Three impressive Alpine peaks — the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Monch — rise abruptly from the river valley in the central Alps on this gay Swiss hiking tour. These "Oberland Giants" form a constant backdrop to the shining green meadows and breathtaking cliff side paths during our week of hiking.
The Swiss Alps were made for hiking, and no region of Switzerland offers a more picturesque setting than the Bernese Oberland. Our hiking trip is set deep in this mountain valley, in the centuries-old village of Grindelwald. To the south, abruptly rise some of the best-known alpine peaks: The Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, and three glaciers. Unfolding more gently to the north are the meadows of wildflowers, forests, and mountain lakes that have made Switzerland such a favorite with calendar illustrators.
We'll hike into both of these alpine worlds. One day, walk along the base of the intimidating Eiger North Wall. The next, wander thru acres of green pastures, full of spotted brown cows, their horned heads bobbing and steel bells jingling as they gorge on a never-ending brunch.
• Hike a high and wild path along the base of the giant Nordwand (North Wall) of the Eiger, nemesis of innumerable mountaineers.
• Stand at the edge of the 6500-foot high lake at Bachalpsee, with the Jungfrau reflected in the silvery surface.
• Listen to the cracking of a glacier as you hike above it to lunch at a remote mountain restaurant.
• Take a train through a mountain to Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe, then walk through an art museum where each piece on display is carved from the ice inside the glacier.
• Or take a break from hiking for an optional tandem paraglider ride or a mountain biking day, ascending a mountain by lift or by pedal-power, then coasting back down, past waterfalls and fields of wildflowers.
Day 1 -
The tour begins with a scenic train ride to transfer from the airport to our chalet. Switzerland’s rail system is among the best in the world: fast, comfortable, and efficient. As you pass the picturesque lakeside town of Thun, you may resolve to return to this pretty medieval town after your week of hiking.
Changing trains at Interlaken, you'll see other hikers and climbers, the former easily recognized by the hiking poles that nearly all Europeans seem to favor; the latter by the ice-axes strapped to their bulging backpacks. Grindelwald is the end of the line, and as you step out onto the town's lively main street after several hours on trains, one breath of mountain air will quickly revive you.
Our hiking trip begins with a 6:00 pm reception and orientation, followed by dinner, and time to meet a fun group of gay hikers.
Day 2 -
Our gay Switzerland hiking week is designed to be enjoyable for both more- and less-experienced hikers. Today, you'll get several examples of the options that allow you to tailor the activities to the level you want. Those raring to go can hike for the first hour. Others, who are feeling the altitude can ride the Pfingstegg lift to cover the first 1300 feet of altitude gain. (At 3500 feet, Grindelwald is well below the altitude of Denver, but steady uphill hiking will nonetheless be more tiring than at sea level.) Those who are hiking up will cross Grindelwald's glacial river, then we begin our ascent.
An abandoned marble quarry, once a source of jobs and income for Grindelwald, provides an unexpected diversion. Two glaciers end just outside Grindelwald.
Today's hiking will take us along an unspoilt alpine trail above the icy crevasses of the "Lower Glacier." Soon we're hiking well above the glacier, with changing views of the icy mass below. Your best bet for lunch today is at a mountain restaurant that serves a surprisingly varied menu, given its remote location.
For the afternoon, as will often happen during the week, you have a choice between an easier day (heading back now) or continuing on. If you keep hiking you can follow a path that sometimes gets much closer to the glacier itself, toward Schreckhorn, a 4078-meter peak. You won't get all the way to the summit, but hardier hikers might get to the Schreckhorn hut before turning back.
Our final stop is at Gletscherschlucht, the narrow gorge whose vertical walls were carved into the rock by the churning waters of the glacier. A narrow boardwalk, jutting out from the cliff face, gives us a close-up look at the sculpted canyon, as the water rushes below.
Day 3 -
One of Grindelwald's appeals for hikers is that by making use of lifts, buses, and cog railroads, you can enjoy the valley's full range of scenery while making each day more challenging, or less so. This morning most of us will probably choose to ride the lift up the north slopes, to a spot named "First". But a few energetic souls may elect to hike up, and meet us there.
From First we hike along an easy trail to the blue mountain lake known as the Bachalpsee. A magnificent green pasture filled with cows, bells tinkling, extends down toward the valley floor. On a calm day, the distant snow-capped peaks reflect in the lake's waters. Then the trail thins out, twisting beside a spiny ridge, past moonlike rock formations.
Descending past a cascading waterfall, we pass a lush patch of wildflowers, and easily count a dozen varieties within an arm's reach: red, yellow, blue, purple, white, pink, lavender.
You may want to stop for a late lunch at the mountain inn of Bussalp. Here, hikers again have a choice: to descend by foot, or on one of the ubiquitous yellow "Post Buses" that serves so many small Swiss hamlets such as this one.
