Backpacking the Trans Swiss Trail
I’m back! Like literally, back. Well okay, I have been for about two months now, but there has been so much going on, I have been neglecting this little blog of mine. That is going to end right here, right now. I miss documenting all of my adventures on the trails and in the kitchen, and plan on doing more of that now that things have settled down.
This entire year has been a little bit of a whirlwind for me. First of all, I wrapped up my MBA and can officially put initials after my name. Woohoo! Secondly, I bought a house! Like a real adult! It has been a dream of mine as a child to own a tiny chunk of land in Lake Tahoe and I did that a couple of months ago, with a cute house on it to boot! Lastly, I explored Switzerland for three weeks in June as part of my last MBA class. What an awesome experience and a great way to end my MBA. I promise it wasn’t all hiking and yodeling in the Alps. We really did do some school work learning about leadership in different cultures while we were there, buuuuuut, we also did do some awesome backpacking in the Alps for a week, which is what this post is all about.
The Trans Swiss Trail consists of 488 kilometers (or 303 miles) and 32 stages, spanning the entire length of Switzerland. How cool is that? You can literally hike across Switzerland in 32 days. We didn’t do the entire trail (obviously), but we did stages 21 to 27, with a slight detour, for a total of roughly 79 miles and countless elevation gains and losses. Did you know the Alps are NOT flat? Anywhere. Up and down and up and up and up and up. The area we were in is Andermatt and the trail travels over the Gotthard Pass.
This trail is great for adventurers looking to explore different cultures and scenery along the way. At the end of each stage, you will reach a small town, each with their own unique character. We stayed in hostels and the accommodations were great. In a lot of the locations you have the option of ordering dinner in advance. Do it! After a long day of hiking, a hot, homemade meal is the way to go and all the food was wonderful. Almost all of the hostels also included breakfast to get you started in the morning. It usually consisted of cheese, bread, cured meats, yogurt, granola, cereal, fruit, and juice. Skip everything else and just eat the cheese, bread, and cured meats. They are so good!
Day 1: Erstfeld to Wassen (11.2 miles) – We started this day by taking a train from Bern to Erstfeld. After getting off the train, we all just kind of looked around like, ‘what do we do now?’ We asked a few people and finally found signs for the trail to the West of the train station over a rather larger river. The first several miles of the trail are along a gravel road lined with farmhouses and of course, cows with bells. There were so many cows with bells, everywhere on every stage of the hike! I will forever remember the beautiful sounds of the cowbells. There is something very calming about it.
After the first few miles, the trail turns into a single track and starts to go up. From here to Wassen it is a pretty steady climb, ascending 1,470 vertical feet. The trail is beautiful and winds through a forest and along the country side. It started to rain on us a little, but we didn’t get drenched.
We made it to Wassen with daylight to spare and checked in at Gotthard Backpacker. This was a great little hostel, although one of the few that did not have a dinner or breakfast option. There was a kitchen, if you wanted to go to the store and cook, but we chose to eat out. I didn’t write down the place we ate at, but I can tell you that you have to try Rosti when you are out. It is basically a delicious huge hash brown with all sorts of stuff and each region makes them differently.
Day 2: Wassen to Hospental (5.6 miles) – This was a beautiful stretch of the trail with a steady uphill climb for a total elevation gain of 1,709 vertical feet. Along this part of the trail, we passed by the historic Devil’s Bridge.
This bridge was built in the 13th century and an amazing engineering feat for the time. In fact, it got it’s name because the mayor at the time didn’t think it could be done and asked the devil for help. I am not sure if the devil actually built the bridge, but it is still pretty cool.
At the top of this section, we reached the Andermatt region. It was slightly drizzly and the clouds were hanging over the mountains in ways that I can’t even describe. The last few miles were flat and we hiked through green fields with wild flowers, surrounded by the Alps.
This might have been one of my favorite places on the whole hike. We finally arrived at our hostel, played some Italian monopoly, and had a wonderful home cooked meal.
Day 3: Hospental to Passo del S. Gottardo (7.5 miles) – This was the part of the trail that we had all been anxiously awaiting. The day that we reached the summit of one of the most important mountain passes in all of Europe! Many battles have been fought and commerce traded over this route. There is also the longest tunnel in Europe that goes straight through the pass, to make trade that much easier.
Over the course of the 7.5 miles, we climbed 2,142 vertical feet before reaching the summit. This part of the trail was covered in a lot of snow, which made things interesting to say the least with a 40 pound pack strapped to your back, and definitely not the right footwear. Someone forgot to mention we might need crampons. Anyways, we made it fun, forged a river, and slip-slided up the mountain side. The views from the top were breathtaking and made my cold, wet feet seem totally worth it.
