Rock climbing in the Swiss Alps: Bernese Oberland

Some of the best rock climbing anywhere on Earth can be found in the dramatic mountains of central Switzerland.

Practically the whole of Switzerland provides great rock climbing, but the largest and most famous area is probably the Bernese Oberland. Local climbing guide Marcel Schmed describes some of the highlights.

Right in the centre of Switzerland, it’s easily accessible from the resort of Interlaken with its stunning blue lake and the famous Jungfraujoch – an enchanting landscape and alpine environment in which to enjoy the sport.

The adventurous multi-pitch routes tend to be traditional alpine-style routes that generally require trad gear such as cams and nuts, but there are also some well-protected routes on offer. Limestone, granite, gneiss – whatever a climber’s heart desires, it’s all here.

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Engelhörner – spectacular limestone peaks
The wild limestone peaks of Engelhörner tower over the landscape at the northern edge of the Bernese Alps and east of Interlaken. Their names might not be so famous (Simelistock, Vorderspitze, Rosenlauistock, Kingspitze), and they are not especially high in altitude, but the routes are breathtaking – with awesome views over the steep valley. The limestone rock here provides many multi-pitch routes at a high level of exposure of 500 meters or more. The Engelhorn Hütte at the bottom (1,900 metres) is a perfect base camp run by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).

Grimsel - classic climbing
Separating the Upper Rhone Valley from the Bernese Alps to the southeast of Grindelwald, the Grimsel pass is a granite paradise for mountaineering adventures. Areas such as Eldorado offer classic climbing with an easy approach. Also Handegg is not to be missed. All bring amazing views high above the waters of Grimselsee.

Susten Steingletscher - climbing for all
The Susten pass connects the Bernese Oberland and the east of Switzerland (Gotthard), and the road makes this fantastic slab climbing area very accessible. Steingletscher is perfect for kids and beginners - the area attracts with several excellent protected sectors. The gneiss is coarse and sprinkled with a bright green lichen. The steep south face, Pfriendler, is a sector at 2,350 metres altitude with flakes, edges and cracks to be explored using an array of climbing techniques. Also here most of the routes are well protected: there has been a considerable re-bolting program over the last couple of years.

TOP 5 EXPERIENCES

1. Gelmerfluh: Sagittarius (6b)

A total of 13 pitches on quality granite – diverse and spectacular climbing, and perfectly protected. This is a Grimsel classic. Mostly made of of slab, the route becomes steeper higher up. The splendid 7th pitch follows a steep crack for more than 30 metres. The climb is very popular, so an early start is recommended. Abseiling is the only way back down. In a strong wind, only climb as far as pitch 9.

2. Eldorado: Motörhead (6a+)

If you like slabs, cracks and dihedrals in solid granite, you’ll find them all on the south face of Eldorado-Dom. The 14 pitches, with only a few bolts, have retained their authentic alpine character. Even after retrofitting this ascent remains quite challenging. In spring and early summer snow may remain in the descent couloir. At the top the views to the 4,000-metre peaks of Finsteraarhorn and Lauteraarhorn, as well as the Unteraar glacier, are spectacular.

3. Engelhörner: Kingspitze (5b-A0)

This is an aweseome climb up the northeast wall – long and alpine! Studying the descent (4-5 hours) and the weather forcast is recommended. Some 16 pitches lead up to the dramatic peak.

4. Susten–Steingletscher: Via Fritz (5b+)

Coarse gneiss in the Pfriendler sector, this excellent, well protected, seven-pitch climb is one of the finest in the Alps. Abseiling is possible with a 50-metre rope. This wall is suprisingly steep compared with the common slabs in the area. Also recommended is the neigbouring route, Tröimli.

5. Grimsel-Handegg: Fair hands line (6a)

Ten fantastic pitches of slab, crack, dihedrals – next to the funicular train to Gelmer Lake. It remains perhaps the most famous climbing route - Handegg was the first real sport climbing area in Switzerland, established back in 1978 by Jürg von Känel and Martin Stettler.

WHEN TO VISIT

Best times to go:

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The ideal time to visit the Swiss Alps for rock climbing is during the summer (late May to early October) due to the high altitude of the area.

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