Standard Wanderweg signpost


An account of walks in the Swiss Alps, with accompanying photographs. The walks were predominantly in the Bernese Oberland at first, but spread to the Valais and other areas of Switzerland as easy targets ran out.

Go to year:

Go to walk (alphabetical order1):
(Other orderings here)

About the Walker

I now live in New Zealand after spending more than twenty years in Switzerland, during many of which I was able to enjoy the country's peerless network of mountain trails. To have the best of both worlds, I return every year ( pandemics allowing!) for two or three months to see relatives and catch up with my walking. I travel during the months of July, August and September because these are the best for walkers; the snow is largely gone and the days are long. I leave behind months of dull, half-cold and rainy weather in the North Island of New Zealand. As my base in Switzerland is in Burgdorf, to the northeast of Bern, many of the walks are in the Bernese Alps, but with most of the good walks there done, some of them many times, I have had to range farther afield to find worthy targets.

About The Walks

The outings described herein are all day trips needing no mountaineering equipment. Beyond stout walking shoes and proper rain gear, all I take is a pair of carbide-tipped walking poles (...if they're good enough for Reinhold Messner, they're good enough for me!) and a readiness to make good use of hands as well as feet.

This walker does not use mechanical aids to help reach summits or get back to the valley faster. They diminish the sense of achievement at day's end. That's not dogma; if lightning threatens and there is a cable car handy, I'll take it, but that hardly ever happens.

The dif ficulty rating for each walk is given according to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) T scale, known as the "SAC-Wanderskala". A search for this on the Web will result in German text, but a good English translation is available here. Briefly, the scale runs from T1 to T6. A walk of class T2 or T3 is usually called a "Bergweg", and walk of T4 or higher is called an alpine route. A T2 walk is already quite steep enough to require modest fitness and to get you to plenty of delightful huts and summits around the 2000 M. mark. You could spend a perfectly good walking season without ever exceeding T2. Towards the other end, a T5 walk could be exhausting or terrifying for a beginner, with a high risk of death in some cases for the unsure of foot. The rating given is taken from SAC publications or other reputable sources where possible, and where I agree with them (which I mostly do); otherwise it's my own opinion.

Photo of path markings Walking tracks in the Swiss Alps are typically marked with white-red-white paint stripes for those rated T1 to T3, and white-blue-white for those rated T4 or above. T5 or T6 walks may have no markings at all. The markings don't rigidly adhere to the classifications, can be worn away almost to nothing (see the photo), and may well be less easy to find than you would like, but they are generally a great help and it's always very reassuring when you come across one at last after a long stretch on unfamiliar terrain.

Summit books are a thing in the Alps. They tend to be found on peaks that aren't visited by large crowds, and even then somewhat at random. They are usually kept in sealable aluminium containers bolted to the summit cross or in the base of the cairn. I don't usually write anything. What are you going to write that hasn't been written a hundred times already? Notable wildlife or genuinely out-of-the-ordinary weather might be a reason to add an entry, or perhaps if you want walkers to know which country you come from.

This site makes no claims to be a guide. Far more detailed instructions for reaching the peaks are available in printed material, though nearly all the best stuff requires you to be able to read German. In the odd case where I have information I think is useful, and which I don't think is readily accessible elsewhere, I have appended it to the relevant walk in a format like this:


In addition to the usual walking gear, a vorpal sword would be useful here. From the car park, set off steeply up through Tulgey Wood, well known for bird life, especially the Jubjub (Ornithos Jubjubulus). Your best chance of seeing one is in the branches of a Tumtum tree. Take care in the exposed uplands beyond the woods; some of the wabes are big enough to swallow a walker whole. On the summit ridge, caution is required when traversing the bigger borogoves, which can be quite mimsy. A frabjous day out when the weather plays ball.

Walk Headers

The highest point reached on each walk is given in the header in metres; move the mouse over it to see the corresponding altitude in feet instead.

The ascent achieved (the height of the highest point above the starting point) is displayed the same way.

The date of the walk (helpful when arriving from off the page) and the difficulty rating (see above) are also given.

