Via Alpina – Stage 13 – Greisalp to Kandersteg
Today we cross the highest pass on the Via Alpina—the Hohtürli. Like the Sefinenfurgge, our previous pass, the Hohtürli has never been a trade route. It’s just too high, steep rugged and untamed to be of any value to farmers, merchants, or even smugglers. It’s made for hikers and mountaineers. You’ll love it.
As you’re planning your itinerary, let me suggest taking a rest day either at Griesalp or in Kandersteg, or both. These are long days with significant elevation gain and with no easy way to shorten the ascent. These are passes you don’t want to skip, so best plan a break along the way. This is a vacation, not a race.
When I say “rest day,” you won’t just be hanging around doing nothing. There’s lots to do in Griesalp—things you wouldn’t want to miss and wouldn’t have time to do unless you stayed an extra day.
Cheesemaking at Steinenberg
For starters, the Steinenberg cheese dairy is a short 15-minute walk from Griesalp, back in the direction of the Sefinenfurgge. Cheesemaking starts early in the morning with the milking of the cows. But for visitors you’ll want to be there for the moment when the Fritz the cheesemaker tests the curds and determines that they’re ready to be pulled from the cauldron. He dips his cheesecloth like a fishing net into the cauldron to pull out the curds, separating them from the whey. He then packs the freshly drained curds into molds, and within seconds the curds stick to each other and the new cheese is born. It’s a magical process—both entertaining and instructive to watch.
After the cheese is formed it goes into a brine bath and then into the cheese cellar for aging. You’ll be able to visit the cellar and then stop by their shop to sample and purchase some cheese and other farm products. When you see how much work goes into cheesemaking, you’ll never again complain about spending $20 a pound for a great cheese. The cheese forming process starts around 9:00 (am). The cheesemaking room is compact, so have your hotel call ahead for reservations.
Below Griesalp the valley constricts and forms a gorge. The major streams and drainage from three sides of the valley all converge in the chasm below Griesalp. Even at Griesalp the amount of water in the Gorerewasser is already a substantial river which plunges into the gorge at Pocheten Falls. As the flow from the Dündebach cascades down the rock cliff at Dündefall and collides with the river, the noise, spray and visual spectacle becomes dramatic. No wonder this are below Griesalp is called Wildwasser.
Once you’ve descended through the Wildwasser area, the combined flow fans out across a valley floor into a shallow lake and wetland area known as Tschingelsee. It takes about 30-45 minutes to walk down from Griesalp to Tschingelsee through Wildwasser. If you time it right, you can take the bus back to Griesalp. But if not, you can just hike back up to Griesalp and see all the things you missed on the way down.Not only is the Hohtürli the highest pass on the Via Alpina, but it has the greatest unassisted ascent and descent of any pass on the Via Alpina. That’s all the more reason to plan a rest day on either side. And the distance becomes particularly noticeable on the descent. When you’ve invested so much energy in getting up, see the long descent stretching out in front of you can be a bit demoralizing. I found myself saying “Öeschinensee’s gotta be around the next corner” only to be disappointed time and time again. A good part of the descent is on a dirt road, making it all the less appealing.
But with all those complaints, let me state the one positive that overrides all of the negatives—The close-up views of the Blümisalp massif and glaciers are incredible. And no minor discomfort of the demanding ascent or the drawn-out descent can diminish that memory.
Wildflower: While we’re still in the high elevations of the Bernese Alps, let’s celebrate one of the beautiful flowers that thrives in this rocky terrain—the snow gentian (Gentiana nivalis), and also called the Alpine gentian—although that name is more generic and is often used for other blue gentians in the Alps. Snow gentian is a fitting name since I’ve often seen these intensely blue petals poking out through the snow. It flowers from late June to September—one of the longest flowering of the Alpine species.
Food Tips: We’ve just crossed the highest pass on the Vial Alpina, and it also demands a long ascent and what seems like an interminable decent. Don’t hesitate the stop at Öeschinensee for an ice cream at the Berghotel Öeschinensee. But if you plan on taking the tram down (that’s what I would recommend) check for the time of the last tram of the day.