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Trip – Fiesch and the Aletsch Arena

    Fiesch 2020

    Photo: Sheep grazing above the Aletsch Glacier.

    This started off as a long weekend that was booked to stay at the hotel Rosenlaui to finally do the Grosse Scheidegg (see this post). Then it was extended to a whole week due to the need to use half my holiday days at work before the end of August.

    My original idea to fill the earlier part of the week had been camping in Andermatt. Not an attractive town in itself, but with good transport connections to 4 regions around it (and access to passes). Or Graubünden which is somewhere I like to go when I have more than a few days to play with. In the end and based on weather forecast I went with Fiesch in the upper Valais.

    When – 30th June to 3rd July 2020.

    The end of June is great for green meadows filled with flowers and cows at around 2000m backed by 3000+m peaks with some bright snow still left on them. You might still have problems with higher passes, especially on north facing sections. We passed a few snowfields and this was after a very warm and snowless winter. So some of the higher activities might not have been possible so soon normally (technically the hike on day 2 was still closed).

    It is also the time of year that you will find lots of tadpoles in surprisingly high and cold looking lakes. Even in a pond that feed down into a glacier.

    Weather wise it can be very hot lower in the valleys, but typically comfortable on the mountainsides. Maybe cold still if it is cloudy and windy. At any rate it is important not to underestimate the sun which can really burn you in the thin air and exposed landscape. We got lucky and I didn’t have to even break out my waterproof jacket.

    Where – Fiesch

    I have been to Fiesch a number of times before and find that it is always a good choice. It has everything you need with shops and restaurants (just lacking fast food) and plenty to do in the area. It is clearly dependent on tourism, but not over doing it. There are some nice bits of old village in Fiesch itself, but it is surrounded by beautiful villages like Ernen.

    Fiesch is on the Visp/Andermatt train line (an easy single change at Brig coming from Geneva/Zürich/Bern/Basel) and makes a good base in the region. You have easy access to the cable cars up to Aletsch Arena, Buses to side valleys, and the main trainline up and down the valley. There are also a large number of impressive suspension bridges like the Hängebrücke Fürgangen – Mühlebach and Hängebrücke Belalp-Riederalp.

    Staying in Fiesch you get a guestcard that gives you discounts on activities/transport in the region.

    The Glacier Express actually passes right through here, but you would never have a clue of all the amazing sights (including the glaciers) from the train – hence my suggestion to not blow through it all in one go.

    Aletsch Arena

    Tourism Website

    The Aletsch Glacier is the biggest and longest in the Alps. Quite how it isn’t better known compared to the likes of Grindelwald I will never understand.

    The ‘Aletsch Arena’ is a resort composed of three villages (Riederalp, Bettmeralp, Fiescheralp) along a mountainside that are each accessed by cable car from below (all the valley stations are on the train line and have big car parks). It is a popular winter ski area, but offers lots of hiking and biking options in summer (and some hiking in winter on prepared paths too). Plus the glacier looks best in summer with the contrast against the green meadows. There are a number of view points which can be easily accessed by cable car to see the glacier (Moosfluh, Bettmerhorn, Eggishorn).

    A nice advantage of Riederalp and Bettmeralp is that because they are functioning villages the cable cars run until much later than the standard 5pm cutoff so there is no rush to get the hike down and go down again. Even the relatively empty Fiescheralp runs until almost 6pm in the summer. If you have the GA or Swiss Travel Pass, then going up to them by cable car is free (and you get a discount on the lifts which take you up to the ridge).

    Accomodation – Hotel Derby (4 nights)

    This was booked based on what was avaliable at fairly short notice.

    it is located at the edge of town perched above the Rhone river. It wasn’t especially memorable but was a very nice base for a few days – it was only a short walk to transport connections and the shops, had nice friendly staff, and there was decent breakfast. The best thing about it was the room was practically hanging over the river gorge.

    The main road for the valley passes right by the building but it isn’t busy and the noise protectors on the road and the roar of the river meant I didn’t notice the road at all.

    Day 1: Home to Fiesch

    Leaving home on Monday morning it was a rainy start to the day so there was no rush.
    Despite waiting until after rush hour the trains were still quite busy (busier than we had hoped given the situation).

    My plan was to take the train most of the way then have a little walk before arriving in Fiesch. The train from Brig to Fiesch passes a number of stops where you can get off and go straight up to the higher villages above with a cable car, or simply get off and enjoy the valley floor. Both are a good way to spend a few hours. Either:

    • Take the cable up high to Bettmeralp and walk along to Fiescheralp then down to Fiesch with the cable car there. You could also make this a bit longer by going to Riederalp to start with.
    • Carry on up the valley floor to somewhere like Gluringen and walk along the to Fiesch. There are lots of villages so it is easy to walk as far or as little as you like.

