Do you want to do some hiking in Valais? The Barrhorn should definitely be on your list!
Presentation of the Barrhorn
At 3610m, the Barrhorn is the highest “official” trail in Europe. It should be snow-free from June to October, making it one of the highest accessible summits without any mountaineering gear.
After a long hike, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible panorama of the surrounding four-thousanders such as the Weisshorn (4.506m) and the Mischabel range.
The Barrhorn is composed of two distinct peaks, the Üssers Barrhorn at 3.610m and the Inners Barrhorn at 3.583m. You can also get to the top of the nearby Schöllihorn at 3.500m for a supplement of magnificent views on towering peaks.
The trail is perfect for the aficionados of trail running (such as I am!). You can run on 99% of the trail, and it continuously ascends towards the summit.
As it is common when hiking in Valais and the rest of Switzerland, there’s no hiking fee to be paid.
What you will find in this article :
- How to get to the Barrhorn?
- How long does it take to hike the Barrhorn?
- A map of the Turtmanntal valley
- The Barrhorn trail
- How difficult is it to hike the Barrhorn?
- What kind of equipment do you need to hike the Barrhorn?
- Can I sleep at the Turtmann Hut?
- A quick variant: the Schöllihorn
- My experience at the Barrhorn
- Starting altitude: 1.903 meters
- Highest point: 3610 meters
- Total Ascent: ~1750 meters
- Total distance: ~19k
Don’t forget to check the weather forecast before hiking the Barrhorn!
I’d recommend downloading the Meteo Swiss app. It’s an official map from the Swiss government and a precious tool we used during our two-month in Switzerland. It’s also a perfect tool to use before hiking in Valais or the rest of the country.
You can also directly check the Barrhorn weather on this website.
How to get to the Barrhorn?
The start of the Barrhorn hike is at Vorder Sänntum. That’s the name of the paid parking lot at the end of the dead-end road.
The parking lot is at an altitude of 1.903-meter. You can sleep in your car without being bothered.
It is about 35 minutes from the town of Turtmann (or Tourtemagne in French), located at the valley’s entrance. That’s about an hour from Sion and Brig.
As it’s sometimes the case while hiking in Valais, you need your own car or to hitchhike as there’s no public transportation going to the start of the hike. The bus goes only to Gruben, 4 kilometers away from the parking lot.
The parking lot is free for the first 2 hours, then there’s a flat 4CHF fee to park for 3 to 12 hours.
How long does it take to hike the Barrhorn?
As always, it depends on your physical condition. It’s a great trail running hike, so you could certainly get to the top and back to the parking lot in less than 3 hours if you’re a hiking machine. Otherwise, I’d say around 9 to 10 hours is a fair duration, including breaks, a picnic, photo stops, and a chilled pace.
Bear in mind that your body might not be used to such a high elevation, and it might impact your performance. The air will become thinner and thinner as you go up.
Map of the Turtmanntal valley
A picture is worth a thousand words. Notice there are two paths leading to the Turtmann Hut.
You can find the hike topography on the app SwitzerlandMobility or on this link of the Swiss Alpine Club website.
If you plan on hiking in Valais I’d advise you to download the SwitzerlandMobility app, it’s quite useful.
The Barrhorn trail
The whole trail is indicated thanks to red and white stripes and occasionally signposts. Feel free to check the map aforementioned.
Starting from the parking lot at Vorder Sänntum, you will see a sign with two options :
- The first and faster option is to take the path on the right through the gorge towards the lake. It’s a gentle and progressive hike up.
- The second is to go straight up towards the Holustei Church through the woods, with a panoramic view of this very same lake once you arrive up there. It is steeper than the first option but also more scenic.
The difference in time between these two paths is not significant. Both roads lead to the same point and meet soon before the Turtmann hut.
Be careful at this intersection, which is right after you pass the lake, the road divides between two paths. The one on the left goes straight to the hut and will save you time, while the second one is longer, although gentler.
You can have a break at the Turtmann hut and have their famous Black Forest cake there. You can even sleep in the hut, more info on this later in this article. You can also just keep going towards the Gässi pass.
