Swiss Rivers
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The Magnificent Swiss Alps and its Rivers


Rhine, Rhône, Danube, and Italy's Po River

Did you know the Four Major Rivers of Central Europe are created by the Swiss Alps?

Rick's Note:  I remember the first time I ever saw the Rocky Mountains.  I had to stop my car and stare in awe.  Then I started to cry.  I could not believe anything so beautiful as these magnificent mountains could possibly exist. 

I have to be honest. Now that I have finished this article, I am convinced the Alps are just as pretty... and maybe prettier.

The Swiss are a very clever people.  They have bored all kinds of lengthy tunnels into these mountains which make crossing this relatively small country fairly easy to do by car or train.

I think Marla and I are going to be too busy to make to the Swiss Alps on this particular trip, but I understand some of our friends have discussed making forays into the mountains via the popular train rides.  If you end up doing this, please don't tell me because it might break my heart. 

The Swiss are interesting in another way.  They have adapted well to their strange environment.  Every inch of every valley has four things.  It has a river.  It has a road that follows the river.  It has farmland wherever possible and it has one town every mile.

Here's a trivia question for you.  Do you see LIE and MCO in the picture below?  What is the meaning of those letters? 

I haven't quite figured out the difference between the Swiss Alps and the Rocky Mountains.  Using Google Earth, my impression is that the Swiss Alps are tightly clumped together while the Rocky Mountain range is longer, more spread out, and less green.

I found a website where Colorado natives who had visited the Swiss Alps were asked to compare. I enjoyed their answers.

Being a Colorado native now living in Europe I feel that there is a great difference between the mountain ranges.

The mountain towns of the Alps have a very different feel of course and the beauty is very different.  For example there are no Aspen trees - so the color is much different. The Alps have a much more rapid increase in elevation but are not as high as the Rockies.

June in the Alps is glorious with all of the lush green mountain meadows full of wildflowers. The Rockies are more rugged and are really considered high desert, thus not so lush.

I can only compare the Alps with several skiing resorts around the Vail area.  In my opinion, the valleys in the Alps are much more narrow and the mountains appear to be definitely steeper. It's a completely different kind of vegetation and thus the color scheme is different.

But here is what is even more important:  In the Alps every valley has different variations of food, cheese, schnappses, dress, culture... because for centuries they were cut off from each other.  Winter weather made it impossible to "travel" and in summer you simply were too busy. So the Alps are all about the people, customs, foods and sometimes even the style of music that's important to experience in the Alps.

Just outside Beaver Creek, Colorado, I found a giant Walmart and something like a huge Home Depot around a big parking lot with plenty of other fast food places. Unlikely you'll find that in the Alps ;-)  They treat every corner of their country as if it is special.

We do the Canadian Rockies almost every year.  They are beautiful and you can never get tired of them, but I agree with others, the Alps are amazing.

They scream "Heidi" at me, the chalets with flower boxes (yes, really, not just on postcards) the cows in high meadows, the farmers out on hill sides raking their hay in by hand (a machine might tumble over on the slope I suppose).

I would say the Rockies are a bit more rugged.  And there is a wilderness to the Rockies - deer, mountain lion, bear, and elk, plus so many other animals. Have never seen wildlife in the Alps.

I liked the hiking we did around Zermatt, so many well marked trails, and I loved being able to go on my own for a day hike and not worry about the cougars or bears in our Rockies!

Based on the area you hike in Colorado, you don't see a lot of glaciers...but where we hiked in Switzerland, it's almost a common sight (although they are melting at an alarming rate).

The high lakes are amazing in both places, and the snow-capped Rockies, with miles and miles of mountains are wondrous. In Switzerland, you can hike from town to town, in the Rockies, that's almost impossible!  Hiking in Switzerland, you come upon little cafes...not so in Colorado.  Hope this helps just a little.

The mountains in Switzerland are much more dramatic. The higher villages are so amazingly pristine! You can be hiking and see dramatic snow capped peaks.  You get closer and in front of the mountain are flower covered meadows with cows grazing with their cowbells singing!  It's magical.

The main difference for me is the loneliness.  In the Rockies you just don't see the human influence over centuries .  On the other hand, the Alps are teeming with culture and civilization.  In the valleys, there is another town every mile.  I can see why - the Alps are very beautiful and offer a very laid back style of living.

If I had to pick a place to retire today, it would probably be somewhere in the Swiss Alps. I love the Rockies but just a different feeling comes over me when in the Alps.

If you love the mountains, you must go see the Alps.

Well, what do you think?  Are you ready to give live in the Alps?  

These two recollections indicate that living space is so precious that the Swiss treasure every single inch.  They make conscious decisions how much of the forest to let stand and how much to convert to agriculture.  This isn't just a Swiss habit either. 

In many parts of Europe, they have so little land that they take great pride to beautify and protect what they have.  They treat their rivers with reverence.  They make sure their homes and buildings are well maintained.  They have an obsession with clean streets and fresh paint.  They treat forests as a national treasure and they wouldn't dream of putting up billboards in public areas.   At least that's my impression.

Here in America, we have so much land that it never dawns on us to maximize its beauty and value.  We haven't developed that attitude that 'America the Beautiful' should be a way of life.

So, did you guess that MCO and LIE stand for Monaco and Liechtenstein?  If so, then you should be ready for my next challenge.  How well do you know your European rivers?

The picture above and below are both pictures of the area around Andermatt, my adopted Swiss town.  From what I gather, there are postcard pretty hamlets like Andermatt spread throughout Switzerland.   I have to say the pictures I found for this story have led me to conclude that Switzerland fully deserves its reputation as one of the world's most beautiful countries.  What a treasure. 