Day 4 -
Today we've kept our group itinerary clear, so you've got several enticing options to try on your own. One choice would be to go paragliding over the trails that we hiked yesterday, where you'll get a new perspective on the Grindelwald valley today. No paragliding experience is necessary: You'll fly tandem, with an experienced, licensed pilot.
Another option is to take the train to nearby Thun, the delightful medieval city on a blue lake, dominated by an imposing castle. Toot across the lake on an old, renovated steamer, then hike along the shoreline. An easy day trip is to take a train or boat to Brienz, a charming Swiss town whose artisans are known for their violins and wood-carvings, then ride Switzerland's only surviving steam-powered cog railroad to the mile-and-a-half high Rothorn (one of Alyson Adventures' President Phil Sheldon's favorite train rides!).
Or spend time back down the valley in Interlaken if you want a fix of urban life and shopping. And if you're itching to check out these mountains on a bike this would be a good day to rent a mountain bike, take it up a lift, then ride down to the village (verrrrrry carefully!).
Day 5 -
Today we will ride the Jungfrau cog rail train over deep ravines and through mountain tunnels carved inside the Eiger and Monch, to Europe's highest railroad station (3454 meters) on the massive Jungfrau mountain. From here you'll enjoy views of the Aletsch glacier, the longest in Europe. Roam the Ice Palace, carved into the blue glacier and decorated year-round with intricate ice sculptures; enjoy a run of summer skiing; or slide down the slopes on a snow disc.
If your legs need a rest today, ride the train back down to Grindelwald. Otherwise, you can hike part of the way back on the recently-opened Eiger trail, an alpine path that follows the base of this immense mountain. We're right under the Nordwand (North Wall) of the Eiger, a vertiginous cliff that has defeated many a mountaineer. We won't try any mountaineering ascents today, just a scenic hike, crossing the narrow, twisted gorges of glacier-fed streams, then winding through forest, until we emerge over (but on the other side of) the "Lower Glacier" that we saw on our first day of hiking.
Day 6 -
After several days of hiking here in the Alps, you're feeling confident about the trails, about finding the way, and about estimating your abilities. Today's suggested itinerary gives you several opportunities to tailor activities to your liking.
We begin with a train ride to Lauterbrunnen, a picturesque village set in a cleft between two towering cliffs. Waterfalls spout out along either side, as we walk 45 minutes to Trummelbach Falls. Here, every second, glacier-fed streams pour up to 5,000 gallons of water down a series of ten waterfalls. Once hidden within a mountain, these cascades are now visible through a series of tunnels and stairways.
You can select one of the local cafes for lunch back in the village, after which we head up — 930 vertical meters up, to be precise. You have a choice of riding an aerial tram up to Wengen, perched on a sunny plateau above us, or hiking up to it along a switchbacking path. From Wengen, you again have a choice of hiking or riding up to the next stop: Mannlichen. Some of us will want to hike one of these segments; few hikers will be up for ascending the entire 930 meters.
From Mannlichen, you can ride a mountain cablecar right back to Grindelwald, but we hope you won't: The high alpine trail over to Kleine Scheidegg is among everyone's favorites. Gently descending as it passes around cliffs and peaks, this trail offers an ever-changing panorama of the mountains: The Eiger, the Monch, the Jungfrau.
Day 7 -
The Swiss alpine peaks provide magnificent scenery this week, but we won't often stand on their summits. The Eiger and Monch are well beyond the reach of day hikers.
For those who want some serious hiking today, Schynige Plateau offers one glorious option, and the Schwarzhorn offers a more challenging day.
Beech trees give way to firs, then forest yields to meadow, as the narrow-gauge Schynige Platte Cog Railroad engine chugs up to the Schynige Plateau, a high ledge with a panoramic view of the imposing 15-kilometer-long Bernese Oberland wall.
This is an invigorating full-day of hiking. Portions of the trail follow a narrow ridge, dropping to views of the Eiger on the right, and to the placid blue waters of Lake Brienz on the left.
The alpine wildflowers never cease to impress us, as well. With each different angle of exposure to the sun, we spot new blossoms, each having found its niche in this high environment.
For those looking for a greater challenge, the jagged peak of Schwarzhorn, on a high crest to the north of Grindelwald, is accessible by several trails, some easier, some rougher. Hiking all the way there from Grindelwald makes for a full day, but the lift to First gives a head start to those who want it.
As we descend, the trail takes us along an area popular with marmots, and again we enjoy a break while watching these gregarious, bushy-tailed creatures.
Day 8 -
Our hiking week officially ends this morning. If you have early connections, you can depart as early as you'd like. Or you may want pack up, store your bags, then squeeze in one last hike.
If you've got extra vacation time to spend in Europe, we suggest you save it for after the trip, rather than before: chances are that others in the group will welcome company as they explore the culture and gay life in Geneva, Zurich, Berne, or other Swiss cities.
