Posted: November 05, 2016
Author: Jack Shaw
During the last weeks of autumn, there's always a fine line between when the vineyards start to go golden, the deciduous trees turn their multi-hued shades of orange and red, and the larch needles do their magical transformation from green to yellow to orange, and then brown and fall off. Once the first hard freeze arrives, then a following rain or snowfall, everything is gone, and the Alps are ready for their winter coat.
These are the only trees in the pine family that lose their needles every year, which also makes them our favorite forests to ski in - the increased visibility is ideal. And the larch also figures heavily in the Valais region (and throughout the Alps), as most of the sun-burned barns dotting the mountainsides are made of their wood, turning a deep reddish-brown with age.
One of the best places to see the fall foliage in our region is in the hidden Lötschental - a large east-west-oriented valley that sits at the base of the Lötschberg tunnel, connecting the Valais with kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland. This valley was obscured for centuries, locked-in by snowfalls each winter, and ravaged by avalanches coming off of the mighty Bïtschhorn. As a testament to its isolation, this is also the home of the bizarre Tschäggättä Festival, held each year around Carnival (Mardi Gras). Lötschental also lays claim to one of the densest larch forests in Switzerland.
We decided to take advantage of the federal holiday of All Saints' Day by getting one last epic mountain bike ride in before the weekend's impending snowfall. Heading up the cablecar to the ski resort village of Lauchernalp, which at 2000m, has a commanding view of the valley gained us a view of the "elektrik lärchen" - we timed it just right. Several trail options are accessible right off the tram, but we climbed up to meet an alpine trail wich connected us with the hamlet of Weritzalp. From there, nearly 10km of flowy singletrack stretched out ahead - through some of the brightest gold and orange larch trees I have ever seen. The contrasting blue skies and the fresh white snow on the high peaks made for an outrageous contrast to the blur of the forest going by.
Near the head of the valley, we arrived at the Hotel Fafleralp, which was unfortunatley closed for the season, but will be back in business come winter (when we will ski past following a heliski run off the Petersgrat or Äbeni Flue). We returned to the tram for a sunset run, stopping off at the Restaurant Bärgsunna for an alplermacaroni and some refreshing beverages, before heading down a steep ancient trail that brought us back to the car. An incredible way to wrap up the bike season, in one of the most unique valleys in the Alps.