This picture below is also Andermatt.  Lovely.

Rick's European River Quiz

Any discussion of European geography must begin with the Swiss Alps.  Switzerland is acknowledged as the water reservoir of Europe. The snow melt and rainwater descending from these mountains give birth to four major Alpine rivers - Italy's Po, Germany's Rhine, Austria's Danube, and France's Rhône

So how much do you know about Alpine rivers?  Here are some trivia questions.  By the way, expect to struggle. After all, you live in America, not Europe.  One of the major reasons many of us like to travel to Europe is to learn about the parts of the world our ancestors came from.  Now let's see what you already know.

Question 01:  North, East, South, West... which one of these four directions gets left out in the Alpine river sweepstakes? 

Question 02:  Rhine, Danube, Po, Rhône... which of these rivers does not originate in the Swiss Alps?

Question 03:  Can you name the only river originating in the Swiss Alps that empties its waters into the Black Sea? 

Question 04:  What mountain range marks the eastern border of the European continent?

Question 05:  Var, Adige and Piave.  What is the significance of these three Swiss rivers which you probably have never heard of?

Question 06:  Aare, Thur, Reuss... these rivers are tributaries of which major Alpine river?  (Hint: Look at the map)

Question 07:  Durance, Drôme, Isère... these rivers are tributaries of which major Alpine river?

Question 08:  Sava, Drava, Mur, Enns, Inn... these rivers are tributaries of which major Alpine river?

Question 09:  Oglio, Adda, Ticino, Dora Baltea... these rivers are tributaries of which major Alpine river?

Question 10:  Are the Rhine and the Danube connected?

Question 11:  Can a boat go directly from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea by crossing the European continent? 

Question 12:  Here's a strange one.  Out of the Big Four, which major Alpine river has begun to steal the headwaters of which other major Alpine river?

Question 13:  There is one European river that appears in more crossword puzzles than all the other European rivers put together.  Can you name it?

Question 14:  Bug, Ill, Don, Ems, Lys, Oka, Tay, Alma, Avon, Kama, Main, Oise, Ouse, Oder, Yalu, Yser... these are all legitimate names of European rivers except for one. 
Which is the odd river of the bunch?  Can you guess it? 

Question 15:  Can a boat reach Stockholm, Sweden, from Istanbul in the Black Sea without using the Mediterranean Sea?


01 - None of the four major rivers flow west.

02 -
Surely you named the Danube, but did you remember the Po? Both receive most of their waters from the Swiss Alps, but neither the Danube or Po actually originate in the Swiss Alps.

03 -
The Inn River is Austria's longest river; it flows through Innsbruck and connects to the Danube at Passau, Germany.  The Danube doesn't count because it starts in the Black Forest.

The Ural Mountains of Russia separate Europe from Asia.

The Var, Adige and Piave are the only rivers originating in the Swiss Alps that do not connect to the Rhine, Rhône, Danube or Po.  The Var empties into the Mediterranean Sea very close to the Rhône.  The Adige and Piave empty into the Adriatic Sea.

06:  Aare, Thur, Reuss
are tributaries of the Rhine.

07:  Durance, Drôme, Isère
are tributaries of the Rhône.

08:  Sava, Drava, Mur, Enns, Inn
are tributaries of the Danube.

09:  Oglio, Adda, Ticino, Dora Baltea are tributaries of the Po.
10:  Are the Rhine and the Danube connected?  Yes. There is a twisty river called the Main which winds its way east through the Black Forest to connect to the Rhine.  The Rhine-Main-Danube canal connects these two major waterways near Nuremberg.  There are 15-day trips that connect Amsterdam to Budapest.

I saw a listing for a Rhine-Rhône river cruise so I checked.  There is a Rhine-Rhône canal just north of Basel which allows a riverboat to make it all the way from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.  It connects the Rhine to the Doubs River which connects to the Saone River which connects to the Rhône

12:   The Danube sinkhole is an underground river which secretly steals water from the Danube and gives it to the Rhine.  This sinkhole is 10 miles east of the current source of the Danube. This is known as "stream capture".  The Rhine will someday completely own the headwaters of the Danube and the Danube just have to find someplace else to "begin".

If you solve crossword puzzles, then surely you have heard of the Swiss river known as the "Aar" and the "Aare". 

14:  The Yalu is a border river between North Korea and China.

15:  The Europeans have connected the entire continent via canals.  That includes the Russians who have created the Volga-Don Waterway.  This waterway connects the Neva River of St. Petersburg (see red star) on the edge of the Baltic Sea near Finland to the Volga, Europe's longest river.

Believe it or not, the ancient Vikings used to make the same trip in the 8th-11th centuries before there were any canals! (Russia 2012: Vikings)

 a river cruise leaving Istanbul in Turkey will take 28 days to reach St. Petersburg.  By the way, don't forget to wave at Vladimir Putin as you pass Crimea on the Black Sea.  They say war is God's way of teaching us geography.  That certainly is true of Crimea.

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.  It takes 14 days to sail by riverboat from Amsterdam to Budapest.

Once upon a time there was the Orient Express linking Paris to Istanbul.  This modern 21-day river cruise from Amsterdam to the Black Sea is virtually the same length as the train ride. 

The Source of the Rhine River

Tiny Lake Toma, not even 200 yards wide, is the acknowledged source of the Rhine River

If you are a bird, Lake Toma is a mere 3.5 miles away from Reuss River in the next valley.  However, if you prefer to hike, the trail from Reuss River via the Oberalp Pass is 6 miles.

