My reaction when I first heard about the unveiling of the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge was a somewhat predicable one: Not for all the chocolate, cheese and luxury wristwatches in Switzerland.
Yet after viewing photos and a promotional video of the handsome/horrifying new footbridge in question, I was at least able to understand why others would be clamoring to cross it — the alpine scenery is nothing less than breathtaking from 278 feet above the Grabengufer, a ravine located at the foot of Switzerland’s highest peak, the Dom.
Majestic landscapes aside, I'd still pass.
To be clear, the two-foot-wide, 1,620-foot-long (about a third of a mile) suspension bridge — dubbed the Charles Kuonen Bridge — isn’t the sort of vertiginous tourist attraction that you drive to, pay a few bucks to crawl/walk/cry your way across and then board a shuttle van that takes you back to your car once you reach the other side. After all, this isn’t China.
Stretching across a ravine in the southwestern Swiss canton of Valais, the Charles Kuonen Bridge is a fantastic place to take in stunning alpine views and let out one heck of a a yodel-scream. (Photo: © Zermatt Tourismus)
Located in the formidable shadows of the fabled Matterhorn and the Bernese Alps, the bridge connects the village of Grächen with the bustling Zermatt resort area and serves as a crucial link along the Europaweg (Europe Way), a challenging high-altitude hiking trail that takes two days to complete.
A previous footbridge crossed the Grabengufer ravine near the municipality of Randa as part of the Europaweg. That bridge, the short-lived and shorter-in-length Europabrücke, was damaged by falling rocks in 2010. After the closure of the old bridge and before the construction of the new one (which only took an impressive 10 weeks to complete), hikers had to make a daunting, hours-long detour down into the Matter Valley and then hike back up again to complete the journey from Grächen to Zermatt or vice versa.
With the new bridge up and hanging at well over 5,000 feet above sea level, the total hiking time from Grächen to Zermatt has been shaved back down to 6 to 7 hours. Tourism officials hope this encourages more hikers to explore the Europaweg in its entirety, given that adventurers and adrenaline junkies alike had balked at the prospect of descending into and out of the valley when the detour was in effect.
Writing that the "thrill of traversing the precipice is indescribable," the Zermatt tourism authority goes on to state the obvious in a press statement: The bridge "is for hikers with no fear of heights."
Just don't look down
Constructed with steel by the suspension-bridge and cableway wizards at Swissrope, the Charles Kuonen Bridge (mercifully) isn’t glass-bottomed like the former title holder for world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, a 1,410-foot-long affair stretching across the Zhangjiajie Canyon in China’s Hunan province. After all, why look down (for the love of God, don’t look down) when there’s so much spectacular scenery above, in front of and all around you? However, Switzerland’s record-breaking single-file span is grated, making it "possible to look into the precipice below one’s feet."
Charles Kuonen, by the way, is a Swiss psychologist and winery owner who served as the new bridge's primary sponsor. Hmmm ... wine and psychological counseling. Weird that the world's longest suspension footbridge is named after a man who specializes in the two very things that I would immediately require if this acrophobe were to ever muster up the courage to cross it.