The Swiss Alps were beckoning and at least we wanted to see some vultures there before the winter setting in. We chose the Gemmi Pass in the Swiss Canton of Valais, because this spot has quite a reputation as vulture country. Gemmi Pass was a completely new destination to us and we had no idea what really to expect.
When travelling from Holland or the west of Germany to the Swiss Alps this is quite a long haul and it took us about 10 hours drive to arrive in Leukerbad. From this village the cable car brings visitors up to the pass. We had booked us into the Gemmi Lodge Hotel for four nights to have enough time to get a least some shots of vultures.
The travel up to the pass provides an astonishing view of the valley and the surrounding rock faces. Previoulsly we had read reports from other photographers on this location. Though, as usual, make your own experiences. Booking in at receptions was easy going. After unpacking we picked up our cameras and went out to check out the area for the first time.
What to see at Gemmi Pass
For a start, this spot is high alpine terrain. So don’t underestimated the area. Some alpine experience is necessary to move savely around the pass. A good foothold and good physical condition is necessary.
So what to see? The entire pass is not only a vast area but also provides a unique alpine scenery to the north, west and east. When turning round to face the south one can view the stunning scenery of a number of fourthousand metre peaks. Most prominent is the Matterhorn. In early morning light this mountain provides a stunning sight.
Scenery apart, what you get are mountain plants and flowers, sheep, chamois, ibex, crows and ravens, songbirds, golden eagles and vulturs.
Gemmi Pass is highly frequented at any time during the year. From early March to August photographers crowd the one spot from where the Bearded Vulture can be observered and captured on camera. Later on there are still quite a number of visitors but only a few photographers. So, anyone wanting to get some good shots on the vultures might consider going there in September.
Vultures at Gemmi Pass
Upon arrival we did not see any vulture at all and were disappointed. The landlord told us that with a bit of patience we should be able see something. Also with a bit of luck we should be able to see lots of chamois and ibex. We followed that advice and for the next two days we had a least some sigthings and captured some vultures. More on our vulture observations in my oncoming post.
Chamois and Ibex at Gemmi Pass
As for chamois, they are very shy and don’t ever get close to humans. Safety first and they look for some distance between them and us. They only come down from the slopes and mountains during late autumn and winter. Though, with a 600 mm f4 and a 1.4x TC it is possible to get some reasonably good shots of them. Chamois can be seen early in the morning and later in the afternoon and into evening. In some spots it was even possible to watch them all day.
Choughs and Ravens
There were only few songbirds around at Gemmi Pass when we were there. It were mostly Choughs (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) and Ravens (Corvus corax). Ravens could always be seen and sometimes they flew across the pass. Whereas Choughs appeared in flocks and came very close begging for some food. More on that in my next post.
Mountain Scenery at Gemmi Pass
As was already mentioned previously, the scenery is stunning. Even when not capturing something it is possible to do nothing. With nothing I really mean doing nothing at all but looking around and taking in the stunning scenery.
Was it worth the travel?
After several days up on Gemmi Pass my conclusion is most positive. Yes, it was worth the travel . We saw a lot and had plenty impressions to take home. The hotel can only be recommended. Accommodation and half board were excellent. With regard to scenery and nature this spot is a great place to go. Besides, for those who enjoy going fixed rope routes Gemmi Pass has lot to offer. As for vulture, we had some good encounters and it was simply great to see these birds free in nature going about their business.
One could also stay in Leukerbad and travel up to the pass every morning. But this is too time consuming and you never know when the big birds will come. We will be back.
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