By Connie Allen
Travel local and experience the awesomeness of what is on your doorstep has definitely been the theme of hiking and adventure travel in 2020. It has been so inspiring to see the friends I’ve made on travels around the world show casing the best of their home country in social-distancing friendly tours in epic road trips, bicycle tours, climbing adventures and so on.
So, we packed up the best of our Craghoppers gear and took a train to the southern tip of Switzerland to embark on an ambitious 2 week, 281 km trek home to Zurich. A total ofover 10,000m up and 10,000m down in altitude over the stunning Alps –we were taking on something accumulating to be higher than Everest–and adding to that -we would be walking with all our camping gear –tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, approximately 30kg between the two of us.
On average, after getting up at 6am and packing up the tent we walked between 8 and 10 hours a day, in all weather (thanks to extremely effective GORETEX jackets from Craghoppers) –we marched through rain, sun, “Schneeregen”at 3000m altitude(German word for snow-rain!), and even heavy hail (okay we paused to refuge with some pigs in a barn at this point!)
Total Height profile for our expedition
Our route home to Zurich over the alps
Hiking across Switzerland not only do you witness radical cultural changes (the country has 4 official languages and we passed through Italian, Romansh and German regions) but drastic landscape and climatic changes–from stunning mountain passes, glaciers and harsh rock faces –to peaceful alpine lakes, lush fields of wild flowers and rich healthy forests. Here is a short break down of some highlights from our fortnight on the road. Hopefully you feel inspired to plan something similar in your area.
Stretch 1: Poschiavo –Silvaplana
Our hike began by the Italian border, in the sunny, temperate valleys by(lake) Lago Poschiavo. Heading in a relatively northern direction, and ascent of 1,427m, our high point of the day was Lago Bianco at 2,234m a massive lake with a surface area of over 1.5 km2. Pressing on we past the impressive Morteratsch glacier, at the base of which was our first campsite. Shockingly we learned about how this glacier has retreated some 2km in the past 120 years. The next morning our tour took us past the famous St Moritz, and we pressed on to Silvaplana on the shores of a lake of the same name. The area is famous for its persistent winds and our campsite doubled up as a kite surfing and wind surfing school.
With the map at our starting point, Lago Poschiavo
High energy on day 1! (Wearing Craghoppers Winter trail hooded top)
The truly massive Lago Bianco (our Craghoppers 70 + 10L rucksack)
Our tented home for the next two weeks (in the comfy Kiwi Pro Trekking II leggings!)
Stretch 2: Silvaplana –Jenatch –Bergün
Packing up a soggy tent (Silvaplana has some extreme weather!) we made an early start for a challenging hike up to a cosy mountain hut that offers accommodation by the stunning Piz d’Agnel. This was probably the most extreme stretch of our hike, after crawling up through the Julier-pass we passed further and further from any civilisation and fellow hikers. We were blown away by the sheer vividness of colours of the rock as we elevated–black mountains, orange mountains, lime green, purple…and after the challenging summit of 2,982m (slow steady steps and breathing as the air thinned)-a view down to a crystal cobalt blue lake. The hut was so remote and difficult to access it was supplied by helicopter, unfortunately for us the next delivery was the next day, so food was in very short supply! The next day our tour then bought us down to the picturesque town of Bergün. The day started with a thick wall of cloud, the stunning view from the day before was nowhere to be seen, and after a few challenging ascents and descents in very wet weather we arrived in a campsite just before Bergün, our legs in quite some pain by this point.
In these few days we saw some stunning wildlife –impressive red deer stags at sunrise in the quiet, mystical forest out of Silvaplana, huge families of marmots bopping their heads and screaming at us, rare Ibex up in the Albula mountains, and my favourite –a huge European adder.
A European Adder – We kept a respectable distance from this poisonous snake.
Swiss mountain huts offer cosy accommodation in the most remote of regions
Keeping dry in a Craghoppers GoreTex jacket with the 70L rucksack
Getting soggy on the descent to Bergun and making some friends with some cows!
Stretch 3 Bergün –Calanda
Afew days of shallower altitude, but great distance to cover followed; with overnight stays in campsites in Lenz and Chur, before another trip highlight –a hike up to another cosy mountain hut on the Calanda mountain. The way up was a steady but sharp elevation–with some 1500m to gain in just 7km or so. It was an extremely sunny day and the 4L of waterwe carried at a time was used up fast -luckily we were blessed with a few life saving fountains along the way! We were also treated to woodpeckers knocking away in the forest, butterflies taking rides on our caps, and friendly jet black squirrels. At the mountain hut we were greeted by a huge pack of friendly dogs who seemed to adore us (we must have been very smelly by that point!) and as sunset rolled in we enjoyed the changing pinks, purples and oranges fall uponon the 360 panoramic mountain view.
Stunning, unique architecture in Bergun
Saved by fresh alpine spring fountains!
Inside the cosy mountain hut in Calanda
Stretch 4: Calanda –Sardona –Spitzmeilen
Throughout our hike we stayed flexible with our route to account for local changes to weather, or news about the safety of certain hiking paths. Heavy rain to the east on the morning of departure from Calanda led us to embark on a different route –west,around the mountain and down to the town of Vattis. The next few days took us past the Gigerwaldsee –an epic lake walled both sides by steep mountains–up the Heubutzlipass in the Sardona region (probably my favourite region in Switzerland so far)–and along up to Spitzmeilen, in what was the toughest few days of the hike. Whilst left completely exhausted, it was incredible to reflect on how far we had come so far. We both felt so impressed atthe impact traveling on foot has on you –you remember and feel within you every pass, turn and mountain valley that you have behind you as you process the view and surroundings at such a natural human speed, with so much time for peaceful thought and meditation.
Early start out of Calanda at sunrise (using my Craghoppers Winter Trail Hooded top!)
One of many, many, many snack breaks!
Stretch and sweaty t-shirt change on the Heubutzlipass
Gigerwaldsee disappears into the distance (trekking in my Craghoppers Luna leggings)
Some paths have clearly not been used for some time, we took care not to damage the stunning flowers!
Ascent to Splitzmeilen
Mountain hut at Splitzmeilen
Stretch 5: Spitzmeilen – Zurich
From Spitzmeilen we descended downto the beautiful Walensee (Lake Walen), where we were finally able to take our first swim of the trek. The weather had cleared slightly, and in the morning we had a clear view of the famous Churfirsten mountain range. This ridge has 7 main peaks –on the south face they drop near verticallytowards the Walensee below. The next step was to walk from Wesen along the Linthcanal straight in the direction of the lake of Zurich. The canal links these two lakes, and is a near straight line 15km of flat walking. On these days walking along the canal and lake we were tempted to constantly dip in the crystal waters for a refresher. We also popped into various family and friends as we walked around the coast of the lake of Zurich with our final destination finally in site after 15 days on the road. We humorously enjoyed our contrast as we walked through some of the fancier regions of Zurich without shame –very sweaty and very stinky–and treated ourselves to a well-deserved icecream.
Churfirsten mountain range
Finally! A swim in Walensee
Along the first few KM on the Linth Canal, linking Walensee and Zurisee
A cat enjoying our smelly bags…
On the hottest day of the year so far, we found a delirious and dehydrated lost calf. We took a detour, trying to return him to the farm…and we were successful! Apparently he was just 6 days old!
Victory! 281KM home over the Alps!