The Via Alpina is one of the most beautiful mountain pass hikes in Switzerland. In particular, the six stages in the Bernese Oberland from Meiringen to Lenk boast numerous highlights: the notorious north face of the Eiger, spectacular mountain passes and impressive glacier landscapes. Ensuring that the hiking trails remain easily accessible demands a lot of dedication and physical exertion from Bernhard Mani and his team throughout the summer.
Deep-blue lakes, idyllic valleys, imposing mountains and traditional villages – guests will find all of these in the Bernese Oberland holiday region. The more than 4,622 kilometres of hiking trails are particularly attractive to active holidaymakers looking for relaxation in impressive natural surroundings.
Bernhard Mani was born with a passion for the mountains: as the son of a mountain farming family, he spent a great deal of time in the mountains as a small boy. Even as an adult he remained true to the mountains: he worked as a ski instructor in the winter and as a mountain guide in the summer, and was hut warden of the Blüemlisalp hut for over 30 years. Today, at the grand old age of 84, he is still active in the mountains. As one of four hiking trailmakers, he maintains the hiking trails between Sefinenfurgge and Hohtürli.
Bernhard and his three co-workers are responsible for maintaining the hiking trails. The 40 kilometres or so between Sefinenfurgge and Hohtürli and to the Gamchi Glacier are very time-consuming. From the end of June to mid-October, Bernhard and his co-workers spend almost 400 hours clearing stones, repairing steps and laying new paths. In particular, the path across the Gamchi Glacier requires a lot of attention. Because of the glacial retreat, the path is constantly in motion and has to be constantly re-laid.
The standard equipment is always to hand in the rucksack: a small tool, a length of rope, a first-aid kit, a silk sleeping bag and, of course, binoculars are all essentials. With a little bit of luck, you might see some mountain wildlife here, such as ibex, marmots or bearded vultures.
Switzerland has over 65,000 kilometres of hiking trails. The municipalities are usually responsible for the construction and maintenance of these paths. This is a major challenge, especially for small communities in mountain regions. Due to a lack of financial resources, they are dependent on volunteers like Bernhard, who receive only modest payment for their work. But when you work in the great outdoors with this unique panorama, this is something that is quickly forgotten.
The Griesalp in the Kiental Valley marks the start of the Queen’s stage (stage 13) of the Via Alpina. The idyllic alp at the farthest end of the valley rewards you with a magical world that opens up for you – and it is no coincidence that this is part of the “Swiss Alps” UNESCO World Heritage site. Below lies a lovely valley landscape, while above there are untamed high mountains and in the middle is the natural paradise of Griesalp. A phone signal won’t be found here.
It’s just before noon when Bernhard Mani packs his work materials into his rucksack. With his rucksack on and his hiking boots laced up, he takes his walking poles in hand. Bernhard is ready for the working day ahead. To begin with, the hiking trail leads at a gentle climb through the forest. After passing the tree line, the trail crosses lush meadows up to the Bundalp. It’s well worth taking a break on the high plateau and buying fresh alpine cheese at the Berghaus Bundalp. A fortifying snack is vital since the next three hours will be fairly intense.
Strength renewed, it’s time to continue on. The path first crosses over large meadows, and becomes gradually steeper as it gets higher. Bernhard has learned to take it all in his stride, however: step-by-step the path climbs upwards at an even pace. Small and large stones are skilfully removed from the path with a gentle kick as he goes. He only stops to tighten the screws of a signpost or to cut back nettles. But Bernhard is happy to also take the time to chat with curious hikers.
The hiking trail meanders upwards in a steady zigzag pattern. Bernhard soon leaves the green meadows behind him, and the landscape changes to a barren gravel slope. Arriving at the Wart, there’s time for a final break for a drink. Looking back, he can see just how far he has already come. The destination at Hohtürli is just a stone’s throw away now. Just another 300 metres of elevation gain to go. But this is a tough section: steep steps seem to climb straight up into the sky. Although the more than 580 steps are particularly strenuous, the climb is worth it.
Once they reach the Hohtürli, hikers are rewarded with an unparalleled view: the Blüemlisalphorn with its imposing glacier, the Wildi Frau, and up to the Wildstrubel on one side. The view behind is also a sight to behold, with a spectacular panorama. The triumvirate of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau as well as the Schilthorn, the Niesen and the deep-blue waters of Lake Thun are all in view. A signpost lets hikers know that the night camp in the Blüemlisalp hut is just seven minutes away. With tired legs and a growling stomach, Bernhard takes on the last leg, knowing full well that a well-deserved beer is already waiting for him in the hut.
After a short but restful night in the mountain hut, Bernhard begins the descent. Luckily, he still has his pickaxe in his pack, because along the way he encounters a section of the trail that needs repairing. The gravel slope towards Kandersteg is very unstable and needs to be checked and repaired after any heavy rainfall. He works quickly with his tool, and the path is soon restored to a usable state. Before continuing his descent, Bernhard observes a bearded vulture. He guesses the bird of prey is probably very old, given its size. Half an hour later, Bernhard points out two chamois just below the hiking trail.
The hiking trail descends slowly over moraines until the view opens up at the Berghaus Oberbärgli to reveal Lake Oeschinen. This mountain lake is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Alps. It is fed by glacial streams from the 3,000-metre peaks of the Blüemlisalp, Oeschinenhorn, Fründehorn and Doldenhorn. The pristine lake is the perfect place for a refreshing dip after a strenuous hike. The temperature can rise to as high as 20°C in high summer.
It’s hard to think of a long-distance hike as varied as the Via Alpina stages from Meiringen to Lenk: with their deep valleys, lush green meadows, steep scree slopes, lively tourist resorts and remote Alpine peaks. On the six stages, visitors experience Switzerland as a hiking paradise. In all there are six mountain passes to conquer, which demand a lot from the hikers. The reward comes with the breathtaking views of wide vistas and deep abysses. Many stages can be cut short if needed by taking the mountain railway or the postal bus.
|A total ascent of 8,250 metres
|is the distance between the starting point in Meiringen and the finishing point in Lenk.
|awaits on the six daily stages. There are always opportunities to take a shortcut by mountain railway or the postal bus.
|The Hohtürli is the highest point of the Via Alpina.