About Maps

If maps are important to you as a walker (and they should be), then in Switzerland, you have come to the right place. The Swiss Landeskarten ("LK") are way up there alongside the British Ordnance Survey maps as the best in the world. Quite apart from their usefulness in getting speedily to your destination, the sheer enjoyment of reading them is a thing to be savoured. From the point of the walker, their content is also very durable; recognised tracks in the Alps do not change much over time. My oldest walking map is of the area around Lake Thun and dates from about 1977. The road up to Frutigen from Spiez depicted on it is now a side road closed to through traffic and passing though villages no longer seen by travellers. But... the familiar paths up the Niesen, the Stockhorn, the Niederhorn are all there, just as they are in the 2020s, more than forty years later.

Maps are produced by the Federal Office of Topography, "swisstopo" (complete with cool lower-case initial letter) to its friends. As a result of decisions made by the Swiss Federal Council in 2020, swisstopo's standard digital products, such as digital maps, aerial photographs and landscape models, were made available online free of charge as Open Government Data and became freely usable from 1 March 2021. You can now download the standard Landeskarten in exactly the same quality as the familiar printed versions, but if you want extra layers of information such as walking tracks, you will have to pay, and the prices won't be much less than those of the printed version.

Photo of three maps The LK 1:50000 maps should be fine for most walkers. You should always look for the special "Wanderkarte" versions, with the tracks marked in red. Some of these include portions of several contiguous standard maps in order to cover a whole area and save a lot of money (and paper). Three typical maps are shown in the picture. The left one covers a huge area of the Bernese Oberland, including all the highest peaks. From 1989, it is still perfectly usable for just about any walk in the area. No longer available in this form, my copy is jealously guarded. Publisher Kümmerly+Frey went bankrupt in 2001, but its cartography division was acquired by another map producer Hallwag AG and its name continues to appear on a wide range of walking maps. The middle one dates from 2009 and covers a vast area of the Western Bernese Oberland. It should still be available in 2021. The rightmost one is somewhat different. At a scale of 1:33333, it covers a major tourist area in detail. It's on waterproof paper and printed on both sides, meaning less to carry for the walker. The first two are on conventional paper, so here's a tip... a resealable sandwich bag is the ideal way to protect them from rain and sweat.

If there is one criticism I would level at the recent versions of the LK, it is the replacement of common names with dialectal variants. The standard appelation "horn" for a peak in the German-speaking part of the country is being replaced by local versions. Thus the Schwarzhorn near Grindelwald in a 1980s map has become the Schwarzhoren by 2009. The Oldenhorn in a late-sixties map is the Oldehore by the 1980s. The Signalhorn near Unterbäch in the Rhône Valley has become the Signalhoru. This might sound like quibbling, but with the LK now online and searchable in terrific sites like this one, you will not be able to find such peaks with the more standard spelling.

For an example of the illogical results of these changes, take the massif called the Lohner in my late 1960s map, which has morphed into the Loner sometime before 2009. A search for "Loner" on the above-mentioned site gets the massif and its constituent peaks only. By contrast, "Lohner" finds a raft of roads, streets and buildings named after the massif, plus the SAC hut on the mountain (…the Lohner Hut, of course). It all reaches a peak of absurdity in this example, where the Dreizehntenhorn has acquired an arcane spelling not likely to be known to an outsider trying to find the mountain online, to put it mildly.

The Cameras

Most of the pictures before 2016 were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, but a few (those with "Cas" in the file name) with a Casio EX-Z750. Some of them may give a hint of the each camera's capabilities, but not much, as they've all been reduced to web-friendly sizes and qualities. I've been happy enough with the new Lumix, though I'm not sure it generates such vibrant colours as the little Casio. The latter acquitted itself pretty well, considering that it predates the Lumix by about four years.

At the beginning of 2016, shortly after its tenth birthday, the Casio began to show signs of infirmity, losing the date and time when it was switched off, so that I had to reinput them whenever I powered it on again. This obviously wasn't a good omen for the future; there might be difficult walks where it would be the only camera I could carry, so it was time to think at last of anointing a successor. Given the generally satisfactory experience with the DMC-G1, it was natural to look at Panasonic once again, so, after reading lots of reviews, I went down to my local camera shop and bought a Lumix DMC-TZ1102.

