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Counting sheep on the Gemmi Pass

Hundreds of tourists flock to the annual event. Switzerland Tourism

Hundreds of sheep will descend on the Gemmi Pass for this year's Shepherd Festival, which takes place on July 28.

This content was published on July 21, 2002 - 12:14

The traditional festival has become a top summer attraction, drawing crowds to the pass which links the Valais spa of Leukerbad with the resort of Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland.

The event begins with a church service on the edge of a small lake, the Daubensee. Then at precisely 11am, the shepherds spending the summer with their flocks on the pass signal for their animals to come running.

The sheep race down the mountainside to the lake where salt, which has been withheld from them for weeks, has been spread along its shores.

Various strongman competitions between shepherds representing Leukerbad and Kandersteg follow the running of the sheep.

Classic pass

The Gemmi is one of the classic north-south alpine passes, connecting the Bernese Oberland with canton Valais. Goethe travelled over the pass in 1779. Among the 19th century notables to take the route was the American author, Mark Twain.

Up until the late Middle Ages, shepherds from Kandersteg and Leukerbad repeatedly went to battle over rights to the alpine pastures. Many ancient weapons have been excavated on the pass.

The pass can be accessed from either Leukerbad or Kandersteg by cable car. There are also hiking paths to the top, of which the trail hewn out of the near-vertical cliffs above Leukerbad is the most spectacular.

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