Snowshoe trekking inside the Zinal Glacier

Snowshoe trekking inside the Zinal Glacier

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It's a unique experience to visit Zinal Glacier in the Swiss canton of Wallis and no human hand played a part in the creation of this tunnel.

- It's quiet inside Zinal Glacier - strangely quiet. Occasionally a drop of water from melting icicles falls into one of the many puddles on the ground.

Illuminated by handheld torches, visitors walk along a path of sand and gravel to the innermost area of this glacier in Val d'Anniviers. Guides take visitors about 100 metres along the path.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the darkness before you can make out the glacier's contours overhead. Rocks and boulders protrude from their icy prison.

Gradually it becomes brighter and the blue and turquoise hue of the ice begins to glow.

"There's about 40 metres of ice above us," says the mountain guide, Stephane Albasini. It's a unique experience to visit Zinal Glacier in the Swiss canton of Wallis and no human hand played a part in the creation of this tunnel.

Albasini discovered the hollow inside the glacier about 10 years ago by chance. "We were on a skiing trip when I found it," he recalls. He's been guiding visitors on snowshoes through the valley and into the glacier since then.

The journey to the glacier begins in the town of Zinal and continues along ice and snow covered paths, along the Navisence glacier river, through snow covered birch tree forests and past a cascade of mountain water.

You realise how useful snow shoes are when you arrive at the base of the glacier which is covered in deep snow.

As you walk there are only a few glimpses of the glacier; from a distance it resembles a wall of ice. But the nearer you get, the clearer the entrance to the glacier becomes.

Overhead is ice and compressed snow in various shades ranging from almost transparent, to white, to light blue and then turquoise. The ground is pure ice.

The entranceway to the glacier bears resemblance to a reception room. Before visitors can begin the walk inside the glacier they must first crawl through a narrow section. It's quite warm inside - about six degrees on average.

The people of Zinal used to fear the glacier. Until 150 years ago they would erect crucifixes on the ice, conduct pilgrimages along its seven kilometre length and prayed to God to prevent the ice from advancing.
Today, however, the locals are afraid of losing the glacier. "At the moment about 60 metres of glacier melt every year," says Albasini.

It's not only breathtakingly beautiful on and inside the glacier but also in the villages that line the valley south of Sierre.

From Zinal you can see a whole group of mountains whose peaks are four thousand metres above sea level: the Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Ober Gabelhorn, Matterhorn and Dent Blanche.

The valley has made a name for itself as a ski destination but for the last few years a growing number of snowshoe trekkers have been coming to this remote part of Switzerland.

There are about 73 kilometres of marked paths through the valley. Skiers and snowboarders have more than 220 kilometres of routes to choose from.

Verena Wolff, DPA / Expatica


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