The Alpine Pass Route (APR) – now fully waymarked as Swiss Via Alpina 1 (VA1) – is a hiking trail of over 350km across Switzerland, crossing high mountain passes through the eastern Alps, the Bernese Oberland and the Vaudoise on the northern side of the main Alpine chain to finish at Montreux on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). One of the great Alpine routes, and fully described in Cicerone’s guidebook ‘The Swiss Alpine Pass Route: Via Alpina Route 1’.
Cheese making and cowbells
Imagine spending three weeks in the mountains traversing the Swiss Alps, with a central highlight of the Bernese Alps crowned with glaciers and summer snows, either side of which are mountains, valleys and lakes rarely visited by anyone but the alpine trekker. In the valleys, villages still centred around cheese making provide simple accommodation, and high above, farms and alpine huts offer refreshments amid the sound of cowbells.
This may sound like a tourist brochure, but the reality of the Alpine Pass Route (Swiss Via Alpina 1) is just that – many days where you rarely see another person, although there are also days, particularly in the Bernese Alps, where you become something of an object of interest among the tourists thronging the railway platform at Kleine Scheideg!
As the name implies, The Swiss Via Alpina 1 route involves crossing sixteen Alpine passes, and showcases some of the country's most breathtaking mountain landscapes. The route is not suitable for first time alpine trekkers, but best undertaken by those with some experience of Alpine trekking: it amasses over 20,000m of ascent and involves some steep and occasionally exposed sections, mainly on the three high passes – the Sefinenfurke (2612m), the Hohturli (2778m) and the Bunderschrinde (2385m). The entire route can be completed in 2-3 weeks, although it is also possible to walk shorter sections; alternatively postbus, cable-car and rail connections could be used to allow for a tighter schedule if time is limited, and may be recommended in order to avoid one or two sections of walking through urban areas and busy roadside paths.
It's work, honestly!
The Swiss Via Alpina 1 in fact begins in Lichtenstein, with a downhill stage to Sargans, the traditional start of the Alpine Pass Route, a thriving town on the eastern border of Switzerland. From here you spend three or four days wandering through mellow alpine landscapes largely ignored by tourists. The passes are generally of a steady gradient, however there is nothing mellow about the views – as you see alp upon alp stretching far into the distance. From Altdorf the landscape changes as the mountains become higher and the impact of tourism becomes more evident. On our late summer trek in 2016 researching the new edition of the guidebook, the weather was unsettled for this section, and on one day we realised we had only taken three photographs, and very poor ones at that!
Walking beneath the giants of the Bernese Oberland
Over the next two days however, the skies and moisture gradually cleared. High on the new Via Alpina route hugging the crest of a grassy ridge, views down to the valley below were mainly shrouded in cloud. But a break in the cloud and a shaft of afternoon sun revealed our first view of the mighty Wetterhorn; its great bulk and snowy peak seemed unimaginably high. The following day we crested the Grosse Scheidegg to walk beneath the ‘giants’ of the Bernese Oberland – Wetterhorn, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in perfect clarity against a vivid blue sky.
These giant mountains remain in view for several days as you follow the route through the beautiful, but busy Bernese Oberland, leaving the crowds, trains and cable cars behind as you scale two huge passes on the way to Kandersteg.
During the final few days of the trek to the west of Adelboden again revert gradually to more verdant lower mountain scenery, although some days of necessity are quite long. It is only towards the end of the penultimate day that your final goal is revealed, as you crest a pass on a tiny mountain road, to see Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) basking in the late afternoon sunshine some 2000 metres below. Linger a while, and reflect on your journey across Switzerland, for tomorrow you will descend into Montreux, and rejoin a very different, fast-moving modern world.
Would you like to walk the Alpine Pass Route?
The Cicerone guidebook contains a wealth of practical advice and information on local points of interest, the guide has all you need to plan a successful trip. The Via Alpina 1 is presented in 18 stages, each featuring step-by-step route description accompanied by 1:100,000 mapping, route profiles and notes on transport, accommodation and facilities.