Gässi pass is the most technical part of the whole trail. It is not too “exposed” though and you should be fine getting up the pass thanks to the numerous cables along the way.
After scrambling up the pass, you’ll arrive on a rocky path. The landscape will be totally different from what you have previously seen during the hike. Slowly the huge rocks you are walking on will disappear to give way to a scree slope.
The slope will be made up of loose stony debris until you arrive at the summit. The steepest part of the trail starts about here, but you can rejoice by thinking that you are almost there!
How difficult is it to hike the Barrhorn?
Apart from the elevation, hiking the Barrhorn is not technically difficult, although it is rated as a T5 hike by the renowned Swiss Alpine Club.
With a total height difference of more than 1.500 meters, it is not suitable for beginners. However, if you are used to hiking this kind of height difference you’d be fine hiking the Barrhorn.
The most technical part is the Gässi pass that comes soon after you reach the Turtmann Hut. Cables will be here to help you get up that pass.
What kind of equipment do you need to hike the Barrhorn?
One reason why this trail is getting more popular is that you don’t need any mountaineering equipment to reach the summit. That’s valid from June to October (depends on the year, check the conditions before attempting). No need for crampons and axes as there shouldn’t be any snow up there despite the elevation!
This is a list of equipment I’d suggest you bring while hiking in Valais :
- Good hiking shoes
- Sufficient water reserves
- Bring some food easy to carry (nuts, energy bar…). You can also eat at the Turtmann Hut (Turtmanhütte).
- Ideally a windbreaker or a jacket you’ll need when getting closer to the summit.
- First-aid kit
- Hiking poles
- A raincoat (I would strongly suggest you to bring one and to check the weather forecast)
- Gloves and a hat
- A map of the area or an app on your phone such as maps.me or SwitzerlandMobility does the job.
Water source: You can find water near the parking lot as the Turtmanna river is flowing by. You should also be able to get some at the Turtmann Hut.
Can I sleep at the Turtmann Hut?
Yes, the hut is open. A night in the dorm costs 38CHF per adult. The price climbs up to 83CHF for half-board.
The Turtmann Hut is located at an elevation of 2.519m. It has two different names, la Cabane de Tourtemagne in French, and Turtmannhütte in German.
Should you have any question, you can contact the two caretakers thanks to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
A quick variant: the Schöllihorn
The Schöllihorn is a nearby peak at 3.500m. It is just 2km away from the top of the Barrhorn, with a supplementary ascent of 271 meters. It offers an even better view of the Brunegghorn, the Bishorn, the Weisshorn, and the nearby flowing glaciers.
The Schöllijoch is a pass at 3343m connecting the Turtmann valley with the Zermatt valley. Although this is not where the Haute Route connecting Chamonix and Zermatt is passing by, it’s also an option if you’re hiking in Valais. You will end up in the village of St.Niklaus, but you need mountaineering equipment.
Heading to France? What about an 80-kilometer thru-hike just a few hours away from Switzerland?
My experience at the Barrhorn
As we were staying in a nearby valley doing some volunteering (check the article we wrote about our HelpX experience), I only had to drive an hour to get to the parking lot. I woke up rather early, and at 7.45 I was already starting the hike. I chose the road going towards the lake and started the run.
50 minutes after leaving I was at the Turtmann Hut, no break as I kept on running and arrived at the top of the Barrhorn 2 hours and one minute later. There were a dozen people up there and I overtook several groups on the way up.
I put my windbreaker on and took a 15-minute break on top to enjoy the view. I then started to run down towards the parking lot. An hour and 10 minutes later I arrived. This time I chose the other path to the Holustei church. This path was slightly ascending again before the church, and my legs were not happy about it.
A great hike, perfectly suited for the type of runner I am. It didn’t hurt to have been hiking in Valais and Switzerland for already a month before that, as I had no problem with the elevation or sustaining the pace.
And you? Do you plan on hiking in Valais soon? Share your experience with the Barrhorn in the comments!