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Report 1021: Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route

By Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005

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Page 2 of 19: The Alpine Pass Route

photo by Kathy Wood

Descending from Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald

The Alpine Pass route is actually a complete trek across Switzerland, east to west, from the border with Liechtenstein to Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. The entire walk covers 202 miles and crosses 16 mountain passes. The route doesn't have an official status, so there aren't any signs along the way that say "Alpine Pass". Most days there are alternative routes, and there's usually the option to take a mountain railway, cable car or bus in the event of bad weather or simply to shave some miles off a particularly difficult day.

Our walk, as designed by Sherpa, was the central portion of the route: about 100 miles and eight mountain passes through absolutely beautiful countryside, primarily in a region of Switzerland called the Berner Oberland. This part of the route includes many of the best-known villages of the Swiss Alps: Engelberg, Meiringen, Grindelwald, Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Murren and Kandersteg. It passes by famous mountains like the Jungfrau and the Eiger. The scenery was supposed to be spectacular, and although we would walk in mid summer, there was even the possibility of snow at the higher elevations. (Sherpa actually only offers this walk July through September due to snow conditions on the mountains.) The standard Sherpa route included nine days of walking and three "rest" days, though it was recommended that one of the rest days be used to complete part of the next day's very strenuous route.

A typical day on the Alpine Pass walk involved fairly short distances compared to our other walks; 10-11 miles was the norm. But we faced very brutal elevation gains and losses each day, usually about 3,000 feet of altitude gain. A typical day began in a beautiful Alpine village, took us up a very steep mountain, normally with a mountain inn where we could have lunch, then over the pass and down the other side to a beautiful valley and our accommodation for the night.

Although we had gained in confidence with our long walk across England, we were initially unsure about our ability to do the Alpine Pass Walk. Kelly had just turned 12. At ages 60 (Charley) and 49 (me), Charley and I were in better shape than we'd been for years, but we definitely weren't athletes. And I've always had a difficult time on ascents, needing to stop frequently to catch my breath. We consulted with some fellow hikers from our England walk and also exchanged e-mails with one of the senior people at Sherpa. We finally decided to go ahead and book the trip. We liked the idea of a very challenging walk in a mountainous and scenic environment as the last experience on our 14-month trip to Europe.

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