From its beginnings in the Jungfrau mountain range to its end below Bettmeralp the Aletsch Glacier is one of the world's most impressive natural phenomena.
At Jungfraujoch the wide alpine panorama is awe-inspiring. But on a clear day, when the Matterhorn can be seen in the distance and the Jungfraujoch is visible at the head of the glacier, the view from Platta, with far fewer tourists, might just have the edge.
3454m above sea level, the Jungfraujoch is reached by train on a line which is amazing in itself, passing through both the Eiger and Mönch mountains. It was built by Adolf Guyer-Zeller who made his money in textiles and railway investments and in 1894 was granted the concession to build the Jungfrau railway. A major engineering achievement is the 10km tunnel winding through Eiger and Mönch, close to the rock faces - so close, in fact, that trains stop to allow visitors to look out of windows in the rock. It took 16 years to drill the tunnel and the railway opened in 1912.
Both in 1990 and 2009 we took the train from Lauterbrunnen; in 1990 the cost was CHF101 each and in 2009 it had risen to CHF180 - though we have half price cards so not so bad!
From Lauterbrunnen the train winds up with fantastic views of the beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley and stops at Wengen and one or two other halts before terminating at Kleine Scheidegg. Change here for the mountain train which climbs gradually through Eiger then Mönch to the Jungfraujoch.
The first stop is at Eigernord Wand, right on the notorious north face of the Eiger. The Eigernord Wand is a departure point for the rescue of climbers in difficulty.
The north face of the Eiger is a really imposing sight. Though the Eiger itself was first conquered in 1858, it was a further 80 years before the North Face was climbed. Mönch and Jungfrau were first climbed in 1857 and 1811 respectively.
The second stop at Eismeer overlooks the Lower Grindelwald Glacier and mountains including Schreckhorn.
The Jungfrau Railway provides an excellent guide to the railway, the Jungfraujoch and the mountains, in several languages. It has lots of interesting information on how the mountains were formed, the glaciers and climate, and the astronomical observatory at the Jungfraujoch.
The Jungfraujoch is actually a saddle of land between the two peaks of Jungfrau and Mönch. There are several places from which to look at the fantastic landscape, including the Plateau and the Sphinx, which is reached by a lift. Here is the vast expanse of snow and ice, called Konkordiaplatz, where the Aletsch glacier begins its journey.
In 2009 we made a special trip to see a remarkable spectacle on the Jungfraujoch: a cricket match between India and England All Stars on the anniversary of Indian independence.
It was organised by Swiss and Jungfraubahnen as a publicity exercise and we only got to hear about it by an email from Swiss. It was very poorly publicised to the general public and this extended to the organisation at the site which was very much geared towards visiting dignitaries and press. As one Indian fan said, if it had been well-publicised 20-30,000 ex-pat Indians would have made the journey to watch! It was only a six-over-a-side game, lasting about three quarters of an hour, but it was great fun and we were able to see some great players including Kapil Dev, Farokh Engineer, Chris Broad and John Emburey.... "and Chris Broad hits a massive six onto the glacier"... bizarre!
In August 2008 we took advantage of a Swiss Railways "Monats Hit" to spend a weekend further down the Aletsch Glacier. At 23.6km long it is the longest in Europe.
By train and cable car we reached Fiescheralp where we stayed at the Eggishorn (superb fondue!).
Another cable car took us to the top of the Eggishorn and our first view of the glacier from here - absolutely incredible. We were lucky it was a really clear day and we could see east up to the Jungfraujoch and way down the valley where the glacier becomes a river to the west.
The Monats Hit also included lunch at the cafe at the top of the Eggishorn: we had rösti with pork and a small beer, not bad at all. After lunch some cloud was working its way up the mountain on the route we'd planned to walk so we went back to Fiesch and walked to Platta.
The walk to Platta is excellent with fantastic views all the way. Through a tunnel we had a beer at the small restaurant near the lake then walked on across the side of the mountain - the track is mostly good all the way - to an incredible viewpoint.