    We went with the first.

    Key Information

    Route: Bettmeralp – Fiescheralp (along the Herrenweg).

    Length: 5km, +321m, -20m.

    Date: 2020-June-30.

    Fiesch 2020 day 1

    The weather was clearing up but was hard to tell how much so. In the end I decided that going up was much more impressive and included in my GA train pass which had been gathering dust for a few months. Bettmeralp was just inside the cloud which was quickly clearing up. So we took a coffee and cake (quite a common theme of the trip) to wait for the cloud to lift.

    Bettmeralp is quite big and about 99% of it is there for tourism (the other 1% being farmers with cows and goats in the summer). It is similar to the more famous Mürren and Wengen; a functioning car-free year-round village with supermarkets, restaurants numerous sports shops, and a post office. The big pull is skiing in winter but there is plenty in summer too. The chapel there is very iconic, but otherwise it is just a cluster of wooden chalets which is more pretty than ugly, but not especially memorable in itself. The location high up on the mountainside at 2000m is on the other hand very impressive.

    Fiesch Bettmeralp

    Followed part of the the Herrenweg to Fiescheralp (the path technically starts a little further back in Riederalp). There is an initial climb out of Bettmeralp but then it is relatively flat. The whole way is open mountainside with extensive views. It passes by the Bättmer-Hitta which offers food and drink.

    Fiescheralp in comparison to Bettmeralp is just a short row of hotels and chalets without any shops or services beyond places to eat. It is not very attractive in itself and the mountainside around it is dense in ski infrastructure. But it has good views out and there are lots of nice hikes that start from it. Plus it has a gondola, meaning there is a constant series of cabins going all the time rather than having to make sure you are there for a specific time like at Bettmeralp.

    Fiesch Bettmeralp
    Walking to Fiescheralp.

    Took the gondola down to the fancy new transport hub which nicely combines the train, bus and cable car stops in Fiesch.

    Checked in and the dinner in the garden of the neighbouring Hotel Park which had good food and a good location.

    Wandered around Fiesch and to the Tierpark in the evening. The Tierpark isn’t very big, but is free to walk through. Most interesting was the marmots which through digging their tunnels had free reign to anywhere in or even outside of the enclosures.

    Day 2: Eggishorn

    Key Information

    Route: Eggishorn – Märjelensee – Unners Tälli – Fiescheralp.

    Length: 11km, + 280m, – 930m.

    Date: 2020-July-01.

    Fiesch 2020 day 2

    This was predicted to be the sunniest and clearest day of the week – so it was the best time to head up to the viewpoint at Eggishorn (2927m).

    The peak itself is rather bleak and looks like a very unstable pile of pointy rocks, but it is very prominent and sat at the bend of the Aletsch glacier so offers fantastic views all along the glacier and off to the Matterhorn and Mt Blonc among many other peaks. It is easily one of my favourite view points in Switzerland. It is also quite a spot for a coffee.

    Fiesch 2020
    Looking up the Aletsch Glacier from Eggishorn towards Jungfraujoch.
    Fiesch 2020
    Looking down the Aletsch Glacier from Eggishorn.

    Easily accessible from Fiesch in as little as 20 minutes by the gondola to Fiescheralp and then the cable car to Eggishorn. The 2nd cable car doesn’t take you to Eggishorn itself, but a subpeak 500m away (Fiescherhorli to be technical). The walk up to Eggishorn is easy enough, but be careful with loose slabs. At almost 3000m and having just quickly ascended 2000m the air might feel rather thin and cool.

    The path behind the hut drops you down quite quickly, but is easy to follow and not overly steep or loose. Only one small part of it had snow, then we had the choice of how to handle. Dropping down and then up again to the Tälligrat gave a bigger snow field which we spent some time deciding what to do (in the end crossing it rather than diverting around).

    Stopped for cake and a drink at the Gletscherstube by the Märjelensee which is very good, but on a nice day it can be rather busy and as a result the service a bit slow.

    Fiesch 2020
    Descending down to the Tälligrat.
    Crossing the Tälligrat.

    From here you could carry on alongside the glacier to Bettmeralp (as I have done before) or return to Fiescheralp by quicker routes.

    We took the scenic shorter route back to Fiescheralp via Unners Tälli. This skirted the edge of the mountain and offered the best views I have had yet of the Fiescher Glacier (the 2nd longest and 3rd largest glacier in Alps). The path had beautiful high valley views with hardly anyone around until we joined the other route shortly before arriving in Fiesch.

    Fiesch 2020
    Fiescher Glacier.
    Fiesch 2020
    Headed to Fiescheralp via Unners Tälli.
    Headed to Fiescheralp via Unners Tälli.