The peak of Rossbodenstock is only a few hundred yards away from Lake Toma.  Depending on where the snow falls on that peak, when it melts, the snowflake will become the Rhine River or the Reuss River

The Reuss River runs straight through the lovely village of Andermatt, population 1,300.  

As this article will make clear, if you have a good raft, a nine mile walk from Andermatt in any direction will get you a free ride to the North Sea, the Black Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. 

This assumes you don't mind going over the occasional waterfall. 

The valley below Tomasee (Lake Toma) is the acknowledged source of the Rhine.  That said, the waters of nearby Lake Curnara also drain to the Rhine.
Indeed, there is a huge network of a dozen lakes and countless brooks and streams that should all be considered "sources" of the Rhine.
Lake Toma gets the nod as "The Source" because it is higher than any other contributing body of water. 

Lake Toma and Friends

The Rhine River begins its 776 mile journey to the North Sea high up in the Swiss Alps

There is a wonderful web site titled Riverama that gives an outstanding presentation on the source of the Rhine.

The official source of the Rhine is at Toma Lake, aka Lac de Toma (French), lai da Tuma  (Romansh), Lago di Toma (Italian) and Tomasee (German).

Why five names?  Since Switzerland is the center of a wagon wheel of nations, every country has its own name for Toma.  Incidentally, "Romansh" is the name for the Swiss language.

Lake Toma is 7,700 feet above sea level. 


Everyone agrees that naming Lake Toma as THE SOURCE is a bit of a joke.  After all, Toma is the smallest lake in a network of brooks and lakes that contribute their waters to a Rhine tributary known as the Vorderrhein (Anterior Rhine: "Front Rhine")

The Medel River (map on right) is just as large as the Vorderrhein. However, once its waters merge with the waters coming down from Lake Toma, etc, at a town known as Disentis, the Medel River becomes part of the Vorderrhein as well. 


The Rhine is said to have two main tributaries: the Vorderrhein and the Hinterrhein (Back Rhine).

Compared to the Vorderrhein, the Hinterrhein (map below) is shorter in length but much bigger by volume.  The rivers merge at the town of Bonaduz.

There is also a third tributary named
Valser Rhine which merges with the Vorderrhein at Ilanz

The map below gives an idea why the Vorderrhein is considered the "front" part of the river.  Starting at Lake Toma near Andermatt, it keeps a straight line.

  I have never figured out how they decide who the "winner" is when two equal rivers meet. One has to surrender its name. I suppose it is like getting married... custom suggests the lady yields
her surname in the man's favor.

When two rivers meet, it seems like whichever river comes closest to maintaining its original direction gets the nod. 

In this case, neither "name" wins.  After the Front Rhine and the Back Rhine merge, the Rhine name finally emerges on its own.


The map on the left does a nice job showing how the Front Rhine and the Back Rhine intersect.   The map on the right shows how the Rhine forms the Swiss border for Austria and Germany.  In the eastern part, the Rhine passes by the tiny country of Liechtenstein.

Where will the Snowflake Go?

The Swiss Alps are the birthplace of many European rivers.  Interestingly, many of these rivers start within a few miles of each other, sometimes even closer!

The picture on the right shows the Inn River (flows through St. Moritz and Innsbruck) entering the Danube.  The Mera River flows down to Lake Como. It eventually connects to Italy's Po River via the Adda River flowing from Lake Como.

The next map shows two streams that are the source for the Inn and the Mera that start 800 yards apart and end up 800 miles apart. 

I am not quite sure why I am so fascinated by these Alpine Rivers, but it tickles me no end to think that a snowflake that is windblown a few feet in either direction can end up in the Black Sea or the Adriatic Sea.

I found several similar examples of adjacent river sources.  But first, here's a trivia question for you.  The sources of 2 famous United States rivers are only 12 miles apart in the Rocky Mountains.  One ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, the other in the Pacific Ocean.  Want to take a guess?

One of the things that made it fun to search the Alps for river sources was Google Earth.  The valleys are so dramatic - very wide and very deep - that it is easy to spot a river's path within the maze-like Swiss Alps. 

Earlier we studied the source of the Rhine.  Now let's look at other rivers.

The Amazing Maze-Like Valleys of the Alps

The moment I saw the picture on the right, I was struck by how the valleys create a clearly defined Maze when seen from above. I was reminded of a maze I once solved known as The Glaciers.

By the way, it isn't tough.  Give it a shot!

Trivia Question Answer:
  30 miles due west of Fort Collins, Colorado, the Colorado River and Kelly Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River, originate on either side of Clark Peak.  They are only 12 miles apart.  This is the only example I could find where the Rocky Mountains spawn adjacent rivers like the Swiss Alps.  Do you know of any others?

The Swiss have built an entire lifestyle around their amazing valleys.  Because they have so little space that is habitable, they treat what they do have with reverence.

So what creates these valleys?  The original volcanic eruptions created ravines and depressions which have been enhanced over the eons by river water.  The Swiss have lots of water.  While the territory of Switzerland represents a mere four thousandths of the continent's total area, 6% of all Europe's freshwater reserves are stored in Switzerland. 

One of the interesting features of these valleys is how deep and well-defined they are looking down using Google Earth.  It helps me spot where a new river must be. 

For my next section about the Valleys of Switzerland and their rivers, we need to revisit Andermatt.  If you recall, Andermatt is a small village located in a valley high in the south-central Alps just north of the border with Italy. Its population is only 1,500.

As one can readily see from the pictures, Andermatt is a stunningly beautiful little village in a stunningly beautiful valley. What makes Andermatt useful is that it within walking distance of the source of the
Rhine.  We will be using Andermatt to help keep track of various rivers.