I can't recommend this highly enough. Far below we could see tiny dots of people at the deep edge of the glacier which dwarfs them. The views opening out over the glacier are stunning.
At Platta we sat for quite a while just enjoying the landscape - this immediately became our favourite view in Switzerland: the magnificent glacier stretching into the distance on both side, the Jungfraujoch to the right and far, far in the distance the Matterhorn on the left.
The following day we set off on a walk to Bettmersee on another beautiful clear and sunny day - the views to the Matterhorn were fantastic!
We then took the cable car up to Bettmerhorn where the views were so good we could see Mont Blanc.
From here the end of the glacier can be seen to the west, where it becomes moraine and meltwater giving rise to the Massa River.
Here we did a little bit of the UNESCO trail from Bettmerhorn to Eggishorn but there were a lot of people with the same idea - a far cry from our peaceful and almost solitary walk yesterday.
The walk back down to Fiescheralp was steep and difficult in places, though the views, again, were impressive.
Such a stunningly beautiful area with some of the best mountain views anywhere - and the very best glacier view. I wonder what it all looks like in the depths of winter....
In June 2012 we travelled to Blatten-bei-Naters to do the 14km hike from Belalp to Riederalp via the Hängebrücke - the 124m long suspension bridge over the gorge at the end of the Aletsch Glacier.
We got off to a fairly shaky start: after an early train and PostBus we discovered that Blatten-bei-Naters was not the Blatten where we had reserved a hotel room! The other Blatten is also in the Valais but in an entirely different valley. Fortunately we were able to get a room at the Blattnerhof and cancel our room in Blatten so it worked out OK.
The Blattnerhof terrace has a lovely view over the old village which is just across the road. We had lunch here while planning a walk in the afternoon. We decided a round trip walk to the Stausee would be perfect.
We headed out and took a route through the forest which climbed at first then descended steeply before a fairly stiff climb to the lookout over the lake. The terrain is very rocky with some sheer cliff faces along the way. Climbing up to the lookout beautiful views over the typical alpine landscape across to the snowy peaks opened up.
The lake is actually a reservoir with a huge dam, its waters a dull grey.
We returned along the road which was much quicker and downhill all the way.
After ice creams on the hotel terrace we headed off for a short walk, less than half an hour each way, passing through the old village to a viewpoint over the deep valley, where the large town of Brig lies, to the mountains in Italy.
The following morning we took the 8:20 cable car up to Belalp and began the hike with a slight climb to the Hotel Belalp. Views along the way were fantastic, over the valley to the mountains.
There were only one or two other hikers around and it was very peaceful, the only sounds that of cow bells and the occasional stream rushing downhill.
Reaching the Hotel Belalp the views opened up to reveal the glacier - a fantastic sight, right from where it curves away in the distance around the mountains, back to its source and right down to the Hängebrucke spanning the gorge far, far below: the hotel is at 2103m and the bridge at 1606m. This was an area much loved by the nineteenth century physicist and mountaineer John Tyndall, and he was granted permission to build a house here in the late 1870s, above the original hotel - he certainly picked an amazing spot. His wife erected a stone monument to him here after his death.
The descent from the hotel is very steep to begin with but becomes easier about half way down to the bridge. There were very few people attempting the walk from Belalp but we were glad we were doing this side of the valley early in the morning - it would be a very hot ascent later in the day coming from Riederalp.
The flattish section across the alp is fairly easy going. We made a short detour for a marked, but wholly unremarkable, viewpoint before the final descent to the bridge.
It's an amazing structure, suspended 80m above the Massa Gorge it bounces gently as you cross it - probably not a very attractive prospect for anyone without a head for heights!
We crossed the bridge and took lots of photographs and had a bit of a rest, drinks and energy bars before beginning the climb up to Riederfurka which took a couple of hours..
We were tired when we reached the café at Riederfurka but a beer and good lunch soon revived us for the walk down to Riederalp and the journey home.
On 31st August 2009 we flew to Italy on a beautifully clear day. We passed directly over the Bernese Oberland with stunning views of the Aletsch.