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Stories from Gletsch

Nature in and around Gletsch
(by Erika Hiltbrunner)

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- History 11

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The summer in Gletsch is short and needs to be used to the full. While people largely withdraw from Gletsch over the winter, all other living creatures - apart from migratory birds - stay behind.


The climate around Gletsch is relatively precipitation-rich. Precipitation falls mainly in winter, while summers can be quite dry. A special meteorological feature is the so-called “Grimsel snake”, a band of clouds moving over the Grimsel Pass, which also brings slightly more precipitation in Gletsch than in the rear part of the glacier forefield. It is typical of the basin that even on fine days a strong westerly wind blows in the afternoon in the front part of the glacier floor, while it is still warm and windless in the rear part. The vegetation period here lasts around 4.5 to 5 months, almost 2 months longer than in the alpine level above the climatic tree line.


Due to the altitude of Gletsch, we are in the forest stage. The southern flanks around Gletsch are covered in larch, Swiss stone pine and Scots pine. Spruces are rather rare. The south-facing slopes were also mown in the past (wild hay meadows) and are very species-rich with many plant and insect species. On the northern slopes, as elsewhere in the Alps, the green alder is increasing and alpine roses are quite common in the undergrowth. The green alder has flexible branches that are pressed down with the snow in winter. This is why the green alder bushes do not stop avalanches. Avalanches from the northern slopes sometimes cross the entire glacier floor to the southern slopes and delay the melting of the snow in spring due to the masses of snow. They sometimes also carry alpine plants with them and so alpine plants and even representatives of snow soil communities can be found in the shade of the northern slopes, which otherwise have their actual home at least 500 m higher up.

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