Berg hell erleuchtet von der Sonne, im Vordergrund eine Alpwiese.


Hiking around Switzerland

  • #Hiking
  • #Trekking
Porträtbild Benjamin
Guest author 4-Seasons
© Fotos

2,250 kilometres, 87,000 metres of elevation, 81 days: Benjamin ‘Pazzo’ Betschart circumnavigated Switzerland in summer 2022 – all of it on foot. He takes us with him on his journey in extracts from his journal.

‘On foot? Are you mad?’. This was often the reply when I told people about my project. But after all, my fellow ultra-light trekker who gave me my nickname (‘pazzo’ is Italian for ‘crazy’) must have done so for a reason. The concept of circumnavigating Switzerland came to me during my 38-day hike on the Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA) in 2020. I was definite in my mind that I wanted to do another long tour. What about the PCT on the western coast of the USA? No, too popular, and why would I want to fly anywhere? A few years ago, I’d circumnavigated my home district by foot, so my home country was the next logical step... After many hours sat at my computer planning and optimising my equipment – the threshold for ultra-light hikers is a base weight of less than five kilos – I set off at Islisberg in the canton of Aargau on 25 June.


Day 4 | Rheinfelden

I might be doing this journey on my own, but I won’t be lonely over the next few months. Three cyclists stop beside me just a few kilometres outside Rheinfelden. They offer me a beer from their backpack as they quiz me about my plans. I happily accept, never imagining that it wouldn’t be the last drink we’d share. Later the day, I meet them again in Rheinfelden’s old town – and we spend an enjoyable few hours together...

Der Wanderer Benjamin Betschart macht ein Selfie von sich, im Hintergrund sieht man die Berge.
Photo © Benjamin Betschart

Benjamin Betschart (38)...

is a keen hiker, outdoor sleeper, geocacher and amateur photographer. After a thousand kilometres on Swiss hiking trails and circumnavigating his home district of Muotathal, he hiked from the Swiss border to the Mediterranean Sea along the GTA in 2020/21. Last year, he then circumnavigated Switzerland by foot.

Washing day

Days 6 – 14 | Jura

The Jura welcomes me with a heavy downpour – but fortunately I’d packed my mini umbrella. Some people ask me to join them for a coffee on a campsite in Doubs. After hardly seeing a soul for the past few days, it is lovely to talk to someone other than myself. In Les Brenets, I treat myself to a hostel – and my clothes to a wash – for the first time. I now smell socially acceptable, at least for the time being! The next few days take me via La Brévine and the picturesque Lac des Taillères towards Geneva, partly on the Jura Crest Trail. The first highlight of the animal world on the trip comes in the form of a plethora of chamois around Lac de Joux, and particularly the fawn suckling from its mother.

French for beginners

Days 16 – 20 | Around Geneva

The beautiful landscape gradually makes way for Geneva and its suburbs. Time for my last break for a while and, as I’m here again, a trip to Jet d’eau. I’m particularly looking forward to the Balcon du Léman: mountains, (fighting) ibexes, views and deserted hiking trails – what a delight! Hardly back in Switzerland, however, I get my first taste of the downside of the lovely summer, with springs that have been turned off and dried-up streams. As a result, I spend hours hiking through the hot mountains with just a few dregs of water left. I’m all the more delighted to discover a spring on a remote meadow! I treat myself to a beer in a mountain restaurant that evening. The landlord and landlady ask me about my route and are so thrilled by my project that they treat me to dinner and breakfast. Food tastes twice as good with red-hued Mont Blanc in the background. Even the paltry remnants of my schoolboy French make a comeback.

Old wounds

Days 23 – 26 | Valais

As I descend from Lac d’Émosson, a pang of pain in my left leg reminds me of an old wound from last winter, which had me laid up for ages. The thought of having to give up after just a few hundred kilometres brought me to tears. After calling my partner and my osteopath, I regain my courage and decide to take an unplanned break in Martigny. With the additional weight of a tube of Perskindol, the resolution to stretch more (I’m really feeling my 38 years) and a new pair of trail running shoes, I set off. I’ll follow the Tour du Mont Blanc over the next few days. En route, I meet Michael from Israel, who’s hiking the Haute Route. As our paths overlap, we decide to walk together for the next few days. The contrast couldn’t be greater: his comfort-focused equipment and my minimalist kit are the source of much mirth.

