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Simplon Pass

Today I spanned many periods of history while traversing one of the great passes of the Alps.

The peaks were buried in clouds, but I can't use that as an excuse for avoiding the exact border. I'd already decided that learning about this pass would be vastly more interesting than scrambling over another glaciated peak. Plenty of huge mountains coming up in the next two weeks. So today I alternated between hiking the pavement of the most recent iteration of the Simplon Pass highway, crossing the bridges of the road that Napoleon built in the early 1800s, walking the cobbles of the mule passage of the early 1600s, and following dirt paths that went way back to pre-history, though they were also followed by Roman legions in the 2nd century. And then there were the forts and the guns. Try finding all that on a glacier.

The purpose for all of these routes was to bring trade and war between the Italian plains to the south and the Swiss and French lowlands to the north. Standing in the way were two things: a 2,005-meter pass and the tight cliffs of Gondo Gorge.

I spoke at length this morning with Jürg Stüssi-Lauterburg, the head of Swiss military archives, who has a particular passion for this route. That's in part because his father-in-law, Bernhard Lauterberg, was the battalion commander for the Swiss troops on this section of border during the Second World War. But it's also because he simply loves this place. He told me to just "sit for a moment at one of the small inns and take in the atmosphere. You have never seen anything like it in your lifetime, and you will never forget it”.

I'll write what I learned about the four great periods of the Simplon Pass later this evening. Just now I have an appointment to learn more about Gondo, where I am now, exactly at the border.