Flirting with the greatest: Hiking by the Aletsch glacier

All creations of nature are equal, but some are more equal than others. In my book, few can compare to mighty glaciers that have been accumulating snow and ice for thousands of years. Hearing their humming and cracking is like listening to a different era, travelling through space and time. 

Priding itself in being the largest Alpine glacier, Aletschgletscher is likely on most hikers' bucket lists. But it certainly was not on anyone's bucket list when we visited. Venturing there on a day with a fairly unstable weather forecast proved to be a a risky, but rewarding business: having to trod through fresh snow (at times guessing the path and trying to recognise the marks underneath the white dusty layer) meant it was just us and the glacier. I could count the people we met on the fingers of one hand.

Arriving with the cablecar to Bettmerhorn, we started our hike with a view of the glacier that kept getting better and better as we were walking right on its edges the whole time (sticking to the marked path), making our way towards Märjelesee, which awaited us in a snowstorm taken right out of a Harry Potter film. Luckily we could warm ourselves up with a shot of the local herbal liquor in the cosy Gletscherstube before continuing towards Fiescheralp (cheat code: the path down to Fiescheralp can partly be taken through a long pedestrian tunnel, which shortens the time to get there quite significantly - very valuable when there's a snowstorm).

Although the fresh snow cover and intermittent fog made the hike trickier, they proved to be a blessing in disguise - besides giving us the glacier all to ourselves, it looked even more magnificent with the mountains around it rising from the mist. But as much as I find glaciers inspiring, they're also a heartbreaking reminder of what a negative impact humankind has had on nature. Aletsch is, like many others, a retreating glacier. As a result of climate change, it has lost 1.3 kilometres of its length since 1980 (as of 2016, according to Wikipedia), 3.2 kilometres since 1870, and lost also more than 300 metres of its thickness. It's really crappy of us to treat our one and only planet so indifferently, so let our beloved glaciers be an incentive for us to overthrow the exploitative capitalist practices and opt for a more sustainable future that ensures Earth's survival. ✊

HIKING BY THE ALETSCHGLETSCHER 

(from Bettmerhorn through Märjelesee to Fiescheralp)

  • Time of the year: I hiked in early October.  
  • How to get to the starting point: From Geneva, take the train to Betten Talstation and then the chairlift to Bettmeralp, changing there for the cablecar to Bettmerhorn (it's a 10 min walk through the village from where you arrive in Bettmeralp to the cable car that takes you to Bettmerhorn). The hike then starts at Bettmerhorn (see directions below) and finishes at Fiescheralp, where you take the cable car down to Fiesch.
  • Hike time: Around 4 hours. 
  • Hike length & ascent: Around 10km, 500m ascent 
  • Hiking gear needed: Good hiking gear (waterproof boots, poles) and crampons if hiking outside the summer season.
  • Difficulty: Moderate (due to mostly rocky path). 
  • Hike directions: I am normally quite confident in writing the directions for the hikes I've done (I mean, that's the whole point of this blog...), but Aletsch was a bit of a search in the dark due to the fresh snow cover. In any case, once you reach Bettmerhorn, follow the signs to the panorama point. Right before the panorama, you'll see the signs for Märjelesee, pointing to your left. After that you'll go downhill for some time, until you see yellow signs again for Märjelesee, taking you right. From then on, the path goes more or less straight on for most of the way (with visible red marks on the rocks to guide you if you're lucky). There are one or two rockfall parts in between (meaning walking through huge wobbly rocks), but they are fairly short. You should then reach the yellow signs again - taking you straight on for another while. After 2-3 hours you should be turning right and seeing the Gletscherstube in the distance already, leaving the glacier behind on your left. Once you've had a rest (and some herbal liquor) at the Gletscherstube, follow the pedestrian tunnel (visible from the hut) to Fiescheralp (about an hour walk), where you can take the cablecar down to Fiesch, and then the train to Brig.
 


Märjelesee.

Gletscherstube (above), and the view from the cosy hut (below).

CONVERSATION

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