Aletsch Glacier

Documenting sounds of a melting glacier high in Switzerland Alps

Aletsch is the biggest glacier in the Alps. This huge river of ice that stretches over 23 km from its formation in the Jungfrau region (at 4000 m) down to the Massa Gorge, around 2500 m below. It is basically one big valley of ice under the surrounding mountain peaks. The maximum extension of the Great Aletsch Glacier to date was around 1860. At that time, it was around 3 km longer than it is today and the edge of the glacier was a good 200 m higher, near the Aletsch Forest. This area still stands out against the surrounding countryside as a light strip of land with fairly young vegetation. Source: Altscharena.ch

September 2019

My main mission of visiting majestic Aletsch glacier was to document its sounds. To capture a feeling of climate change in action. After a long train ride, I arrived in Brig town. From here, I took a bit more challenging approach and went hiking all the way to the glacier. It is me and my backpack full of equipment. The trail takes me passing green pastures, old Swiss wooden houses, and unique mountain forests.

Way to the glacier

Taking the path from Brig towards the glacier valley, a person can experience some unique habitats already on the way. One of them is the Aletsch forest which is a protected woodland area situated on the East side of glacier. There are well maintained trails leading to and through the pine forest. Some of the pines are as much as 900 years old, putting them among the oldest trees in Switzerland. Here, there are also animals such as Red Deer of which roaring sounds I recorded later on. After reaching half way, I have decided to spend the night under the clear night sky.

Above the glacier

There comes the second day of my trip and after hours of walking, I was finally rewarded with the first glimpse of Aletsch. The temperature on this September day was surprisingly high and seeing this huge river of ice was unreal. This was the time when I could truly envision how the glacier might soon disappear. After moments of soaking up the view, I continued my way closer and closer to the glacier.


Recording late at night, deeper in the valley was a success without any noises caused by human.

As I continued to move through the Aletsch forest there was an unusual sound start coming from the nearby distance. I soon learned it was a Roe Deer. Actually, many of them, making roaring calls from the mountain slopes. I quickly set up recording gear from my backpack and hit the record button. Their sounds were captured but so were the background noise of distant traffic coming from the other side of the mountain. In order to try to get a clean recording without any noises human noises, I needed to go deeper into the glacier valley.

These rusty like rocks used to be under the thick layer of ice. Today, it is long gone and what remains is only the line scratches on the rock made from the friction of ice drifting down.

At the Aletsch glacier

I was almost at the ice but before, at the very edge there were, rounded rocks of a rusty color on which I noticed straight shaped lines. As I soon figured, the scratches were a reminder of ice at work when it was still existing much higher than today. The area was divided from the glacier by an unstable cliff. To reach the actual glacier, I have taken recording equipment, left my backpack behind and start to follow a tiny trail leading to the edge of the glacier. Well finally, I have reached the ice!

Recording the glacier sounds

The area where I managed to set up the recording rig which was directly under the ice wall. It was a bit risky position as everything was melting so rapidly. It felt like the whole chunk of ice could come flying down any moment now. But I wanted to catch the detail sounds of dripping melted ice so I pressed the record button and quickly jumped to safety. The water running below the glacier gave a recording somehow of a noisy feel yet still there water dripping to be heard. From time to time a bigger chunk of ice detached itself and fall into the stream. The sun was setting behind the mountains and the last rays were persistently shining on the ice wall. With the sun gone, the melting process has stopped with only river still running under the glacier.


Sounds of melting ice recorded on a September afternoon just before sunset.

Spending the night

Maybe this should be kept a secret but well… Aletsch is, of course, a strictly protected area and any kind of camping here is prohibited. Breaking these rules is definitely not recommended. What if everybody would do it. Spending the night at the glacier was part of my plan in order to try experience and document it in a most raw, diverse form as possible. I have stayed sheltered behind the huge rock, which used to be covered by glacier back in time. The energy was strong and full night roaring Red Deer sounds made all even more mystical. During the time of few hours, I went in and out of the cosy sleeping bag to capture Red Deer sounds echoing across the valley. I did not really set up an actual camp, but a pad on the ground with a sleeping bag and pillow. After a long night full of Roe Deer roaring, I have packed everything, make sure to leave no trace and start my way back.

Until next time

The mission was completed yet, I was not entirely happy with my overall planning. Having again underestimated the true scale of the area, I spend too much energy just reaching the glacier. In the end, I wasn’t able to focus on sound recording as much as I wanted. However, I am happy knowing I once again learned a lot from this journey. Going back following the other trail made it possible to see Aletsch from yet another perspective. An info table here is placed at the area where the glacier used to exist – much higher than today!

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ExoRank
2 years ago

Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

AffiliateLabz
2 years ago

Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

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