One of the best hidden surprises in the Swiss Alps: glacial gorges. Dramatic, narrow ravines that cut almost vertically into the mountains, filled with crashing waterfalls of glacial melt water. Called Gletscherschlücht in German, they are always worth a look. And, typically Swiss, they’ve built convenient pathways so you can actually walk along next to them.
Gletscherschlüchte (glacial gorges), recessed waterfalls, and big basins called glacial pots are all created by the same processes and are quite common in the Alps. Much of the Alps are formed of limestone, a sedimentary rock that is easily dissolved by slightly acidic water. The melting glaciers create sediment-laden water. Forced down under great pressure, this gritty water can scour away enchantingly serpentine formations in the rock. Two of our favorites are in the Bernese Oberland region: Rosenlaui and Trümmelbach.
Between Meiringen and Grindelwald, just off the trail (or bus route) before reaching the Hotel Schwarzwaldalp, you’ll see signs for Rosenlaui Gorge. As far as Swiss glacial gorges go, it is fairly small, and a modest loop takes perhaps 45 minutes. But it’s a worthwhile detour. Walking through the gorge is an intimate, magical experience. When the water is high, the noise and mist can be very powerful as it cascades down a series of waterfalls, eddies and pools. At times, the gorge is so narrow, you can see only a sliver of sky above you, with walls reaching up 70 to 80 meters on either side. You’ll be climbing as you walk through the gorge, and then after you exit, a pleasant trail through the woods brings you back down to the start.
The pathway through the Rosenlaui Gorge dates back to 1903, when a hotelier spend 2 years constructing the pathway that exists today. Every winter they close the gorge to visitors. Then they inspect it before the summer re-opening: May-Oct with an 8 CHF entrance fee.
Trümmelbach Falls is a much more popular attraction in the Lauterbrunnen valley between Wengen and Mürren. More vertical than flat, it’s popularly classified as a series of waterfalls, cascading through a very narrow gorge. The entrance is easily accessible by foot or by car and is popular with tour buses. Yes, there are often lots of people here, but don’t let that deter you. It’s really worth it. The trail was opened in 1877 and consists of an elevator, steep walkways and a series of staircases taking you up to the 10 different falls. Up to 20,000 liters of water per second can come blasting through this narrow chasm. Wear your raingear and expect to get some spray! It’s consistently narrow, twisting, powerful… amazing really, and even more impressive in early summer, when snowmelt is high, or after a rain when water levels go up.
Trümmelbach Falls is open April-Oct with an entrance fee of 11 CHF.
As you hike and explore the Alps, you’ll come across a number of other gorges on your journey. Some are big, popular, and developed. At the Gletscherschlucht below Grindelwald, you can take part in variety of adrenaline-pumping activities like zip lines and walking out on a net over the river. The Gornerschlucht in Zermatt has guides you can hire to take you on a via ferrata through the gorge or walk a tamer section lower down. Others are just fun little diversions that you will find along the trail, like the Talbach falls on the way up to Obersteinberg, the Schiltbach stream as it cascades below Gimmelwald, and the fabulous Griessschlucht below Griesalp.
Wherever you find them, be sure to stop and take a look. They’re always worth your time and may even prove to be some of your favorite discoveries. Just another of Switzerland’s many surprises!
Tags: Bernese Oberland