The natural wonders of Switzerland are numerous! It goes without saying that the Berner Oberland region is packed with numerous well know attractions including the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. However, many more can be found that are less infamous but stunning in their own right. Among them is the Gletscherschlucht (Glacier Gorge) nestled in Rosenlaui, Switzerland’s smallest inhabited village, within Shattenhalb a municipality in the Interlaken-Oberhasil district.
The Rosenlaui Glacier nestled in and along the flanks of the Dossen, Wellhorn and Wetterhorn and bordered by the Engelhörner has been receding in great amounts since it first began being measured in 1880. The last recorded measurement was taken in 1988. By all indications, the glacier is 5.15km in length and spans an area of 6.14km2. Thousands of years of meltwater tumbling toward the valley below has carved an impressive gorge from slate and limestone before continuing on to source the more well know attraction: The 7-Tiered Reichenbachfalls
The Rosenlaui Valley itself grants the visitor the sense of being transported to an earlier time. Large meadows and towering mountains with few settlements create a peaceful and tranquil location to enjoy the great outdoors. Numerous hiking trails, glimpses of Swiss wildlife and natural wonders, such as the Gletscherschlucht, make this valley a wonderful destination, especially for those who want to escape the more hectic tourist spots. The 230 year old Hotel Rosenlaui, which housed guests such as Goethe and Tolstoy, provides a comfortable opportunity to tuck into nature for the weekend or simply enjoy a nice meal before heading out to explore!
Confessing that I had never heard of the Rosenlaui Glacier Gorge seems something I should mention at this point. I have driven through the area of Meiringen and Innertkirchen many times without any clue that there was something so interesting to see beyond the cliffs which tower over these valleys!
Courtesy of my father-in-law, who shared his knowledge, and my husband who has no qualms about driving on narrow and twisty mountain roads, I had the pleasure of a wonderful afternoon in Rosenlaui!
Although Mid-July, the day was mild. Clouds floated in a colbat sky dancing in and around the teeth of the Engelhörner while the Wellhorn came in and out of focus. Just before arriving in Rosenlaui, we caught a glimpse of the tip of the Rosenlaui Glacier as it squeezes between the peaks. A small tongue of ice appears to hang over a broad meadow as the Reichenbach River churns through it, headed for the major falls below. There were few cars or people and the scene was captivating!
Further up the road, we arrived in Rosenlaui where we were greeted with a zoomed in view of the Wellhorn and the incredible panoramic view of the Engelhörner. Tucked to the side, rests Hotel Rosenlaui where we stopped to enjoy a light lunch before exploring.
A couple hundred meters from the the hotel, is the entrance to the UNESCO protected Rosenlaui Gorge. Although I was excited to explore it, I was nervous. I am a self-proclaimed acrophobe and walking on the wet edges of steep gorges with a torrent of water storming through it sets my teeth on edge. However, I was pleased to see how well constructed the walkway is and how safe you actually are. Nevertheless, I did spend a good deal of time flattened against the wet chalky walls and high stepping or shuffling along the path.
In spite of my phobia, I am very enamored by geology and the formation of the gorge is so beautiful that even I ventured to the rails to observe, photograph and video tape the experience. I was struck by the shear force of many cubic meters of water thundering, bowling, tumbling and crashing through the narrow gorge. Water coated every surface and the sound, at times, was deafening. There was never a point where my body did not vibrate with the echos of the torrent ricocheting off the walls. At times, the gorge narrows to a cave-like enclosure with little if any light reaching the path. At other moments, through elegantly carved “peep-holes” and crevasses, the light of day illuminates the artist at work.
One of my favorite points in the gorge is when you arrive in a very large deep cavern. The water shoots out over a cliff high above the path and crashes into a large pool. As you ascend along the steep walls, you reach the top of the fall. The force of the falls and close proximity of the path to its apex has required additional protection, by way of tall boards, thus preventing visitors from leaning over the rail. However, as you continue up, you do get a clearer view. While this was my favorite part, it was also incredibly intimidating. In spite of the extra protection, the vibrations were indescribably powerful and the steps slick. I made haste through this corner and stood for a moment just above it, heart hammering and eyes wide, completely thunderstruck anew by the power of nature. It was an adrenaline rush for me. An incredible moment.
As you climb further, you come across more and more opportunity to look up and see the sky. At times, the teeth of the Engelhörner are visible making the gorge seem all that much deeper. You feel as though you are truly standing in the heart of the earth. Gradually, however, you leave the slick walls of the deeper gorge behind, the forest becomes visible again and the path ends.
As you exit, you come across a bizarre site: a field of cairns. Now, cairns usually mark a hiking trail. I am not sure what hundreds of cairns mean, but its a funny sight to see as you begin your walk down through the forest and back to the start of the gorge pathway.
The day in Rosenlaui was a pleasure and a place I’d visit again, not just for the gorge, but the chance to hike within the valley. Its proximity to Luzern and its accessibility by PostBus from Meiringen, add to the appeal. You can spend a day, a weekend or just an afternoon enjoying some of the most stunning scenery in the Berner Oberland region without too much traveling hassle.
If you are in the Meiringen valley, don’t stop just at the Reichenbachfalls. Go up and see the gorge! You won’t be disappointed!
Happy Trails and Safe Exploration!
Andreas and Christine Kehrli-Moser
- Rosenlaui Gorge is included within the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage site
- The maximum height of walls within the gorge reach 70 to 80 meters
- 2 to 6 m3 per second of water cascades over the fall at the start of the pathway
- Construction of the Glacier Gorge Pathway:
- Began October 28 1901 by Kasper Brog
- Inaguration: June 6, 1903
- Expansion Efforts: Winter of 1930/31 by descendant of Kasper Brog
- Path has been updated since to modern safety standards
NB: All photos have been taken by Michele Petrello Etter unless otherwise stipulated.