According to Wikipedia, Andermatt serves as a true crossroads for both East and West as well as North and South.

Since the town is surrounded by four major Alpine passes: the Oberalp Pass to the East, the St. Gotthard Pass to the South, the Furka Pass to the West, as well as the Göschenertal Pass to the North, Andermatt is important for automobile travel.

Route 2 which goes straight through Andermatt is the most important North-South road in Switzerland.  It connects Italy to Germany. Route 2 uses the famous Gotthard Pass which is 3 miles south on the Italy side of Andermatt.  This vital artery connects the northern German-speaking part of Switzerland with the Italian-speaking part on the route to Milan. 

In the old days, cars had to drive over the pass.  I can imagine that was tough during snowfall.  Fortunately these days life is easier due the Gotthard Road Tunnel.  In response to the automobile boom in Switzerland and the popularity of Italy as a travel resort, the Swiss government gave approval in July 1969 for the construction of the 16-kilometer Gotthard Road tunnel. This would provide year-round road link between central Switzerland and Milan to be used in place of driving over the Gotthard Pass.

The Gotthard Road Tunnel in Switzerland runs from Göschenen to Airolo, Italy. It runs 10 miles in length below the St. Gotthard Pass.  At the time it was built, the tunnel was longer than any existing road tunnel. Today it still the third-longest road tunnel in the world after China's Zhongnanshan Tunnel and Norway's Lærdal Tunnel.

Andermatt is just as important for rail traffic.  The Gotthard Railway Tunnel was built 100 years before the Road Tunnel. The two tunnels are parallel to each other. 

The Gotthard railway is the Swiss trans-alpine railway line from northern Switzerland to the canton of Ticino. The line forms a major part of an important international railway link between northern Europe, especially Germany, and Italy. 

At the moment, they are expanding the railway tunnel in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The new part is expected to open in 2016.  With a route length of 35 miles and a total of 94 miles of tunnels, shafts and passages, it will be the world's longest rail tunnel. 

Getting back to that theme of "space is precious", I found it curious how precisely the Swiss measure their environment. 

Read this. 

I just can't get over how "maze-like" the mountains and valleys appear from above.  Every one of the deepest valleys has a river important to the Swiss.  As you can see, the southern part of the Alps drains into a series of large, beautiful lakes in northern Italy. 

Maggiore, Lugano, and Como drain to the Po River
Lake Garda drains to the
Adige River.

Sixty percent of Switzerland is mountainous.  Like the people of the Andes and the Himalayas, the Swiss find a way to build homes. 

Every Swiss valley has a river.  Follow the river and you will find a village.

The Swiss have no choice. Where there's a valley, there's a village.

Andermatt has an area of 24 sq miles.  Of this area, 40.8% is used for agricultural purposes, while 5.5% is forested.

Of the rest of the land, 1.7% is settled (buildings or roads) and the remainder (52%) is non-productive (rivers, glaciers or mountains).

In the 1993/97 land survey, 0.4% of the total land area was heavily forested, while 5.1% is covered in small trees and shrubbery. Of the agricultural land, 4.3% is used for orchards or vine crops and 36.5% is used for alpine pastures.

Of the settled areas, 0.5% is covered with buildings, and 1.1% is transportation infrastructure.

Of the unproductive areas, 0.5% is unproductive standing water (ponds or lakes), 1.0% is unproductive flowing water (rivers), there is 30.9% that is too rocky for vegetation, and 19.7% is other unproductive land.

Living space is so precious and tight that the Swiss measure precisely to the inch. They make conscious decisions how much is farm and how much is forest.

Can you imagine calling "flowing water" unproductive?  They have so much water they just want to get rid of it!

Meanwhile there seems to be no wasted space in the Swiss valleys.  Every single spot of farmable land is cherished dearly.

Isn't it amazing how this valley seems almost "carpeted"?   To me, one difference between Rocky Mountain valleys and Swiss valleys is how much "greener" the Swiss valleys are. 

There is an amusing rumor that it is impossible to get lost in Switzerland.  No matter where you go, there's bound to be another village a mile away or one you can see from the top of a mountain.  First find a mountain, then find a valley. Within one mile you will find a village.

Andermatt's valley is the perfect example.  First comes Andermatt is followed by Göschenen further down the road which followed by Wassen, Gurtnellen, Erstfeld, and Altdorf.  


From: Bill Devine
Sent: Sunday, November 6, 2016 1:46 PM
Subject: Yellowstone & Snake Rivers


Hi Rick,

I was reading your article “Swiss Rivers” on today.  It’s a long story how I ended up there, but I’m glad I did.  The article was very informative and very interesting.  Part way thru, you had a trivia question:

Trivia Question Answer:  30 miles due west of Fort Collins, Colorado, the Colorado River and Kelly Creek, a tributary of the North Platte River, originate on either side of Clark Peak.  They are only 12 miles apart.  This is the only example I could find where the Rocky Mountains spawn adjacent rivers like the Swiss Alps.  Do you know of any others?

I wanted to answer, but you didn’t include an email address.  But I finally tracked you down.

Yet another example of where the Rocky mountains spawn adjacent river like the Swiss Alps is in northwestern Wyoming. In the southeastern corner of Yellowstone Nat’l Park, two important rivers start their lives just a few miles away from one another in the Absaroka Range on the Continental Divide. They are the Snake and Yellowstone Rivers.  The Snake flows 1,040 miles west to the Pacific (after joining the Columbia), while the Yellowstone flows east 692 miles before it joins the Missouri River, which later joins the Mississippi and flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Even more interesting is the story of Isa Lake which I read about years ago in a travel guide – Frommer’s, I think. I no longer have the guide book, but here’s what I wrote in my post-trip journal:


My Favorite Lake

You would naturally assume that my favorite lake would be either Lake Jackson or Lake Yellowstone, right?  Wrong.  My favorite lake was Isa Lake. 

