In the moors, the flatlands or the prairie, climbers feel far from home, alienated from their passions. They experience the flipside of this when they venture into the alps. It’s then that, looking at the exposed massifs surrounding them, their hearts speed up with anticipation of a challenge.
60 to 80 per cent of Switzerland is covered in mountains, with many peaks reaching over 4000m, which is why so many climbers – including professionals like Alexander Megos – have been attracted to it over the years; and why many professional climbers, like Ueli Steck, grew up there.
The terrain lends itself to vertical adventure, with various types of climbing to cater to the whole climbing fraternity. Whether you are into bouldering, sports climbing, trad climbing or via ferrata, there is a thin fissure awaiting your hand jam, a tenuous hold awaiting your crimp.
ROUTES OF STEEL
Via ferrata, meaning “iron path” in Italian, is a type of climbing involving installed steel cable intermittently fixed to the wall. Climbers make their way along it, connected to it by two carabiners, reconnecting to the cable at each fixture, one carabiner at a time, such that they’re always safe. In German speaking regions, it is known as “Klettersteig”, meaning “climbing path”.
Switzerland is packed with over 100 via ferrata routes, from easy to challenging, relatively enclosed in the guts of gorges to wide open with a world of space at your back, just a glance over your shoulder.
Two of the stand-out routes are in Les Diablerets, a village in the canton of Vaud loomed over by the Diablerets Massif, peaking at 3210m.
One of these is known as “Tete au Chamois” or “Rocher Jaune”, which makes its way along a cliff under a stretch of the Glacier 3000 cable car line. This 830m route is reached via the cable car, or on foot. It ought to take approximately two to three hours, challenging climbers with its steep overhanging sections.
The other route in the area, “Waterfall Via Ferrata”, starts on the Dar waterfall trail, or directly from the Col du Pillon, a 1546m mountain pass. It spans 400m and will take approximately one hour and 30 minutes, following the ledges to make for some sporty thrills.
These routes are open every day from June to October and can be undertaken with supervision from various groups and companies.
Another gem includes the Mürren Via Ferrata. Mürren is the name of the village, with ‘fluh’ meaning rockface; so you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s up the Mürrenfluh. A sense of the exposure may be gained from the fact you pass a base jump platform and catch a flying fox to the other side, before making your way over a suspension bridge 400m in the air. This particular route is undertaken with grindelwaldSPORTS.
PURE ROCK CLIMBING
Those who prefer to bring their own ropes can find paradise at Miroir d'Argentine. This peak within the Vaud Alps is nearby the aforementioned Les Diablerets (and the villages Villars and Gryon). ‘Miroir’ is French for ‘mirror’ and is so-called after the smooth rock face of about 400m in height where climbers find their match.
That’s but one face that tempts climbers in Switzerland. Climbing regions can be loosely divided into the Jura mountains in the north, the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps. The rock types, too, can be loosely divided by this rule of three, with granite, limestone and gneiss offering a range of different surfaces.
Other pure rock climbing destinations that stand out include Salbit, in particular the 2981m Salbitschijen, with its trademark daggers of rock shooting into the sky; Grimsel Pass, in particular Motörhead at Eldorado; and Gimmelwald, a quiet crag in the alps offering awesome panoramic views.
A BLEND OF THE BEST
On top of the aforementioned climbing, there are ample bouldering opportunities, for example at Magic Wood, Cresciano and Chironico; mountaineering opportunities at Eiger, Jungfrau and the Matterhorn; and even ice-climbing opportunities at Saas and in Pontresina.
The multiple types of climbing can, in some instances, be combined to make for an incredibly memorable experience. For example, Nendaz rockclimbing and glacier hiking tours bring together hiking, rock-climbing and mountaineering in the vicinity of Mont Fort.
As a lot of these climbing opportunities exist in elevated areas, they may be off-limits in European winter – providing yet another compelling argument for visiting Switzerland during summer, spring or autumn. Whenever you visit, the scenery will stun in a different way and the adventure travel opportunities will thrill with their own unique breed of excitement.