If Switzerland is the land of moderation, how are so many adrenaline pumping, edge of your seat activities fit within its borders? From cheese fondue to basejumping, mellow walking trails to Klettersteigs, the politically neutral banking and chocolate experts of Switzerland have it all.
If you’re looking for another adrenaline filled activity in Murren, Switzerland – paragliding, basejumping and learning the alpenhorn aren’t quite enough – the Klettersteig is your answer. This is a 2.2 km rowdy downhill cabled traverse between Murren and its neighbor, Gimmelwald, that is sure to deliver wobbly knees, stomach turning airy heights and spectacular views of the infamous trilogy mountains, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, and the lush green Lauterbrunnen Valley far far below.
The Klettersteig, or in Italian, Via Ferrata, “Iron Way”, was first established during WWI when the Italian’s developed high technical routes through the mountains using iron cables and bars for military travel. Today, in Italy alone, there are over 600 Via Ferratas and many more throughout the world as they are an accessible and safe way to introduce people of all ages to the technical vertical world of climbing.
The first step in tackling Murren’s Via Ferrata is contacting the local Klettersteig Office. Here you can both rent the required specialty gear and hire a guide. If you’re a veteran Via Ferrata adventurer, stop by the Intersport Chalet or Alfred’s Sporthaus in downtown Murren where they will outfit you in the appropriate equipment for a self-guided pursuit. It’s crucial to have the right gear as even a short fall could easily break your everyday rock climbing rope, slings, or even the cable itself resulting in a catastrophic consequences. Even if you’re a veteran climber, its nice to hire a guide who can show you the ropes, or cable more accurately, of this route.
The Via Ferrata begins just next to the tennis courts along the cliffs edge in downtown Murren. Here you will find a sign post and door into a long tunnel. Just outside the tunnel is a great place to gear up putting on your harness, slinged carabiners and helmet.
After gearing up and making your way through the tunnel you will find a somewhat casual hiking trail outlined with your new lifeline, a 11mm in diameter cable. The relatively mellow first section of the route is a welcomed introduction to the redundant travel of constantly clipping and re-clipping your carabiners. As you continue into the 3 hour route (listed guided time) you quickly drop closer and closer to the cliffs edge where the inevitable airy dance begins along the top of a 3,000 foot vertical cliff wall.
As long as you can manage your stomach, the rest of the route is relatively straight forward, clipping and re-clipping. There are a few hundred yard sections where you’re holding tightly to skinny metal rungs that are drilled and glued into the rock wall. When you look between your feet as you carefully maneuver for the next step, clipping and re-clipping your carabiners as you hit cable junctions, the tiny cars of the Lauterbrunnen Valley below look like matchbox toys. Just as you are taking in the reality of where you are and perhaps ready for a cigarette even if you’re a non-smoker, you pass a base jumping platform equipped with a check in walkie talkie. When I embarked on the Klettersteig a few years ago there were ½ a dozen basejumpers that showed up just behind me at this section of the route. As I was managing to extract my camera to capture their unthinkable pursuit, each brightly suited dare devil took their turn checking in with base operations via the walkie talkie. As each person was given the clear that no helicopters or paragliders were traveling below them, they one by one leapt from this wooden platform like birds taking flight into the green, still small, very small, valley below. After what felt like minutes watching these humans fly through the sky, you see their tiny parachutes release into big pillows of fabric as they navigate to the landing zone below. Check out this video that I took along the Klettersteig in 2015,
In addition to priceless local knowledge and safety, another perk to hiring a guide is that you can complete the zipline section of the route. There is an alternative cable bridge or tyrolean as they are called available in which you shuffle your feet along a single cable with two cables at armpit height for stability and your carabiners for security. It’s no zipline along a big vertical cliff wall but it is neat none-the-less. Including the tyrolean, there are 3 airy bridge crossings along the Klettersteig. The final one is an 80 meter Nepalese hanging bridge that is sure to get your heart pumping. On this last bridge, your final test of strength and courage, if you dare lift your eyes from your swaying feet, the view of the Valley and mountains is priceless. If you time it right you can catch the Schilthorn gondola between the narrow rock walls as it climbs from the valley floor.
The Klettersteig is a perfect addition to your Bernese Oberland travels. I recommend hiring a local guide for safety and knowledge and be sure to leash your camera in order to share your impressive photos when you get home.