Bet you never heard of it!  And with good reason.  It’s the saddest excuse for a lake I’ve ever seen.  If truth be known, it’s really a small puddle.  In fact, the first two attempts I made to locate it ended in failure.  But I still love it!  Tiny though it is, it’s not insignificant:  it sits astride the continental divide at Craig Pass, a place that, while 8,262 feet high, is nonetheless quite flat.  So flat, in fact, that water flows out both ends of this “lake.”

Now, while that is a bit unusual, it’s not exactly earth-shattering.  What is exciting (to me anyway!) is where that overflowing water goes to.  You see, water flowing out of one end of the lake flows into the Pacific Ocean, while water flowing out of the other end eventually reaches the Atlantic.

But, that’s not all!  It’s the water that flows out of the west end of the lake that later flows east into the Atlantic, and the water flowing out of the east end of the lake that reaches the Pacific!

Yellowstone  058.jpg

Isa Lake at Craig Pass



A Valley in The Swiss Maze
Reveals a Mystery River

Over the years, I have had more fun than a boy should be allowed playing with Google EarthGoogle Earth is sheer magic.  For this story, Google Earth allowed me to visit a Swiss valley so intimately I felt like I was almost there. 

If I had one small complaint, Google Earth does not like rivers.  For the life of me, I cannot find any function that labels the river names.  It drives me crazy, especially because my story is about the Rivers of Switzerland. 

However, on the other hand, the "Not Knowing" made for a wonderful game while writing this story.  I see a valley.  Therefore there is a river.  What is the name of the river?  

Then I go over to Google Maps which does label the rivers.  After finding the right spot on Google Maps, I can identify the river in question.  Now my next goal is to figure out where it begins.  Using Google Maps, I trace the river to its source.  Then I go find the spot spot on Google Earth.  While researching this story, I went through this same procedure SIX TIMES!

Would you like to play along with me?  As one can see, in the area around Andermatt, there are all kinds of valleys.  I made it my goal to identify the river in each valley. 

In the map on the right, there is a curvy valley just above "Andermatt".  I went ahead and filled that valley in with a yellow line.  As one can see, the valley is heading south towards Italy.  I have no idea what the hidden river might be, but I am curious. 

Looking at the map, my first clue is that Airolo is part of the mystery valley.  So I Google "Airolo".

I learn that Airolo is a small Swiss town 7 miles due south of Andermatt.  Airolo is separated from Andermatt by giant mountains known as the Lepontine Alps.  I learn that there is a pass through those mountains known as Gotthard Pass.  I also learned that Airolo is the starting point for the Gotthard Pass Road Tunnel that goes underneath those mountains.

And I also find what I am looking for: The name of the river of this valley is the Ticino River

Please look at the map on the right.  Using Google Maps, I have traced the Ticino River to its source (Red Star 3).  Using my map ruler, I find that the source of the Ticino River  is 10 miles to the west of Airolo.

Then I study the area.  I learn is that we are really close to the Swiss-Italian border (Red Star 1).

The second thing I learn is the largest lake in the picture is Griessee (Red Star 2).  Lakes are useful because Wikipedia usually has a listing for most lakes.  I file that away for later.

Notice the small blue streams around the Red Star 3.  Each stream is a tiny tributary.  They all come together to form the headwaters of the Ticino River.  In dealing with the Rhine and now the Ticino, I realized that a river rarely has one particular spot as its source, but rather a spider web network of small brooks and streams that seek the lowest point in the valley.   

Red Star 4 is where I identified "Nufenen" as the likely name of the mountain pass that marks the start of the Ticino River.   "Nufenenstrasse" is German for Nufenen Street.

Red Star 5 indicates that the largest Alpine mountain in the area is Pizzo Gallina.  It took me a while to figure this out, but the words Piz, Pix, and Pizzo represent the English word "Peak". 

Red Star 6 shows a dotted line represents the highest ridge of a series of Alpine peaks.  As I would come to learn, when two snowflakes fall on the opposite side of a dotted line, they end up floating down different rivers going in opposite directions. 


Armed with this Google Map information, now I go back to Google Earth.

Red Star 1 in the Google Earth map is Griessee, or Lake Gries.

Red Star 3 is Pizzo Gallina, or Gallino Peak. 

Red Star 6 shows Airolo in the distance.

As usual with Google Earth, there is no sign of the river name.  However, where there is a valley, there will be a river and a road.  That yellow road surely parallels the Ticino River.

Red Star 5 shows a faint white line that denotes the upper ridge of a chain of mountains.  Earlier this same white was a "Dotted Line" in Google Maps.  This white line crosses Nufenen Pass and heads over to Gallina Peak, then on to the entire chain of the Lepontine Alps which parallel the valley.

Now I decide it is time to learn more about the Ticino River, so I Google "Ticino" and find its Wikipedia listing.

The Ticino river is a river that originates in the Alps, near Nufenen Pass.  It then flows through the Swiss canton of Ticino and northern Italy. The Ticino river flows through Lake Maggiore, then later it flows into the river Po, near Pavia. It is 270 km (167 miles) long. 

The Canton (State) of Ticino is the southernmost canton of Switzerland. Named after the Ticino river, it is the only canton where Italian is the sole official language and represents the bulk of the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland along with the southern sections of Graubünden.

