Over the years, I’ve tried to drag countless friends, colleagues, partners on walks with me, but rarely do they feel the mountains with the same intensity. In the past, friends have seen walking as only a means to an end, a way to get from point A to B, and I’ve been guilty of resorting to the old carrot on the stick approach, getting them to agree with the promise of a pub or some other kind of ‘reward’ at the end of the walk (as if the walk wasn’t the reward in itself!) But as I’ve gotten older and my friends have too, this has changed. More and more of them are going on hiking holidays, asking if I want to go for a walk or even requesting the routes for specific hiking trails. I recently went on a 5 day trek in the Swiss mountain range of Andermatt and I have never had so many requests for the details! It brings me so much delight that I can share the joy I get from mountains with others, so below I have documented my trip with the hope it encourages a few more to invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. That wilderness is necessity.” John Muir
I’m lucky enough to have a sister and brother in law who live in the Swiss Alps, so we were able to drive to Andermatt and leave the car there. This will obviously not be the cheapest way to do it if you are having to rent a car ect. So for any non-locals you would need to get the train to Andermatt, and then walk up to Oberalppass (or alternatively get another train from Andermatt to Oberalpass to start the trek. I’m not going to give you a step-by-step break down of the route as quite frankly I was enjoying the views too much and wasn’t keeping track, however the route is fairly well signposted. You will see the below red and white stripes painted on rocks and signposted along the route, but I would also strongly recommend using a GPS navigator to double check you are on the right path. If we had just relied on the red and white striped signposts, we would have definitely got lost on a few occasions so I urge you to download the route to a GPS tracker before starting the trek.
The hike takes 5 full days and you will need to book mountain huts to sleep in along the way in advance as they get booked up quickly. We emailed each hut to make reservations (I've linked them below) or you can use booking.com for some. Please bear in mind they are not luxurious mountain chateaus, they are basic mountain huts with basic dinner and breakfast options. And I must admit, as a pescatarian, these options were pretty limited, see if you can pick up the general theme along the way...
First things first, you need the correct equipment. The mountains are not to be underestimated and many have lost their lives to a poorly thought through kit.
- A waterproof rucksack is a must. You never know what weather conditions you will let in the Alps and the last thing you want is soaking wet clothes.
- A water bottle. We had two water bottles between us and two 2 litre water pouches. There were a couple of instances where we couldn't fill up our water bottles for 4-5 hours so having the extra water helped.
- Energy bars. You get fed or can purchase dinner at all of the huts and you also have the option to buy lunch so there isn't much chance of starving, however, you never know what will happen in the mountains so it's best to have some high energy bars for emergencies or when sugar levels are low.
- Comfy and sturdy walking boots. In the mountain hurts they usually supply crocs so no need for an extra pair of shoes for the evenings.
- Ear plugs. You will be sharing dorm rooms with other hikers - this is a popular trek and the huts get booked up so expect some disrupted sleep and get some efficient ear plugs or headphones.
- Sun cream. You are very exposed to the sun throughout the trek with little to no shade so I would recommend factor 50 sun cream, especially for the lips. You could also bring a cap and wear a t-shirt for extra protection.
- A camera/phone. You will want a record of these views trust me!
- A GPS route tracker. I've already mentioned this above but you will need this to check you're on the right route.
- A waterproof, lightweight jacket. If it rains, you are going to get wet but if you are hiking for 10 hours then some form of protection is essential. There's nothing worse than hiking when your soaked through.
- Clothes - You will want a couple of changes of clothes as the hike is 5 days long, but you have to remember you are going to have to carry this load for the full time too so pack as light as possible. When we hiked in July it was around 25-30 degrees so I would pack shorts and t-shirts.
- Toiletries. Again pack light, mini bottles of shower a gel and toothpaste will be your friends.
- Headtorch. If you are exploring at night, there are no lights around the huts so it literally pitch black. Also good for if you need a wee in the night!
- Ibuprofen and paracetamol. For obvious reasons.
Day 1 - Oberalpass to Vermigel Hutte
Day one starts at Oberalppass and ends at Maighelspass. You soon lose the winding roads of Oberalpass and are submerged in pure, uninterrupted mountain bliss. The route has a rough estimate of 7 hours but we finished an hour or so under that. I was by far the slowest walker in my group of 4, my eldest sister and boyfriend live there as I mentioned earlier, and have the stamina of professional athletes and my younger sister has crazy long legs and springy youth on her side. I think I’m probably a good benchmark for a ‘normal’ person with a moderate level of fitness. I didn’t do much training in the build up to the trek, just added a few extra 5k runs into my weekly exercise regime. I would give day 1’s hike 5/10 for difficulty, a few sleep inclines and snowy traverses but on the whole a leisurely walk.
Within the first few hours you reach the first of the four sources – the Quelle Rhein. One of my favourite things about this trek was that there was only around 10 other people on the same route as us the entire time. In contrast to Tour de Mont Blanc or some of the Nepalese treks it’s super easy to shake the other hikers and for the most part it was just us 4 as far as the eye could see. With it being our first day, and with time on our side as we set off pretty early we took the day steadily, stopping at scenic areas for rests and snacks.
