Geological hike to the Vieux-Emosson dam
Panoramic hike taking in 240-million-year-old reptile footprints and two high-altitude dams. Option to ride a thrilling world-record trio of mountain railways to reach the start.
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This scenic geological trail explores the fascinating history of the formation of the Alps. At the trail’s far end, a vast slab of rock carries the fossilised footprints of crocodile-like reptiles that roamed the earth more than 240 million years ago. The journey to the start of the route, at the top of the Emosson dam, is an adventure in itself. Hikers can drive or take the bus up, but it is far more impressive to ride up from Le Châtelard VS on the trio of mountain railways run by VerticAlp Emosson (closed in 2022). First comes the Funiculaire du Châtelard, the world’s steepest 2-cabin funicular, with gradients of up to 87%. At the top, passengers change on to Le Train Panoramique, a narrow-gauge railway that skirts dramatically above the deep gorges of Le Bouqui, offering superb views of the Mont-Blanc massif. Finally the Minifunic is a 2-cabin mini-funicular that glides up to the top of dam at 1,965 m. The Emosson Dam, opened in 1976, is the third-tallest in Valais at 180m, and retains Switzerland’s second largest reservoir in terms of capacity: 225 million cubic metres. The hike also takes in a second dam: Vieux-Emosson, which entered operation in 1955 to provide electricity for the Swiss railway network. Recently the dam wall was raised by another 20 m as part of a spectacular engineering project, currently under construction, whose heart lies deep in the rock under hikers’ feet. The pioneering scheme, due to enter operation in 2019, is based on an innovative new underground power plant. Two vertical tunnels, each 100 m taller than the Eiffel Tower, will carry water between the two reservoirs. A vast, cathedral-like underground chamber will house six reversible turbines that can generate electricity when needed – or store energy at times of low demand by pumping water back up to the higher reservoir. This flexibility makes the new Nant de Drance power plant the ideal complement to the new green energy sources – all weather-dependent – on which Switzerland is building its future. Highlights Thrilling ride up to start of walk on trio of mountain railways Dramatic alpine scenery – two dams, two reservoirs Restaurant / mountain refuge at each dam The oldest fossil tracks of vertebrates in Switzerland