Friday, July 31, 2015

Aletsch Glacier

We loved seeing and learning about glaciers in Alaska (Mendenhall; Exit; Whittier) and continued to appreciate them in Chile and now Switzerland. This week we visited the famous Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. It extends 23km through the eastern Bernese Alps in our neighbouring canton of Valais. The whole area, including the glaciers in nearby valleys, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

The sweeping glacier

We caught a cable car from Fiesch up to Fiescheralp at an altitude of 2205m. The cable car ascended the mountains in a thick cloud with less than 5m visibility. We were a bit apprehensive that we wouldn't be able to see anything at the top, but the clouds dissipated after an hour of hiking. The first part of hike wound around the Eggishorn to Geltscherstube on a beautiful Alpine trail with wild flowers and waterfalls. There is a 1km tunnel through the mountain to bypass lots of the climbing on this section - we might check that out next time!

Lots of routes from Fiescheralp

Gorgeous streams running down the Alpine trails

As we left the refuge at Gletscherstube we caught a glimpse through a gap in the mountains of a sparkling mound of ice. We rushed closer to see the first breathtaking views of the Aletsch Glacier! We could see all the way up to Concordia, where four large glaciers meet to flow into the main Aletsch Glacier. The clouds had all but disappeared by this stage, and the glacier was framed by crystal clear blue sky. The path runs next to the glacier for quite a while and there are several lovely spots for lunch overlooking the brilliant ice river.

The converging point of four Alpine glaciers

The glacier ends after 23km in the Massa River


Some panoramic photos of the glacier and mountains

The hike down from the glacier was beautiful, winding its way past some mountain lakes, including Blausee and Bettmersee. On one broad ridgetop we were able to see the enormous Monte Rosa peak and the characteristic spike of the Matterhorn in the distance. Down at the resort town of Bettmeralp we caught two cable cars down the mountain and then took a red mountain train from Betten back to Fiesch.

Descending to Bettmersee (lake) and Bettmeralp (town)

Another little red mountain train

A map of our hike

So happy to be at a glacier again!

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