The rivers are all glacial aka far too cold to swim in (although some crazy swiss did try and managed about 5 seconds), but suitable for a quick head dunk to cool down. We got ridiculously lucky with the weather, and got 5 days of sun without a drop of rain. It rained on the morning we set off (but stopped as we arrived) then as soon as we left so I would highly recommend buying a waterproof backpack and bringing a decent cag. And although I was VERY happy to avoid the rain – hiking for 6+ hours in 25-degree heat isn’t a walk in the park either. So, bring lots of sun cream and a 2-litre water bottle if possible. There are some sporadic places to fill your water bottle along the way, but not loads so I usually carried 2 litres with me just in case there was nowhere to fill up.
When we reached our first mountain hut - Vermigel Hutte, it was just perfection. The sun was just about to disappear in the valley, leaving everything with that sunset orange glow. What the huts lack in finesse they absolutely make up for in views. If you can look past the crocs (maybe it was their cloud like comfort after a day of hiking in hot and heavy boots, but I grew particularly fond of the crocs), shared dormitories and school dinner style cuisine, you will find a stillness and serenity like no other.
We were served a 4 course meal for dinner, soup followed by salad (in the same bowl) then a main of deep fried cheese for us veggie’s and chicken curry for non veggie’s. Dessert was a chocolate mousse. At all the huts there’s an option for an evening beer or glass of rouge but most have a strict lights out at 10pm rule, and to be honest with the early starts and highly active days we found it hard to summon the energy for a post dinner game of cards.
Day 2 - Vermigel Hutte to Gottahard Pass
After a disruptive nights sleep in the shared dormitory, we rose at around 7.30am to a breakfast of musili and bread. After stocking up on all the carbs we could squeeze in wet off at around 9am. We would usually pack an extra piece of bread and a bit of fruit from breakfast for lunch, but there was options to buy sandwiches if you’d rather.
Day two’s trek takes you from Maighelspass to Gotthardpass via the highest point on entire trek at 2,776m. It’s around 2-3 hours of incline in the morning to reach the peak, but so worth it for the panoramic views at the top. It’s the only day you don’t pass one of the four river sources, although you do pass a reservoir and lots of small lakes and river streams.
Day 3 - Gottard pass to Corno Gries Hutte
Day 3 is a long day, 8-10 hours to be exact. There were options to stop at a closer hut on day 3, however when we were doing the trek these huts were closed due to them being revamped, so we stayed in Corno Gries Hutte.
This was the second to hardest day of the trek for me. The last hour was especially testing as there was a vertical hill to climb to reach the mountain hut. A few friendly Swiss tried to give us words of encouragement as we were climbing this final hurdle of the day, but they fell of deaf ears. We were hungry, exhausted and dehydrated (even though we did come across various mountain springs, it's never enough in 30 degree heat) and each hair pin turn on the hill felt like a test from the mountain gods.
Once we made it to the hut, (after some emergency sugars) we quickly forgot the last grueling hour as the view from the hut made every morsel of sweat worthwhile. Rolling mountain tops as far as the eye could see. Toppling down in sequence like Russian dolls. Complete perfection.
Unfortunately, the food was not as good as the views. The waitress genuinely asked me if I would like cheese or Gorgonzola with my Polenta serving. I didn't have the energy to correct her and that both options were in fact, cheese. By this point I had eaten all the cheese I could stomach so ate my (very thin) soup and went to bed. My sister was enraged at the kitchen staff cooking themselves stuffed peppers after serving us our 'vegetarian' option of a slab of cheese.
We hadn't specified that we wanted our own room, but to our utter delight, our small party of 4 was paired together in our very own room. A luxury I will never take for granted again. No snooring, smelly hikers for us on night 3.
Day 4 - Corno Greis Hutte to Obergesteln
Day 5 - Obergesteln to Furka Pass
Day 5 took us from the clear blue glacial river - the Rhone, right up to the source of the Rhone glacier. The final and most breathtaking glacier of the trek and potentially the best one I've ever seen.
I found day 5 to be the hardest day of the trek. Even after our substantial meal the previous night, I was completely exhausted and struggled with the 6 hour hike which was 70% uphill.
There was definitely a few paddys in the final stretch, and some hightened tensions after we missed the last bus to Andermatt (we managed to hitch hike a ride in the end).
You can either get the bus from here back to Andermatt, or continue on foot to make it a full loop as there are other hut opions just after Furka Pass. We were on a strict time schedule, so went straight back to Andermatt. Be sure to check the bus timetable before setting off so you leave plenty of time to have a leasurley view of the Glacier there as is pretty spectacular. Over 100km later via some glorious mountains, stunning waterfalls and out of this world glaciers and we made it back to Andermatt in one piece.
My integral need for regular doses of mountain air has been etched in my psyche from when I was just a foetus. It’s my most treasured gift from my parents (passed onto them from my grandparents) and something I secretly feel incredibly privileged to have been educated on as such a vital part of my being. Admittedly, having been brought up in the peak district amongst such indescribably beautiful natural landscapes, it was something I took for granted until my early 20’s. It was only later in life when I started to struggle with my mental health did I realise, not only how absolutely essential walking in the mountains was for my health, but also how I physically need mountains in the same way I need air, food and sleep.
(this wasn't taken on the Vier Quellen Weg trek, it was a few days after the trek at lake Klontalersee)
I truly believe there is nothing better for the mind, body and soul than a long hike in the mountains. I hope this encourages you to get out there and make the most of this beautiful landscape of ours.