that may be corrected by now.
We started this long and partially difficult hike off on the wrong foot, or rather path (once again because we didn’t have an offline map and there was no internet).
After the walk along the lake shore, the actual trail would have started after a small monument/park that was packed with tourists we were trying to avoid. The only signs and trail we saw, though, led up a mountain north of the lake, which was fairly popular too, but unfortunately not our chosen route for the day.
Having found the correct trail, we managed to stay on it until the Lacs de Fenetre, supposedly so named because they offer a kind of window to the terrific panorama of the Mont Blanc range. Lovely trail and views.
Shortly after the lakes, however, we came across a sign post with our route number 210 pointing downhill to the west, while by all that is right, our path should be leading uphill to the east. On the other hand, the map showed three paths where there were really only two.
Jenny and I had a bit of a fight over which was the correct path and I went back and forth more than once because it just didn’t feel right. In the end, we managed to get on the right path, which led in the opposite direction the sign suggested.
I don’t know if someone messed with the sign, but it’s a reasonable explanation. I also wonder how many people we saw on that wrong path actually wanted to go in the direction they were going. It was a valid hiking trail too, after all.
Anyway, after we were back on track, and tempers cooled a bit, we were able to enjoy the magnificent bit of nature we had the privilege to traverse today – if a bit under time pressure now to make it back before sunset.
Side note: The altitude can definitely lower your endurance/performance. it depends on individual physiology, blood composition / nutrition, and training of course.
Racing against the sun a bit, we basked in views of the Swiss and Italian alps during sunset, while stepping quickly but carefully from boulder to boulder through the rubble fields of the penultimate portion of the hike. Thankfully the last bit was a regular gravel trail again and we made it back to the car just in time for nightfall.
All in all, a magnificent area to be hiking in, and a great trail that I would like to attempt a second time without all the involuntary detours.
Would you like to share your own experiences with this hike? Do you have any questions? Something to add? Feel free to leave a comment below 🙂
Route Report / Gallery
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Don’t miss a hike 🙂
|Date of Hike:||2020-08-21|
|Technical Difficulty:||T3+: Difficult Mountain Trail|
Roman’s Failed Version
|Net Hours (Est.)||6.25|
|Net Hours (Act.)||6.75|
|Max. Alt. (m)||2754|
|Net Hours (Est.)||5|
|Max. Alt. (m)||2754|