Text: Andreas Staab and Peter Welk
Photos: Peter Welk
Four easy to moderate day hikes
Base: Bettmeralp, Canton Valais, Switzerland
The Aletsch Glacier is by far the biggest in the Alps. Despite shrinking at a rate of about 50 m every year, it still measures an incredible 22 km, covering 80 square km. Its highest point is at 4,100 m above sea level dropping down to 1,600 m with a thickness of up to 900 m. This truly is a natural monster. You can hike the area, and even access the glacier on a number of easy-to-moderate day trips. The local tourist offices gave the area the name ‘Aletsch Arena’ which rather evokes notions of a football stadium than a natural wonder, but nonetheless, for some inspiration, you might want to look at their website: www.aletscharena.ch/en/activities/walking/.
Your best starting point and base for your hikes is the car free settlement of Bettmeralp, located in the German speaking part of the Canton Valais. To get there, you need to travel to the village of Betten in the upper reaches of the Rhone Valley (Betten is located on the A19, some 20 minutes by car to the northeast of Brig. The village also has a train station, with connections to Brig and Geneva). You then need to take a cable car to Bettmeralp, 2,000 m up on the mountain, but make sure to take the direct connection, and not the one that stops at the hamlet of Betten Dorf. Bettmeralp has plenty of accommodation in hotels and guest houses. Booking.com has over 90 listings.
Sunrise over Mischabel Range with Mount Dom (4,545m)
Out of a multitude of options, we have picked out four day hikes, all starting at Bettmeralp. The ideal time to visit is between early June and mid-October’ a period that coincides with the operation times of the cable car (for precise dates check at: www.aletscharena.ch/en/planning-booking/timetable-operating-hours/. As is normal for hiking at higher altitudes, moderate levels of fitness come in handy, and a good pair of boots are an absolute essential. We must also recommend hiring a mountain guide should you wish to access and indeed hike on the glacier itself. This is dangerous and potentially hazardous terrain, so don’t be an idiot!
Trail One: Bettmeralp – Morӓnenweg – Bettmeralp:
This is an easy 2 hour walk to stretch your travel-weary legs and get a first glimpse of the Aletsch. From Bettmeralp, follow the signs to Morӓnenweg.
Walk from Bettmeralp to the next ‘Alp’ which is Riederalp just to the west. You might want to check out the Nature Centre Pro Natura at the far end of the village, housed in the imposing Villa Cassel (see:www.aletscharena.ch/en/world-natural-heritage-site/pro-natura-center-aletsch). Follow signs to the Aletsch Forest (Aletschwald in German), with stone pines that are up to 1,000 years old. You can return to Bettmeralp, taking your daily quota to 5 hours (600 m elevation). Should you wish to continue you can add a 3 hour loop (and another 400 m in elevation) by hiking to the suspension bridge Belalp/Riederalp crossing the Massa ravine. This is where the glacier once ended some 40 years ago.
This is a wonderful day hike as you will gradually get ever closer to the glacier. Start by taking the cable car from Bettmeralp to Bettmerhorn (or if you prefer and are in good shape, you can hike up all the way to the mountain top). The views are gigantic, with the mighty peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau lurking in the distance at the top of the Aletsch. Follow the signs to Märjelen Lake (Märjelensee in German) and onto Fiescheralp (also referred to as Kühboden). Hike back to Bettmeralp along the accurately termed Panorama path (Panoramaweg in German). Between Bettmerhorn and Märjelensee there are small tracks that take you closer to the glacier, which should give you a good understanding of just how big and awesome the Aletsch is. Should you wish to get on to the glacier, please only do so when accompanied by a guide. Your life might be at risk otherwise. Once more: don’t be stupid!
View towards Matterhorn
Trail Four: UNESCO High Altitude Trail: Bettmerhorn – Eggishorn – Bettmeralp
5 – 7 hours
While not technically challenging, this one is only for those who do not suffer lightly from vertigo, as you will walk along steep and narrow paths. Once again, you can make your way up to Bettmerhorn (hike or cable car), and then follow the signs along the UNESCO Trail to Eggishorn. All along the way, the glacier will be on your left in all its wonderful glory. Behind you is the Matterhorn and the Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak at 4,800 m. Just because of these vistas alone, this hike should really only be done when the weather is fair. From Eggishorn, get down to the Fiescheralp (cable car or hike) and then once more, make your way across to the Bettmeralp (see Trail Three).
Base of Aletsch Glacier
And if you like to explore more, why not hire a local mountain guide who could really take you up close and personal? Ask to be taken on a hike to the Konkordiaplatz, where three glaciers converge, thereby inflating the Aletsch to a mighty thickness of 900 m (or as high as some peaks in England’s Lake District).