In ancient times, the area of what is today Ticino was settled by the Lepontii, a Celtic tribe.

Later, probably around the rule of Augustus, it became part of the Roman Empire.   Ticino was the location of the Battle of Ticinus, the first battle of the Second Punic War fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio in November 218 BC.

After the fall of the Western Empire, this area was ruled by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards and the Franks.

In the 15th century, the Swiss Confederates conquered several valleys south of the Alps in three separate conquests.  At this time, the lands now occupied by the "Ticino Canton" were annexed from Italian cities.  The lands of the canton of Ticino were the last lands to be conquered by the Swiss Confederation

Okay, so now I know why all the names along the Ticino sound Italian... this area was once Italian.  I imagine that chain of mountains known as the Lepontine Alps was once the borderline between Switzerland and Italy. 

This tidbit explains why most of Switzerland speaks German, but the region south of the Lepontines speak mostly Italian... sort of the same reason why half of Texas, USA, speaks Mexican. 

I also learn that the Ticino River is the most important tributary of the Po River coming from the Alps.

I knew that Hannibal had crossed the Alps with his elephants to attack Italy, but it gave me goosebumps to realize this valley was the actual location of a major battle.  Very cool.

Nufenen Pass is the second highest mountain pass with a paved road within Switzerland. It lies between the summits of Pizzo Gallina (north) and the Nufenestock (south).

The pass road from Ulrichen in canton of Valais leads to the Bedretto valley in the canton of Ticino, linking Brig to Airolo.

The pass is of relatively recent construction, having been opened to traffic only since September 1969.

There is a spectacular view to the southwest of the Bernese Alps (Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks) notably the Finsteraarhorn while there is a view over the Gries Glacier to the south.

To the east of the top of the Nufenen Pass is the source of the Ticino River.  

I have learned 3 new things.  First, the name of the Ticino River valley is Bedretto.  Second, the source of the Ticino is confirmed.

Third, I just got an idea.  Each Pass seems to mark the start of a valley.  Now I realized that I might find river sources by looking for mountain passes.  Hmm.  I already knew the Oberalp Pass marked the start of the Rhine River. Now I have just learned the Nufenen mountain pass led to the Ticino River.  What about Gotthard Pass?  What did it lead to?  And Furka Pass?

This historical picture shows the Swiss town of Airolo has a distinctive "Italian" look to it and that it is located at the foot of Gotthard Pass.

Red Star 3 identifies the name of my mystery river.  The source of the Ticino turns out to be 10 miles to the west of Airolo. 

This Google Earth Map shows what the Red Stars look like when seen from a bird's eye view. 

Bedretto Valley.  The white capped mountain at the top of the picture
marks Nufenen Pass, the source of the Ticino River.  And just where is our star river in the picture?  One needs to remember it is a baby river that was just born a couple miles further up the valley.  I have little doubt there is a stream hiding there in the shadows.

Once I confirmed that "Nufenen" was the name of the pass where the Ticino finds its source, I Googled "Nufenen".  That is how I learned there are FOUR MAJOR MOUNTAIN PASSES in the Andermatt area.  I already knew about Gotthard, Oberalp, and Nufenen... but what about this Furka Pass?   Hmm.

in the

Neufenen Pass had given birth to the Ticino RiverOberalp Pass had given birth to the Rhine River.

What about Gotthard Pass?  And what about Furka Pass?

So I took another look at Gotthard Pass.  Its waters clearly would go straight to Andermatt

The more I stared at Andermatt, I realized it was in the center of an unusually large valley with six distinct valleys aimed right at it.  It crossed my mind that each of those 6 valleys had to be sending serious amounts of water toward Andermatt.

So I Googled "Andermatt Valley".  Below is a picture I found.  Those winding roads at the top center of the picture plus the length of the valley helped me figure out that was Furka Pass

I wonder what river goes from Furka Pass to Andermatt?


Since I knew exactly where Andermatt was on Google Maps, it didn't take long to figure it out. 

The newest mystery river was the Reuss River.

The Reuss had four major tributaries: The Furka Reuss, the Gotthard Reuss, the Unteralp Reuss and the Oberalp Reuss.  All four merged in or near Andermatt and reemerged from Andermatt as one river.

I learned that the long valley to the right (west) of Andermatt is called the Furka Valley

Furka Valley is a typical Swiss valley... long, narrow, a road following the river banks, and one new village every mile or so. 

The valley south of Andermatt is the Reuss Valley.  The Reuss Valley features the Gotthard Railway which crosses north to south through central Switzerland. 

It is the main artery between Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. 

I thought it was interesting to find that Lake Toma, the source of the Rhine, and Andermatt, the source of the Reuss, are just four miles apart at the Oberalp Pass

From above, the deep valleys certainly resemble a maze.

So is it possible to get lost in this maze? 

We know that Water will always find a way out, but could someone get totally disoriented and go hopelessly astray?   Cheer up.  No one can get lost in Switzerland.

Just go downhill till you find something.


The Snowflakes of the Reuss and Rhine

Here is the Reuss River going straight through Andermatt.  

Earlier we learned that two Swiss rivers - The Inn and the Mera - start 800 yards apart and end up 800 miles apart. 

The Reuss and the Rhine do just the opposite.  After starting more or less side by side in Andermatt, they will merge a long way away on the other side of Switzerland.

Even without a map or any signs, I believe you and I could be dropped from the sky into Andermatt and be able to find the edge of Germany without any trouble. 

In fact, I think it would be easy.  All we have to do is find the river of the valley and head DOWN.  How hard is that?

