Alpine Challenge

Hike the best of the Alps—across the Bernese Oberland and below the Matterhorn. Tackle high mileage and challenging terrain on hikes through deep green valleys and over Alpine passes. At trip end, walk triumphantly into Zermatt having explored one of the world's most beautiful mountain ranges.

Overview Details Itinerary What to Pack FAQs Before You Go

Overview

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 (giant glaciers up high and deep green valleys down low), 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 in two spectacular areas: the Bernese Oberland and Matterhorn region in the Valais. Each area offers its own charms: in the Bernese Oberland it’s lush and green (think Vermont in the summer), and the Matterhorn region is arid and scented with pine (think of the Sierra Nevada). Both areas offer challenges—real challenges: long miles and big climbs!—so this is a trip for hard-working students who are fit, individuals who are ready to challenge themselves… and group members who are eager 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.

Questions? Contact us!

My favorite part of the Alpine Challenge was that each day the views and scenery were incredible. Waking up every day to the Alps and being lucky enough to hike all day with my incredible group was unforgettable.


- Sarah Burnham, Northbrook, Illinois

Days 1-5: Trip Start & Day Hikes in Gstaad

From Zurich, we’ll travel by train to Gstaad where we’ll learn how to pack our backpacks and get to know one another. For four days, we’ll day hike from Gstaad, giving us the chance to adjust to the timezone, acclimate to the elevation and strengthen our hiking skills and fitness.

Days 6-14: 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. On the trail, we’ll hike past mountainside waterfalls, enjoy stunning vistas and experience the beauty of the Swiss Alps. After hiking for nine days, we’ll finish in Grindelwald with an incredible sense of accomplishment.

Days 15-19: Zermatt & the Mettelhorn

Zermatt—a busy, fun town with narrow cobblestone streets and big views of the Matterhorn—is the gateway to our last challenge: hiking to the summit of the Mettelhorn (11,175 feet). At the summit, we’ll stand in awe of the surrounding views of the Alps and the mighty spire of the Matterhorn.

Day 20: Trip End

Proud of our accomplishments, we’ll take the train to Zurich and celebrate three weeks of great hiking, fun and summer adventure in Switzerland.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

11 nights of front country camping. Campground facilities will vary and may include flush toilets, showers and laundry.

2 nights of camping in the mountains with no access to bathroom facilities.

5 nights in Alpine huts. Huts will have toilets, running water and sleeping bunks.

1 nights in a hostel. The hostels are dormitory-style accommodations. The rooms are divided by gender.

Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.
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Clothing

  • Navy Overland T-Shirt (1)
    We will send every student an Overland T-shirt prior to the trip. Please wear this T-shirt to trip start.
  • 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)
  • Underwear (5)
  • Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
  • Winter Hat (1)
  • Gloves or Mittens
  • Hat with Visor (1)

Outer Layers

  • Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
  • Lightweight, Packable Synthetic or Down Jacket (1)
  • Waterproof Raincoat (1)
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (1)

General Gear

  • 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
    ¾-length or full-length closed cell foam (thin and firm) or self-inflating.
  • 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
  • Sunglasses
  • Gaiters (optional)
    Calf-height, waterproof gaiters to protect your legs and feet when hiking through brush, across snow fields or streams.

Footwear

  • 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.

Miscellaneous

  • 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).
  • Travel Size Toiletries
  • 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)
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera.

Important Documents

  • Health Insurance Card
    Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
  • Passport
    Please bring 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.

Spending Money

  • Spending Money & Miscellaneous Expenses
    Each student should bring a debit card, an ATM card or a prepaid Visa card to cover spending money and miscellaneous expenses. Spending Money: While all meals and activities are included in the trip fee, we recommend $25/week for spending money (for example: for souvenirs or an occasional drink or snack beyond what is provided to the group as a whole). Miscellaneous Expenses: Most Overland students will incur some expenses while traveling (for example: an equipment repair or baggage fees at trip end). Please add $100 to the debit/ATM/Visa card (in addition to spending money), to cover these expenses.

