I'm a keen hiker ... or tramper as we say in New Zealand. But until recently, my speciality has been mainly flat, slightly undulating or downward hikes, especially at high altitude.

So when I looked at the description of the 'Bear Trek' in the Bernese Oberland, I went weak at the knees. The profile resembled the jagged line of an erratic ECG. And what about the bears?

I was reliably informed the bears that once roamed these remote alpine pathways had long since disappeared so that just left the small problem of the terrifying terrain.

Day one from Meiringen to Grindelwald was 22.9km, ascending 1530m and descending 1095m, a total hiking time of eight hours, 30 minutes. That's Swiss hiking time, of course.

Advertisement

Add on an hour or two if you are a mere mortal like me. Day two from Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen was 19.5km, ascending 1230m and descending 1465m, a hiking time of seven hours, 25 minutes. And day three from Lauterbrunnen to Griesalp was right off the scale!
The hikes called for a high degree of fitness so in preparation I spent the next three months climbing every steep hill I could find, and on rainy days, I ran up and down the stairs in my house 101 times.

But nothing prepares you for the energy-sapping effects of high altitude. Just hefting my suitcase off the train and up the steps at our Meiringen hotel had me puffing. When I spied the serious mountaineering pack and gear belonging to one of my hiking companions, my heart plummeted to my boots. No doubt she would be fitter and faster than me.
I was about to break the news to our delightful Swiss tour leader Birgit that I'd need to depart at dawn next day to reach Grindelwald before midnight when she cheerfully announced we would be taking a Post Auto bus to Hotel Rosenlaui, thereby shaving at least three uphill hours off the hike. Ms Super-Fit was crestfallen but I was so relieved I hugged Birgit.


In the days that followed, thanks to the buses, trains, cable-cars, funiculars and gondolas that scale Switzerland's high peaks and passes, a couple of hours and a few hundred vertical metres were lopped off all our hikes, making each day manageable and wonderfully enjoyable.

It also allowed us more time to enjoy the heart-soaring landscape of the Bernese Oberland — the Wetterhorn, Wellhorn, Eiger, Mönsch, Jungfrau and Schilthorn with their dazzling glaciers, perpendicular rock faces and cascading waterfalls; linger over long lunches in mountain restaurants; and explore picturesque villages along the way.

I loved the three-storey, sun-blackened wooden chalets with their steeply-pitched tiled rooves and window boxes crammed with bright red geraniums and petunias.

Even the bell-toting cows were pretty. They played ding-dong melodies as they ambled around green hillsides, converting grass sprinkled with wildflowers into high-fat milk for the delicious cheese, yoghurt and chocolate I consumed in alarming quantities every day.
Switzerland's superb transport system is one of her many charms. It enables mere mortals to masquerade as serious hikers or even mountaineers.

You can ascend the equivalent of Aorangi-Mt Cook in around 15-20 minutes, pretend you've spent all day hiking up, look suitably exhausted and exhilarated, indulge in hearty alpine fare at a mountain restaurant, bask in sunshine amid the majesty of lofty 4000-metre mountain peaks and hike down the track or catch a cable-car.

There must have been something in the air — I felt a heady sense of effervescence bubbling up inside me like spritzig in a glass of prosecco the whole time I was there. Perhaps it was the breath-taking scenery or the altitude? Or maybe the wonderful sense of achievement that a mere mortal like me could hike the Bear Trek ... with a little help along the way.

Advertisement

FACTBOX
The Bear Trek is part of the Via Alpina, a network of five international trails, covering 5000km through eight countries. Established in the year 2000, the Via Alpina has 342 stages on clearly-marked paths from zero to 3000m above sea level. Mountain restaurants and hotels provide meals and accommodation along with way. Eurotrek organised our accommodation and luggage transfers so we just carried light day packs.

Justine Tyerman was a guest of Switzerland Tourism, travelled courtesy of Swiss Travel Pass and hiked in the Jungfrau Region with Eurotrek.

www.MySwitzerland.com/hiking
www.MySwitzerland.com/rail
www.eurotrek.ch
www.jungfrauregion.ch
www.schilthorn.ch