Via Alpina – Stage 12 – Lauterbrunnen to Griesalp
This stage has so many highlights and so many options it’s hard to know where to start. It’s a long day—10 hours of hiking if you stick to the route on foot. If you’ve scheduled a rest day along the way, the Lauterbrunnen Valley would be a great place to kick back. However, if you need to keep moving, but want to enjoy the Lauterbrunnen Valley then plan on taking one of the two mechanized routes from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren—That will knock three hours off your hiking day and save you 800 meters of ascent through the forest.
This deep-cut glacial valley is on par with Yosemite, with towering cliffs on both sides, 72 gushing waterfalls, and glaciated peaks overhead. It was the Lauterbrunnen Valley that provided the inspiration for 19-year-old JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Rivendell, and Misty Mountains. In recent years it’s become the extreme sports center of Switzerland, so you’re likely to see a few paragliders and wing-suited BASE jumpers overhead. If you want to experience the best of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and still make it to Griesalp in time for dinner, go to Trümmelbach Falls and watch 20,000 liters of water per second thunder through a 10-tiered underground waterfall. Be there at 9:00 when it opens, stay about 45 minutes, then continue up the valley on foot or by bus to the Stechelberg station for the tram ascent to Gimmelwald and on to Mürren.
Car-free Mürren is set on a bench above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. It’s best known as a winter resort with 14 ski-lifts and 52km of ski runs. It’s where the modern slalom event was invented, and in 1928 launched the Inferno Ski Race, which today is the longest and largest amateur ski race in the world.
Things settle down a bit in summer and it’s a great base for hiking. As I hike around Mürren, I notice that most of the visitors stay close to the village or the mountaintop stations at Schilthorn and Birg. But just walk out of town a few minutes and the trails are often empty. I especially appreciated that as I walked quietly toward Spielbodenalp and on to the Rostockhütte.
You’ll also see it spelled Sefinafurgga or Sefinenfurke, so don’t be confused. It’s all the same pass at the head of the Sefinen Valley. At 2612m the Sefinenfurgge is the highest pass on the Via Alpina so far. The highest comes tomorrow as we cross the Hohtürli. The Sefinenfurgge and the Hohtürli are the most demanding passes on the Via Alpina. They are distinctive from all the other passes on the Via Alpina, not just because of their lofty elevation, but because they are the only two passes which were purpose-built for hikers and mountaineers. These trails were never trade routes or mule tracks. They are tough, narrow trails, with tight switchbacks, carved into the mountainside and protected by chains at some points. They were created specifically to get climbers up to the Gspaltenhorn, Blüemisalphorn and other nearby peaks.
The descent from the Sefinenfurgge is on an exceptionally long stairway of log steps. I don’t particularly like those steps, but I’m grateful to whoever put them there because it sure beats hiking on that gritty black scree—and the steps are far safer too.
After a long descent from the Sefinenfurgge small farms start to appear, and soon you’re in the midst of an active alpine farming hamlet. Even at the hotel complex—known as Hotelzentrum—Griesalp couldn’t be more different from the heavily touristed Jungfrau Region we left this morning. No shops, traffic, or tourists who aren’t hikers. So we’ll just unlace our boots and enjoy the night here—Maybe two nights.
Wildflower: One of the few succulents in the Alps, the Mountain Houseleek (Sempervivium montanum) is a sturdy member of the stonecrop family. The reddish flower stands atop a thick stock about 3-5” high. Protected!
Food Tips: As you descend toward Griesalp at the end of a long day, stop by the cheese dairy at Steinenberg for their alpcheese. Fritz is the cheesemaker and his wife Daniela manages the farm with their two young boys, Kevin and Bruno. They have 30 milk cows, 15 pigs, 8 calves, and a rabbit or two. In their store you’ll find yogurt and other farm products including sausage for your hike tomorrow over the Hohtürli—the highest pass on the Via Alpina.
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