In fact, we could separate and follow our own river with the intention of meeting again in North Switzerland.

Since the Swiss love to hike, you and I could each hike along the path of the river.

Since this was my idea, I get first pick.  I would pick the Reuss and follow the river through the valley till it connected to the Rhine on the German border.

Since it is a direct downhill shot 70 miles away, I might just get a float and pretend I am the Swiss Huck Finn. 

As for you, since I am a good sport, I would let you have the famous Rhine.

You would begin by climbing 5 miles up the Oberalp Pass... hard work I would imagine. 

Then you could walk over to Lake Toma and begin following the Rhine around the east side of Switzerland.

I suppose I would have enough time to enjoy a couple beers till you got there.  Your trip would be 160 miles. 


in the


When I stared down at the maze of valleys from above, there was one formation that was impossible to overlook.

There was a deep trench that extended across practically the entire width of Switzerland.  Switzerland is not a large country.  It is 137 miles at its longest north to south point and 216 miles wide.  I measured the trench.  It came out to 130 miles.

From the sky, it looked like one long river. I stared and stared and finally I had to know what it was.


So I zoomed in with Google Earth.

I gasped with delight. I had just made a grand discovery

It turned out that this long stretch was not one river, but two.

To the east was the Rhine River.
To the west was the Rhône River.

I was certain I
was looking at
the Rhine and
the Rhône with their backs to
one another.  


I started with Google Earth by zooming in at Andermatt

I quickly discovered I was looking at the Rhine in one direction, so I reversed direction.  I went to the end of the Furka Valley and stumbled on a huge set of pictures posted on Google Earth at the Furka Pass.

The first picture I clicked said "auf dem Rhônegletscher". 

Obviously this was something called the Rhône Glacier. That wasn't difficult.  Now it was time for Wikipedia. 

The Rhône Glacier (German: Rhônegletscher) is a glacier in the Swiss Alps and the source of the river Rhône.

The glacier is a primary contributor to Lake Geneva in the far eastern end of the Swiss canton of Valais.  Because the Glacier is located close to the Furka Pass road, it is easily accessible.

I was so proud of myself.  I had accidentally located the source of the Rhône.  Unlike the Ticino and the Reuss which had required at least some digging, the Rhône gave itself up quickly.

So there it is.  That's a picture of the Rhône Glacier.  One can also see some of the road at Furka Pass and the beginning of the Rhône River

I loved that picture until I learned a disturbing fact.  Because the highway is perched just a few feet from the side of Switzerland's largest glacier, this kind of accessibility also makes the Rhône Glacier Switzerland's most researched glacier. 

The evolution of the Rhône Glacier has been observed and measured since the 19th century. In the old days, the glacier extended deep into the valley.  Not any more.  The glacier lost 1300 meters of ice and snow during the last 120 years, leaving behind a track of naked stone.

Look for yourself.


As one can see, the Rhône heads towards the Matterhorn and Lake Geneva in the SW corner of Switzerland.

The Furka Pass and the Rhône Glacier is located nine miles west of Andermatt.  The ridge along nearby Furkahorn Mountain acts as a watershed divide

A watershed zone is the water drained by a main river plus all its tributaries.

The five largest river basins (by area), from largest to smallest, are the Amazon basin, the River Plate basin (Uruguay), the Congo basin, the Nile basin, and the Mississippi basin. The three rivers that drain the most water are the Amazon, Ganges (India), and Congo rivers.

The Mississippi watershed ranks fourth. No European River comes close to matching the Mississippi River, not even the Danube or the Volga. 

seems to be in the middle of everything. Every road, every pass and every river - Rhine, Rhône, Reuss, and Ticino

Now it turns out that our friend Andermatt is situated right on the spot where the snowflakes have their choice of 3 directions - North (via the Rhine and its tributary the Reuss), Southeast (via the Po and its tributary Ticino), and Southwest (Rhône)

By the way, there are a lot of snowflakes that fall in AndermattAndermatt receives heavy snowfall.  I believe there are two ski resorts in the area.  If you are curious, here's an interesting story on skiing in Andermatt.  It turns out Andermatt has its share of problems too.  Don't we all?

Furka Pass

Furka Pass is an interesting place.  I am fascinated by the thought that a snowflake changing its course by a few feet could end up in one of two spots 600 miles apart.

Since the Reuss River ends up connecting with the Rhine River on the north side of Switzerland, that means any snow falling east of Furka Pass goes to the frigid North Sea in Rotterdam or Amsterdam via the Rhine River.  Aufwiedersehen!

Since the source of the Rhône is on the west side of Furka Pass, it gets to float down the Rhône and take a vacation in the warm, sunny Mediterranean Sea at Marseilles, France.  Personally, if I am a snowflake, I am doing whatever I can to make to the Mediterranean Sea side of the Furka Pass.  Au Revoir!

And if that snowflake drifts six miles south to the Ticino River, it would end up in the Adriatic Sea via the Ticino, Lake Maggiore, and the Po River.  Arrivederci!


A New Mystery River !!

While I was poking around the Internet for more information about Furka Pass and the Rhône Glacier, I came across this picture. 

It was taken by a man on a motorbike who was crossing all the different mountain passes in the area. 

This picture was captioned:

"Taken from Furka Pass on way to Grimselsee Pass"

I knew the word "See" was German for "Lake".  Obviously that was Lake Grimsel.  But I had never heard of Grimsel Pass before.  Where is Grimsel Pass?  Better check it out.  Wikipedia, Map or Google Earth?  I decided to try Google Earth first. 

I went to Google Earth and zoomed in on Furka Pass.  To my consternation, I noticed that Furka Pass was a lot more complicated than I had realized. 

