The ice surfaces of the Plaine Morte

Plaine Morte - In icy depths

Thousands of years ago, the entire Simmental was covered in ice. Unfortunately, there is little left of it today. Nevertheless, the masses of ice still seem enormous to us. Below the Plaine Morte, at around 2500 m above sea level, the Trüebbach springs from the glacier and flows over several rock faces down to the Rezliberg, where it joins the Sibe Brünne to form the Simme. The Sibe Brünne and the Trübbach are partly fed with glacier water from the Plaine Morte through underground channels running through the rock.

The fascination of the largest plateau glacier in the Alps

The Plaine Morte glacier is the largest plateau glacier in the Alps, which is why many researchers are very interested in it. Even if the white surface appears rather monotonous, appearances are deceptive. Inside the glacier is a labyrinth of channels through which the water eats its way through the glacier. Fred Bétrisey and Hervé Krummenacher, accompanied by journalist Dominik Osswald, were able to explore this fascinating underworld at the beginning of winter 2016. They took incredible pictures of the inside of the glacier. The film in the header was produced by journalist Dominik Osswald. Delve into the depths of the glacier and read the article in the Tagesanzeiger.

Lake Faverge and the flood

Climate change does not stop at the Plaine Morte glacier. When temperatures rise in summer, this glacier unfortunately also melts. Due to the intensive melting of the glacier in recent years, smaller and larger lakes have formed from the meltwater around the huge ice surface. This includes Lake Faverge, which is located directly on the edge and partly on the glacier.

The lake fills up with meltwater over the summer. When a certain level is reached, the water eats its way through huge channel systems in the glacier and empties the lake underground. This leads to a rapid rise in the level of the Simme, which in turn becomes a danger for the village of Lenk. After the first emptying in 2011, an early warning system was therefore set up to inform the population of the impending masses of water in good time. In the summer of 2018 in particular, the sudden draining of Lake Favergesee overwhelmed the course of the Simme, causing flooding in parts of Lenk. Meadows were flooded and cellars and garages were under water.

Following this event, safety precautions were taken on the glacier in spring and summer 2019 to increase safety for the village. The development of the safety measures was a large, novel project and a completely new experience for everyone involved. The uniqueness of the project attracted the interest of various researchers.

Unique project

From the Rezliberg to the Simmen Falls, the Simmeder forest was cut down on both sides to prevent the trees from being swept away in the event of flooding. On the glacier itself, snow groomers were used in places to clear the meter-high snow from the glacier ice and an 800m-long channel was dug into the ice with a walking excavator. This adventurous project has resulted in Lake Faverge reaching a lower level and the lake emptying earlier and less quickly. In recent years, the meltwater has been able to flow out in a controlled manner, easing the situation for the inhabitants.

Swiss television SRF has filmed an impressive documentary with background information on the project:

Information on the project on the glacier can be found on the website of Ingenieurbüro Theiler:

Local mountain enthusiast Hans-Ueli Hählen was responsible for the monitoring station on the Plaine Morte for 9 years and was also closely involved in the construction work. In his book, he writes about his experiences surveying and investigating Lake Faverge and the glacier.


Close to the glacier

Mountain trails lead from Lenk to the vicinity of the Plaine Morte glacier. From the Simmen Falls to the Wildstrubel (no official hiking trail from Fluehsee) or from the Iffigenalp to the Wildstrubelhütte, the glacier is close enough to touch. Seeing the Plaine Morte so close up with your own eyes is a tremendous experience. It is also possible to cross the glacier, but be careful - there are alpine dangers on glaciers. Even if the flat glacier does not necessarily look dangerous for mountain hikers, the outward impression is deceptive. Glaciers are constantly moving, crevasses are constantly opening and closing. Snow bridges can look stable but be dangerously thin. With a mountain guide, you can get very close to the glacier and cross it - an experience you will never forget!