A Simple Basecamp in the Swiss Alps

If I’m being honest, I didn’t even want to go to Switzerland.

In the two weeks prior to our planned departure, my husband and I lost our beloved dog very unexpectedly to an aggressive form of cancer, and we also found out that we were expecting our first child. We were getting a big dose of life, and I wasn’t exactly stoked to be spending a vacation in the Alps while simultaneously ugly crying and dealing with morning sickness. But the plane tickets had already been purchased, and I didn’t have it in me to call things off completely.

So off we went.

Looking down on the Lauterbrunnen Valley
Looking down on the Lauterbrunnen Valley
Fun Fact: Tolkien drew his original inspiration for Rivendell from the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Dispersed wilderness camping is not an established practice in Switzerland, so our plan was to set up basecamp at an established campground in Lauterbrunnen and do day hikes. Lauterbrunnen makes an ideal jumping off point for many scenic hikes throughout the Berner Oberland region of the Alps, as it’s well connected by trails, gondolas, and trains to all of the major peaks. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also lined with 72 different waterfalls, some as high as 400m.

As someone unfamiliar with Swiss camping, the campground we stayed at left a lot to be desired. There was virtually no privacy from other tents, no creature comforts like private firepits or picnic tables that you might expect coming from the States. But, it was extremely affordable, well located, and had a little restaurant and store on site. And as any pregnant woman can tell you, it’s important to maintain a close proximity to chocolate and snacks at all times when you’re expecting.

Camping Lauterbrunnen - The camp store, restaurant, and resident cow.
The camp store, restaurant, and resident cow

To setup our basecamp, we brought:

Next time, we’ll skip the cookset and stove (Surprise! Swiss campgrounds usually include a full kitchen), but everything else was super useful and comfortable. While we fully intended on cooking many of our own meals to save money, we  ended up eating fondue and French fries most of the time (blame the delicious supply of Swiss cheeses and strange early-pregnancy-related food aversions).

NEMO camp setup Lauterbrunnen Switzerland
It was hard to take an “epic” image of this camp setup due to the non-private site, but we were super comfortable!

High Mountain Huts

A big surprise benefit of setting up a basecamp was the flexibility it gave us in what we wanted to do each day. One day, we decided to trek to the Mountain Hotel Obersteinberg for lunch. Switzerland is famous for its high mountain huts, offering simple accommodations and meals to hikers traversing the Alps on foot. Obersteinberg is located at 1800m, and features no electricity or heat, running instead on candlelight and gas lamps.

High alpine views at Hotel Obersteinberg
High alpine views at Hotel Obersteinberg

We got a late start on the hike, and after a very hot day with around 1000’ in elevation gain, we decided to just stay for dinner. There were only two other people at the hut, and it felt like we had the world to ourselves.

All supplies are trekked up to Obersteinberg by this grumpy mule!
All supplies are trekked up to Obersteinberg by this grumpy mule!

Switzerland was just what I needed

We all know it: nature has healing powers. Crisp mountain air, the sound of a stream running or birds chirping, the feel of blood pounding through your legs as you climb. Cliche but true. And you know what? Beyond just making me feel more like a normal human again, hiking through Switzerland made me realize that cliches are OK. There are bigger things to worry about than what is “epic”, and sometimes a simple trip hiking in an obscenely beautiful, known tourist destination is what you need. And we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that the simple things — the hot chocolate on the trail, or the special way the sun rays filter down through the trees — are what matter, even if photos of them won’t necessarily make you into an “influencer” or whatever.

Lauterbrunnen Valley Walk
Cliche bliss
Best hikes in the Berner Oberland region:
Know before you go:
  • For insight into all of the trails, buy a real map instead of just relying on the free ones they give away at every hotel/restaurant in the area.
  • Many things are inexplicably James Bond themed in the area — avoid James Bond references, and you can avoid 90% of the tourists.
  • There are many water fountains throughout the area, and all of the water is safe to drink untreated unless marked otherwise!
  • You will want to get a train pass — Rick Steves gives a great rundown of which one to purchase here.
  • If you’re shopping for meals or snacks, know that most grocery stores are closed on Sundays.
  • For a great rainy day activity, I highly recommend taking a boat ride on Lake Brienz.
  • The Berner Oberland region is famous for extreme sports. If you want to go paragliding, the tours out of Mürren are much more scenic than Interlaken. If you’re one of those squirrel-suit wearing people I unfortunately cant provide any advice on BASE jumping locations, but hope it all goes well.

 


The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Lauren is NEMO’s Digital Director during the week and skier/hiker/cold-water scuba diver on the weekends.