The Europaweg Trail between Grächen and Zermatt is one of the key highlights on the Walker’s Haute Route. Unfortunately a key section of the trail destroyed by a large rockfall last year requires a new, safer route to be established. According to the local authorities responsible for work, the new route is not expected to be open during the 2019 hiking season. Due to so many hikers being impacted by this closure, I’ve prepared the following analysis and options to help everyone choose an alternative route.
What is the Europaweg Trail?
Europaweg is a balcony trail that runs along the Mattertal Valley providing landscape views of the stunning Ried glacier, Weisshorn and iconic Matterhorn. It is a fitting end for hikers completing their Haute Route hike from Mont Blanc, an inspiring start to the Tour of Monte Rosa or a perfect weekend hike that showcases a special hiking experience in the Swiss Alps.
Despite offering incredible scenery, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted hiker. From Grächen, the distance to Zermatt is measured at ~34km / 21mi, with a total elevation change (gain & loss) of ~4,000m / 13,000 feet and takes the average hiker about 12 hours over 2 days.
It also navigates multiple high risk landslide zones (cover photo above) which requires scrambling over boulders from previous rockfalls, traversing narrow ledges with one hand gripping fixed support cables and crossing swing bridges, which includes the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world!
After your experience on high alpine trails from Mont Blanc, Haute Route hikers should have the confidence to safely navigate this trail and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes views.
Which Section is Closed?
The rockfall has impacted the trail between Grat and Galenburg, making it impassable. This section does not have a nearby parallel trail and the narrow balcony has sheer drop-offs, meaning there isn’t an opportunity for a temporary detour around the broken section. The only option available to hikers is to plan an alternative route so they can reach their planned destination (Europahütte or Zermatt).
Will it really be closed all Season?
The local authorities responsible for repair and maintenance of the Europaweg trail have not set a date for when the section trail will be reopened. Establishing a new, safer route requires more effort and funding than normal clearing or maintenance work. If any substantial infrastructure is required, additional funds will need to be raised, designs approved, work commissioned and then completed. The Charles Kuonen suspension bridge project took 7 years to go through this process which will give you a sense that it may not be quickly resolved and reopened.
How can you find out if there is changes to the trail status this season?
Like any trail changes impacting hikers on the Walker’s Haute Route this season, I’ll make an announcement on Instagram, Facebook and broadcast an email to all my customers and newsletter subscribers (which you can sign up for below).
Is Europahütte (Europa Hut) Affected?
Europahütte is unaffected by the trail closure and will be open for the 2019 summer hiking season as normal. Everyone who has secured a reservation will still have a bed and the warm hospitality of the Brantschen family waiting for them on arrival.
There are multiple detour options to reach Europahütte of varying length and difficulty which I will go through below.
Is the Charles Kuonen (Skywalk) suspension bridge AFFected?
The Charles Kuonen suspension bridge is unaffected by the trail closure and will be open for the 2019 summer hiking season. Hikers will be able to able to approach and cross the bridge from both sides as normal.
Does this impact my 2019 itinerary & mobile map I’ve already bought?
No! Because this was such a significant change to the route, I’ve updated all itineraries and mobile map products to include detour routes. You can find the latest version in your hiking portal or via email.
On the right is an example of the updated mobile map with Option 1 detour route (red markers), and Option 4 detour route (green markers).
Not a customer? You can access the alternate route GPS mobile maps by signing up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page.
With the Europaweg Trail closed between Grat and Galenburg, I’ve identified 4 different options for hikers to navigate between Grächen and Europahütte. There is a clear favourite for those that still want to maximise their time on the Europaweg Trail, however, it is going to take more effort with the detour. If this seems like a bit much, I’ve also analysed 3 other options of varying difficulty that may be better for you.
Before providing details on the various alternative options, here are the trail statistics for the Europaweg Trail between Grächen and Europahütte as a reference point;
Distance: 15.25 km (9.5 mi)
Elevation gain: 1,250 m (4,275 ft)
Elevation loss: 575 m ( 558 ft)
Estimated hiking time for average hiker: 6 hrs
Please note: If my trail stats are a little different from others you’ve seen, it’s probably a difference in methodology. While I can’t speak to the approach of others, I count contour lines crossed and measure distance in 10m intervals to make sure hikers consider and get credit for all the twists, turns and trail undulation between key points.
OPTION 1. Maximise your time on the Europaweg Trail
The best option for those that can handle the extra effort
Pros: I know you’re disappointed by the closure of this section…but don’t despair! This alternative route detours away from the Europaweg trail at a natural point so you come back onto the balcony trail as soon as possible and reach Europahütte after a solid days hiking.
Cons: This option will require substantially more effort than was otherwise necessary if the section of trail wasn’t closed. For Haute Route hikers, the climb from Herbriggen to Galenburg will be the most challenging of the entire journey and one that others before you have not had to do…The climb and the extra effort will rule this option out for some hikers.
Variation details: Follow the Europaweg trail until a trail junction just past the Riedbach stream where instead of climbing up to Grat, you’ll continue straight on an alternative trail to Herbriggen. Once you’ve arrived, refuelled and put your legs into 4WD, start the gruelling climb up to Galenburg and the Europaweg Trail. Once reaching Galenburg, enjoy the stunning and mostly descending trail to Europahütte…you’ve deserved it!
