Passes in the Swiss Alps in June
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Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Passes in the Swiss Alps in June on 02/19/2011 08:20:27 MST Print View

I know this is a very specific question and not too many readers may be able to answer, but some friends and I are looking into doing the Swiss Alpine Pass Route in the first half of June, and we are having difficulty finding information on the state of snow on the passes along this route. Perhaps someone on this forum has experience and can tell us what it's like.

If any of you have hiked in Switzerland and on the PCT, perhaps you could try to compare some of the passes to snowy Sierra passes (like Forrester, Mather, Muir, etc.) in June.

Hoping someone out there can share some experience and technical information to help us decide how doable this route is for hikers with ice axes and crampons but without too much alpine experience.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Passes in the Swiss Alps in June on 02/19/2011 15:03:28 MST Print View

> Swiss Alpine Pass Route in the first half of June
A little early, but that depends entirely on the year. If you are planning on going over-snow some trekking poles might be a good idea. (And I said that????)

Check out some of the refuge web sites to see when they open. Some may still be closed when you are starting. I think most open at the beginning of July.

We did the route in 2009. Fantastic - but a lot of climbing. 'A Pass a day' ... typically 1,000 m each way.

Cheers

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth1) - F
Passes in the Swiss Alps in June on 02/20/2011 06:47:25 MST Print View

Richard,

first of all I assume you are talking about the Alpine Pass Route as described in the Cicerone guide. In another thread you have been talking about the Via Alpina and therefore I am not quite sure what trail you want to hike.

(http://www.cicerone.co.uk/product/detail.cfm/book/405/title/Alpine-Pass-Route)

I have hiked the Alpine Pass Route almost completely but only in weekend long sections. I have also hiked the PCT.

I did a bit of internet research for you as there is tons of stuff on hiking in the Alps - but it is all in German. Generally early June is considered the very earliest date for doing any high alpine stuff in the Alps. Most guidebooks recommend July to avoid any snow risk. You face the same problem in the Alps as you do in the Sierras. It all depends on the year! I remember hiking the highest part of the APR (Hohtuerlipass: 2.800 m) early July and there was absolutely no trace of snow left.

I found a comparison of snow conditions in the Alps for late May/early June on a German hiking website and there are tremendous differences. One year (2003) was basically snow free under 2.400 m early June - and you only go twice above that altitude in the APR. But in 2009 almost everything was still covered in snow above 2.200 m END of June! Unfortunately, this winter is a very hard one in Europe and therefore I would expect a lot of snow. But you will only know what to expect by May... it all depends on how much more snow falls and how warm spring is. Here you can see recent snow depths in the Swiss Alps in English:
http://www.slf.ch/lawineninfo/zusatzinfos/wt-daten/wt_tabellarisch_EN

There is a incredibly resourceful website about hiking in Switzerland and parts of it are in English: www.wandersite.ch
Click on the English flag and you will get to the English content. I did not have enough time to do a lot of research there but maybe you come across more detailed information. The APR is described in great detail in English.

I have hiked the APR directly after the PCT. The PCT is a piece of cake compared to the APR. Except for the snow problem hiking in the Sierras is dead easy and the grade is never very steep. Expect much more technical stuff in the Alps. I remember some incredibly steep and slippery slopes - much more difficult than the PCT. (I am not taking further complications by snow into this consideration).

But on the other side you have a lot of alternative trails in the Alps. Most Americans picture the Alps like the Rockies or Sierras, but keep in mind that the Alps serve as a recreational area for a much bigger number of people and therefore many more trails exist in the Alps than in the American mountains. Even the APR is not high altitude all the time. You could either hike in lower elevation or flip-flop around the snow areas. Your choices of hiking in the Alps are almost limitless - so if the APR does not work out, you can just hike another lower trail. Also public transport goes everywhere in Switzerland so that a mini-flip-flop is not difficult.

Also browse www.wandersite.ch - they describe literally a hundred different long-distance trails in Switzerland including a lot that are much lower. To be on the safe side I personally would suggest the Jurahoehenweg, which takes about 2 weeks and stays well below 2.000 m.

You can also contact me via PM if you have further questions or need help in translating from German.

Christine aka German Tourist

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
Switzerland snow depths on 02/20/2011 08:25:49 MST Print View

Christine, thanks for the detailed information! This is exactly what I was looking for. For now I have just one question, and others may come later.

You say it's a hard winter, but other sources say it's a low-snow winter across most of the Alps. Here's the current snow map for Switzerland giving percentages of normal snowpack. http://www.slf.ch/lawineninfo/schneeinfo/hsm/index_EN. The whole route is in the <60% zone.

Apparently the APR has been superseded by the newer Via Alpina route, but yes, I'm talking about the original Alpenpass Route. Ich spreche genug Deutsch, um Artikel zu lesen. :)

I did the Sierra passes in early June and know I can handle Mather Pass or the brief precarious traverse at the top of Forrester. I just want to get a feel for if these Swiss passes are going to be worse than those in the High Sierra, and if the same general guidelines for getting over them safely apply (i.e. best time is whenever there is firm, but not icy snow, and while wearing crampons).

