Photo: The classic view of the Rosenlaui glacier and Wellhorn from the bridge at Geschwantenmad.
A long weekend that was booked to stay at the Hotel Rosenlaui to experience the hotel and finally go over the Grosse Scheidegg.
When – 3rd to 5th July 2020.
The start of July is great for green meadows at around 2000m filled with flowers and cows, which are backed by 3000m+ peaks with some bright snow still left on them. You might still have problems with snow on higher passes, especially on north facing sections.
It is also the time of year that you will find lots of tadpoles in surprisingly high and cold looking lakes.
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 – Rosenlaui
Rosenlaui is located halfway between Meiringen and the Grosse Scheidegg. There isn’t much there but beautiful landscape and a few farmers.
It first came to my attention when it was described in the Mark Twain’s ‘A Tramp Abroad’ with the simple comment “Next morning we walked to Rosenlaui, the beau idéal of Swiss scenery”. Not much in the book is taken seriously (and that section was a long joke on the use of language) but it stuck in my mind – I have to say he were totally correct.
The footpath from Meiringen to Rosenlaui, over the Grosse Scheidegg, and down to Grindelwald is actually listed as a single day in stage 10 of the Via Alpina. At 23km that is quite a day so I haven’t been too tempted to do that. Instead I have now done Meiringen – Grindelwald taking a much more windy route split over 5 different hikes on different days over years.
Accomodation – Hotel Rosenlaui (2 nights)
A very beautiful historic hotel in a quiet location all by itself halfway up the pass to the Grosse Scheidegg. I became aware of it thanks to a comment somewhere on the internet praising it, I can’t recall who or where – but they were most certainly right.
Reached by Postbus from Meiringen/Grindelwald (you get a guest card for free bus travel from check in until the end of the day that you check out), foot, or you can drive up from Meiringen (requires buying a parking ticket near the base of the valley). There is also a fairly large parking area close by for general tourists. But the road and area is very is quiet; especially in the evening.
The owners have kept the old style as much as possible – including very limited number of showers and toilets (though I never had a problem there). They also keep it off the grid with no Wi-Fi and phones/laptops banned in the communal areas. But there actually was a good number of power plugs in the rooms. Keeping with the theme the hotel sits in a trough with little to no signal, but going a few minutes up to the glacier gorge entrance was enough to pick up some signal to check anything important (like a detailed weather forecast).
- The building is very grand and well looked after. The feeling was fancy but not formal at all. It was really nice to hang out in the lounge with a book or board game whilst the host played the piano.
- The service level is fantastic. It is easy to order drinks or snacks on a tab and then pay for everything at the end.
- The price of bed includes a very good 4 course dinner and breakfast. Which at 80 CHF per person in the cheaper rooms is a hell of a good deal.
- Being in such a quiet location shops are a little limited. Stock up before heading up, or the farm next door sells cheese and spreads (and books on the area too).
- We stayed in the simpler (and cheaper) Tourist Room which requests you bring a silk sleeping bag liner to sleep in, but does provide blankets. You can bring sleeping bags but this is not required. This is a bit confusing as the German version explains this clearly but the English version just says sleeping bags.
- If there is one criticism I have it is that the building is creaky in some places. Very, very, creaky. If you have to walk along the corridor to go to the toilet at 2am you will feel like every step is going to wake up half the building.
Day 1: Fiesch to Rosenlaui
We had been staying in Fiesch in Valais prior to arriving in Rosenlaui (see this post). My plan had been to take the train from Fiesch up the valley to Oberwald and then the Postbus over the Grimsel Pass and down to Meiringen as I hadn’t been that way before. Sadly the day started with light rain and low cloud down to 1000m. So I decided on the slightly silly roundabout route of Fiesch-Brig-Spiez-Interlaken-Meiringen which had the same time sat on transport but saved 50 minutes waiting in rainy Oberwald. Checking the webcam later the pass was still in fog so a more comfortable train ride on the shorter route was the better idea.
Meiringen is a decent sized town with a Sherlock Holmes obsession thanks to the nearby Reichenbach falls where the detective fell to his apparent death. It is worth a quick look around for the surreal novelty of all the Holmes themes, but on that day we popped into Migros for a quick and cheap lunch at the restaurant and to grab some supplies for the next few days but didn’t hang around for long. There are lots of worthy diversions around Meiringen, however if you staying in that area for long I would suggest staying in Brienz as a base which is only a short train ride away and much more scenically located on a lake.
Route: Zwirgi – Rosenlaui.
Length: 4.75km, +377m, -24m.
