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Great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland

This enormous ice river could have provided every human being on Earth with a litre of water per day for six years

Great Aletsch Glacier
Switzerland alpine tour
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Aletsch Glacier is the longest glacier of the European Alps. The ice flow stretches for 23 km from the Jungfrau region set at about 4,000 m above sea level down to the ice caves of the Massa Gorge that is about 2,500 m lower. The width of 1.6 km and thickness of 900 m are as astonishing as the length of the ice stream.

A few more numeric data so that you realise the magnitude of the glacier. The area of the glacier surface is about 86 square kilometres. Its weight is calculated to be about 27 billion tons, and this equals the weight of over 70 million jumbo jets. It would be strange if this unique natural formation hadn't been listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aletsch Glacier was formed of three separate glaciers over 18,000 years ago. Two dark stripes that run almost along the entire length of the glacier are called medial moraines, they mark the borders between once different ice formations. As any other glacier, Aletsch has accumulation zone where new ice is constantly being formed, as well as the zone of ablation where ice melts. Glaciers have always been retrieving, getting slightly longer, or shorter, and then back again—such movement is considered a norm. However, scientists are concerned about too rapid retrievement observed nowadays and attribute it to global warming.

Whoever wants to explore these fascinating lands of ice is welcome to join a guided walk. Tours usually start operating in mid-June and continue till mid-October; yet, sometimes the season could shift to May and September.

The glacier is nestled in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Canton Valais. The best places to admire the beauty and majesty of the Great Aletsch Glacier are the Moosfluh, Bettmerhorn, Hohfluh, and Eggishorn viewpoints. On the map below, you can see the glacier location and find the best lodging options in the vicinity of the ice giant.

Practical info

When is the best time to visit Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland?

A trip to Aletsch Glacier is best taken between mid-June to mid-October, when tours are operating. The ideal weather during this period ensures mild, comfortable travel conditions, and a guided walk can provide a unique insight into the glaciers. It is important to note, however, that visits may start as early as May and end in September depending on the situation. Visiting the glacier during other times can be hazardous due to the harsh and freezing weather conditions. Show more

Where are the best viewpoints to admire the Great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland?

Four points offer breathtaking views of the Great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland: Moosfluh, Bettmerhorn, Hohfluh, and Eggishorn. Designed with viewing platforms, visitors can witness the beauty and grandeur of the glacier firsthand. Some of these places have easier access than others, but all of them can be reached through a scenic hike. In terms of providing a stunning view of the glacier, Bettmerhorn is particularly noteworthy for its expansive panoramic view. Show more

How was Aletsch Glacier formed?

Aletsch Glacier was created from three distinct glaciers over 18,000 years ago, with compressed snow eventually turning into ice. As the ice became thicker, it began to slide down the valleys, eventually forming Aletsch Glacier. Medial moraines, dark stripes along the majority of the glacier, indicate the borders between once separate ice formations. Scientists closely study these features in their research of the glacier's formation and current changes over time due to environmental factors such as climate conditions. Show more

What are medial moraines and why are they significant in Aletsch Glacier?

The dark stripes that run along the glacier, known as medial moraines, represent where different ice formations once merged. Aletsch Glacier's medial moraines are significant because they denote the combination of three glaciers, ultimately forming the glacier as it is currently. The formation of the glacier and environmental changes over time are of particular interest to scientific researchers. Medial moraines are one of the many features studied for insights into the glacier's history and current state. Show more

What is causing the rapid retrieval of Aletsch Glacier and how is it affecting the region's ecosystem?

Aletsch Glacier is dramatically receding due to global warming caused by rising temperatures in the area. As a result, the glacier is now melting faster than it can collect new snow and ice. Consequently, this has adversely impacted the region's ecosystem since the glacier serves as an essential water source for the local flora and fauna. Additionally, glacier melting often leads to flooding in downstream areas and the likelihood of nearby land slippages. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin