The four alternative Axalp spots to watch Fliegerschiessen. Below I made a description of these four spots
Map data: Google Landsat / Copernicus © 2021 Maxar Technologies
Many people over the years have been visiting Alternative Axalp spots, like Wildgärst and Äbeflüe. I have visited most of them and I have one on my bucket list (guess which one ;-). Some are good, some a bit less. The rundown is: nothing beats the official spots for the in-your-face action and quality of photography (except Wildgärst perhaps, for the well known head on inverted Hornet shot). If you are a first time visitor, your best option is to experience the official spots first. If you are an Axalp veteran you could be more tempted to try any of the spots mentioned. But, whatever you do, remember to always stay outside of the danger zone that the Swiss Air Force have defined for Fliegerschiessen. You can view the exact boundaries here.
Have you been to the other side? Is the question that immediately follows if someone asks you if you have been to Axalp. The infamous “other side” is covered with a mystical aura. And probably rightly so. Firstly because you can make some awesome pictures there of an inverted Hornet coming right at you with the mountains as a background. Secondly because getting there is way harder than climbing toward Axalp. There are three ways to get there.
Warning: Whichever route you may decide to take, make sure that you do not go alone but travel as a group, are in good physical shape, well prepared, and only go there in perfect weather conditions. If something goes wrong you want to make sure you are not out there alone.
Especially in this time of year, at these altitude the weather can be volatile and hostile. I have heard from all the people who have been there that it is doable, but you should be in excellent shape and more importantly you should be used to climbing. But still it is very hard, and you should plan 5-6 hours for the climb. The route near the top is steep, slippery and will probably be covered with snow.If you have insufficient climbing experience and/or are not in great shape I would not go to this location.
Despite all the hype, the action is far away. This means that you will need to pack a lens with a large focal length (500mm+). You will of course have awesome birds eye shots of the Patrouille Suisse with the crowd in the background. I have also seen amazing head on shots of the PC-21 from Wildgärst. But the main reason to visit is the shot of the inverted Hornet coming straight at you. One disclaimer: I have not been to Wildgärst myself. If you decide to go yourself, make sure you prepare well, buy an official hiking card of the region to plan your journey properly.
On a typical mission you will only get one maybe two opportunities to take the inverted Hornet shot and that is it. On top of that, in 2022 the Swiss Air Force changed the flying patterns. This meant that the turns the Hornets make after their shooting run are way less agressive than the used to be. As a result I have mostly seen the Hornets turn on the easterly side of Wildgärst and fewer times over the top. This makes the classic inverted Hornet shot a very rare catch. During the Axalp 2023 Airshow, they flew the normal patterns again. Bear this in mind though when you plan to visit Wildgärst though.
The route to Wildgärst from Schwarzwaldalp and Grosse Scheidegg.
The Faulhorn is hard to miss if you are standing in the official areas. It is the big peak located far away at the westside of the range. From the range it looks nearer than it is though. This becomes really apparent though if you are on the Faulhorn itself. You have an amazing, but very distant, view over the Axalp arena.
When I went there in 2021 the cable car to First was out of service. So I decided to take the alternative route. From Grindelwald there is a postbus service to Bussalp. Since Bussalp located at 1800m ASL, you have to climb close to 1000 vertical meters from there. I am in good condition, but my Dutch legs are used to flat ground. Therefore I found the climb pretty intense. All in all the climb took me 3.5 hours. The secret of getting there is treading slowly. Taking small steps but with a steady cadence, knowing you will get there in the end. Many Swiss fellow hikers overtook me, that day and did it in about 2 hours. A roundtrip ticket to Bussalp cost CHF 45,- in 2021.
