In the middle of the Bernese Oberland just over two hours south of Zurich – the longest European suspension bridge for pedestrians awaits you for an adventurous experience…
It is a sunny morning in September – just before 8 o’clock when I arrive at the station of the quaint little cable car to take me part way up the mountain, rather than walk the first hours. Being early is the key to a good start. The ten minute ride over the Trift Gorge is scenic in itself, but the reason for my visit is I wanted to hike to Europe’s highest and longest pedestrian suspension bridge.
The alpine hike up to the bridge takes about a hour and half – depending how often and long one stops to admire the wild rugged mountains of the Grimselwelt which is part of the Bernese Oberland. I stop often to take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air, while enjoying the gorgeous view and observing the young marmots which are playing in the morning sun.
Finally, I arrive at the recently constructed bridge and its spectacular views. The bridge is 170 meters in length and is suspended over a 100 meter deep canyon. It is the longest of its type in Europe and had been modelled on the suspension bridges of Nepal. In bad weather conditions the bridge can sway up to seven meters.
The view of the glacier and its lake appear calm and serene. This tranquillity is an illusion, because each year the nine million cubic meters of ice are melting. Over the past 15 years the glacier receded more and more and the result is the formation of the 50 meter deep turquoise lake. When large pieces of ice break off, they can create a surge of water racing down the canyon which could cause substantial damage to the villages in the Gadmen valley. Warning signs are posted of this danger with the precautions that one must take.
The formation of the glacier lake it made it increasingly difficult to reach the SAC (Swiss Alpine Club) Trift alpine hut. The first bridge which was built in 2004 was often difficult for the 20’000 annual visitors to cross. The location was also not ideal as the frequent winter storms lead to heavy damage of the bridge. The decision was made to build a new structure in a better location and the new bridge opened in 2009.
Viewing the glacier and its lake and reading the information about this fragile ecological area invites for reflection about the state of global climate change. Despite the serious issues at stake, it is fascinating to walk over the bridge.
Luckily this day is calm, and the bridge is easy to walk across despite the heights and the gentle sway. The view into the canyon is awesome with the wild water rushing downstream as your handgrip tightens around the steel cables of the bridge. Colourful Tibetan prayer flags have been fixed to the middle of the bridge by previous visitors, and this gives the sense of being in the Himalayas. From this point, it is not far to reach either of the two alpine huts in the area, the Trift Hut at 2520m or the Windegg Hut at 1887m. The huts can provide a resting point and both have limited sleeping facilities, so it is necessary to book ahead with the SAC.
In 2010, the season will be open from June 13th till October 18th. The cable car is run by the local utility company and only carries eight people at time. Arriving early is a must, as it gets busy on good weather days, unless you choose to walk the first part of the trail which takes a couple of hours. Opening times for the lift are from 9.00 to 16.00 and in the months of July and August from 8.00 to 17.00. Prices are 20 CHF for an adult return ticket and 12 CHF for a child return ticket.
Photos & Story: Sabina Herbst