A challenging hike in what might just be the world’s most beautiful mountains.
People here at Overland like to debate which of the world’s mountain ranges is the most beautiful. I always argue for the Alps. Here’s why: the mountains are beautiful, but the Alps are more than just the mountains. The Alps are the mountains, plus the charming villages, plus the scattering of little farm buildings way up in the farthest reaches of the highest valleys and snowiest passes, and the Alps are the cows—right next to you on the trail and high above you in remote summer pastures—with cowbells ringing and the sound tumbling down the mountainsides.
We’ll hike along two spectacular routes: the Alpine Pass Route in the Bernese Oberland and the High Route in the Valais. Each route offers its own charms: on the Alpine Pass Route it’s lush and green (think Vermont in the summer), and on the High Route it’s arid and scented with pine (think of the Sierra Nevada). Both routes offer challenges—real challenges—so this is a trip for hard-working students who are fit, individuals who are ready to challenge themselves… and group members who are ready to work together.
In the end though, the trip is more than beauty, it’s more than challenge. It’s an Overland trip, so that means it’s about the group and your role in it. Every day your caring, supportive, wonderful Overland leaders will encourage you to be a great friend, a great group member, a great leader. And they will do that by being that way themselves.
The world’s most beautiful mountains? There’s no way to settle that debate; you’ll just have to come see for yourself.
While the views were gorgeous, it was the great group of kids and leaders that made this trip the amazing experience that it was.
- Matthew Simons, Wilmette, Illinois
Days 1-4: Trip Start and Day Hikes in Gstaad
From Geneva, we’ll travel by train to Gstaad where we’ll learn how to pack our backpacks and get to know one another. For two days, we’ll day hike from Gstaad, giving us the chance to adjust to the timezone, acclimate to the elevation and learn basic outdoor ethics.
Days 5-12: Hike the Alpine Pass Route
We’ll begin our backpacking trip along the Alpine Pass Route in the Bernese Oberland. Averaging 10 miles each day, we’ll spend our nights camping outside or staying in Alpine huts. We’ll pass through charming villages, sample Swiss cheese, absorb European culture and restock our food supplies before returning to the mountains. On the trail, we’ll hike past mountainside waterfalls, enjoy stunning vistas and experience the majesty of the Swiss Alps. After hiking for seven days, we’ll finish in Grindelwald with an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Day 13: Explore Chamonix
We’ll take the train from Grindelwald to Chamonix, on the Swiss and French border. Enjoying the mountain town and cobblestone streets, we’ll prepare and relax before our hike to Zermatt.
Days 14-24: Hike the High Route
Back on the trail, we’ll spend 12 days hiking on the High Route from the slopes of Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, the two greatest mountains in Europe. We’ll average 10 miles per day and meet hikers from around the world. Some nights we’ll spend in tents, others in cozy Swiss huts. Our trek will take us through green meadows and cow pastures, past quaint villages, along clear lakes and between jagged peaks before finishing in Zermatt.
Days 25 & 26: Zermatt and the Mettelhorn
We’ll walk proudly into Zermatt after hiking more than 220 miles. This colorful town with narrow cobblestone streets is the gateway to our last challenge—hiking to the summit of the Mettelhorn (11,175 feet). We’ll stand in awe of the surrounding views of the Alps and the mighty spire of the Matterhorn.
Day 27: Trip End
Proud of our accomplishments, we’ll take the train to Geneva and celebrate four weeks of great hiking, fun and summer adventure in Switzerland.
10 nights of frontcountry camping. Campground facilities will vary and may include flush toilets, showers and laundry.
4 nights of camping in the mountains with no access to bathroom facilities.
10 nights in Alpine huts. Huts will have toilets, running water and sleeping bunks.
2 nights in hostels. The hostels are dormitory-style accommodations. The rooms are divided by gender.
Things to know
- We travel light on Overland trips; please only bring items on your packing list.
- Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
- Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
- Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
- If you are flying to your trip start, wear your hiking boots and carry your sleeping bag and sleeping pad on the plane in case your checked luggage fails to arrive on time.
- Pack everything in your backpack or day pack. Do not bring additional luggage.
- There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
- Please wear the navy Overland shirt that you will receive from the Overland office to your trip start location.
- Navy Overland Shirt (1)
We will send students an Overland shirt prior to their trip, and we encourage students to wear their Overland shirt to trip start. We highly recommend this for students flying to their trip start location.
- Fleece Pants (1)
Please do not bring cotton sweatpants (they are heavy and bulky and will not keep you warm if wet).
- Synthetic Hiking Pants (optional)
Lightweight and quick dry material. Non-cotton warmup style pants are acceptable.
- Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
- Synthetic Shorts (2)
- Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
- Underwear (5)
- Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
- Winter Hat (1)
- Gloves or Mittens (pair)
To stay warm in camp on cool nights.
- Hat with Visor (1)
For protection from the sun. Baseball hats are acceptable.
- Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact.
- Packable Synthetic or Down Jacket (1)
Lightweight, compressible, synthetic (Primaloft or similar) or down jacket. Full zip or 1/4 zip are acceptable.
- Waterproof Raincoat (1)
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain coats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
- Waterproof Rain Pants (1)
Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain pants provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer.
- Internal Frame Backpack
65-85 liters or 4,000-5,100 cubic inches. Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.
- Waterproof Pack Cover
If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
- Sleeping Bag
A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
- Sleeping Pad
Full- or ¾-length compact sleeping pad. We recommend closed cell foam that is thin and firm (e.g., RidgeRest) or self-inflating (e.g., Therm-a-Rest).
- Adjustable Trekking Poles
To add stability, reduce strain on the knees and improve balance while crossing unstable surfaces.