• 7 nights lodging in shared or single room, with private bathroom;
• 6-day pass that covers MOST Jungfrau-area trains, busses and lifts, including the Jungfraujoch train;
• Welcome packet with map;
• Breakfast or breakfast supplies;
• Opening-night reception, orientation, and dinner;
• Two mid-week dinners;
• A beer-tasting, featuring regional specialties;
• Closing-night dinner at a superb local restaurant.
• HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage.
• Transportation to and from Grindelwald (easily accessible by train);
• Meals not listed here;
• Optional activities, such as mountain biking and paragliding;
• Personal expenses such as laundry, telephone charges, alcohol (except when provided with a meal)
• Gratuities for guides.
This tour starts and ends in Grindelwald, Switzerland. As for most of our trips, the official starting time is 6:00 pm on our official "start date". At that time we'll have a reception and orientation, followed by dinner. It ends after breakfast on the last day. You can arrive earlier or depart later, but please note that (as of this writing) check-in time is 4:00 pm, and check-out time is 9:00 am. Our pre-trip newsletter will keep you posted on any changes in these times, as well as tips on what to do with luggage if your travel schedule allows you to fit some activities on your arrival or departure dates.
Grindelwald is a small mountain town in the Alps of central Switzerland, very close to Interlaken. It is easy to reach by train. You'll generally need to change at the Interlaken Ost railroad station. (Interlaken has two train stations, so be sure you get out at the right one.)
The most direct way to get there is to fly into Zurich, Geneva, or Milan, then connect by train. But many other European cities also have convenient connections. If you want to visit Paris, Munich or Berlin, for example, you may choose to fly into one of those cities instead.
Our gay Switzerland hiking week is designed to be enjoyable for hikers of ALL levels. Our skilled guides will be available throughout the trip to offer alternate options to tailor the activities to any level. Those that are always “raring to go” can hike or climb every segment. Other hikers may choose to hike and ride any of the lifts, busses, trams, cable cars, cog railroads, etc. that are widely available around the Alps.
We also want to remind travelers about the higher altitude (At 3500 feet, Grindelwald is well below the altitude of Denver, but steady uphill hiking will nonetheless be more tiring than at sea level.)
Due to sometimes steep terrain, hiking poles are recommended. Travelers should be comfortable with high-altitude hiking on narrow trails with expansive vistas.
Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it's usually because they're looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn't have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you'll be traveling with friends. You don't need to pay the single supplement if you're traveling alone. We'll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself.
During June, July, and September, daytime temperatures around Grindelwald will generally range from the mid-60s to the high 70s F, and will drop 5 or 10 degrees as you hike up to higher elevations.
Mountain weather anywhere tends to be unpredictable, and the Bernese Oberlands are no exception. This is a moister climate than, for example, the Zermatt region. That's why the pastures are so green, and the wildflowers so lush! Some years we have had only a few hours of rain during our entire week around Grindelwald, and a t-shirt will often be all you need. However, it's quite possible we'll have a day or two of rain, and you should always carry a sweater and light waterproof top.
Swiss transportation is among the world's best — but not the simplest. The simple Eurail pass of a generation ago has given way to dozens of pass types. Some cover one country; some several. Some cover travel on a certain number of days, i.e., any 5 days in a 30-day period. It's particularly complicated in Switzerland, which has many privately-owned rail lines. Some give a discount for some passes, some do not, and it's virtually impossible to get accurate information about what's covered, until you're actually there.
If you are not doing additional travel within Switzerland, we recommend the Swiss Card (not to be confused with the Swiss Pass), which will (as of this writing — subject, but not likely, to change), get you from your entry point (the Swiss border, or any airport in Switzerland) to most destinations (including Zermatt and Grindelwald), and back; it also gives you a 50% discount on most additional travel in Switzerland, including some of the lifts and railroads from Zermatt and Grindelwald. You can find out more about various passes from Rail Europe . But please remember: We never promised that this was simple.
Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. The prevalent language in this region is Swiss German, a distinct German dialect. If you know German, they'll understand you, but you may have some trouble understanding them. Fortunately, from a very young age Swiss children learn many languages. Not everyone speaks English, but enough speak some English that you should be able to get by.
It's always helpful to be able to read a map, and if you don't feel you're good at it, this trip is a good time to practice.
However, the more popular hiking trails in the Alps are generally well marked, with clear signs that indicate distances in walking hours (Std.=stunde, German for hour.) Yellow signs mark a wanderweg, a relatively easy trail. The more difficult Bergwegs (mountain trails) are marked with white-red-white blazes at the top. These may involve scrambling over rocks occasionally, or narrow trails that occasionally wind near a vertical drop.
Swiss trails occasionally cross onto private property. You're welcome to hike here, but close the gates after you, to keep the sheep or cows in. You'll see signs that say, Bitte die Tur Schliessen, which means Please close the gate.
Some fences are electrified. You'll see the telltale plastic or glass insulators. Gates on such fences have plastic latches for you to use.