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 Uploaded 23-11-02  

Mountaineering in Switzerland

I have always been attracted to the mountains of Switzerland. No other place in Europe you will find such a concentration of lofty, snowclad peaks, and such a variety of outstanding mountains. The Alps are not only covering most of Switzerland, but also parts of the neighbouring countries France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Slovenia. But it is in Switzerland, you will find the major multiplicy of great mountains: big singular massifs like the Grand Combin, long and rather uniform mountain chains like in Grisons, wild and adventurous north faces like Eiger and the adjacing mountains facing Grindelwald, pointed and dented ridges like the Nadelgrat, or unique and dominating mountains like Matterhorn.
In Switzerland you can always find a summit possible to climb, no matter the time of year or weather conditions, yet still paying attention to the climber's experience, fitness, daring or need for challenge.
Although far the most of the Swiss mountains are parts of the Alps, it is possible to define several demarcated mountain chains, each with its own character:

On the South Ridge of Dent Blanche Jura
Bernese Oberlands
Bernese Alps
Pennine Alps
Glarner Alps
Jura is a wide ridge of old limestone mountains, which borders to France between Basle and Geneva. The mountains are mostly forested and are used for hiking in the summer and skiing (cross-country and alpine) in the winter. Where the rocks are protruding from the soil, which happens in several places, there are often good possibilities of rockclimbing. The highest point in Jura is Mont Tendre, 1679m.
Bernese Oberlands is the northern foothills of the Northern limestone Alps, which south and east of Berne form a very popular hiking area, with a lot of easy summits, offering very good views to the snowclad mountains further south. Bernese Oberlands have no significant delimitation to the south, where the region is superseded by the Bernese Alps.
Bernese Alps is the name of the mountain range, situated on the border between the states of Berne and Valais. The northern part of the Bernese Alps is often referred to being a part of the Oberlands, whereas the southern part politically belong to Valais. In the Bernese Alps we find the largest glaciated area of the Alps around the 25 km long Aletschgletscher, the longest glacier in the Alps. The most dominant mountains in the Bernese Alps are the famous Jungfrau 4158m, Aletschhorn 4195, guarded by glaciers on all sides, the Eiger 3970m with its notorious North Face, and Finsteraarhorn, at an altitude of 4274m the heighest mountain of the range.
The notorious North Face of the Eiger, as seen from Wengernalp   Matterhorn and Dent d'Hérens, as seen from Unter Gabelhorn

Pennine Alps have the biggest concentration of high peaks in the Alps, as more than half of the summits above 4000m are found here in Valais. The absolute center of mountaineering activities on these many summits is the Mattertal, with well-known villages like Randa, Täsch and Zermatt, as from this valley you have access to no less than 31 4000-metre peaks, among these Matterhorn 4478m, Monte Rosa 4634m and Dom 4545m. Another important valley is Saastal, which have many mountains in common with Mattertal plus a few it keeps to itself. 13 4000-metre peaks can be reached from this valley, among these Nadelhorn 4327m and Weissmies 4023m. Also worth mentioning is Val de Zinal in Anniviers, a more quiet valley, but still with access to one of the highest mountains in the Alps: the beautiful Weisshorn 4505m, as well as four more 4000-metre peaks. The western summits in the Pennine Alps may with advantage be reached from a base in the Rhône valley, from where it is easy to access the different minor side valleys.
Uri or the Urner Alps is a small, but well-defined mountain range between the Grimsel, Furka and Susten passes, yet quite varied. The western part is made up by the large glaciated Winterberg massif, with several distinct summits up to 3630m, whereas the eastern part offer some of the best rockclimbing in Switzerland, and perhaps even in the Alps as well. Rockclimbing centers like Handegg, Göschenen and Eldorado are names well-known to any climber going for the harder stuff, and since the region is not so visited by tourists in generel, you are likely to share the mountains with like-minded people only.
Glarner Alps is the mountain range between Vorderrhein in the south and Lake Zurich in north. The range is the eastern extension of Uri, but the rock is not quite as good, and the number of visitors is smaller. The limestone rock is protruding in the northern parts, and here several good crags are found, among these Brügglerwand, where the Danish Mountain Club for a period of time has held its Alpine rockclimbing course.
Ticino or the Tessiner Alps are squeezed between the two Rhine valleys and stretches towards Italy in the southernmost state in Switzerland. The Tessiner Alps are rather low mountains, with Rheinwaldhorn 3402m as the highest peak. This part of Switzerland is relative underdeveloped, and the mountain tourism is not so wide spread as further north. The range is a typical hiking area with many easy yet still interesting summits, although the valley structures makes it a little difficult to get around.
Grisons or the Bündner Alps is a collective name of the vaste mountainous area stretching from the Rhine valley towards Austria and Italy. This is the only Swiss section of the Eastern Alps, and the mountain chains are here interlocked through each other; with the exception of the deep cut of the Inn valley there is no system found in the course of the valleys. Like in Ticino there are here large areas with only few visitors, and it is also in Grisons, the only National Park in Switzerland is found. On the other hand there are several places where the ski tourism is flourishing, as in St. Moritz, Arosa, Davos and Klosters to mention a few. The central part of the mountains are mostly being used for hiking or easier summit climbs, but in the south, near the village of Vicosoprano, the youngest granite of the Alps is found, forming terrific climbing peaks like Piz Cengalo and Badile. And further east follows the Bernina group with the only 4000-metre peak in the Eastern Alps: Piz Badile with an altitude of 4049m.

Internal links:

Mountaineering in Valais  (Danish language only)
Facts about Switzerland  (Danish language only)
Alpine 4000'ers
My own ascents
External links:

Swiss Tourist Board
Swiss Alpine Club
SLF - Avalanche- and snow information Switzerland
Danish Mountain Club