Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Gries Pass

In an effort to get away from the heat, I searched out a few hiking paths near glaciers and we settled on the Gries glacier, near the Nufenen pass road between canton Wallis and canton Ticino. It’s a fair drive from home to get there, but glaciers closer at hand are generally harder to reach on foot, require proper equipment like crampons, or involve a hike which is just too much hard work in high summer temperatures. We’d visited the dam near the glacier a couple of times before and wanted to hike in the area, so we packed a lunch and drove over to the fair side of canton Wallis, by way of the Hasli valley and the Grimsel pass.

The small service road to the dam isn’t officially open to public traffic, so we were good and parked up near the main road, electing to add the two kilometre road to the dam to the overall walk. And benefitting from the large walls of snow at the side of the road to cool down!

Once at the end of the service road, we had the choice of walking over the dam and heading directly to the glacier, or continuing up to the comparatively new wind turbine and then circling the lake clockwise to reach the lateral moraine to the south.

There is currently work being carried out on the dam and so we were forced to choose the latter route. So onward and up past the wind turbine and onto the hiking trail proper. The trail offers panoramic views across the lake basin – currently drained for the aforementioned work, so that a couple of small diggers could get onto the mud – and leads an up-and-down route beneath the Corno pass towards the Klein Grieshorn. Once the path nears the cliffs, it bears westward towards the large, scree-covered glacial moraine and continues steadily, but not steeply, upwards.

July may seem like full summer, but seeing the hiking signs lying on the ground, as yet unmounted, indicated that the large amount of snow still lying around wasn’t that unusual. We’d hoped for the snow to be a cooling factor, but it was not to be: temperatures in the mid twenties and sun reflecting off the snow put paid to any cooling effect. Slipping and sliding a little as we made our way onward, we followed the footprints in the snow from hikers who hd already passed this way, and reached the top of our hike after around half an hour making or way across the glacial landscape.

The moraine is the site of the border between Switzerland and Italy and this border was our goal for the day. Marked by a couple of engraved rock posts, the border here is otherwise anonymous; only the map and a predomination of Italian greetings from other hikers indicate that you’re on the edge of Italy.

After a break for lunch on the border, we continued on slowly, stopping here and there to pick up a few small pieces of opaque and clear quartz, which lie in abundance on the rocky landscape amongst the deposits left behind by the glacier when it was much larger.

Our path led us to a small refuge hut built overlooking the valley on the Italian side of the pass. With a fantastic view down to the Lago di Marasco, the hut is build solidly and using modern techniques as a refuge for hikers caught out by bad weather. It was built in memory of three scouts who died here in December 1953, who were caught out by unexpected fog, storms and a sudden drop in visibility and temperature during a two-day hike from the valley over the Gries, Corno and San Giacomo passes. A sombre moment on an otherwise beautiful day.

From this turning point, we had only to return to the car, following the route we’d taken. A hot slog on the way back, interspersed with pauses to take photos and a couple of short videos, as well as a very welcome drink from an ice-cold mountain stream. The ten kilometre walk at around 2,400 metres above sea level in temperatures trying to get to 30°C took it out of us, but we really enjoyed the experience and can heartily recommend it.

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