Niwen (Einigs Alichji), FaldumalpOn a quest for the prettiest autumn colors, I found some magnificent photos of glowing red mountain sides on the braendji.ch website [Chapter 5.3]. The photos were taken from Faldumalp and Niwenalp mountain meadows, in the lower part of the Lötschental valley. After pondering for some time over the maps that cover this area, it seemed to me that a summit with an unpronounceable name, Einigs Alichji (2769 m), otherwise known as the Niwen (which we shall use here) could make an interesting walk. The itinerary climbs up between the meadows of Faldumalp and Niwenalp and, although little known to French-speaking Swiss hikers, is an appreciated outing in the Upper Valais. Because of its position at the entry of the Lötschental, a Valais valley that intrudes into the Bernese Alps, you can look out over both the Valais and Bernese Oberland summits from the top of the Nirwen. Next stop therefore in Goppenstein in the lower Lötschental valley! This walk will not only offer you amazing panoramas, it will also provide you with a physical challenge and will test both your muscles and stamina. Indeed, between the station in Goppenstein and the cross on the top of Niwen, there's a 1550-m climb to get the better of. Only to be done if you're physically up to it. Technically the itinerary is easy on well-trodden and well-marked paths. Although stuck down in the bottom of a narrow valley, Goppenstein is actually a very important railway junction. This walk is therefore perfectly suited to those who like to use public transport. Alternatively, you can pay to park along the right side of the road when driving up from the Valais valley. The yellow footpath markings take you along the road (pavement) for a short time up to the entrance of the tunnel. Here, keep following the markings along a smaller road that goes around the tunnel to the right, and then over it before heading left after a hairpin. Another 150 meters and it's time to leave the road. The way to Faldumalp is shown on the signpost but not the time needed to get there (doubtless so as not to dishearten walkers because this first part of the walk is going to be quite something!). The maths are easy: Goppenstein is at an altitude of 1216 m, and Faldumalp is at 2037 m. So that makes a climb of over 800 m with no real warm-up. And indeed, the hard work starts right away. The steep and fairly narrow path climbs up the west side of the valley, alternating between steep meadows and deciduous woods until it reaches two chalets at an altitude of 1500 m. Take care to stay on the main marked path: several small trails lead off to the right and the left, and it is easy to accidentally go the wrong way. As you climb, you will see the deciduous trees give way to pines even if the path stays out of the woods most of the time. After 2 hours of strenuous climbing, you reach ... a road, or more exactly a wide passable track which leads to Faldumalp. The path crosses the track only to head straightaway up towards the avalanche shields. When you come across the road again, follow it until you reach the beautiful hamlet of Faldumalp [2035 m, 2h15]. In October, the hamlet seems asleep for the winter already. You can take a great photo with the Norwegian looking chapel in the foreground. For the background, it seems only natural to include the Bietschhorn on the other side of the valley (you can also see the Bietschhornhütte from here [route No. 20]). Faldumalp is definitely magical with its autumn colors. Next to the chapel, a signpost with numerous directions, tells you that the Niwen lies another 2½ hours away. It also gives times for Ferden 1h20 and Goppenstein 2h10. The road continues on up through the middle of the hamlet. Close to the last chalet, a path heads up the shoulder (Horiläger). With a bit of luck you'll come across the local sheep here which look so funny with their black faces and long bushy wool. This portion of the walk is beautiful in the autumn, with alders ranging from reds and oranges to greens, and even some dots of yellow from the larches. Up at the end of the valley, the abrupt silhouette of the Faldumrothorn stands out. You will soon get quite near to it as it is the closest peak to the Niwen, with its crags standing just across the Faldumpass. Further to the right, the Restirothorn is even more abrupt. The climb gets steeper as the path heads towards the avalanche shields. Some of these are "typical" avalanche shields but others are formed of platforms held up by low walls. The path weaves its way between the shields up to the point at 2585 m on the map [3h45], which marks the start of the wide Stritungrat ridge that leads up to the Niwen. It is easy to follow the path (if however the conditions are good: a little snow is not a problem but it is otherwise if there are snow cornices on the northern side). In just one or two places you may want to use your hands to steady yourself. The view is remarkable all along this ridge, especially down over the Lötschental valley which literally can be seen as from a plane. A sort of concrete tumulus can be found at the first minor summit at 2729 m [4h15]. The Stritungrat ridge now becomes the Niwungrat ridge, not that it makes any difference for hikers. Once past the southern secondary summit at 2757 m, continue on to the main summit some 12 meters higher - or maybe even 13 meters if you count the cross [4h30]. The descent follows the same itinerary along the ridge all the way down to Faldumalp. Other routes might be possible, for example via the Niwenpass or a path along the south ridge, but these would all require proper mountaineering skills (rather than experienced hiker and scrambler skills). Once back in Faldumalp, rather than taking the steep path that you climbed up, you can opt for a long detour via Ferden that avoids the strain on your knees. The path is wide and comfortable, except for the short portion where you cross the Dornbach stream. If you follow the markings and signs correctly, you will end up in the very center of the village of Ferden [1375 m, 1 h from Faldumalp, 2h30 from the summit] where you will find a local bus stop. To walk back to Goppenstein at a respectable distance from the road, cross the road and walk down towards the river. The path crosses a bridge, then takes a right through a field (Chastel) and heads into the woods. Note that about half way along a sign recommends not to continue if it is raining. Apparently the path is exposed to rockfall and can be dangerous in the rain. The path continues on southwards along the banks of an artificial lake and then along the Lonza river. It finally crosses the river and meets up with the small road from Goppenstein that you started on this morning [3h30 from the summit, 8h in all]. This option for the descent is indeed not especially interesting, but at least it offers other viewpoints and an alternative route to the steep zigzags that you climbed on the way up.
This hike has been selected to be featured in the book Randonnées pour Grizzlys - Alpes valaisannes, published in May 2013 by the editor Slatkine - unfortunately only in French language. It is described and illustrated there in great detail.