    Good dinner at the Hotel du Glacier in Fiesch. Among other dishes they offered Cholera, a traditional local Valais meal that is a bit like a British Cornish pasty or pie.

    Day 3: Binn and Binntal

    Key Information

    Route: Binn – Fäld – most of the way to Frechi – Fäld – Binn.

    Length: 10km, +500m, -500m.

    Date: 2020-July-02.

    Fiesch 2020 day 3

    Binntal is meant to be really beautiful and I had wanted to go there for ages.

    The Binntal tourism website has some useful information on hiking ideas. Though I didn’t have any clear plan and decided to just go and see what stood out to me.

    From Fiesch it is a 30 minute ride on the Postbus which runs hourly (with a bigger gap in the early afternoon) to Binn. For a Wednesday morning it was actually surprisingly full as it seemed to be the day for the local retired folk to go for a walk. If you phone ahead and reserve (or turn up and be lucky) you can take a smaller Postbus further up the valley from Binn to Brunnebiel.

    Binn and the Binntal really was a beautiful village and valley. Tourists ram themselves into the Jungfrau region and Zermatt, but there are endless side valleys in Valais and Graubünden that are just stunning (amongst other the Val Bever and Val Russein are favourites of mine), and feel so much more like the rural meadows-mountains-and-cows idyll of Switzerland that people are looking for. Often they are reached by are a hell of a scenic bus ride along narrow windy roads with steep gorges dropping off below the road.

    Fiesch 2020
    Starting out up Binntal.

    We decided on heading along the meadows to Fäld and just see what took our interest. The day started clear but with rain/thunder predicted from 3pm so didn’t want to push too far or hard.

    Walking up through the valley was very nice. The meadows were in full bloom and crickets were jumping everywhere around our feet. Fäld itself was very small but very pretty (and it does have a restaurant). We had a break for coffee and cake, carried on up towards Frechi, then slowly turned around and went the same way back.

    Fiesch 2020
    Fiesch 2020

    I will certainly go back for a long weekend to explore some more of the routes and peaks (possibly staying at the campsite near Fäld). It is also only a few (very steep) km into Italy from Binn which opens up more options (this was once a smuggling route).

    Day 4 – Alongside the Aletsch glacier

    Key Information

    Route: Bettmerhorn – Märjelensee – Tälligrat Tunnel – Obers Tälli – Fiescheralp. (basically this but a bit shorter).

    Length: 10km, + 250m, – 680m.

    Date: 2020-July-03.

    Fiesch 2020 day 4

    I would have liked to have gone up to Bellwald and from there taken the cable car to Furggulti and hiked up to the Risihorn. But it seemed closed until a bit later in July – their website is really useless for making such useful information clear. Instead we decided to head back up to the Aletsch Glacier.

    A short train ride from Fiesch to Betten, onto the cable car to Bettmeralp, walk through the village to the Bettmerhorn cable car and up, At the Bettmerhorn station there is an enclosed restaurant and the start of the hiking path.. This could also be extended by going up to Riederalp and either doing the full ridge (an extra 7.6km +700m, -189m) or taking the cable car to Moosfluh and adding on part of the ridge (an extra 3km, + 230m, -125m).

    We actually made a quick diversion in Bettmeralp to drop off package of excess clothing that wasn’t needed in the end at the Post Office. An easy solution for less than 10CHF.

    I have only included a few photos, see my post on hiking the in the other direction for more.

    Aletsch sign
    Starting off from the Bettmerhorn cable car station.

    Walking alongside the glacier never gets any less impressive. Especially when you find yourself next to a sheep which is munching away above the ice. Both ways are good, but going “upstream” is better view-wise I think as the overall view of the glacier continues to open up and you can see up to Jungfraujoch.

    Fiesch 2020
    Sheep just chilling above a sea of ice.

    Back to the Gletscherstube for more cake. This time it was much quieter (probably the cloudier weather than day).

    We took the shorter Tälligrat tunnel option back through to reach Fiescheralp just to see what the route was like. The tunnel itself only took 15 minutes to go through and was more interesting than expected with some art along the way and a sunken floor creating a nice stream to follow. There was enough lighting along the way but older or less able people might appreciate a torch.

    After the tunnel there was a nice view out over the valley and a smooth walk down being gravel road the whole way. This was much quicker than the other path taken on day 2, but not as nice.

    Back to Fiescheralp and jumped on the Gondola down to Fiesch again.

    Fiesch 2020
    Emerging out of the tunnel.
    Fiesch 2020
    Abandoned looking alp huts.

    Day 5: Fiesch to Rosenlaui

    See the dedicated post for the Rosenlaui part of the trip.

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