An Alpine highlight

Days 27 – 39 | Italy

A new section starts on the mighty St. Bernhard, one which will take me to Italy for an extended period of time. It will also lead me to the Col de Valcournera – at 3,072 metres, the highest point of my entire tour. When looking for a good place to set up my tent, I stumble across a photo-loving ibex and a group with ultra-light equipment. As we discover over the course of an enjoyable evening together, I know one of the three from writing to each other previously. What a small world! Back in Switzerland, I have an enjoyable, merry evening in the Zwischbergental valley. I only have myself to blame for my headache the next day. As this is our national holiday, I treat myself to a comfortable leg at just 19 kilometres and 640 metres of elevation – more than enough for me today. My favourite thing is that I can carry everything I need in my 40-litre backpack. However, it does mean that I need to stock up on provisions at regular intervals! In Italy, I’m sometimes cutting it fine to get everything I need before the shops take their lengthy midday break. As a result, I often down some of the exquisite foods in front of the shop as a late breakfast.

  • Karte der Schweiz, eingezeichnet ist die Wanderung rund um die Schweiz.
  • Zelt in den Bergen bei Dämmerung.

    In the Aostatal valley 2,200 metres up. Not pictured: curious cattle that stopped by for a visit.

    Photo © Benjamin Betschart
  • Bild einer Schüssel Pasta mit Tomatensauce draussen.
    Photo © Benjamin Betschart
  • A man on a hike taking a selfie with a goat.

    Trusting goats in the Vergeletto valley in Ticino.

    Photo © Benjamin Betschart
  • Holzhaus im Aostatal, im Hintergrund Berge und ein türkiser Bergsee.

    View of the Lago di Place Moulin reservoir in the Aostatal valley.

    Photo © Benjamin Betschart

Nourishing the soul

Days 41 – 45 | Ticino

On the evening of my 41st day of hiking, I meet three other hikers at the Rifugio Corte Nuovo hut who are heading in the opposite direction. We enjoy the brief yet intense interplay of sunset and storm in the knowledge that we’re well-protected in our hut on the exposed ridge. I mess up next morning when packing: my little spirit stove tumbles down the mountainside and I can’t find it, even after half an hour of searching in the leaves. I don’t have much with me, and every item I’ve brought has grown close to my heart over the last few years. Angry, I build a new stove out of a discarded can using the little blade from my Victorinox Swiss Card. This will serve me well until the end of the tour. A few days later, I meet Amerigo, an Italian man, on the wonderful ridge path to Monte Lema. We enjoy the stunning evening views of Lake Maggiore. When we continue along the ridge and find a small self-service kiosk with a fridge, we couldn’t be happier. When we arrive in Mendrisio, a parcel of ‘rations’ is waiting for me from my brother and his wife. Anyone who’s tried my sister-in-law’s Linzer tart will be able to understand my joy.

Another success

Days 52 – 60 | Graubünden

My aim is to take a detour to the Piz de Setag (2,476 m) and leave my backpack on the ridge. However, it suddenly up-ends itself and falls downward. Damn! Is this going to be a real problem? Seeing as I can’t change anything, I head up to the peak anyway, before climbing down the route where my backpack fell, collecting my equipment as I go. I fear the worst, but there’s a silver lining: yes, there’s some damage and some items lost, but nothing that could jeopardise my tour. Still shaking and two hours later than planned, I continue on my way. It's the end of August and the Pontresina region is already getting ready for autumn, serving up a cold, foggy night. I continue along the sunny Bernina pass towards Poschiavo, where it’s time for a rest day and a new pair of shoes. At first, the saleswoman can’t believe that my shoes are less than two months old.

Hello, Hunters

Day 64 | Engadin

After Val Sinestra, I struggle once again to find somewhere for my tent, as the hunting season is ongoing. With rain setting in, I make use of the awning of a remote hut to eat my dinner without getting wet. Suddenly, an older woman appears. Her husband and their granddaughter are hunting and she’ll be cooking for them, so she tells me to come into the hut to get warm. At the end, they once again ask me to join them for a lavish meal and once more I’m grateful for the warm hospitality.

The grand finale

Days 70 – 81 | Rhine valley

I’d agreed with my colleague Ursina that she would accompany me through the Rhine valley for two days. I’m so delighted to see a familiar face! The kilometres fly by, thanks to the good conversation. After we’ve said goodbye, I continue along the Rhine and Lake Constance until I’m finally home after 81 eventful days of hiking.

What’s left of this journey? Since coming back, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought wistfully of my hike. It’s not about the highest point or the most beautiful place. More that I can look back with joy on the simple life on the road, on the interactions with other people, the happiness and the gratitude for my health. The mountain stream with clear, delicious water, bathing in freezing mountain lakes. And the time I spent on my own with just my thoughts.

  • #Hiking

  • #Trekking

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