The Lumix looked to be a good replacement for the Casio in that it was small enough to hang off a trouser belt and had a much wider focal range. It was not to be a success, however, and after a couple of months I decided that it would have to go. Two days before the 2016 trip to Switzerland I went back to the camera shop after another orgy of reviews and replaced it with the Sony RX100 mark IV, a camera half as expensive again as the TZ110. Taking a virgin camera on a walking holiday in Europe was a bold step, but in the event the Sony repaid the risk handsomely and has been completely satisfactory ever since. Although it doesn't have the focal range of the Lumix its pictures are flawlessly sharp and it has a knack of making indoor scenes look even more vivid than they are in reality. In fact, it has performed so well that it has all but completely shouldered the bigger DMC-G1 aside. Its images are the ones with "SRX" in the file name.

Image Preparation

It must be remarked that summer weather is often hazy in Switzerland and even getting up to 3000 M. doesn't always cure that. Such changes as were made to the camera originals (most commonly haze reduction and brightening of dark areas; less often, rotating to level the horizon and cropping) were done with two software packages. The first, IrfanView, is a piece of free (for home use) software I can recommend highly for the simpler kinds of image modification, and for its ease of use. It is only available for Windows, unfortunately. You can run it on Linux, but only through an emulator or a virtual machine, not really worth your time if you don't use these for other things.

Whenever I want to do more complex improvements, I use The GIMP on Linux. A free counterpart to Photoshop, you can do almost anything with this program, but its learning curve is steep. You can even program it to add new functions or to process your images in batch mode, but that is getting into serious geek territory. One shortcoming shared by both of the above packages, however, is that they work internally only in 8-bit colour, not 16-bit. This is harmless enough for many operations, but brightening a sky made too dark by overzealous use of a polarising filter, for example, can easily leave visible banding where the area being worked on has only a small set of discrete colour values to begin with.

In contrast to the improvements mentioned, outright fakery such as replacing the sky is not allowed. To that extent, the images are authentic representations of what I saw on my trips.

A Note on Image Quality

(Following paragraph is of largely historical interest in 2020.) Most of the images presented have been reduced from the original camera sizes to 1024 x 768 pixels. Written out "longhand", so to speak, images even of this modest size occupy more than two megabytes each, so they need to be compressed to avoid wasting bandwidth and running up data charges. Of the two common file formats PNG and JPEG, the former can be disregarded here; as a "lossless" format, it must preserve every detail of the picture and so can hardly halve the file size of an image, even with maximum compression selected. JPEG is another matter. You can shrink the image by as much as you like; 95% is perfectly possible, but there is a price to be paid in the resulting quality. The complex mathematical algorithms used to preserve visual detail in JPEG images will reduce the raw image size by about 95% if you store with a quality parameter of 60 in the GIMP or ImageMagick, but this leaves artefacts. These mostly blend in with the image detail, but they stand out worst along hard edges between strong, uniform colour areas, like mountain crests against a dark blue sky, where they manifest themselves as the bubbly wave patterns known as "ringing". Here is an example, and here is the same image blown up to twice the size to make it more obvious. When I first encountered this problem, I thought my image was faulty and tried to edit the waves out, only to find them magically back again after I saved my work. After a while the penny dropped. Increasing the quality parameter slowly diminishes the artefacts, but they only really disappear at about 95, when the image file is typically three times as big as it was at 60. What was to be done? I decided in the end to generate each image with three different quality levels, low medium and high, and then to choose the lowest quality level for that image such that the compression artefacts didn't annoy me on a passable Philips 170S4 monitor. The verdict still isn't that great on a fifteen-inch MacBook Pro, however.
Update, 2020:
With the advent of terabyte storage and gigabit Internet, the need to keep tight control of the JPEG image quality to save space and bandwidth has diminished, so most of the images are currently stored with a quality parameter around 90%; also, I review my photos on a 4K monitor now, so low quality really would be a pain in the eyes.

  1. Ordering is on the *proper* part of the name. The definite article, appellations (Mont, Piz, Col etc.), adjectives (Grand, Gross etc.) don't count.  ↑
  2. That's what it is called in Australasia. In Europe, the same camera is called the TZ100, in the US, the ZS100. Why? Who knows?  ↑