Stage 14 – Kandersteg to Adelboden – Via Alpina 1
Kandersteg is another one of those Bernese Oberland towns that invites a longer stay. Coming down from the Öeschinensee you feel like you’re arriving in some mythical valley. In the real world, mountains don’t rise that steeply from the valley floor. Hanging glaciers and plunging waterfalls don’t normally surround you on all sides of the valley. Once you’ve descended from Öeschinensee to Kandersteg, either by cable car or on foot, you’re in struck by the towering peaks surrounding you. Looking up from the town of Kandersteg, the peaks above rise 8,000 feet overhead. There’s no place in the continental US where you can be surrounded by that kind of vertical relief and jaw-dropping mountain majesty.
Once the setting soaks in, then you can enjoy the beauty and charm of Kandersteg where there are several very fine traditional Bernese Oberland hotels, although not much in the way of restaurant choices outside of these hotels. So plan on doing one of the following two dayhikes on your free day in Kandersteg:
Gasterntal (also Gasteretal)
This beautiful vest-pocket valley is accessible on foot from Kandersteg, but the bus ride on a gravel road through narrow cliffs is equally spectacular and will get you into this high valley even faster, so that you can experience the rushing water, rare alpine plants and traditional mountain inns. Extended hiking routes take you to mountain huts or even over the Lötschenpass and into the Rhone Valley, but there’s plenty to enjoy on just a dayhike from Kandersteg.
Sunnbüel and Gemmipass Region
A 25-minute bus ride from Kandersteg takes you to the top of the valley and the base station for the cableway up to the Sunnbüel alpine plateau. Up here the walking is gentle and the views are still spectacular. If you follow the wide track to the south in the direction of the Gemmipass you’re following an historic route used by traders, smugglers and travelers for centuries. Before the Lötschberg Tunnel was completed in 1913 this route was the primary pass connecting Bern with the Rhone Valley, and was a favorite of Mark Twain, Goethe, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
It’s unlikely you’ll have time to descend the 17th century mule track down the Gemmi Pass toward Leukerbad—you’ll have to save that for another trip. But do go as far as the Schwarenbach Hotel, an old hostelry which dates to the mid-18th century. The 19th century travelers who crossed the Gemmi Pass would have certainly stayed here—and smugglers would have found it a remote safe haven. But for us it’s a great lunch spot where we can ponder what those travelers of old might have experienced.
On to Adelboden
We took the cable car up to Allmenalp, which saved us over1700 feet of ascent on foot. We then had to decide which route to take to Adelboden—the Bunderchrinde or the Bundergrat. The marked Via Alpina trail follows the Bunderchrinde route which crosses a dramatic cleft in the ridgeline. However, we opted for the Bundergrat, which requires a bit more vertical ascent, but offers some commanding views at the pass, and the option to do a short 15-minute spur on to the summit of the Bunderspitz (2546m) for even better views. In foul weather though, take the Bunderchrinde.
Adelboden is one of the most peacefully enjoyable stops on the Via Alpina. Despite being a World Cup ski resort, it’s not over-touristed in the summer, it’s not served by the railway, and it still retains plenty of Bernese Oberland charm and authentic flavor.
The Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) is easily identifiable, has a long season and it’s found throughout the Alps. But how did such a beautiful flower get such an ugly name? Kidney Vetch is a medicinal plant—the Latin name vulneraria means “wound healer,” and it’s long been used by traditional herbalists to heal wounds, and to treat stomach and kidney problems. The Kidney Vetch is also known as “Woundwort.” The name “Vetch” can be traced from Middle English to Middle French and back to the Latin vicia, which might be related to the Latin vincire to bind, as with a poultice.
In recognition of having just conquered a string of tough passes, stop at Schmid Tea Room in the center of town and treat yourself to any of their scrumptious pastries. My recommendation is the cremschnitte which you’ll find throughout German-speaking Switzerland—and throughout the Alps for that matter. It’s nowhere near as overly-sweet as it looks, and the pastry layers are just-right flaky. Enjoy it with a bottle of Adelbodner, Adelboden’s own pure spring water.
Next: Via Alpina Stage 15 – Adelboden to Lenk