If ever there was a trail that crammed all the experiences of a week long hiking classic into a one day excursion, Saas Fee’s Glacier Trail is it.
The trail was opened in 2014 as an official extension to the very popular trail from the Plattjen gondola station, just above Saas Fee, and the Britannia Hut. With the extension comes an entry into the world of glacier walking as not just one glacier needs to be crossed, but two. The route is well marked, without crevasses, and monitored for changes that could alter the route or put hikers at risk. It’s not often that glaciers can be traversed by the masses without a mountain guide or the necessary glacier travel gear. That said, stick to the marked route and above all, do not attempt the glacier sections in poor weather with limited visibility.
The Saas Fee Glacier Trail
Most people will opt for the gondola to Plattjen, saving nearly 800 meters of ascent. From the station, there is a long traverse through classic Alps terrain, grassy slopes and talus, all on a wide, well worn trail. After the traverse, a moraine is climbed to slabs and eventually a permanent snowfield up to the Britannia Hut.
At the Britannia Hut there is a short (15 minute) hike up to the viewpoint above, the Kleine Allalin, which is well worth the few extra vertical meters and more than justifies a stop at the hut for a meal.
Leaving the hut is where the alpine world is entered. The Hohlaubgletscher (gletscher = glacier) is a narrow glacier passage over flattish terrain, but just below you are some very obvious crevasses. Follow along the line of the marked posts and stay well clear of the holes.
Glacier walking, when the glacier is dry (snow free) is an interesting experience of crunching along on rock hard ice. In the summer, a textured surface typically forms that prevents slipping on the ice. Always watch where you step on a glacier, there are surprise holes, water channels, and occasionally black ice.
Once off the glacier you’ll traverse through a moraine before arriving to the much larger Allalingletscher. Like the Hohlaubgletscher, the Allalin is little more than following the posts on flat terrain. The route curves to the east where you exit the ice on to a rocky trail that leads up to the Shwarzbergkopf – and from here you have a panoramic view of the 4000 meter peaks Rimpfischhorn and Allalinhorn rising out of the huge glaciated terrain you’ve just come through. This is a spot you can spend some serious time as it is a flat, grassy hilltop with perfect rock benches to sprawl out on. All that’s left from this point is the 800 meter descent to the Mattmarksee, but not before studying the beautiful Ofental valley on the east side of the lake that crosses the Passo di Cingino into Italy.
From Mattmark, catch a bus back to Saas Fee, but check the timetable for the last bus departure.
Overall, this is a classic and worthy tour thanks to all the varied terrain through which you’ll pass. If you have not explored glaciers, the route offers a great introduction to the world of glacier travel, which sadly is not going to be around much longer. The Glacier Trail is not difficult, but it is fairly long and in rugged terrain.
Distance : Approximately 16km
Vertical Gain : Approximately 800 meters
For more info, and GPS track, visit the official Saas Fee page.