Trail Statistics: Grächen > Gasenried > Grat Junction > Herbriggen > Galenburg> Europahütte
Distance: 19.5 km (12.1 mi)
Elevation gain: 1,788 m (5,866 ft)
Elevation loss: 1,143 m ( 3,750 ft)
Estimated hiking time for average hiker: 8.0 hrs
option 2. Maximise Your time on the Balcony Section of Europaweg
An easier option to reach the balcony trail for those that are staying in Grächen and best option for those staying in St Niklaus
Pros: If option one looks just a little too challenging but you’d still really like to maximise your time on the Europaweg Trail, this could be the alternative route for you. It reduces the elevation change by leading you up the easier valley trail to Herbriggen, to conserve energy for the climb to Galenburg. If you’re staying in St Niklaus the night, then this is the best detour option for you!
Cons: For those Haute Route hikers that followed the trail from St Niklaus to Grächen for the night, this alternative route requires you to take the same path back down…repeating the same trail on an epic multi-day is not preferred by most hikers!
Variation details: Follow the trail back down to St Niklaus (or have an extra hour sleep in if you stayed here :p) and then hike up the valley past Mattsand to Herbriggen. Once you’ve gathered the courage for the climb, start grinding your way up to the balcony trail and onto Europahütte.
Trail Statistics: Grächen > St Niklaus > Herbriggen > Galenburg> Europahütte
Distance: 19.0 km (11.8 mi)
Elevation gain: 1,558 m (5,112 ft)
Elevation loss: 913 m ( 2,995 ft)
Estimated hiking time for average hiker: 7.25 hrs
option 3. Detour with easiest Climb
For those that want an easier climb to reach Europahütte
Pros: If you’re staying in Grächen and don’t want your detour to include a mammoth climb, this option is for you! When you reach Herbriggen and see hikers that have chosen option 1 or 2 going to desperate lengths to lighten their load by squeezing out unused shampoo and toothpaste, you can smile and carry up the valley to Randa where an easier climb awaits you.
Cons: By shortening the time you’ll spend on the Europaweg trail, you’re getting less return on the effort it will take to climb up there. Although it’s an easier climb than to Galenburg, it will still be equal to the biggest elevation gain most Haute Route hikers have needed to achieve in a day.
Variation details: Follow the Europaweg trail until a trail junction just past the Riedbach stream where instead of climbing up to Grat, you’ll continue straight on an alternative trail to Herbriggen. Wish your fellow hikers good luck who are heading for Galenburg and continue up the valley to Randa. Fill up your water reserves and start climbing! You’ll climb past (not required to cross) the Charles Kuonen suspension bridge just before reaching Europahütte.
Trail Statistics: Grächen > Gasenried > Grat Junction > Herbriggen > Randa > Europahütte
Distance: 18.5 km (11.5 mi)
Elevation gain: 1,457 m (4,780 ft )
Elevation loss: 812 m (2,664 ft)
Estimated hiking time for average hiker: 6.75 hrs
option 4. Easiest Alternative Route
For those that want to take the easiest route to reach Europahütte
Pros: This alternative route up the valley is expected to take the same time to reach Europahütte as the Europaweg trail route when it re-opens.
Cons: Although it’s expected to take the same time, the only part of the Europaweg trail you’ll complete with this route is from the suspension bridge to Europahütte. However, the fact you’ve still made it to the hut is the main thing because tomorrow it’s Europaweg all the way!
Variation details: Descend from Grächen to St Niklaus, waking up any hikers that have slept in when passing the only hotel in town! Follow the trail up the valley past Mattsand and Herbriggen to Randa, then climb past the Charles Kuonen suspension bridge just before reaching Europahütte.
Trail Statistics: Grächen > St Niklaus > Herbriggen > Randa > Europahütte
Distance: 18.0 km (11.2 mi)
Elevation gain: 1,227 m (4,026 ft)
Elevation loss 582 m (1,909 ft)
Estimated hiking time for average hiker: 6 hrs
Bonus: Want to make the options above a little easier?
Given the closed section has increased your hiking time for 3 of the 4 alternative routes mentioned above, incorporating a shortcut could be a great way to make the most of your detour day! Depending on the route you choose, there can be multiple sections where shortcuts are available. For example;
Buses run between Grachen and Gasenried which would reduce the hiking time by 30mins for anyone who chooses option 1 and 3.
Buses also run between Grachen and St Nikalus saving hikers who choose options 2 and 4 over 1 hour if they want to hop aboard.
Trains run between St Niklaus and Randa saving anyone hikers who choose options 2, 3, or 4 up to 2.5 hours.
Although there are no shortcuts available for the big climbs, you could use public transport to arrive in Herbriggen or Randa as fresh as a wildflower and ready to ascend to the heavens! All our offline mobile maps have the location of these shortcuts, as well as the 2019 schedules and costs.
ADDITIONAL CLIMB TO Grat
While it is possible to reach Grat and come back down via an alternative path, I have not recommended it in my options above. This extension requires an additional ~650m (2,133) to be gained over 2.25km (1.4mi) before leading hikers back down to the Herbriggen detour, pushing the estimated hiking time well over 10 hours for those aiming to reach Europahütte from Grächen in one day. For elite hikers that can handle this extension, continue on the Europaweg trail after the Riedbach stream to climb up to Grat then take the descending right trail at the next junction to leave the Europaweg trail and meet the detour route to Herbriggen explained below.
Skipping Europaweg completely on this stage
You could choose to come up the valley and stay at Randa the night or even continue onto Zermatt in the same day. As neither of these options require navigating around the closed section, I’ve not included them in my analysis.
I’ll be hiking the the Haute Route (include Option 1 alternate Europaweg route) in June 2019 as part of a Triple M hike. Follow along on Instagram and Facebook to get latest trail updates. Can’t wait to get back into the mountains for the 2019 hiking season!
Contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any support.