Aletsch- and Fiescher glaciers – The two longest glaciers of Switzerland, measuring 23 and 14 kilometers respectively. At least at the time of writing, as they have been shrinking at an ever increasing pace due to global warming. Not only is this visible from this panoramic trail, it’s also readily apparent by the fact that the trail itself used to cross the Aletsch glacier, which is now no longer possible as it has receded too much and is not stable enough anymore.
Good reasons not only to go see these miracles of nature while they’re still around, but also to do what we can to limit our impact on climate change. (Yes, that means giving up some creature comforts and (culinary) pleasures we’re used to and making conscious, informed, and ethical purchase decisions as well as political vote casts. Thoughts and prayers aren’t going to cut it. Neither is blaming the corporations we keep buying stuff from.) /rant
The original Aletsch Panoramaweg trail takes the so inclined hiker along the Aletsch- and Fiescher glaciers in three short stages, sleeping at the Riederalp- and Märjelensee huts.
My version goes the other direction, combines two of the stages, adds Eggishorn peak to the originally third stage, and uses a tent instead of a hut, but that is optional, as the two stages are still separated by the Märjelen hut.
- Getting back to the car using public transport will take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours measured from the cable car’s once-an-hour departure time depending on the time of day. A taxi will take 30 minutes, but cost CHF 100.
- You may want to forgo the car entirely, but then you have to check your last possible connection home without sleeping at a train station, which will probably be much earlier than the last cable car down (also depends on the day of the week.)
This would be my first multi day tour, honestly in lieu of the longer Nationalparkweg trail I wanted to do this summer, but which is likely to be delayed to next year due to unstable weather.
It will also be my second time using my new big trekking backpack, this time weighing in at 17kg (without the camera), having brought it down from 18 kg during the first trial run by restricting myself to what I perceive(d) as absolute necessities and limiting my water supply to three Liters, replacing one of the big bottles with a water filter (also new).
Oh, and also my first time ever sleeping in a tent. How exciting.
Our tour starts at quaint Bellwald Village, a short cable car ride up from Fieschertal. You could park up here, but then you’d have even more of a logistical nightmare to deal with to get back to your car at the end of the hike.
To start us off easy, there’s a short hill to cross to get to the Aspen-Titter suspension bridge.
I am not usually a fan of these types of bridges, but this one was sturdy enough and had a high enough railing to make me somewhat comfortable with being on it.
The continuously steep ascent to the Märjelen lakes reminds one of what one imagines Canada or Alaska to look like.
Backpack off for the first break of the day, and time for a quick review: As would later be proven by intensification during the hike and an enlightening phone call with Deuter support, the Futura AirTrek model just isn’t good for me.
On the one hand, the metal wires that keep the pack off your back – allowing for that nice ventilation – have the unpleasant side effect of poking me in the back where they bend. For another, the weight is carried so far away from the center of gravity that it feels much heavier than necessary. I will be replacing it with another model, unfortunately (it will be reused.)
Alrighty, break over. Backpack back on. Ouch.
The Märjelen lake plateau was soon reached, marking the end of one of the official stages of the tour. I mean, I’ve been on my legs for about four hours now. What am I gonna do the rest of the day while waiting to be tired enough to sleep? Okay, different folks, different strokes. For my part, I’m gonna go up that mountain to the left before pitching my tent.
But first, another short break and time for a review: The Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter. It’s shit. I mean, it does its job and filters the water at the indicated rate, and I’m sure it’s clear of contaminants after (apart from plastic leaching from the case) it’s just that the resulting filtered water unfortunately has a very sharp, slightly bitter, unmistakable plastic taste. That is after pumping ten times as much clean water as indicated in the manual as a first setup.
I thought about getting the all steel and ceramic “Pocket” filter instead because I was worried about precisely this, but only until I found out that you still need a secondary charcoal filter attachment for that one to not only filter bacteria and viruses but pesticides and other chemicals as well. Guess what the housing of the charcoal attachment is made of? That’s right.
A completely superfluous product, the Pocket.
Maybe I’m too harsh and this is common to all portable water filters. Maybe that means they all have to do better.
