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Bridge towards Alpine Adventures

The new Piccard Bridge on Gurgler Ferner Glacier

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Obergurgl-Hochgurgl took this quote of nature research expert Isaac Newton to heart by erecting a new bridge over the Gurgler Ferner Glacier ravine in the 2016 summer. But this unique suspension bridge is dedicated to another famous scientist and adventurer – namely to Auguste Piccard who made an emergency landing in his stratosphere balloon on Gurgler Ferner’s glacier field in 1931. And the little mountain village became famous almost overnight.

An emergency that turned out to be a lucky coincidence for Obergurgl-Hochgurgl

27 May 1931: Auguste Piccard, adventurer and former student of Einstein, and his assistant Paul Kipfer made the very first stratosphere flight in a gas-driven hot air balloon, reaching 15,781 meters altitude (they were the first human beings to see the earth’s curvature with their own eyes). Unfortunately, they were forced to a spectacular emergency landing on Gurgl’s Glacier.

Within a few days Obergurgl became world-famous due to the successful rescue of the two explorers. The sleepy village of Obergurgl was suddenly awake and the world public was informed on the fortunate landing which was the very origin of tourism in Obergurgl-Hochgurgl. Over the years, it has become one of the Alps’ top holiday destinations.

It’s not recorded if the local mountain rescuers from Obergurgl crossed a bridge on their way to the emergency landing site. But they would appreciate the newly built suspension bridge for sure!

Auguste Piccard, Obergurgl, black-white Image, Humans, Snow, Ballon
Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Piccard Bridge, Workers, Summer

The primal force of the elements

Up to now, walkers crossed the mountain brook over a wooden bridge on the valley floor. Due to the risk of falling rocks and the high water during snow melting season, a new type of construction was planned – safety always comes first!

The new suspension bridge leading over the ravine of Gurgler Ferner Glacier was erected in only 8 weeks. In the course of construction works also the walking trails on both parts of the valley were rebuilt and equipped with the latest safety technologies. Hansjörg Wechselberger – designer, planner and construction supervisor – gave me an insight into many interesting details on the new bridge.

A suspension bridge was the best solution due to terrain conditions on the spot. Hansjörg explains: On the orographic left side (specialist terminology) of the brook’s flow direction there is a high risk of avalanches and we couldn’t attach guy ropes which are used with most other bridge constructions. So the bridge was designed in the following way: the last 35 meters (as well on the orographic left side of the brook’s flow direction) can be easily unhooked in case an avalanche comes down, without destroying the entire bridge. Therefore the bridge is not accessible in the winter months as it remains unhooked.

In the construction phase of the suspension bridge up to 6 people worked there in order to put up the steel elements. One of the biggest challenges was the high Alpine location itself: this secluded spot required a maximum of planning and excellent logistics.

Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Piccard Bridge, Workers, Summer
Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Piccard Bridge, Workers, Summer
Obergurgl-Hochgurgl, Piccard Bridge, Workers, Summer

By erecting the Piccard Bridge at Gurgler Ferner Glacier the walking trail network connecting Hochwildehaus, Karlsruher Hütte and Ramolhaus has been considerably improved for many decades, promising  a quick and safe crossing. Also Franz Reich, professional mountain guide and chairman of the Obergurgl-Hochgurgl tourist board from 2006 to 2016, is very happy about the new bridge. He has been one of the initiators and driving forces of the entire project. The new suspension bridge is walkable throughout the summer months, from early July to late September. Safety equipment and proper hiking gear are strongly recommended.


  • Construction: August – September 2016 (8 weeks)
  • Sea level: west 2490 m, east 2470 m, valley 2380 m
  • Length: 142 m
  • Height: 100 m above the ground
  • Width of walkway: 0.7 m
  • Building construction: steel

This article was initially published on 28.06.2017.

Benedikt Steiner

Author: Benedikt Steiner

When it comes to activity and motion, Benni pricks up his ears! He is a passionate snowboarder, mountain biker, climber & hiker and he knows no better playground for outdoor sports than the Ötztal.

He is not the type to sit still - therefore Benni can be often found on the valley's most exciting bike trails and pristine powder snow slopes.