Things to know

  • We travel light at Overland; please only bring the items on your packing list.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring your smart phone (or any other electronics).
    Please visit the FAQ tab 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 schedule expensive items—phones, cameras, bicycles, etc.—on your homeowners insurance policy.
  • Please wear the navy Overland T-shirt that you receive from Overland to your trip start location.
  • What is the weather like on Alpine Challenge?

    You can expect typical summery weather with lots of sunshine, some rain, warm days and cool nights.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for my child’s trip?

    You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Zurich International Airport (ZRH) at trip start and trip end. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on the trip.

  • 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 small Alpine towns which offer a taste of local food and culture. These hikes combine a mountain 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.

  • What is the currency on this trip?

    Students on the Alpine Challenge will spend time in both France and Switzerland. France uses the Euro (€) and Switzerland uses the Swiss Franc (CHF). Students withdraw these currencies using a debit card or exchange US dollars upon arrival in Europe.

  • 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 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 trip 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.

    When we receive your application, if your first choice is available, we will: (1) call you to acknowledge our receipt of your application, (2) send you an email with a link to our Admissions Review Forms, and (3) charge a deposit of $795 to your credit card to hold your place in the trip pending a favorable admissions review. If your first choice is not available, we will call you to discuss your second choice, third choice or other options. For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.

  • What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?

    PHONES
    To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers. 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 an expensive smartphone, instead, an inexpensive prepaid cell phone will do. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.

     

    ELECTRONICS
    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).

     

    COMMUNICATION
    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 other 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.

  • Can I send mail to my child during a trip?

    Getting a letter, card or postcard while on an Overland trip is always exciting. Please keep in mind that sending mail to your child on an Overland trip is different than sending mail to camp because your child will be on the move. Our experience has been that mail often does not arrive on time, and, sometimes, even when it does, post offices, campgrounds and other mail stops do not reliably deliver mail to our groups. For these reasons:

     

    1. Please do not send anything valuable – please send letters, cards or postcards only.  If mail is late, lost or misdirected, Overland’s leaders and staff are not able to return to the post office (or other mail stop) to collect it.

    2. Please use the US Postal Service first-class mail only; do not use UPS, FedEx or DHL (many of our mail stops accept US Postal Service mail only).

    3. Please do not send overnight letters: many overnighted letters arrive before or after we arrive and are then sent back. For this same reason, please do not send mail that requires a signature upon delivery.

    4. Please allow one week for postal delivery to U.S. mail stops.

    5. Please allow two weeks for postal delivery to international mail stops.

Backpack through the Swiss Alps and experience European cultures.

Students going on Alpine Challenge should prepare for:

  • Full days of outdoor activities led by two caring Overland leaders
  • Day hikes to viewpoints and mountaintops
  • A multi-day backpacking trip designed for first-time backpackers
  • A fun, supportive and wholesome Overland experience

We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.

Preparing for the Hiking

On Alpine Challenge, you will hike on well-established trails over a wide range of terrain, from meadows to hills to mountains. You'll start with day hikes where you'll carry just the essentials for the day (snacks and lunch, water, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, bug spray and a raincoat). As the group's skills and fitness increase, you'll set out on a multi-day backpacking trip. While backpacking, you will carry all of your belongings (clothes, sleeping bag and pad), some group gear, food and water. Typically when backpacking, pack weights average about 30% of a hiker's weight. In the month before your trip, you should break-in your hiking boots (wear them a lot!) and complete the pre-trip training (see below). Once on your trip, you'll find that enthusiasm and a positive attitude will help to make the trip a success for you... and for everyone in your group.

Pre-trip Training:

  • 4 weeks before your trip: four 90-minute hikes in your boots.
  • 3 weeks before your trip: four 2-hour hikes in your boots.
  • 2 weeks before your trip: four 2.5-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 20% of your body weight.
  • 1 week before your trip: five 3-hour hikes in your boots with a backpack loaded with 30% of your body weight.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland trips are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be enthusiastic, positive, helpful and supportive of your trip mates and your leaders. 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. 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 trip!