The Gries Pass mule trail
A scenic climb along an ancient mule trail from the Rhône valley up to a remote pass on the Italian border. The thrilling adventure combines history, wilderness and a pioneering eco-project.
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This hike at the heart of the Alps is also a trip in time. A historical mule trail through wild scenery leads to a trio of high alpine passes, ancient and modern, that tell of centuries of encounter and exchange. The uppermost stretch of the Rhône valley has welcomed traders and travellers from both sides of the Alps since at least Roman times. One of the most important crossings led via the passes of Grimsel and Gries – the shortest link between central Switzerland and Italy. Our hike begins on the floor of the Rhône valley in the picturesque village of Ulrichen, which once saw up to 100 pack animals pass through a day. From here, the route leads along the historical mule trail up the wild Ägenetal. Among the main goods traded in Italy was the hard Sbrinz cheese from central Switzerland, which has given its name to the long-distance ViaSbrinz cultural route of which this trail now forms part. Another, more modern route, also leads up this valley: the road to the Nufenen Pass, which links Valais with Ticino to the east. Our itinerary, however, continues south, climbing to the head of the valley and a 21st-century sight: a cluster of wind turbines that form the highest wind park in Europe at 2,500 m. The Windpark Gries is designed to generate enough power for nearly 3,000 households – an important pillar of Valais’ new energy strategy focusing on renewables. Our trail skirts above the sparkling Griessee reservoir to reach the Gries Pass on the Italian border – now a wonderfully tranquil spot revealing gorgeous views of the Valle di Morasco. The route then turns back to skirt via the Corno Pass – another car-free pass, this time linking Valais with Ticino – to reach the modern Nufenen Pass and superb views of the Valais and Bernese Alps. Highlights: Historical mule trail used by traders, pilgrims, smugglers and mercenaries Variety, from lush Rhone valley up to glacial landscapes Futuristic energy project – wind park Gries