Break over. Luckily I still have almost a liter of clean water from home.
The way up to Eggishorn peak was as steep as the prior ascent to the lakes, trading in grass and sand for shale rock. The wind was picking up speed, and I was glad to have my jacket with me. Nothing to bitch about there. I love my jacket.
The view from the top was as rewarding as one could have hoped, offering up the Aletsch glacier from far above, as well as the surrounding alps in all directions.
Having come down the mountain and bribed the hut keeper by buying an orange juice so he’d let me eat the dinner I brought with me at his table and refill my water, discarding the nasty filtered product, it was time to pitch a tent for the first time ever.
Lo and behold, it’s so much easier than sitcoms and cartoons would have you believe. At least with the tent I bought. The two folded rods just snap together to full length like magic, then all that’s left to do is to insert them and place all the pegs. Voilà, a tent:
Though being happy with the soft and even spot I chose behind a big protective rock, that night was rough. It wasn’t the tent’s fault. The mattress was good too. I should just have brought warmer pants and additional, even warmer socks, since the comfort rating on the sleeping bag turned out to be a bit… optimistic.
At 2 AM, I planned to step out to take pictures of the night sky, but was a bit disappointed. I could see more stars at home. So back to the cold tent it was.
One freezing night of roughly one or two hours of sleep later, the alarm rang at 5 AM, and I stepped outside to have breakfast and break down the tent to get moving around 7. See, I had originally planned to also include Sparrhorn in the second stage, making it 11.5 net hours and perfect training for the last stage of the Nationalpark trail I still planned to do.
Well, I then quickly stepped back inside the tent and waited for the sun to reach the ground around 7, seeing as I nearly froze my fingers and toes off at 5.
Oh well, still better than sharing a room and bathroom with 17 complete strangers, 50cm apart for 70 Franks, including a non-optional dinner and breakfast I wasn’t going to eat (because no vegan option. I guess it’s hard to bring beans up here and then not add bacon to them.)
Making off at 9 AM, I first visited the vista point “Platta” to get a closer look at the glacier. I was delayed by heavy traffic.
Having gotten that closer look, I made my way to Riederfurka, keeping to my one break every two hours guideline to get enough calories without overeating and becoming sluggish.
This portion of the hike, while beautiful, was very different from the first stage in that it was teeming with humans in Jack Wolfskin lawnmowing boots, mostly speaking Dutch. It may have something to do with the four? five? cable cars along this ridge.
Still, what gorgeous views! One just has to be careful not to lose the right path while admiring them, as there are dozens of intermingling paths and sooner than you think, you’ll find yourself still on the ridge with the right trail down below you in the nice forest overlooking the Aletsch valley.
Having once more used the orange juice bribe technique successfully, this time at the Riederfurka restaurant, I set off for the most furstrating part of the hike. All the way down to the suspension bridge, just to regain all those altitude meters directly after.
It was also here that I hit a wall. Out of energy. Slowed down considerably, I gave up any notion of still doing Sparrhorn today and instead concentrated on moving one foot in front of the other until I reached the cable car.
This second suspension bridge was the kind I hated. Seethrough floors, railing not quite high enough to feel safe, a bit wobbly, and in high wind. Yes, I know I’m a little girl.
Curiously, I regained my energy as soon as downhill turned into uphill, and in a bout of optimism I tried to get to the cable car about 50 minutes faster than the signs indicated, so that I may catch the 18:20 departure, resulting in me getting home an hour earlier.
Well, I was 40 minutes faster than indicated, but a close miss is still a miss. Now I would have time for dinner with a view instead of at the car, which is nice too, I guess.
So, how was the hike? Great! I’d do it again, just with slightly different equipment next time. It was a good test run for multi day hikes in any case and I’m glad to have seen these glaciers.
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
Don’t miss a hike 🙂
|Date of Hike:||2022-07-30 – 2022-07-31|
|Net Hours (Est.)||15.5|
|Net Hours (Act.)||14.5|
|Pack Weight||17.5 kg|
|Max. Alt. (m)||2926|
|Net Hours (Est.)||11.1|
|Max. Alt. (m)||2370|