Low cloud was still hanging around at 1000m so the views were rather limited. We took the Postbus (direction Schwarzwaldalp) to the restaurant at Zwirgi by the top of the Reichenbach falls, cutting off the steepest part of the climb for the day (we had done that part before and it wouldn’t be any better in the fog). Staying on the bus for another 15 minutes would have gotten us all the way to Rosenlaui, but I was determined to walk the whole pass (if only in many separate parts).
It was cloudy with a very light mist of rain at first, but that didn’t matter as lower down the path was mostly in the forest. The path follows the middle of the valley sometimes on and sometimes off the (very quiet) road. A stream is with you the whole way changing from steeper with a pounding torrent at the steep start, to gentle and flat with a babbling brook as you climb higher. I was aware that there should have been some impressive mountain views ahead but missed out on those until the next day. It was very quiet apart from a few cars driving over bridges (which made a loud boom, making me think we were about to be hit by a thunderstorm the first time).
Checked in at the hotel and went across the road to the Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge. Very impressive. Entry is 8 CHF and the walk up through it takes about 45 minutes. It was as good or better than the Trommelbach falls in Lauterbrunnen, and empty (being an overcast Friday at 4pm probably helped there). It is freshly melted glacier water going through what is essentially a cave, so expect it to be cool and damp. Took scenic coffee and cake with view at the entrance cafe afterwards.
Day 2 – Grosse Scheidegg to Grindenfeld
Route: Grosse Scheidegg – Scheidegg Oberläge – Hornseewli – Im obersten Breitenboden – Grindelfeld – Rosenlaui.
Length: 14km +500m -1100m.
We caught the bus right outside the hotel to Grosse Scheidegg (with a quick change at Schwarzwaldalp). The valley opens up after Rosenlaui and it was a beautiful ride (especially sitting on left hand side which faces the towering higher mountains). It is closed to normal traffic above Schwarzwaldalp, but is a popular cycling route. Even at 9am a fair few cyclists had already reached the top.
The area around Grosse Scheidegg has a very different feel to its more popular neighbour the Kleine Scheidegg (which despite the name is actually higher). There is no ski infrastructure, and other than a few hotels along the road, and the odd farm (some of which have self-serve fridges you can buy cheese and drinks from) there is very little of anything. As such it is very quiet. Something which I found much nicer than the clutter and crowds of Kleine Scheidegg.
Initially clouded over with the clouds sat not far above us but then got clearer and clearer (See Day 3 below for photos of the view from the pass on a clear day). This was actually quite nice as it meant doing the harder work in the shade at first.
The little lake at Hornseewli is worth the climb. A quiet sheltered spot with impressive views (like a mini Bachalpsee without the crowds). After seeing tadpoles for days we finally found frogs. The descent down after was a little steep but not dangerous, we just needed to use hands for support once or twice.
The path along to Grindelfeld was very Swiss with wild flowers all around and constant views. A highlight was the cows on an outcrop by Grindelfeld.
The normally quite reliable Maps.me has some serious holes up here so don’t rely on it in this area.
The descent from Grindelfeld was through yet more beautiful meadows and then on gravel road in the forest. There were nice views the whole way. Despite dropping 800m the elevation change wasn’t too hard on the knees.
The marked footpath takes you to Rufenen where it seems you have to loop round via Geschwantenmad but there is an unmarked (and initially unclear) path across the meadow which becomes marked and easy to follow in the forest to get directly back to the Hotel.
I wandered back along the river to Geschwantenmad to see the classic bridge view of the Wellhorn and Rosenlaui glacier in its full glory.
Bought some cheese from the farm next door after dinner to take home. In the afternoon/evening light it was a pretty perfect scene of gushing mountain streams, towering peaks, and cows with bells.
Day 3 – Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald First, then home
Route: Grosse Scheidegg – Grindelwald First.
Length: 5km, +327m, -120m.
Again we took the bus back up to Grosse Scheidegg. From there it was simply a case of following the signs along to First, either along a gentler gravel road or smaller footpaths (both are pretty much the same in terms of views and height change).
The path was simple and the views across to the towering mountains and glaciers stayed the whole way across. Not much to say, but not much needs to be said.
It was a sunny Sunday with clear views so First was unsurprisingly busy (it was much much busier on the Grindelwald side of the pass in general). Saw the first drone and most international tourists of the trip.
Had a drink at the Skihütte Genepi a few meters down the hill from the cable car station which was much quieter than the main complex.
We headed down on the cable car and around midday. We could have carried on down to Grindelwald by foot, or off to Bachalpsee and back (something I only did for the first time by mountain bike a year later), but we had enough sun the last few days and given the COVID situation wanted to stick to the quieter early afternoon trains. It was crazy busy in Grindelwald with lots of people and a very long queue of people still wanting to go up to First.