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The longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the Alps

The world's longest pedestrian suspension bridge – the Charles Kuonen suspension bridge – is on the Europaweg between Grächen and Zermatt, just to the south of the Europahut above Randa in the Mattertal valley of Switzerland.

CK Sbridge
The Charles Kuonen suspension bridge

If you’ve trekked in the Himalaya, one of your most vivid memories will probably be when you first crossed a suspension bridge strung across a raging torrent, the juddering sensation as you place one foot in front of the other on wooden boards that have seen better days; the view between those boards to a wild river crunching rocks far below, and the sense of relief on reaching the far side.

There are some good ones in the Alps too, but with better footing. On the alternative first day’s stage of the Tour of Mont Blanc, for example, there’s a suspension bridge over a glacial torrent before making the climb to Col de Tricot, and various suspension bridges in the Valais – one just to the north of Arolla in the main valley, and another just to the south of Ossona the Passorelle de la Grande Combe with great views across to the Euseigne pyramids. And there’s a corker that spans a gorge below the snout of the Grosse Aletschgletscher – the longest glacier in the Alps. Measuring 124m from one end to the other, the bridge is all of 80m above the glacier’s outflow.

Preparing to cross the bridge

But the longest of them all, in the Alps at least if not the world, is the Charles Kuonen suspension bridge. Opened on 29th July 2017, the bridge takes walkers over a ravine that slices the east flank of the Mattertal, the valley that leads to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. This incredible 494m long bridge is not for the faint-hearted. Suspended 86m above the ravine, it was constructed at a cost of 750,000 Swiss francs in order to reinstate the Europaweg as a two-day high-level route between Grächen and Zermatt.

The 32km long Europaweg was created in 1997 to link existing trails to form the Tour of Monte Rosa, and was adopted by the classic Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt two years later.

It’s a wonderful high trail with incredible views every step of the way, but from the very start it was fraught with massive problems of rockfall as the permafrost of the hillside crumbled. In the 20 years since it was first opened, sections of the route have been broken or swept away many times, to the extent that the current route for the first section from Grächen has to eventually descend to the valley floor at Herbriggen before climbing up to the suspension bridge and Europahut.

An earlier 230m long suspension bridge was built at great cost in the summer of 2010, but just a few weeks later it was damaged beyond repair and diversions to the route put in place. We know – we crossed it in early September of that year, and were somewhat shaken to hear that it was closed just a week after our crossing!

It is to be hoped that this ultra long, sturdily made world-beating bridge will last for many years to come and enable many hundreds of TMR and C-Z trekkers to reach Zermatt at the end of their trek safely and happily, and with a host of great memories to take home with them. But even if you are tempted by prospects of walking across this bridge, remember that in many places the Europaweg itself remains a difficult and potentially dangerous route, although there is adequate protection in the form of cables, steps, ladders and tunnels, provided due care is taken.

Below is a video of the terrifying journey over the Europaweg bridge. From