Walker’s Haute Route – Stages 12a & 13 St Niklaus to Europa Hut

For it’s final two stages the Haute Route follows the Europaweg, a 31km high altitude mountain path running along the Mattertal Valley. In places this is the most dangerous part of the whole walk, with no shelter and tricky conditions under foot as it crosses multiple landslide zones. In 2018 rockfall meant the closure of the section between Grat and Galenburg, with no confirmed reopening date. I walked as much of the original Europaweg as possible, involving the longest single ascent of the whole Haute Route.

Stage 12a is a connector stage between St Niklaus and Gasenreid, where the Europaweg starts. I had planned on walking the steep 500m ascent but when I leant that there was a bus that could do it in 20 minutes that sounded appealing!

If too good to be true, as the direct bus shown on the timetable at the station didn’t seem to exist, which makes sense given the section closures, but it was frustrating to learn at the time. Instead I would have to ride the bus to Grächen and change for Gasenreid, which would take an hour, not that much faster than walking. While on the bus I figured out that if I got off at St Niklaus Bodman I could walk the rest to Gasenreid direct, saving some hill climbing and taking 45 minutes in the end.

The hill climbing wasn’t over by the time I got to the start of Gasenreid as it was one of the steepest villages I visited. It was also home to another attractive church. As an architecture fan the number and variety of these were an unexpected bonus of the Haute Route.

As were the shrines which I saw frequently in villages and along the track.

I’d seen the track closure details online but it wasn’t till I was at the start of the Europaweg and checking out this map that I fully realised their scale. Basically most of the first day wasn’t possible, though this was regarded as the most dangerous section and I didn’t miss out on many views, so this might be the better way to walk the Europaweg.

I could have caught a train to Randa and chosen the easier walk up to Europa Hut, but of course I took the most difficult option. This involved walking ~6km along to Herbriggen, what I thought would be the easiest part but turned out not to be, and then tackle the 1,400m steep climb to Galenburg, to join the Europaweg along to Europa Hut. Quite a long day but considerably shorter than the double stage days I’d been doing to date.

The track to Herbriggen started as a super easy dirt road, then narrowed to an easy track, then after an hour hit sizeable rockfall.

The crossing of which was straightforward but getting up the mangled bank on the other side was another story. Hard to tell from this photo taken afterwards but it required climbing / scrambling up a ten foot steep bank of loose soil, roots and rocks. I really wasn’t sure if I would make it but somehow did, the sketchiest part of the whole walk.

After here the track was less well maintained, with fallen trees and rockfall to navigate, though there were ropes in place for the steeper sections.

At least at various stages along the track the woods opened up to views across the Mattertal Valley.

Another interesting section was at this waterfall, which the signed track went around the back of, along a narrow track with a rope. This didn’t really appeal and thankfully it was easy enough to just cross the stream below.

There were a couple of shrines along the way.

The track lost quite a lot of height, which I would have to regain, but thankfully it didn’t go all the way down to Herbriggen. Instead from this junction I started the long climb up to Galenburg.

The views improved as I climbed.

There were some colourful flowers.

At 2,200m above sea level I wasn’t expecting to find a caravan!

There was quite a lot of wildlife around, including this lone chamois, and a group of black and white goats, quite distinctive.

By chance I was looking over the valley to Ried Glacier and noticed something moving over the top of it. It was a glider doing circles, quite a stunning sight if too far away to photograph. I did catch the same glider a little later when it was closer to my side of the valley. Must be an incredible experience flying down these valleys.

After three hours I finally made it to Galenburg, joining onto the official Europaweg track. From here it was mostly downhill with open, expansive views of the valley.

I came across a flock of mountain sheep, tagged so presumably kept for their wool though they were all different colours. One stood in the perfect spot in front of the glacier…

I knew that tomorrow I would be walking over the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, but didn’t expect this smaller one today. It was quite terrifyingly wobbly, as it’s uneven nature might suggest from the photos. Things improved when I looked ahead rather than at my feet, but I was still very glad when I’d crossed to the other side.

I reached the Europa Hut by mid-afternoon, earlier than most days, and enjoyed a bit of hut time to catch up with blog drafting, and talking to a British couple and a pair of Irish ladies.

The day ended with more wildlife as a group of ibex gathered by the hut deck, presumably something they do often. Was great to be able to get so close to them, and hear the loud whistles they use to communicate with each other.

Author: jontycrane

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