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Hike – The Gemmi Pass from Leukerbad to Kandersteg

Gemmi Pass summer

Photo: Approaching the Kandersteg end of the pass.

A classic route crossing between Valais and Bern.

Key Information

Route: Leukerbad – Gemmi pass – Gasterntal – Kandersteg.

Length: 21km, +1050m, -1250m.

Date: 2015-August-23.

For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.


Practical Information

Season: Late spring to Autumn. The hike over the top of the pass is also doable in winter (taking the cable car at each end), the snow is pressed down like a ski-piste so no special equipment or skills are required.

Arrival/Departure: Bus to Luekerbad / Train from Kandersteg.

Supplies: Restaurants/shops at the start and end. Restaurants at the Gemmi pass cable car, the Hotel Schwarenbach halfway along the pass and Hotel Waldhaus in Gasterntal.

Alternate routes/shortcuts: The far more sensible option would be to take the cable car from Leukerbad to the Gemmipass to get up, and then the cable car down from Sunnbüel to Kandersteg, reducing the hike to a much more reasonable 9km, +110m, – 520m.

Exposure/Hazards: Nothing much to worry about beyond the standard rules for hiking in the mountains. The path over the pass especially is a wide and gentle gravel road.

Despite not being that famous it is quite a popular route. I passed people more consistently on this route than on most other paths I have taken in the Alps.


Notes along the route

The Gemmi pass was an important route in the early days of tourism for those connecting the Berner Oberland and Valais before the train tunnels. It is by far the easiest pass between Bern and Valais. I was quite curious to see it after reading ‘A Tramp Abroad’ by Mark Twain and ‘Slow Train to Switzerland’ by Diccon Bewes. All the accounts from the 1800s when it was a key trade/tourist route come with details of perilous moments on precarious cliff paths. It has been presumably made a bit safer since then (and there are less tourist on donkeys going past each other) as I didn’t see any points that seemed so dangerous. It does still cut an impressive line when seen from the cable car though and is an impressive start to the hike with the cliffs towering above the village. There is also a Via Ferrata near the top if you really want to hang off the edge of the cliff.

Gemmi Pass
Looking up at the pass from Leukerbad.
Gemmi Pass
Climbing up the cliffs.

At the top of the pass you are greeted by a glacier, a bunker with the gun port pointing at you, and sheep. Because Switzerland.

From the pass there is view back over Leukerbad and the Valais Alps is quite good, including the Matterhorn (which isn’t instantly recognisable from this angle)

Gemmi Pass
Greeted by a sheep and a glacier at the top of the climb.
Looking back over Leukerbad from the Gemmi pass.

Once past the Gemmi the rest of the pass isn’t especially pretty. Bare rock with bits of grass. Not bad, but it doesn’t really stand out and I wouldn’t call it a must see (beyond the novelty of crossing the pass). The electricity pylons which accompany you the whole way across don’t help either.

Gemmi Pass summer
Daubensee.
Gemmi Pass summer
Approaching the Hotel Schwarenbach.

It is gently downhill all the way to the turn off for Gasterntal.

Gemmi Pass summer
Approaching the Kandersteg end of the pass.
Gemmi Pass summer
Starting the descent into Gasterntal.

A colleague had suggested seeing Gasternal when in the area so I planned a diversion into the lower end of the valley to have a quick look. This added some distance on to the route and removed the chance to take the cable car down, but the path going down into the hidden and often overlooked Gasterntal was by far the best part of the hike (it is worth a visit in itself). The views up the valley with its steep cliffs were stunning too. Like Lauterbrunnen, but with nothing but a few farms inside it. I stopped for a beer at the Hotel Waldhaus which was a perfect spot to admire the valley and waterfall.

Gemmi Pass summer
Gasterntal with Kandersteg in the background.
Gasterntal
Looking up the Gasterntal.

From the Hotel Waldhaus the path follows a narrow section of gorge down before entering the wide and flat valley around Kandersteg next to the Sunnbüel cable car station. There is a chance to take the bus from here to Kandersteg station (stop ‘Kandersteg (Talst. Sunnbüel)’, runs hourly), otherwise the last few kilometres into the village are very easy and enjoyable.

Gemmi Pass summer
Beer with a view.
Gemmi Pass summer
Down the gorge towards Kandersteg.

2 thoughts on “Hike – The Gemmi Pass from Leukerbad to Kandersteg”

  1. Hi Ali,
    I’ve read quite a few of your posts. Nice job on the site! There’s a lot of good info and helpful tips. I’m visiting Switzerland in August and wondering where I’m most likely to encounter ibex? I’m a photographer and hoping to catch some unique wildlife. I’ve been to Switzerland before and hit all the biggies, so this time I’m trying to do some easier hikes and get to some of the gorges. (Hopefully there are some easy hikes to view ibex! Lugging around camera equipment is tough enough as it is on flat surfaces lol) I’ve seen some stuff on “My Switzerland” about wildlife tours but I’d rather not drop 400 CHF to have someone drive me somewhere I could just as easily hike to. Any advice is appreciated.

    Thanks!
    -Nick

    1. Hi sorry for the slow reply.

      One fairly safe bet is to take the cable car from Beatenberg to Niederhorn (easy to reach from the Interlaken/Thun area). From there if you follow the path along the ridge towards the Gemmenalphorn then you often encounter them in the first kilometer or two. If not then at least the views from there are fantastic and worth a visit in themselves.

      There are also a fairly relaxed family of Ibex who hang around at the top of the cliffs by the Creux du Van near Neuchatel.

      Otherwise head up high (and ideally early) to catch marmots running around.

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