I've been running a series of photo posts of my summer's European travels in company with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Last week I finished the section on hiking the Tour de Mt. Blanc (see series:  Part 1    Part 2    Part 3   Part 4   Part 5  Part 6) (or go here to search all my photo posts). Between the TMB and our second long hike of about 2/3 of the Via Alpina, or Swiss Alpine Pass route, we spent 4 nights/3 days in Saas Fee for recovery and further exploration.

The trip from Chamonix to Saas Fee was a scenic tour in itself, as we first took the small mountain train up the Chamonix valley (valley of the Arve river) to the border, then transferred to a Swiss train (which switched between regular rail and cog rail depending on the grade) to drop into the Rhone valley at Martigny.

Cool mural as we entered the station at Martigny.

From there it was another train down the pretty valley, then a bus up into the mountains once more. Saas Fee is one valley over from Zermatt. Even before we got off the bus we knew it was a special place. Walking up through the town to our hotel proved it.


Saas Fee has one of the few year-round ski areas in Europe (or anywhere?), at over 10,000' on the glaciers of the Allalinhorn. This means that ski teams come here to train, and I gather it's a hopping place in the winter, but the town seems to be pretty quiet in summer, with just enough tourism (and ski teams?) to make sure the shops and things are open. That suited us just fine--we were there to rest and hike. Having arrived at mid-day, we spent the afternoon in a little exploration, and a little rest.

Saas Fee seems to be a mix of rather nice hotels and historic buildings, many I think moved into the town when the ski areas were built.

We saw faces like this throughout Switzerland.

We headed out the next morning on a fairly ambitious hike (we were scheduling by weather, not by our bodies), from the mountain town of Gspon to lift at Kreuzboden. This meant we started with nearly 2 hours of buses and lifts, thanks to long waits for the Gspon lift, which unlike most we encountered runs only every quarter or half hour. 

Once above the valley, though, the views and sunshine made us happy, and we ambled off with a feeling of pleasure and leisure.

View from Gspon

These guys know how to share. Plenty of pollen or nectar for all.

We stopped for elevenses in the lee of this lovely tiny mountain chapel.

I was awed by the way farms cling to the very steep mountainsides.
 
The scenery encouraged lots of stopping for photos, and the trail for the first several miles was at times rough, but never terribly difficult.

A good view of the ski slopes on the glacier. I'm not sure how I'd feel about skiing a glacier, but people were doing it (of course, I don't ski at all, so I guess I know how I'd feel about it!)

Mountain panorama

While we were enjoying our second lunch, only about halfway along, it occurred to Tom to check the schedule for the lift that would make this a manageable hike. We certainly didn't want to have to hike an extra 3 or so miles and several thousand feet down to the road; the hike was already meant to be over 8 miles. Suddenly our mountain stroll become a bit more driven as we realized we had to pick up our pace to be sure not to miss the last cable car.

It didn't help that the route became more challenging after that, as well. 

Easy walking right here, but we had to get past the cows. Fortunately, Tom knew the secret password.

We had to drop and climb steeply several times, including, near the end, crossing a talus slope that offered fantastic views but poor footing.

Tom admiring the mountain range, which includes the Dom (left-most of the super-pointy peaks on the right), which at 14, 911' is the tallest peak entirely within Switzerland.

At last the beautiful sight of the cable car station hove into view. If we'd had more time, it would have been cool to take some of the lifts higher up, but we were beat, and less than 30 minutes ahead of closing time. We headed down, more than ready for showers and dinner.

By the time we reached this, we had hiked nearly 9 miles, climbing 2400', in 5 hours of hiking time.

A good meal always helps after a hard hike. In order to avoid big price tags and long waits in restaurants (which isn't bad service, it's just the way it works in Europe, where dining is meant to be leisurely), we had taken to buying our meals at the grocery store.

A standard feast, though this one seems to lack greens. Note my trusty Swiss Army knife, nearly 40 years old and still slicing up bread and cheese.

I appreciated a very nice room in this hotel, though found it odd that there was no shower, only a lovely bathtub--located right in front of where the door opened into the room! I also had a balcony with a nice view, and was on the quiet side of the hotel, away from the street which, despite no car traffic (no cars allowed in Saas Fee), could be noisy with happy tourists traveling back and forth from hotels to restaurants and bars.

Oddly, though there was no way to contain the spray, it did have a shower head on a hose, which helped when I wanted to wash my hair but tended to make a mess.

After our too-vigorous exploration on our first rest day, the next two we scaled things back considerably, sacrificing some of our planned hikes to our need to recoup ourselves enough for another 10-day trek. The second day, we took lifts around, including up to the glacial lakes at Langfluh.

Approaching the glacier

The peak, the glacier, and the inevitable mountain restaurant. I'm guessing those are really important in winter for the skiers!

The largest of the glacial melt ponds.

Above the first lake, a wide spot in the stream showed the movement of glacial silt, so fine it remains suspended in even slow-moving water.

After riding another lift to a different viewpoint and half a lunch, we called it a day and headed down.
 
Shadows of cable cars crossing above the glacial river.

On our final day we felt rested enough for another modest hike, and chose to try the other side of the valley, with a quick cable ride to Hannig (the lift was only a few blocks from our hotel) and a modest climb to Mallig, offering impressive views for minimal effort (about 2.6 miles RT from the lift, and only 1000' of climb).

Panoramic views from the trail.

Swiss engineering. The sideways fences are for preventing avalanches. But the concrete pillars are supporting a huge chunk of rock that appeared to be in danger of falling--directly down on the lift station. We speculated on how long the fix would hold, and didn't linger below it.

A closer look at the supports.

Happy hiker. I toyed with making a longer hike of it, but better sense prevailed.

By the time the day was finished, we were convinced that Saas Fee is worth visiting on its own merits (and we skipped enough great hikes that it would be worth going back), as well as being confident we were rested enough to continue our journey in the morning. I enjoyed a final sunset and sunrise from my balcony, and a good night's sleep.

The sun vanishes early from this town clinging to the southwestern slopes of the mountains.

Though the sun is gone early (it must be really bad in winter, though with the sun farther south it may shine through some breaks in the mountains), it also hits the peaks early, and I was in a position to see it, from bed or balcony, one last time.

Up and off--it was a substantial trip to the start of our next adventure, picking up the Via Alpina just inside the border with Liechtenstein at Sargans/Mels. Rising temperatures which hadn't been obvious to us in our alpine retreat (Saas Fee sits at about 6000') hit us like a sledgehammer on the long train ride, and still worse when we reached our hotel. For a day, we wished ourselves back in Saas Fee. I'll show how we got over it over the next few weeks.

 

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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