Switzerland – Saas Fee

Running on Swiss glaciers and having lunch just above 3,000 meters altitude. That was the plan when mountain runner Siebrig Scheeres and her dog Max took me on their home trail through some of the most beautiful places in the canton of Valais .

We meet in Saas Fee and  take the bus all the way through Saas Valley to the Mattmark reservoir at 2200 meters altitude. After crossing the villages Saas Grund and Saas-Almagel we have a view on some of the eighteen 4,000+ meter mountain peaks in this area. From the bus stop at the restaurant on the Mattmakt dam we start running and follow the road along the lake and through an old tunnel. Soon we leave the road and follow a path up the mountain. The steady and sometimes steep climb leads us to the Schwartzbergschopf at 2,870 meters altitude. During this climb we have a beautiful view on the Mattmark reservoir and the Italian border that lies behind it. The Monte Moro and Altrona pass were used by the Romans and later on by smugglers for centuries.

From Schwarzbergschopf we have a great view on the Allalin Glacier. It’s ice comes down from Allalin mountain which is one of the many 4,000+ meter peaks in the canton of Valais. We take a short descent and enter the snowy and icy world of the glacier. We follow the Glacier Trail Mattermark that allows hikers and runners to cross the glacier without a guide of using special equipment like crampons or pickaxes. But of course it’s still a glacier that moves and melts, so make sure you follow the indicated route. It’s also recommended to cross the glacier in the morning because the snow and ice start to melt fast when the sun is shining and that results in wet shoes and slippery conditions. The melting water makes streams and small rivers through the snow and ice.

Halfway the route and after the Mattermark glacier trail we have a lunch break at the Britannia Hut. Siebrig tells me something about how she became a mountain runner. She was born in 1984 in Groningen, the upper part of The Netherlands. As a young child she joined the local athletics club and started running on track and road. When she was about twenty years old some friends invited her for a mountain hiking trip and that was a real eye opener. After her studies she went to Guatemala to do some volunteering work as a physiotherapist. Almost every spare moment she spent on climbing the beautiful volcanoes over there and that really got her hooked on the mountain sports. In 2012 she subscribed for a 100K ultra in Nicaragua and she was the only woman that finished the race. Siebrig herself was quite surprised that it went so well because half a marathon was the most far distance she ran before. She discovered that it was not her talent or physical advantage that kept her going, but the mental persistence.

After we finish our lunch at Britannia Hut we start running on another glacier trail. Siebrig continues her story. The successful 100K race in Guatemala made clear that mountain running was her passion and also her favourite way of being in nature. She moved to Switzerland, got a job over there and started training and competing in more races. Competition is not the most important aspect of racing for Siebrig, although she likes running fast when she finds her rhythm and flow. Enjoying the landscape and experiencing the natural environments are more important to her. While training she likes to take pictures of flowers and the beautiful surroundings. Because running during the night is not her favourite thing she will focus on shorter mountain races up to 50K the coming years. She also likes to organise her own adventurous projects and would like to run the GR20 on Corsica.

We leave the icy and watery part of the route  and climb up a bit on a rocky trail . With some cables and steep cliffs this is the most technical part of today’s run. It gives us a spectacular view on the mountains on the other side of Saas Valley. The Weissmies with its 4,017 meter high peak stands proud.We take a rest on a gorgeous view point and see the Mattmark dam where we started our run. The dam was built to protect the valley from flooding and produces hydroelectric power. It is the biggest dam made of soil and rock in Europe and most of this material was extracted from the moraine debris to the south of the Allalin glacier. The last 5,5K of Siebrig’s home trail has a descend of 900 meters and she likes to run fast downhill! We leave  the rocky trails behind and traverse the beautiful forest trails and green, flowery meadows. Down the trail we find a nice surprise; the Kneipp hydrotherapy facility.  A barefoot path stimulates the feet and the cold water treading pool refreshes the muscles. That was just what we needed after this gorgeous, but quite challenging run. I thank Siebrig for showing me her favourite home trail and wishes her all the best.

  • Saas Fee lies on 1.800 meters above sea level and therefore in winter and spring is a popular ski resort. In summer and early fall it is a good starting point for hiking and mountaineering. Saas Fee is also known for it’s environmental friendly policy. Cars are banned from the mountain village and only clean electric vehicles drive through.
  • The Glacier Trail Mattermark is opened in summer and opening times depend on weather and snow conditions. The local office of tourism and the Britannia Hut give information about this trail.
  • The Mattmark reservoir can hold 100 million cubic metres of water and the electricity from the Kraftwork supplies more than 150,000 households. During the construction of the dam in 1965 part of the glacier collapsed and killed almost 100 workers. In the restaurant on the dam you can learn about this terrible disaster and the history of the dam in a small exposition.
  • Siebrig is becoming a mountainleader. Her website is www.innermountivation.com.