Escaping to the Mountains: The Swiss Alps

The world can be an incredibly harsh and dreary place at times. Turning on the news or opening a newspaper, one is constantly bombarded with bleak stories, again and again. It is easy to get caught up in the drama of all that is happening around the globe. As a travel photographer, I find it important to understand the history of the places I visit, the struggles and the triumphs. However, sometimes it is also important to look for a mental reset, a distraction, an opportunity to avoid the 24 hour media saturation of doom and gloom. Escape destination: the Swiss Alps, a place of natural and unadulterated beauty formed nearly 65 million years ago. A timeframe unimaginable, and as I soon found out, natural beauty that left me breathless at each turn of the hiking trail.   

  Lake Bachalpsee with the Scherckhorn in the background

Lake Bachalpsee with the Scherckhorn in the background

Our self-guided hike and village-to-village lodging was organized through the superb touring organization and incredibly friendly staff at Alpinehikers. I really cannot recommend this outstanding company enough. Check them out!

Our hiking journey brought us through a section of the Bernese Oberland. I can say confidently that I have never felt this level of awe, nor the deeply satisfying experience of feeling so small, so insignificant. The Alps wrapped us in a soft warm blanket of perspective. Even while struggling to catch my breath up each steep incline, each view was a triumph. I am certain that each person's reward when encountering the Alps is different. If you can muster the physical strength to endure the steep uphill climbs and rocky downward slopes, if you have wanderlust coursing through your veins, then this trip is one for the bucket list that needs to be checked off.  

  Trail to Grindelwald

Trail to Grindelwald

With the hope that you will seek to experience this level of awe for yourselves, I want to share with you some thoughts, observations, and bits of advice so that your own alpine adventure is unfettered with logistics that detract from your dreamy, open-mouthed gaze of some of the world’s most astonishing natural beauty. Follow along for some of my top tips on getting the most out of your hiking trip in Switzerland:

Preparation

Hiking up and down hundreds of meters of elevation is not for the faint of heart...or muscle, or joint.  I highly recommend doing some jogging or light workouts before heading out to the Alps. 

If at some point you decide to opt out of a steep uphill or downhill trek, there are opportunities to take cable cars and trains during portions of the hike. With purchase of a Swiss Rail Pass, you can get a ticket discount at many of these stations. Just show the Rail Pass at the ticket window to see if a discount is available. If you are one who tends to get FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the weather permits, then you should try to hike most of the way.

  Swiss Rail Tickets out of Zürich

Swiss Rail Tickets out of Zürich

To note, trail signage in the Alps is amazing. Being aware of the color flashings and signposts is enough to ensure you do not get lost, and the people you will meet on the hike are incredibly friendly. With that in mind, it is important to map out your hiking route before arriving. This can be a tedious task for those unfamiliar with the area and popular hiking routes with can’t-be-missed sights. We opted to have Alpinehikers pull together our self-guided hiking route. It was worth every cent as they also set up the hotels, breakfast and dinner, and village-to-village luggage transfers. 

  Trail Signs. (40 mins to Kleine Scheidegg)

Trail Signs. (40 mins to Kleine Scheidegg)

  Mürren

Mürren

  Trail Flashings on the way to Grindelwald

Trail Flashings on the way to Grindelwald

  Grindelwald

Grindelwald

If you are planning a longer visit in Switzerland, luggage transfer will be key. This will save you the burden of lugging any heavy gear that you will not need on the trail. (To help with your packlist, I will discuss some of my gear suggestions in an upcoming post. So stay tuned!) As mentioned, Alpinehikers thankfully arranged all luggage transfers for us, taking out any guesswork. It was comforting to know that our luggage would be at the next village waiting for us. 

Food

Aside from the picturesque vistas Switzerland has to offer, one cannot forget to indulge the taste buds with classic Swiss favorites. My mouth still waters thinking about them.

The food in Switzerland never disappointed. If you are as big a fan of cheese and chocolate as I am, then you will have no problem enjoying a meal or grabbing a quick snack. Seriously, I still dream about it. Vegans or the lactose-intolerant may be harder pressed to find a dairy-free meal, but many of the towns had enough options for vegetarians.

Breakfast tends to be a hearty combination of various cheeses, breads, and muesli with yogurt. And if someone is offering Alp cheese, only made in the summer months, get ready to enjoy some of the best cheese you’ve ever had. 

  Bratwurst with Yellow Mustard on a Roll

Bratwurst with Yellow Mustard on a Roll

  Tomato Soup with Fresh Cream and Chives

Tomato Soup with Fresh Cream and Chives

  Grilled Rosemary Chicken & Steamed Vegetables

Grilled Rosemary Chicken & Steamed Vegetables

  Parfait with Chocolate, Raspberry, and Mint

Parfait with Chocolate, Raspberry, and Mint

The chocolate is some of the best, if not the very best, in the world. Period. Even the supermarket Lindt chocolate bars were superior than those I’ve tasted elsewhere. Hiking in the alps means you are burning a lot of calories, so don’t forget to reward yourself with a bar or two… or three.  

  Brown Swiss Cows

Brown Swiss Cows

And what makes the cheese, bread, and chocolate so gosh darn amazing? The Swiss cows. And what do we need from them? Milk. While slightly more tart than your typical store-bought milk, it is worth trying if you can. If you are hiking the first section of Bernese Oberland and are making your way to Trummelbach Fall near Lauterbrunnen, it’s worth the few extra minutes of hiking to go in search of a local milk vending machine. A few cents will get you a small cup of incredibly fresh and tasty milk. Although generally not a big milk drinker, I’ll admit I went back for seconds. Definitely indulge your FOMO on this opportunity. 

Things to Keep In Mind

With so much bombarding your senses: beautiful scenery, fragrant flowers, and sweet chocolate, it is important to keep a few more things in mind for preparing your trip and while out on the trail.

As mentioned above, Alpinehikers mapped out the hiking route for us and even provided a few “don’t miss” photo suggestions. There are also a ton of side excursions and things to do if the weather turns bad. To avoid missing out and scrambling last minute to fill your day, always have a backup plan mapped out. 

Since rest stops might be hours apart, always use the opportunity to refresh your water bottles, use the restrooms, and maybe have a carby bite to eat for some slow burning energy. 

The trails in Switzerland are safe and well maintained, but sometimes things can go wrong and it could be hours before you see another living soul. Keep a well charged cell phone handy with emergency numbers available should anything go awry.  

  Topography Map (courtesy of Alpinehikers) to reference out on the trail

Topography Map (courtesy of Alpinehikers) to reference out on the trail

  Trail to Wengen

Trail to Wengen

  Trail to Obersteinberg

Trail to Obersteinberg

For my fellow photographers, or anyone with a heavy shutter finger, keep a few spare memory cards handy as they will fill up quickly. And please please please, for any SLR shooters, do not delete a photo via viewfinder to make space on the card. Wait until you can upload them before you begin to cull. I’ve certainly been there and have accidentally deleted the wrong image. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling losing an image you can never get back. It also doesn’t hurt to double check that your photos have been backed up at least twice before reformatting your memory card. Lastly, have spare batteries or a battery pack handy. You can have a ton of memory cards, but if your camera or phone is dead, it will be for naught. 

Hiking through the Swiss Alps was by far one of my favorite adventures of the last few years. With adequate preparation, you are pretty much guaranteed a fantastic hiking journey away from the sights and sounds of city life.

  Taking a moment to soak it all in!

Taking a moment to soak it all in!

For my in depth recap of the hike through the Bernese Oberland, check out my guest-blog posts at Alpinehikers (First Impressions IFirst Impressions II).