During my travels around the world earlier this year I was always fascinated about multi-day trekking adventures, be it in Vietnam’s caves or Borneo’s jungle. But living in Switzerland, we actually have one of the best hiking environments right in front of our doorstep. And because the weather here in Switzerland is wonderful these weeks, Ilinca and I decided to go on a three-day trekking adventure in the Swiss Alps, together with Pauline and Vincent from France. We know Pauline from our travels through Australia last year, and it was a nice occasion to meet again during this trek.
Compared to Vietnam and Borneo, the infrastructure for such an adventure here in Switzerland is immensely better. There are well-equipped huts high up in the mountains that offer accommodation, food, and even a hot shower. With all this luxury, it only took two phone calls to the huts where we wanted to spend the night to make a reservation, and the accommodation and food preparations were completed.
Also, the hiking trail network here is extraordinary, each official trail is marked so there is no need to get a guide that shows the way. In addition, there is an excellent app named Swiss Map that allows you to download a detailed map with all the hiking paths to be used even without phone signal. The map always displays the current position, so navigating between the mountains, valleys, and lakes was very easy.
My biggest worries when planning the tour was how long each day’s route should be, as I did not know the physical abilities of Pauline and Vincent too well. But in the end everything went fine, even though at the end of day 2, everybody was extremely tired of hiking 8 hours through rough terrain.
Day 1: Airolo to Capanna Cristallina
The four of us spent the night before the hike in Niederwald in Wallis in a very beautiful old-style hotel to first get acclimatized a bit to the altitude, and second be only one hour away from Airolo, where the adventure started. On the way to Airolo, we bought some snacks and lunch for the three days and started our hike after a short cable car ride from Airolo to Alp Pesciüm.
The first two hours of the hike we followed the so-called Strada degli Alpi, a nice panorama hike along the Bedretto Valley. It is a beautiful path through alpine forests with nice views towards the valley. As the path is mostly flat, we only gained 50m of altitude until lunch break at Alpe di Cristallina.
Only after lunch break we started the actual climb of roughly 800m up to Passo di Cristallina, where also our hut for the night was located. The trail went first out of the forest, then up some grassy slope along a creek with many small waterfalls, then over a beautiful grass plain, and finally up through a valley of rocks with very little vegetation. Capanna Cristallina, the hut for tonight, was visible already from far away, which showed us during the long climb how much there is still left.
One hour before dinner time we finally reached the hut and had some time to take a hot shower and enjoy the sunset hours before and after the very filling dinner. Everybody seemed to be very happy and also not too exhausted to continue the next day.
After dinner and a round of board games in the hut, Pauline and Vincent decided to go to sleep. Ilinca and I decided to go outside and enjoy the beautiful night sky high up in the Alps, far away from any light sources. And even though the hut is located on 2568m, it was still surprisingly warm to be out in the dark. After a few photos of the night sky, Ilinca and I then also went to sleep to prepare for the next day’s hike.
Day 2: Capanna Cristallina to Rifugio Maria Luisa
After a comfortable night in the 4 bed dorm, I decided to get up at around 6 to climb a nearby mountain, in expectation of a wonderful sunrise. As it was still dark when I left, finding the path to the correct mountain was not that easy with the limited amount of light from my headlamp. And indeed I ended up on a mountain peak next to the one I originally planned. But it did not matter, because also from there I could observe a wonderful sunrise, while the other three people were still sleeping in the hut.
After sunrise it was time for breakfast, so I descended back to Capanna Cristallina. There we all had a nutritious breakfast to get enough energy for today’s rather long route. Once everybody was ready, we could observe a family of ibexes directly from the hut as they made their way up to a high mountain in the morning. After that, we followed the hiking trail along Lago Sfundau, an impressive small mountain lake embedded in big rocks without any water exit at the surface. The only water exit is underground, so there were several warning signs about swirls in the lake that make swimming there very dangerous.
After a steep descent, we then reached the impressive Lago dei Cavagnöö where we had a small rest. While this lake is one of the smaller reservoirs in Switzerland, the deep blue color of the water and the 111m high dam are impressive nonetheless. After walking over the dam, we continued our hike towards the Italian border over rough terrain. At one point we lost the official hiking train and followed a smaller footpath through very steep grass slopes. When we realized we are of the path, we decided first to continue as it was actually a shortcut, but soon the slope got way too steep for our skills and we had to turn back to the main path. This short detour cost us quite a bit of energy and motivation. After a descending a little more, we then had our well-deserved lunch break next to a small creek. As we were however a bit behind schedule and have only covered half of today’s route, we kept the lunch break rather short.
After lunch we followed the path to Bocchetta di Val Maggia, the pass at the border between Switzerland and Italy. It was difficult terrain, we were mainly walking over large rocks, sometimes using our hands as well to proceed. With the increasing fatigue from today’s efforts, advancing got more and more difficult. About 30 minutes after passing Lago dei Matörgn, we were all happy when we finally reached the pass and could look down to the Italian side where our hut for the next night is located.
The signpost on top of the pass said it would be another 1h 15min down to the hut. I don’t know who measured this time, but it took us at least 2 hours to finally reach Refugio Maria Luisa. The reason was that the first part of the descent was again through very rocky terrain, combined with even more tired legs, progress was very slow. Luckily though, we still reached the hut at dinner time after almost 8 hours of hiking. After a hot shower, we were then all enjoying a generous Italian style three course dinner. And shortly after dinner, everybody quickly disappeared in the room and got a good night’s sleep.
Day 3: Rifugio Maria Luisa to Airolo
As the weather forecast for today was not very optimistic, we were discussing the evening before to take a shortcut back to Switzerland, which should only take us 3 hours back to the car. To our surprise however, the sun welcomed us in the morning without any clouds visible. So I felt like hiking the route that we originally planned via Riale, Passo del Gries, and Passo del Corno, which was about twice as tough. However, still being tired from the previous day’s long hike, Vincent and the girls did not want to change back to our original plan. So we agreed that I will hike the longer path and the rest will take the shortcut via Passo San Giacomo, and we would meet again at Capanna Corno Gries, another very modern SAC hut on the Swiss side.
On my route, I first had a steep descent down to Riale, a historic village along the Sbrinz Route, a former mule track between Switzerland and Italy. As the village was quite small, I only spent a few minutes there and continued up to Lago di Morasco, another reservoir, were I was welcomed by strong wind from the north that blew in my face for the rest of my climb. As the temperatures were quite high again, this was however a welcome breeze. After passing through a beautiful alpine plain, I climbed Passo del Gries and after a bit more than two hours I was back in Switzerland. And after another 45 minutes of walking, I reached our meeting point at Capanna Corno Gries.
A few minutes later, also Vincent and the girls showed up at the hut, they also enjoyed their path a lot. We then had our last lunch together in the mountains, before descending for another 30 minutes down the car that was parked along the road to Nufenen Pass.
Tired, but happy, we then drove together back to Airolo to pick up my car as well and drove back to Zurich. It was a very beautiful 3-day expedition with perfect weather in one of Switzerland’s more remote regions. I am sure this was not my last multi-day trek in Switzerland.