The Great Hike – in 30 days across Switzerland

The project

The Alpine Culture Trail has a total length of 650km and is crossing Switzerland from Lake Geneva (St. Gingolphe) to Muestair, the Easternmost village of the country. Along its path it crosses 10 different Cantons (VS, VD, FR, BE, LU, OW, NW, UR, TI, GR) and all four language regions. Hence the goal is not to go across the country as quickly as possible but rather to learn something about the culture of the different regions along the way. Also, while 650km of walking is quite significant I found the altitude changes much more significant. During the 30 days the altitude gain was roughly 27,000m or in other words 3x Mt Everest and back! Why did I do all of this? After so many years of living in (foreign) big cities it was time to spend some more time outside and to learn more about my own country. Moreover I liked the physical challenge…

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My path across Switzerland

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The beginnings in St Gingolphe VS

 

Preparation

Almost none… I had done a lot of hiking earlier this year in Patagonia and Peru. That definitely brought me in shape and also taught me the importance of having the right gear. The weather changes in Patagonia are notorious and are well designed to check how weather proof your gear (and your personality) is. Back in Switzerland I did a couple of hikes to keep in shape but nothing too serious. Also I replaced, repaired and upgraded some items. Most importantly my hiking boots got new soles and I also bought a somewhat smaller backpack (that still ended up weighing 8kg…). Finally I bought kind of a travel guide for the Alpine Culture Trail but did not read it before I set out… Also did not bother bringing any maps – Swiss trails are marked very well (got lost only once or twice at my own fault).

 

Accomodation

I did not make any bookings in advance so as to keep the flexibility. I figured as a one man team I would always be able to find something and luckily it worked out. In most places the choice was very limited anyway and so I mostly stayed in lower end hotels but also some B&Bs, hostels and mountain huts. Because of the inexpensive nature of accommodation I did not expect too much in terms of service. Nevertheless the range was surprisingly wide (primarily measured in quality of the breakfast) and you could definitely tell who is wholeheartedly in business and who is not… And the highlight was of course when I got to stay at Melanie and Erwin’s where I got a great BBQ, comfy bed and probably the most comprehensive breakfast. Thanks again guys!

 

Food

As indicated above, breakfast was mostly included in accommodation but unfortunately the quality was skewed to the downside. The standard was pretty much just tea, bread, butter and jam. So whenever someone offered muesli, fruit or cold cuts it felt like Christmas. During the day I always had plenty of snacks and liquids with me while trying to minimize the weight on my shoulders…At times I felt like a cow because I was eating and drinking so much but it was necessary.  The body was asking for it and indicated quite well when it was time to refuel (in that sense the human body is a miracle). After a couple of days I also noticed that water was not enough anymore and partially had to switch to isotonic drinks (Gatorade etc). The prospect of having a nice dinner at night was one of the things that kept me going every day. So I was dining in restaurants every night and I quickly learnt the importance of eating right (carbs!). As with the hotels, the restaurant choice was also limited and I was quite happy to cross San Gottardo and eat some great pasta in the Italian part of Switzerland (thankfully Graubuenden also had great food, so I was almost spoilt in the second half of the trip…). A word of caution though – in Switzerland there is a serious risk of starvation on Mondays because everything seemed to be closed…

 

Weather

Some are claiming that we have had a mild winter rather than anything of a summer. Guess the truth is that weather has been quite unstable this summer. Particularly the first half of my trip was quite wet and cloudy. Temperatures were great for walking though. Fortunately I was lucky and avoided the worst rainshowers/thunderstorms with good timing or when I was caught in the rain it was typically during easy stages in the valleys. It could have been different. Some SAC mountain huts got up to 40cm of snow on July 18… The good thing about the bad patch of weather was that I really enjoyed the (many) sunny days in the second half of the trip. There is nothing better than a beautiful day in the mountains with spectacular vistas…

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Swiss summer has been pretty wet

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Sometimes the hiking paths turned into little rivers…

 

