Advice for Walkers in Switzerland
With visits to Switzerland spanning nearly 30 years I can confirm with some conviction that visiting Switzerland is one of the easiest tasks confronting any traveller. A reliable infrastructure and an overwhelming sense of ordered efficiency make travel a pleasure that is rarely experienced anywhere else in the world. Much information is already available in travel guides and elsewhere on the Internet so the content here is limited to that directly relevant to walkers.
Public Transport - well co-ordinated, punctual and comfortable, the public transport provision is excellent. The Railways (both State and privately owned) provide the backbone of the system. Trains are frequent and co-ordinate with buses and other forms of transport where appropriate. Information is freely available at stations, tourist offices and many hotels. Many special tickets and travel passes are available and these provide considerable discounts over regular fares.
Mountain Transport - a well developed network of cable cars, narrow gauge railways, funiculars and chair-lifts enable height to be gained very easily. Fares can be relatively high but it does mean that more time and energy can be spent exploring the higher ground and enjoying the mountains. If using mountain transport for a return to the valley base, make sure you are aware what time the last service operates and allow plenty of time to get back. Remember, long descents at the end of the day can be dangerous and tiring - 20 minutes down on a cable car may take three or four hours on foot - maybe more if it is dark!
Footpaths - signed footpaths are to be found everywhere. Most are well maintained and generally easy to navigate they provide access to most areas worth visiting. Little used mountains paths may suffer from poor intermediate waymarking so some navigational skills may be required.
Footpaths (Wanderweg) are indicated by yellow signs often with estimated time shown on the sign. Footpaths marked in this way are easy routes and providing you wear sensible clothing and footwear you should encounter no difficulties.
Mountain paths (Bergweg) are indicated by yellow signs with white and red waymark. The waymarks can be painted on trees, rocks and buildings and ensure easy to follow paths. Mountain paths can involve some difficult sections including cable sections, ladders and other safety aids. Good footwear and equipment is recommended. Where additional safety aids are provided, it is assumed you are competent in their use.
High mountain paths are indicated by blue and white waymarks painted on rocks and other suitable objects. These routes are often marked at their start with signs that warn you are taking these routes at "your own risk". You are almost certain to meet with some difficulties. Some sections may not be equipped with safety aids so ropework may be required. These paths are for experienced walkers only who are equipped to high standards and are aware of the potential risks.
Winter Paths (Winterweg) are common in some areas. These are paths in snow that are cleared for walkers. Heed notices and do take care. Simple precautions can save fractured limbs. Generally speaking crampons are not required but in icy conditions they may prove useful.
Route Times - experience has shown the times quoted for sections of footpath are generally accurate. Uphill signs on a route will show longer times than downhill over the same route.
Mountain Restuarants - many routes go some distance from villages and towns and are consequently fairly remote. However there are many restaurants, mountain huts and alpine farms where you can get something to eat and drink far away from 'civilisation'. Many of these establishments are seasonal so enquire locally if in doubt. It is always a good idea to ensure you carry some food and drink with you on a "just in case" basis.
Mountain Huts - these are there for climbers and walkers. They offer excellent food perfect for an outdoor life. Accommodation is in dormitories and can be crowded. Check with warden before setting out. Do not assume they will have a spare bed for the night!
Maps - are freely available in tourist offices and book stores. There are also many promotional leaflets detailing walks and it is probably better to wait until you arrive at your destination before purchasing detailed mapping. Local Tourist Offices often produce their own maps and these detail footpaths and often provide some suggested walks.
Weather - Mountain areas can suffer notoriously bad weather even in Summer. Do check local weather forecasts carefully. In summer, heavy thunderstorms can cause rivers to rise quickly. This has led to fatalities in the past with river crossings dangerous and life threatening. Lightning is also dangerous and should be treated with extreme caution. In winter many paths are closed - heed warning notices. If in doubt turn back and head for base.