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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Swiss Alps walking holiday: Tacking the 137-mile trail from the Eiger to the Matterhorn


We’re 8,000ft up in the Swiss Alps between the villages of Murren and Griesalp, and the weather has taken a turn for the worse. Clouds have rolled in and lightning illuminates the sky, with peals of thunder echoing across the peaks.

Half an hour earlier, the sun was shining as we weaved upwards on the trail from Murren to the Sefinenfurgge Pass. Basking in the heat, we had passed vivid fields of flowers — violets, forget-me-nots, alpenrose and camomile.

That was then. Now, we have unfurled our orange ’emergency storm shelter’ and are huddled in a hollow amid the clatter of hail, waiting for the storm to pass.

Space to breathe: The Eiger towers above a Swiss valley. Its notorious north face was conquered in 1938 by a German/Austrian expedition, which reached the 13,015ft summit

Space to breathe: The Eiger towers above a Swiss valley. Its notorious north face was conquered in 1938 by a German/Austrian expedition, which reached the 13,015ft summit

Be prepared for some hairy moments on a long summer walk in the Swiss mountains. But be prepared also for some of the most marvellous hikes on the planet, across hallowed Alpine terrain that has attracted many a legendary climber.

Switzerland was judged (using World Health Organisation and other data) to be the world’s safest country during the pandemic, thanks to its public health measures. What better place to go for a long walk? 

My girlfriend and I are perhaps not in the ‘legendary climbers’ category, but we are willing to give it a go, following trails that cover 137 miles from the Eiger in the Bernese Oberland to the Matterhorn in the canton of Valais. 

Our journey lasts 13 days, beginning in Meiringen and continuing via Grindelwald to Murren, Salgesch and Zermatt, our final stop. We’re not slumming it. Bags are being delivered between hotels on all but two nights, when we will take overnight packs.

The 13-day trek starts in Meiringen, pictured. During the walk, Tom's bags were delivered between hotels on all but two nights

The 13-day trek starts in Meiringen, pictured. During the walk, Tom’s bags were delivered between hotels on all but two nights

The stunning village of Grindelwald, one of Tom's first stops on his 137-mile trek across the Swiss Alps

The stunning village of Grindelwald, one of Tom’s first stops on his 137-mile trek across the Swiss Alps 

Meiringen is the perfect spot to find your ‘mountain legs’, starting at the quirky statue of Sherlock Holmes in the town centre. The nearby Reichenbach Falls are where Holmes and arch rival Moriarty came to blows.

The ten-mile hike from Meiringen to Grindelwald is our first taste of walking a lot of up … and a lot of down. We repeat this several times over the day, while carrying a backpack with a picnic, water bottles and a flask of tea, as well as the emergency shelter, foil blankets, whistle, compass and map.

Yet the scenery is more than compensation as our legs toughen. What brilliant views as we weave our way between snow-clad peaks. They are worth every aching muscle.

Tom says that the toughest part of the walk is from Griesalp to Kandersteg, pictured. He said this section of the walk left him 'exhausted'

Tom says that the toughest part of the walk is from Griesalp to Kandersteg, pictured. He said this section of the walk left him ‘exhausted’

Peaceful Leukerbad, where Tom had an overnight stay on his trip. Over the course of the whole walk, he took 354,611 steps

Peaceful Leukerbad, where Tom had an overnight stay on his trip. Over the course of the whole walk, he took 354,611 steps

From Grindelwald you can see the Eiger (the Ogre), with the peaks of Jungfrau (the Maiden) and Monch (the Monk). Up the Eiger rises, a wall of eerie black rock — the notorious north face seemingly impossible to conquer. Yet conquered it was in 1938 by a German/­Austrian expedition, which reached the 13,015ft summit.

From here things get serious along the Eiger Trail. This path twists upwards and we are soon at the Eigergletscher railway station; perfect for a sustaining cup of tea or something stronger in the bar.

The train from Eigergletscher continues to underground Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station. Part of the Jungfrau railway, which opened in 1912, it is an extraordinary feat of engineering involving a tunnel deep within the mountains — and a superb ride.

Wengen is our next overnight stop — the air is so clear here that pandemics feel a long way away indeed. Days slip by. Further on, Griesalp to Kandersteg is the toughest part of the entire walk: we reach the 9,114ft Hohturli Pass exhausted.

The town of Zermatt is a popular ski resort in the winter and is overlooked by the Matterhorn

The town of Zermatt is a popular ski resort in the winter and is overlooked by the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn, pictured, was first conquered by Englishman Edward Whymper and Frenchman Michel Croz in 1865

The Matterhorn, pictured, was first conquered by Englishman Edward Whymper and Frenchman Michel Croz in 1865 

Luckily, there’s a mountain hut here run by the Swiss Alpine Club, with blankets and hot chicken soup: the best lunch of the trip.

We overnight in peaceful Kandersteg, then Leukerbad, then Salgesch. The long, hot trail is coming to an end — and our legs are ready for the highest pass of the trip: the Augstbordpass (9,495ft). Easy peasy by then.

And there it is. As we reach Zermatt, up rises the mighty Matterhorn, first conquered by Englishman Edward Whymper and Frenchman Michel Croz in 1865.

What an adventure. What a lot of walking (354,611 steps to be precise, if my fitness device is correct). Our epic journey in Switzerland is complete.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk, 01653 617000) offers 14-night, self-guided trips from £2,295 pp half-board, with maps and notes, luggage transfers, three picnics, hotels and return rail tickets from Zurich or Geneva airports; flights are extra. Visit myswitzerland.com. 

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