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Hanging it out on the Klettersteig: Murren, Switzerland

Hanging it out on the Klettersteig: Murren, Switzerland

If Switzerland is the land of moderation, how do so many adrenaline pumping, edge of your seat activities fit within its borders?  From paragliding to base jumping, glacial trails to cabled Klettersteigs, the  chocolate experts of Switzerland have it all.

If you’re looking for an adventure-filled day in Murren, Switzerland – and paragliding, base jumping or learning the alphorn aren’t your thing – the Klettersteig may be the answer. Better known by their Italian name, via ferrate, this phenomenon of cabled, cliff-hugging hiking trails has spread throughout the Alps.  Murren boasts its own rowdy, 2.2 km, cabled traverse between Murren and its neighbor, Gimmelwald.  Tackling this is sure to deliver wobbly knees, stomach-turning airy heights and spectacular views of the infamous trilogy mountains, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, as well as the lush green Lauterbrunnen Valley far, far below.

Alpinehiker’s Jake Gaventa taking in the views from the start of the Murren Klettersteig

The tradition of via ferrate, “Iron Way”, was first established during WWI, when the Italians developed high technical routes through the mountains using iron cables and bars for military travel.  Now, of course, we do them for fun. Today, in Italy alone, there are over 600 via ferrate, and many more throughout the world. 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, if desired, 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 cables (more accurately) of this route.

The Murren Klettersteig begins just next to the tennis courts along the cliff edge in downtown Murren. Here you will find a signpost 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.

The tunnel to the beginning of the Klettersteig

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 welcome introduction to the important rhythm 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 cliff edge where the inevitable airy dance begins along the top of a 3,000 foot vertical cliff wall.  Yowza!  Be sure to leash your camera before heading out, in order to share your impressive photos when you get home.

Jake navigating the airy steps of the Klettersteig

As long as you can manage your stomach, the rest of the route is relatively straightforward, clipping and re-clipping. There are 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, 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, half a dozen base jumpers arrived behind me at this section of the route.  As I watched, each brightly suited daredevil took turns checking in with base operations via the walkie talkie. As they were given the clear that no helicopters or paragliders were below them, they leapt like birds taking flight into the green, small, very small, valley below.  Many beats later, you see their tiny parachutes release into big pillows of fabric as they navigate to the landing zone below.  Check out this video I captured of the base jumpers.

Alpinehiker’s Michelle Willix cruising along on the Tyrolean traverse

You can do the Klettersteig on your own, but a guide is nice.  In addition to safety, they will take you on the zipline section of the route.  Otherwise, there is a cable bridge, or a Tyrolean as they are called, in which you shuffle your feet along a single cable with two cables at arm height for stability and your carabiners for security. It’s no zipline, but it is neat nonetheless. Including the Tyrolean, there are 3 airy bridge crossings along the Murren Klettersteig.

The final one is a doozy… 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, the view of the valley and mountains is priceless – if you dare lift your eyes from your swaying feet!  Be sure to wave to the tourists on the Schilthorn cable car as it climbs from the valley floor to Gimmelwald.

The Nepalese Bridge high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley

The Klettersteig is a perfect choice for an adventurous addition to your Bernese Oberland travels.  I recommend hiring a guide for safety and knowledge, but whether you do it guided or on your own, you’re sure to have a thrilling day!

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