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Stories from Gletsch

Furka and Grimsel pass traffic

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- Story 9

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The Alps have been an obstacle to travel and trade for as long as man has existed. The Romans needed Alpine crossings, but did not fortify the Gotthard (the Schöllenen Gorge was considered insurmountable) or the route via Gletsch. In the Middle Ages, however, there were already 300 pass crossings and if you look at the map, the quickest way to get from Brig to Bern or Lucerne is via Gletsch. With Furka and Grimsel, two passes could be crossed from Gletsch - but only in summer, of course. In winter, the detour through the Rhone Valley and from Leuk over the Gemmi Pass or even further via Aigle had to be chosen.


The mountain paths were used for trade, but also, for example, by the Walser people on their hikes to other parts of the country, for military purposes or for hunting.


A maximum of 120 kg could be transported on foot on mule tracks with a pack animal. The journey was slow and arduous, and places were needed for overnight stays, changing pack animals and sometimes also goods depots.


The Simplon route from Brig to Domodossola was the first to be developed as a “Chaussee” for strategic reasons in Napoleonic times. The Furka Pass road (pass summit at 2429 m above sea level) was expanded in 1864-66, the Grimsel route (pass summit at 2163 m above sea level) only in 1894. The expansion shortened the journey time, and larger multi-horse carts could also be used to transport larger loads at once.


From the middle of the 19th century, countless, often privately financed, railroad lines were added throughout Switzerland. In addition to the Furka-Bergstrecke steam railroad, there is also the Brünig steam railroad, which occasionally runs between Lucerne, Meiringen and Interlaken.


Today, traveling over mountain passes by train, motorcycle, car, bicycle or hiking boots is mainly a leisure activity. Times have changed.


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