The Classic Swiss High-Alpine Hike

The Classic Swiss High-Alpine Hike

When we got up in the morning, the clouds had cleared and we could see a light dusting of snow all over the mountains. Today, we decided to do part of the classic Swiss high-Alpine hike of the Bernese Alps, which leads from First to the Faulhorn summit (2670m above sea level) to Schynige Platte (2068m) via Berghaus Manndlenen. Along the way, the stunningly scenic views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains with the turquoise-blue waters of Lake Brienz shimmering deep down in the valley were heralded as a must-see! In the wintertime, there is a World Cup ski-cross course on First above Grindelwald.

We got up early and took the train to Grindelwald. We planned to hike from Grindewald to First and then over to Faulhorn. We had a lot of trouble finding the trail from Grindelwald to First.

Whenever we asked people, they kept giving us directions to the lift.

At Grindelwald about to ascend on our hike! There are countless ski chalets because this is a popular ski resort destination during the winter.

After hiking around in the hot sun amongst ski chalets for a half hour or so with no sign of the trail, we backtracked and took the lift after all. It was a good thing we did because even the ride on the lift took about 20 minutes. We passed over what would be ski slopes and roads and cows.

Passing over cow fields during the gondola lift.


Happy to be in the lift and not hiking for hours just to reach the start point of the high Alpine hike!

The gondola had two intersections where it slowed down and changed direction slightly. At one of these, we got confused and hopped off, but then realized we were at the wrong stop, and had to run along our gondola before hopping in again.

At a momentary pause during our gondola ride.

As we neared First, snow started appearing on the ground from the rain the last two days. It was above freezing, so the snow was starting to melt. However, there was quite a bit of snow on top of the grass.

The transition to snow covered trails and ground as the altitude increases.


Still happy that we are in the gondola!

We were at the top of a steep cliff and we had a great view of the snow-capped mountains around us and a huge waterfall below.

Great view of the snow capped mountains and valley!

Wow! A magnificent waterfall being fueled by glacial runoff and melting snow!

I’m excited that we’re about to begin our high-Alpine hike of the Bernese Alps!!

We hiked to the beautiful Lake at First, which took about thirty-five minutes and then stopped for lunch. Today was the first day that we encountered snow in the Alps and actually had snow on our hike! We had packed our own lunch so we could sit by the Lake and enjoy the breathtaking beauty.

Hiking to the Alps. Surrounded by snow!


The Lake at First– breathtaking!!

There were a lot of people around, and some fish in the lake were actually jumping out of the water. It was sunny and peaceful so we stayed for a long while to take in and fully appreciate the nature around us.

Very happy and a little overwhelmed to be surrounded by natural wonders.

The problem was that when we finally decided to leave, we didn’t have a lot of time left to get back to a train, bus, or lift. All of the trails that we hiked on in Switzerland had awesome yellow arrow signs at every crossroad with the directions to places and an estimated hiking time (or biking, depending on the type of trail.) This particular signpost included a schedule of the last lifts/buses down the mountain and the last train/bus would leave at 5:30pm. Thus, we realized that we would barely have enough time to get to our destination Bussalp before we would be stranded. So after lunch, we hiked as fast as we could to get to Faulhorn.

We were able to hike faster than the signs’ estimates! We hiked to Faulhorn in 40mintues, which is half the estimated time of 1 hour 35 minutes. We met a fellow hiker coming from the opposite direction, so we asked him how long it would take to get to Faulhorn.

He only spoke German, but we were able to communicate using hand gestures. He didn’t think we had enough time, but Catherine and I decided to power through.

We filled our water bottles with snow and drank it as it melted. At the base of Faulhorn, we met a couple from Germany who were hiking the Alps as a day trip.

They were very friendly and gave us advice about following maps versus the trail signs.

The view from Faulhorn was really incredible. There was a hotel/restaurant on the peak of Faulhorn and some really great views. However, the trail was super wet and muddy from all the melted snow. There was snow all over the mountain top, but with the sun beaming down, the snow was rapidly melting. It was okay for going uphill, but it was really difficult going down. We were sliding all over on the muddy mush of the trails! Once we turned onto the trail leading to Bussalp, the trail became wetter and wetter. The snow was melting so quickly that the water took the path of least resistance, making the trails into streams of water!!!

The snow meltoff was sturning into a stream next to the trail! Everything was very slippery.


Verycarefully making my way down the trail, which was slippery and mushy due to the melting snow. The only way we knew we were on the right path was because of the white and red striped trail markings.

We could only tell where the trail was supposed to be by the white-red-white painted trail markers on the rocks. Thus, we had to hop from one red and white trail marker to the next. Going downhill was less physically taxing than going uphill but much more difficutl because of the danger of falling and slipping. Carly’s knee really hurt as we were going down since the usual trail was now either mushy snow and mud or a stream of water. However, we were rewarded with and accompaided by beautiful scenery the whole way down.

Eventually, we got below the snowline and the trail got drier. Thanks goodness!

Taking a moment to enjoy the scenery. We were relieved that we made it through the hike and in time for the last bus!


A friendly yellow hiking sign telling us the direction of Bussalp, where we would catch the bus to Grindelwald.

We passed some water troughs for cows. The hike ended by walking through a cow pasture, where there were plenty of smelly cows with tinkling cow bells. Walking through cow fields was a cool end to the hike, but we had to watch out for cow pats on the trail!

At the end of our hike that lead through a cow field!


A cow in the foreground with the snow-capped Bernese Alps in the background. Very Swiss!

When we reached the bus at Bussalp that went back to Grindelwald, it surprisingly wasn’t covered by the Swiss Youth Pass.The driver had probably seen us coming and waited so he was almost behind schedule, which is a pretty big deal in Switzerland. (The tardiest train that Carly and I had ever took was maybe 5 minutes late.) Anyway, we were really glad we caught the bus because it was a long and very windy drive down back to Grindelwald.

We had dinner in Grindelwald, where the view from the restaurant was excellent. We had someFendantwine, veal sausages and rosti dish. Fendant is a Swiss wine that is made from a well-known white grape, Chasselas, grown in the Valais. This grape takes a long time to mature and does well in the long cool summers of the Alpine region. We learned that we don’t usually hear much about Swiss wines becuase it is rarely exported from the country! This is because the Swiss drink a large portion of their small production and the cost of producing the wine is high due to the high basic wages for the manual labor to produce the wine.

The spectacular view of the Alps from our restaurant as we ate our dinner.


Fendant wine, veal sausage and rosti. Meal of champions, who conquered the Alps!

Thus, since Swiss wines are rarely found outside of Switzerland, I’m glad we took this unique opportunity to try different Swiss wines. I really enjoyed the Fendant, which was dry and had a nice aroma. However, we both wished the portions from the Swiss restaurants were a little more like American portions in size since we had a long and tiring day! Carly was still hungry after the entree and ordered dessert as well. There were also other patrons smoking out on the veranda. It was interesting to me that while in the US, nonsmoking is the norm since we have designated smoking areas. However, in Switzerland, everywhere allowed smoking unless otherwise noted as non-smoking.

That night we hung out in the hostel with Alice and some of the other guests in the common room. One of the interesting things about the hostel was how many Koreans they got. Signs around the hostel would be in English first, then in Korean.