Photo: A snowy hut on the way to Fiescheralp.
A weekend hiking on prepared paths in the Aletsch Arena area.
I don’t ski, but as I have written about before there are plenty of other reasons to head into the Alps in winter. All the paths were well marked and maintained making it easy and carefree to enjoy the views and weather. Though I do prefer the area in summer.
When: 17-18th February 2019.
This was a perfect sunny weekend in mid-February. The sort where you know everyone is going to head for the Alps with their skis in hand. Ideally I wanted to avoid a ski resort and aim for somewhere a bit quieter. But as we only decided to stay overnight on the previous day the options were a little limited so we went with the Fiesch/Aletsch Arena area.
This is not a bad thing. The Goms and Aletsch areas are some of my favourite spots in Switzerland.
Given the projection of sunny and warm weather (for the time of year at least) along with the number of prepared paths that were open in the area we went with just good hiking boots, a few layers of clothing, and a pair of easy to attach shoe spikes for good measure.
Day 1: Along the terrace from Bettmeralp to Fiesheralp.
Given the flawless weather it was clearly going to be a busy day. The train services ran smoothly with extra trains put on to help ease the numbers, and they did a very good job. The problem was when we got to the cable car station at Betten and it was something of a clusterfuck. The queuing area was poorly defined and clearly got abused by people jumping in, just as we were about to get on a Fasnacht band popped out of a side door and were waved through to skip the queue, then when we did get on there was a delay with no information so we found ourselves stuck in a motionless and crammed cable car for 20 minutes. They were at least running the cars constantly to help ease the queue, but it took us 1.5 hours from arrival to get to the top and is by far the most frustrating transport experience I have had in Switzerland so far. We should have gone to Riederalp on the constantly running gondola instead.
It was at least instantly worth it. The weather and views over the snowy mountains were flawless. It was so hot and sunny we had to quickly lose a few layers. Lunch by the church at Bettmeralp. Bettmeralp itself is by far the largest of the three Aletsch villages. If it wasn’t for tourism it would just be one or two huts for tending the grazing cows in the summer, but with winter tourism it is a sizeable number of chalets and the infrastructure to keep skiers fed and happy.
The prepared path to Fiescheralp initially started in the forest and then climbed up and up (going from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp would be much easier and mostly downhill). The views over to the high 4000m peaks of Valais (including the Matterhorn) made up for it. and it almost entirely stayed below the pistes so there were only one or two problem free crossings.
Fischeralp is the smallest of the three Aletsch Arena villages, just consisting of small series of holiday chalets and a few hotels/restaurants. As such it is much quieter than Bettmeralp. We took a coffee in the sun before heading down on the cable car to Fiesch. Fiesch itself is a good base to explore the area being on the train-line and having a good number of shops and restaurants (I have stayed there before a few times in summer). However this time we headed up to Ernen across the valley (a 45 minute walk or 8 minute bus ride).
Ernen is a very small and quiet, but very beautiful village (I would count it amongst the most beautiful that I have been to). It is what I would call “proper Valais” bein made of small alleyways and jaunty wooden buildings. It has a rather limited selection of shops/restaurants compared to Fiesch, but it has very good views down the valley.
We stayed at the Hotel Alpenblick in Ernen. Basically because it was the most appealing option that was left, but it was a nice place. We took dinner there too which was good and at fairly standard prices for Switzerland. This introduced us to a new meal from Goms: Cholera.
I took a night time walk around Ernen and along the paths to Mühlebach where the Hängebrücke Fürgangen-Mühlebach pedestrian suspension bridge is (about 2km from Ernen and the route is almost flat). With a full moon in a clear sky, and snow on the ground, there was no need to worry about light. Oddly I was the only person out other than the piste-bullies working on the slopes high above.
Day 2: Along the ridge above Riederalp
After a good breakfast we took the bus from Ernen to Lax and then the train to Mörel. Mörel is the base for the cable car going up to Riederalp and has the advantage of offering big periodic cable cars, or a constantly running gondola (the latter I much prefer, especially after the previous day).
We grabbed some food for lunch in Riederalp (having supermarkets open on a Sunday feels like a true blessing in tourist areas) and headed for the cable car to Moosfluh. Whilst this should have been simple the small queue moved really slow as the purchase/validation of proper ski passes seemed to be absurdly complex (grab a ticket at the main cable car stations if possible).
But again it was more than worth it. Moosfluh offers not only the same impressive views of the high peaks of Valais, but also down over the massive Aletsch glacier (though it is still not quite as impressive as the view from Eggishorn). The glacier was covered in snow so whilst still a stunning sight isn’t as impressive as when it stands out against the meadows and rocks in summer.
From here we walked down to Riederalp via Hohfluh and Riederfurka. This time it was basically all downhill, and because the path follows a ridge you got views of the glacier valley to one side and over a wide sweep of the Alps on the other side. There were 3 or 4 piste crossings, but none were busy enough to be a problem.
Arriving back in Riederalp we took the gondola back down. We were relatively early down, arriving at Mörel for the train at 2pm. But having made an early start and wanting to avoid the inevitable rush back later it seemed a good idea. Plus we had already caught a bit much sun and needed to hide down in the valley.