Trekking the Alpine Pass Route
Harry Cox, March 7, 2011
An appetite for the mountains and a spare three weeks were all I needed to undertake a crossing of the Swiss Alps in July 2010. Two friends and I chose to tackle the ‘Alpine Pass Route,’ a 15-part trail that summits many of Switzerland’s most famous passes. In total the route covers some 350km, crossing from the town of Sargans in the East to Montreux in the West, roughly 20,000m of ascent. Travelling through such terrain on foot provides a unique ability to appreciate a stunning landscape and discover the smaller details of mountain life.
The Alpine Pass Route
The daily pattern of the route is fairly consistent. Each day begins in a settlement on the valley floor with a climb of on average 1,000m to the pass above. This is then followed by a descent into the valley bottom once more. It is this pattern which is one of the major strengths of the trek as it makes it possible to divide it up according to individual preference, both according to time and difficulty. It is also feasible to spread some of the longer stages over 2 days.
Another strength of the route is its diversity. After leaving the town of Sargans, near the Liechtenstein border, the route begins in relatively remote Alpine terrain. The first few days from Sargans provided a real insight into a less developed part of the Swiss Alps. The route meanders through small mountain villages and peaceful valley towns where supplies can always be replenished. Arrival in Engleburg, at the end of stage 5, signals the entrance to the better know Bernese Oberland. The two days spent walking within view of the iconic Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. The final week of the route sees a gradual decline in the scale of the mountains as the physical demands are slightly lessened. The first sighting of Lake Geneva from the top of the final pass provides a fitting conclusion to such a memorable route.
The route is generally very well signposted and we experienced few problems with navigation. In spite of that I would thoroughly recommend Kev Reynolds’s guide to the The Alpine Pass Route, published by Cicerone Press. This book provides detailed descriptions of each stage as well as the facilities that you can expect to find along the route; essential knowledge when it comes to ensuring that supplies are kept well maintained. The timings he gives for a number of the ascents are on the optimistic end of the scale so be sure to gauge your own strengths on the day.
In order to keep costs to a minimum we decided to try to camp as much as possible. Although we spent a number of nights in camp-sites along the route we found that farmers were generally very happy to allow us to bivouac overnight in the corner of a field. For those seeking a little more comfort there are certainly alternative options with many of the valley towns containing hostels or more luxurious B&B or hotel type accommodation.
Getting there responsibly
Montreux and Sargans are both situated on mainline train lines with hourly services running to Geneva and Zurichrespectively. Check out greentraveller.co.uk’s journey plans for getting to Zurich and getting back from Geneva.
Other starting or end points can be chosen from Zurich with direct train access to main towns along the route.
– More detailed topographic maps can be purchased from Stanfords.
– I would recommend the use of walking poles as these help distribute the weight of your pack from your legs which is most welcome on the many long ascents.
– Snow can linger in the passes until the start of July and is can return as early as September.
– Camping and cooking one’s own food means is very manageable along the route.