Edited by Legkohod on 02/20/2011 08:28:27 MST.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth1) - F
Passes in the Swiss Alps in June on 02/22/2011 04:41:38 MST Print View

Richard,
I am glad you could use my info! I am always happy to hear that someone on this forum wants to hike outside the US and I am glad to help.
I am sorry if I misled you with the snow levels. I have been away from Germany since January 2010. All my German friends have been complaining about this hard winter and therefore I had assumed that there is also a lot of snow in the Alps. But definitely trust the snow level report on the internet!!!
I found the Swiss passes much harder than the PCT. I have actually seen the only bad mountaineering accident on the APR approach Hohtuerlipass. You climb up to the pass in a sort of chute. The night before had been way below freezing and it was just thawing when I hiked up the pass following 2 Swiss hikers. Suddenly some rocks came loose and because of the chute-like terrain they could not avoid the rocks. Nothing happened to me but a big rock hit the hiker in front of me in the chest and probably broke his ribs. He continued on with his friend to the next hut to get some help.
The Swiss passes are much steeper and sometimes there is hardly any trail - you have to walk up on loose gravel. If I remember correctly some passes even had metal ladders and ropes to help you up. Nothing is technical climbing, but it is more difficult than the Sierras with its well-graded trail.
If you can read German here is what I would do: Plan to hike the ARP. When you start on the French end of the APR you will have 5 days before you even hit the high stuff. If it is passable, then everything is fine. If it is not passable, just have an alternative hike as plan B. Switzerland is so small that you can easily get everywhere within one day. My suggestion is the Jurahoehenweg which is way below 2.000 meters and would have no snow problem whatsoever.
Enjoy,
Christine aka German Tourist

Katharina ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
I agree on 02/22/2011 05:56:52 MST Print View

"The Swiss passes are much steeper and sometimes there is hardly any trail - you have to walk up on loose gravel. If I remember correctly some passes even had metal ladders and ropes to help you up. Nothing is technical climbing, but it is more difficult than the Sierras with its well-graded trail."
I definitively agree with this statement. Even the classification of trail levels should be considered. An "intermediate" ( white and blue) would be considered difficult here.

Richard DeLong
(Legkohod) - MLife

Locale: Eastern Europe / Caucasus
APR in June on 02/22/2011 08:21:29 MST Print View

Thanks, Christine. This is indeed sounding more like the ascent up Mt. Shasta than going over the High Sierra passes on the PCT. We hadn't thought of starting on the French side of the hike, but that seems to be a way to win a couple days before the high passes begin. I think we will do that and gather information about possible alternate routes. Since we're on the subject, what kind of nighttime temperatures do you think we'll encounter near or just above timberline in June? I'm guessing 3-8 C will be most common, with temps as low as -4 C possible.

So far this is looking to be a pretty low snow year, so we may get lucky on the passes in June, but this depends a lot on April and May snowfall.

Katharina ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Hard to say on 02/22/2011 08:56:05 MST Print View

Sorry to butt in, but it is my homeland and I can't help it ;)




Last year it snowed on June 21st at just about 3000 feet and the overnigt low was minus twelve Celsius. On June 24 th the meltdown began and lows were about 10 or 12 overnight. Daytime was quite warm , which made crossing icefields sketchy ; I fell through twice, but everything worked out. That weather pattern was consistent through most of CH, but it can vary quite a bit. I don't think anyone can tell you now , what it will be like then. I get daily avalanche reports and there is a reason they are given daily.

Edited by Kat_P on 02/22/2011 09:04:00 MST.

Christine Thuermer
(chgeth1) - F
Passes in the Swiss Alps in June on 02/22/2011 23:05:13 MST Print View

Katharina, I am glad you "butted in" as I don't have that much experience hiking in Switzerland - I am German and Switzerland is quite far for me.
But personally if it was me, I would try a different trail. If the weather is not cooperating, things can get really nasty in the Alps - much worse than in the Sierras. If you cannot change the date of your trip, I would change the APR for another, lower trail. There is so much great hiking in Switzerland that you can easily come up with an equally interesting, but lower trail. Maybe Katharina has some suggestion there. I loved the Jurahoehenweg.
All the best,
Christine

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Switzerland snow depths on 02/23/2011 02:02:50 MST Print View

> Apparently the APR has been superseded by the newer Via Alpina route
Well, not really.
The 'Alpine Pass Route' is sort-of a creation of one of the Cicerone authors. He mapped out a route which is very close to the Via Alpina, deviating only at the ends - and mainly the W end. The APR goes off to Montreux on the N side of Lac Leman, while the VA swings S to Derborance.

We did the Chamonix to Zermatt starting in the middle of July 2009, and then went on to do the APR/VA after that, starting at Sargans at the beginning of August (on the Swiss National Day actually).

You do spend a lot of time doing a 1,000 m pass a day. But we had no trouble with snow, and wore joggers the whole way. We didn't even take snow gear.

Cheers