From here, it was a gradual descent into the small town (I don’t know if you could really call it a town) at the top. We grabbed a beer and some brats from a little food truck before settling down for the afternoon in the hostel.
Day 4: Passo del S. Gottardo to Airolo (5 miles) – After all that up, up, and up, this next part of the trail was all down, down, and down. I don’t know what I prefer, but the down definitely started to take its toll on the knees carrying all that weight. We descended 3,100 vertical feet in those 5 miles. In any case, this part of the trail was pretty cool because it followed the old cobblestone road that is no longer used. I think they might open it every once and while for special events, but for the most part, it is just hikers and bikers. Check out those switchbacks!
When we reached Airolo, I felt like I was in a small Italian village. We had crossed into an Italian canton (or as us Americans would refer to them as, state) on the last part of the trail. The streets were lined with old buildings, church bells were ringing, and there were signs for gelato on every corner. F*** yes! The hotel/hostel here was probably one of the nicest we stayed in. We even had our own bathroom! It was also here that we could hear the sounds of cowbells as we went to sleep. There is nothing quite like it. I think they need to put that sound on those sleep machines.
Day 5: Airolo to Lago Ritom (11.2 miles) – This is where we deviated from the trail slightly. Ok, not slightly. This was a pretty significant deviation that required going straight up a mountain. This was probably the toughest day for me. There were times that we were going up the mountain that I just needed to stop and take a break. Usually, I can charge through it, but man, this was hot and tough. If you wanted to stay on the Trans Swiss Trail, you would follow the route into Osco. We did not.
After up, up, and more up, and straight through a little settlement that could have been where Heidi was filmed (seriously, so cool) we finally reached Lago Ritom. The lake was very low, which made it kinda “meh.” We hiked around to the backside of the lake, up a little more, and reached a little village with a pretty, much smaller lake.
It was raining on us a little, so I never got to see exactly what everything looked like, but the pictures on the hostel’s website look amazing. But then again, they always do when they are trying to get you to visit them. I probably could have done without this detour, but it was still an adventure nonetheless.
Day 6: Lago Ritom to Anzonico (7.5 miles) – I think we were all feeling a little beat up after the hike the day before so we made a decision to cheat a little on this day. Instead of going straight down the mountain like we came up (that would have been a knee killer!), we decided to take the funicular half-way down the mountain. Can someone tell me why we didn’t take it up?! There was still a lot of descending, but it wasn’t as killer as it could have been, and it was kind of fun riding in the funicular.
The funicular dropped us off in Osco (where we would have been if we stayed on route), and then we got on a bus to Anzonico. The bus was full of school children and workers all going back to their small mountain towns for the day. The driver navigated sharp turns and climbed up some of the sketchiest roads I have seen. We finally ended up in the small town of Anzonico. It was soooo pretty here!
A little Italian village on the side of the Alps with the most breathtaking views. It really could not have been any better. The hostel was pretty great, too, and they had an awesome restaurant with great food.
Day 7: Anzonico to Biasca (11.2 miles) – This was our final day on the trail and definitely bittersweet. Although I was really looking forward to not carrying a 40 pound pack for a few days, I knew I was also going to miss the trail. The trail here wound around the mountainside (more cowbells!) and then entered a pretty magical forest. It was a little tough to navigate in that it was slippery, wet, and their were roots and rocks everywhere that required careful footing. I slipped at one point and it bruised my butt and my ego, but it definitely could have been worse.
Over the course of this trail, we descended 2,740 vertical feet, with a few climbs along the way. After a long day, we finally made it into the town of Biasca and headed to the train station. Of course, we had to stop for some gelato along the way. Live it up when you are in an Italian region!
We got our tickets and headed to the town of Lugano for a few days. If backpacking the Trans Swiss Trail isn’t your thing, Lugano is an amazing bustling little city that is almost on the boarder of Italy. There is a lot of Italian influence here and it could not be in a more picture perfect setting.
Our trip went on for a little more than another week, but that was mostly school work and visiting businesses. We were in Zurich, Baden, Luzern, and Lake Konstanz, all of which were amazing in their own way.
Switzerland has left a mark on my heart that will never fade. It was the trip of the lifetime and I can’t think of a better way to end my MBA. Not only was I with three other amazing, inspiring MBA students, I also had two kick-ass professors that I will never forget. It isn’t often that someone gets to experience something like this and I am extremely grateful. If you ever have the chance to go to Switzerland and hike the Trans Swiss Trail, don’t let it slip by. You won’t regret it.