The walking

The Alpine Culture Trail is divided in 30 different stages. It is a good mixture of different distances, terrains, difficulties and its easy to lengthen or shorten the various stages. And just to clarify, I purely relied on my feet for 30 days – no train, no chairlift, no bus – just walking… On an average day I was walking for roughly 6-7 hours with a distance of 20-25km and altitude changes of 1500-1800m. That was quite manageable particularly after I had found my rhythm (probably around day 5). On the extreme end, the toughest days saw me walking for 10 hours, up to 44km and altitude changes of 3000m. Luckily those days were few and I can assure you that I always slept very well at night. But even after the toughest days when I arrived at my destination exhausted I was amazed about the body’s ability to recover over night. Some stretching, a good dinner and 10 hours of sleep can do wonders. What also makes a big difference is the surface. I definitely preferred to walk on natural mountain trails than paved roads. The latter make your feet burn badly after a couple of hours. In that respect days 3 and 10 were probably the worst since I seriously thought my feet were on fire when I arrived in Saanen and Altdorf respectively. On those days I tried to find a cold mountain river to reanimate my feet. From a technical point of view the trail was not difficult. Thankfully so given the long walks and the weight on my back… I also have to say that I was amazed about how far you can get with just a couple of days of walking. On any given day the day seemed long with little progress but when you put a couple of days together it makes a difference quickly. It’s actually great to go at a slower pace for once. It gives you more time to observe your environment and makes you realize how much we typically rush through life. The other advantage of walking is that it takes you to many places that are otherwise not accessible. It was impressive to walk on many paths that were historically important trading routes but have been rendered unimportant by the construction of (rail)roads. I guess times do change…


Health

It was amazing… No blister, no scratch, no twisted ankle, no headache, no nothing…! The only problem occurred a few hours after I arrived at the final destination. I came down with a stomache flu just when I was getting ready for the 30 days of partying…

 

Support

While I was walking alone on most of the days, there were some friends who joined me for a hike during the last 10 days or so. A big thanks to Andrea, Melanie, Nicolas, Paulo, Dominique and particularly Aggi who joined me for 2 days and Christine who I got to see twice during the 30 days! Everyone else did a great job on inquiring about blisters, fitness level and weather via phone and text messages or at least thinking about me every now and then… A big thank you also goes to all the interesting people I met on the road and who shared the enthusiasm for my project.

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Reanimating my feet with Christine at Kneipp’s in Fluehli LU

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Nicolas, Paulo and Dominique hiking with me in Engadin GR

 

Highlights

 

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Chateau Chillon, Montreux VD

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Pays d’Enhaut VD

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Storeggpass NW, looking towards Engelberg. Wow!

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Surenenpass UR

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Old mule track at San Gottardo TI

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Romanesque church in Leontica TI

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I kept being amazed about the clean mountain rivers (Brenno TI)

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View from Capanna Motterascio TI

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Hochebene Greina GR

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Rheinschlucht also known as Swiss Grand Canyon

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View from Val Minger GR, Swiss National Park

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Convent of St John, Muestair GR (Unesco World Heritage)

 

There are so many more things I have to tell about this trip but rather than bore you with my blog I am looking forward to giving you the full story personally.

Cheers

Adrian

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4 Responses to “The Great Hike – in 30 days across Switzerland”

  1. David Gilbert Says:

    Hey, enjoyed hearing about your trek. I’m currently in Mürren, first time in Switzerland. This place doesn’t seem real. It’s amazing! And it makes me want to go on a long cross country hike. However, I cannot manage 30 days off. So, I was curious… What would be the ideal 10 day segment that you’d recommend?

    David

    • ammli Says:

      Hi David,
      Hope you are having fun in Switzerland and great to hear some people are still using my blog as a source of inspiration. Below I have copied the link to the trail I followed. Unfortunately it’s all in German but I am sure with some help you can find the places on the map. If you have limited time, I highly recommend the stages 12 to 13b and also 21 to 23 which brings you to a part of Switzerland which is spectacularly beautiful but almost untouched by tourism. Finally, stages 25a all the way to the end are also beautiful. I should point out that all of these stages go into the mountains which was my favorite part.

      Some of the logistics may not be that easy as a non-German speaker but as they say – no risk, no fun and I think there is plenty of upside for you in this.

      Have fun and keep me posted how it goes

      http://www.wandersite.ch/KulturwegEtappen.html

  2. Simon Says:

    Salü Adrian, habe deinen Blog mit grösstem Enthusiasmus durchgelesen und bin auch sofort auf die Google Website und habe nach dem ‘Alpine Culture Trail’ ausschau gehalten, leider konnte ich die Route aber nicht finden. Könntest du mir einen Tipp geben wo ich eine Karte oder sowas ähnliches finde?

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