- Kahtoola Brand Microspikes (pair)
To wear over your boots for traction on snowy and icy surfaces during hikes. Test the Microspikes on your boots prior to travel. Kahtoola microspikes are the only brand permitted.
- Bowl, Mug & Utensils
6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
- Water Bottle
One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.
- Headlamp & Extra Batteries
Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal.
- Gaiters (optional)
Calf-height, waterproof gaiters to protect your legs and feet when hiking through brush, across snow fields or streams.
- Waterproof Hiking Boots
Choose comfortable boots designed for hiking with a pack (i.e., mid to high cut for ankle support). Boots should be waterproof. Break them in before the start of your trip.
- Camp Shoes
Closed-toe shoes to wear around camp. Crocs or lightweight tennis shoes are ideal.
A passport that is valid until at least six months after your trip end date
- Passport Photocopies
Make at least four photocopies of your passport and visa (if applicable). Leave one copy with your family and put photocopies in both your checked luggage and carry-on luggage for the flight, separate from your original documents.
- Photo Identification
A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one).
- Unaccompanied Minor Fee Receipt (if applicable)
For students travelling as Unaccompanied Minors, please print a copy of the UAM fee receipt for your child's leaders to keep on file.
- Baggage Fee Receipt (if applicable)
Some airlines allow passengers to input credit card information to cover checked bag service charges when checking in online prior to the trip. To reduce hassle at the airport, we encourage you to pay for checked baggage beforehand and supply your child with a copy of the receipt for his or her leaders to keep on file.
- Pre-trip Training Calendar
Please bring your completed and signed calendar to trip start.
- Synthetic Camping Towel
A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
All items should be travel size (if necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip).
- Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (10)
To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
- Large Trash Bags (4)
To waterproof your gear.
- Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
To protect your feet from blisters.
- Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
- Spending Money
$50 per week in local currency or a debit/ATM card (please notify your bank of international travel before trip start).
- Personal Journal or Book (optional)
- Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB).
- Health Insurance Card
Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
- What is the weather like on Alpine Challenge?
The weather on Alpine Challenge varies. Sometimes it is sunny and warm, while at other times it is rainy and cold; typical summer temperatures in the Alps range from the 50s to 70s during the day and cooler at night. At high elevations, snow and nighttime freezing temperatures are possible. Our packing list takes these variables into consideration. Layering is the best strategy. Please follow the packing list, paying close attention to rain gear specifications.
- What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?
You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Geneva International Airport (GVA) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.
- How often will my child have access to showers and laundry?
Groups typically shower and do laundry once a week.
- How is hiking in Europe different from hiking in North America?
Hiking routes in Europe are scattered with quaint alpine towns which offer a taste of local food and culture. These hikes combine a wilderness experience with a cultural experience and are generally less remote than backcountry trails in Yellowstone or the High Sierras for example. Groups will meet and interact with hikers from all over the world.
- Please tell me about safety at Overland.
Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.
- Does my child need to have previous experience?
While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child–with your help–to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready–and excited–to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.
- Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.
For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.
We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:
1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.
2. Independence and Self-Reliance.
3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.
- What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?
To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.
Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).
We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.
Backpack through the Swiss Alps and experience European cultures.
Students going on Alpine Challenge should prepare for:
- 23 days of hiking with an average of 10 miles per day
- Travel to and from the trip
- An Overland experience
We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.
Preparing for Hiking
On Alpine Challenge, you will spend two days on day hikes and a total of 21 days backpacking. You will hike over challenging and varied terrain, including steep, rocky sections. You will travel to elevations above 11,000 feet and may hike on snow.
Backpacking is a strenuous physical activity and requires proper training. While backpacking, our groups are fully self-supported - meaning that you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag and pad), some group gear, food and water. Your leaders will distribute group gear and food among all members of the group. Pack weights will vary trip by trip, depending on the location, weather, student and the distance covered. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker's weight.
Before your trip, we strongly advise you spend time breaking-in and adjusting to your hiking boots. We expect you to prepare adequately so you can keep up physically and participate in all of your group's activities. Please follow our guidelines as you prepare for your program, and please refer to the Pre-Trip Training Calendar where you will record your training in the weeks leading up to trip start.
- 5 weeks before your trip: take four 30-minute walks in your hiking boots. Walk around your house or neighborhood so your boots begin to conform to your feet .
- 4 weeks before your trip: take three 45-minute hikes over varied terrain in your boots.
- 3 weeks before your trip: take two 1½-hour hikes and one 4-hour hike over varied terrain in your boots.
- 2 weeks before your trip: take two 2-hour hikes and one 6-hour hike with a loaded backpack with 10-15% of your body weight over varied terrain in your boots .
- 1 week before your trip: take three 3-hour hikes with a backpack loaded with 25-30% of your body weight over varied terrain in your boots.
Groups typically average between 1½ and 3 miles per hour (although pace varies by group). You will take multiple breaks throughout the day—for water, snacks, lunch, to adjust packs, etc. Due to the challenge level and route on Alpine Challenge, the hiking is both physically and mentally demanding; you should expect to be hiking for most of the day.
Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip
Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. You may also be dropped off and picked up at the airport. If you are flying to and from your trip, we will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.
Preparing for an Overland Experience
Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be supportive of your trip mates and your leaders, enthusiastic, positive and helpful. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.
All trips have a range of challenges. You should come prepared and recognize that some days will be more difficult, more challenging and longer—both in terms of miles and hours on the trail—than others. Delays occur due to a wide range of variables beyond the control of you, your group or your leaders. Weather patterns change and trail and route conditions vary. You, or someone in your group, might develop a blister or encounter another issue that could delay your group. On some days your group will arrive in to camp in the early afternoon, with plenty of time to explore the area or go swimming, while on other days your group will spend more time on the trail.
Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.