If you want to visit Faulhorn, the best thing to do is take the cable car from Grindelwald to First (about CHF 55.-). The first ride up is at 0830 and considering that you have to walk at least two hours, you will not arrive there earlier than 1100. The last ride down will leave at around 1700 so you will have to leave again at 1500 at the latest. That is just enough time to take the one shot that makes going there worthwhile. The Hornet fly by close to the Faulhorn during one (only one!) shooting run. Basically you are underway the entire day for one shot! Better not screw it up 😉
If you have gotten bored with the official locations, you might consider the Faulhorn, but keep in mind that the dividends of the effort of going there are pretty marginal. A 100-400 lens is enough thought to catch the Hornet pass. I have considered staying a night at the Berghotel Faulhorn, to enjoy a mountain-top sunrise, but with the current schedule of the Axalp Airshow in the third week of October, the hotel is already closed for the season. The only facilities the buildings offer is some basic shelter under a roof should it start to rain.
Just as at Wildgärst, 2022 saw a significant change in the flying patterns of the Hornets. The essence was that, where initally the Hornets used to pass inverted underneath you (as you can see on the photo below). They now passed overhead at 500ft. During Axalp 2023 they flew the lower pattern again, but it is safe to say that you have no guarantees at this spot.
Even after taking the cable car to First, you still have a brisk climb to Faulhorn to do.
In 2018 I hurt my knee while descending after the second day. After a night of sleep it still hurt too bad to make me feel like going up. So I decided to look for a place a bit closer and still get some action.
I ended up at Chruttmettli, near Restaurant Hilten. Chruttmettli is located half an hour west of the Axalp village. If you walk up the road that leads to the range (route 3 as described earlier) and go left instead of right at the T-junction you will automatically reach the restaurant.
You are quite far below the action here, but you get great views of the paratroopers when they descend into the valley and the Hornets when they dive down towards the lake during their shooting runs. Just south of the restaurant there is a small hill where you can comfortably watch the action. Do not think that the views from here match those on the official points in any way. Most of the action is hidden from sight from this location by the Ridge from the Axalphorn to Tschingel. But if you stay in Axalp and feel like having “a day off” but still want to get a glimpse of the action, this spot is a reasonable alternative.
Note: at this time of year the restaurant is closed. The owner usually has a food truck right next to the chairlift in the village though, so make sure you do him a favour and order a drink with him on returning in Axalp. Last note on this location: you need to start from Axalp to get here, so you would have to take the shuttle bus up to the village to get here in the first place.
The half an hour walk from Axalp to Churttmetli is easy to do.
I visited the Bielen area as long ago as 2010. The biggest plus of this area is that you can reach it by car. The numbers you see above are an indication of the time it takes by car and show the vertical climb you make from the Haslital.
If you go up the mountain road near Balm (Meiringen) towards Zaun, just follow that until the paved road ends. Then you are in the Bielen area. The road up here is narrow, twisty and steep. Mountain driving experience is much wanted when you go here. Depending on the weather conditions, there could be snow here already at this time of year. Make sure you are prepared for this with proper winter tyres and/or snow chains if this is the case. If you start to descend back into the valley there are some great footpaths in the forest where you can have a nice walk after the show has ended.
If you arrive in the area, you are facing the other end of the watershed where target 1 is placed. Even more than at Hilten you are very remote from the action, and if you are taking photos, you might get only one or two shots that are worthwhile. Probably from the Cougar demo as it climbs up the valley towards the show area. Furthermore, most of the views of the airshow itself will be blocked by the Grättli watershed I just mentioned. Important thing to keep in mind: the place where the road ends is exactly the place where the danger zone starts. Do not proceed further into the valley than this.
The last part of the drive to Bielen penciled in. At the far left bottom is the Axalp range.
Äbeflüe (not to be mistaken with Ebenflüh) is the westernmost ridge of the mountain across the Lutschental valley. The biggest advantage here is (or was, I’ll get to that later) that you have the sun in your back the entire day. You are more remote than in the official spots, so you would need at least 600mm for frame filling fighter jets. The Swiss Army issue a map of the danger zone, indicating the areas that are forbidden when shooting is going on. Since 2019 Äbeflüe clearly falls in the no-go area, whereas this was not the case before. In short: I would not advise going there anymore. The area is monitored during the Axalp week and the Swiss military will not hesitate to send you back into the valley if you are in off bounds territory.
2. GETTING TO AXALP
3. ALTERNATIVE SPOTS
NEXT4. PREPARATION & PHOTOGRAPHY
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