Right past the Rhône Glacier, the Furka Pass forked off in two directions.  One direction led to the Rhône Valley

The other direction led to some dark place.  Would could that be?  Now it was time for Wikipedia.

Wikipedia had two paragraphs on Grimselsee Pass.  Here is one of them:

Grimselsee Pass connects the valley of the river Rhône in the canton of Valais with the Haslital (upper valley of the river Aar) in the canton of Bern.   It is located near the source of the Rhône at the Rhône Glacier.

The Aar River?  Oh, be still my beating heart!!

They must be talking about the Aare River!!  The Aare River has been my favorite river in the world for the past 20 years.  I will explain why shortly.

I had no idea the Aare River was in this vicinity. I had not even been looking for it.  My original reason for visiting Switzerland via Google Earth had simply been to take a look at the Rhine.

And now look what I stumbled upon... my favorite river in the world.

Now it was time for Google Maps.  The first thing I noticed was that Furka Pass did indeed branch off to the north (Aare) as well as the south (Rhône). 

The second thing I noticed was that the Rhône Glacier seemed to be encircled on the three sides by dotted lines. 

If I interpreted that correctly, Furka Pass was wider than I realized.  It had to cross the Rhône glacier to get to the other side. 

So I went back and measured it.  Holy cow, that glacier was 3 miles wide!

The third and fourth thing I confirmed was that my newest mystery valley was indeed the home of the Aare and that Lake Grimsel was considered the true source of the Aar.

Here is a closer look at Furka Pass. The area between the two sets of jagged lines (those are roads), is three miles wide.  There is some very unusual geology in this picture of Furka Pass.

It turns out this exact spot is the source of not one, not two, but THREE different rivers -
Rhône, Reuss, and now the Aare River.  If the snowflake falls to the right, it goes to the Reuss. If it falls in the middle, it goes to the Rhône.  If it falls to the left, it goes north down the Aare.

Using Google Earth, I studied the Aare Valley.

Unlike the other valleys, this one was not green and vibrant with a series of charming little villages spaced one mile apart. 

In fact, when viewed from above, the entire valley seemed deserted.  When I zoomed in, I discovered the valley is very narrow. 

In fact, the upper part is so rocky that it features a road and a river and not much else.

Consequently there is almost no farmland, thus very little population.  The upper Aare is a very rugged place indeed; it is quite reminiscent of areas in the Rocky Mountains.

About two miles down from the Grimsel Pass is the Handeck Hotel (pictured above).  This hotel is a lovely Swiss resort that looks like a pretty cool place to stay at.

The hotel is the ideal starting point for hikes and mountaineering tours.  You will pretty much have the mountains and the forests to yourself.  Since there are no towns anywhere near this place and this place is really hard to get to, the area is practically deserted. You could probably hike naked and no one would notice. 

The hotel features a spectacular swing bridge that crosses the valley.  But that bridge is tame compared to the Gelmer funicular.

A funicular is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending & descending vehicles counterbalance each other.  I imagine once you see the pictures you will think twice about trying it - the Gelmar is the steepest funicular in Europe.

If you are curious, I found some pretty pictures of the place to entice you.  Hotel Handeck

Here is a picture of the Aare near Innerkirchen.  What a place!  Until this spot, the Aare was practically deserted.

It was five miles from the top to reach the first village.  Guttanen was a little hamlet with only 300 people.  It turns out that the upper part of the Aar River is so desolate one might consider it "Heidi-Land".  There is the occasional chalet or cottage up in some mountain nook.  It's a good place to practice your yodeling. 

However, once you get to Interkirchen and Meiringen 10 miles down from the top, you get into a wide valley featuring Lake Brienz

There is some pretty amazing scenery in this area. For starters, there are the Bernese Alps featuring Finsteraarhorn and an array of other superstar peaks.

There is an unusual area known as the Aare Gorge that is interesting. The entire river has cut a tunnel in the soft rock and flows through that narrow hole.

And wait till you see the fortress on top of Reichenbach Falls!  OMG!!

So did your jaw drop?  Mine sure did.  Unbelievable.  This fortress over Reichenbach Falls looks like something from Lord of the Rings. 

Actually this is indeed computer-generated art created by the VFX company Framestore.  This imaginary fort atop the Reichenbach Falls was used in the movie 'A Game of Shadows'.  They copied elements of real castles and blended them in with this picture of the falls near the Aare River.



Tale of Two Rivers -

The Aare
and its Murderer

Rick's Note: If I have one regret about our Rhine trip, it would be the fact that I will miss seeing Switzerland's Aare River, my favorite river.  By they way, both spellings (Aar-Aare) are correct.

More than likely, most readers will ask themselves why anyone like me who lives in Houston, Texas, should care about some obscure river practically no one has ever heard of.

Obscure?  I think not.  Tell that to someone from Switzerland.  The Aar, or Aare, is actually the longest river in Switzerland.  More water drains from the Alps into the Aare than drains into the quite famous Rhine

For that matter, inside the borders of Switzerland, the Aare is by far the bigger river than the Rhine. The Aare is Switzerland's favorite river to play in.  There are countless river tube tours that travel down the Aare as well as a hugely popular bike trail that follows along the river's path.

So if the Aare is so damn important, then why is the Rhine famous and the Aare practically unheard of outside the borders of Switzerland?   Well, that's a sad tale we will get to shortly.

The first question to ask is why I like the Aare River so much. I give my daughter Samantha all the credit.  It was through her torture of her mother during childbirth that I got hooked on crossword puzzles... and it all started with the Aare.

In 1991, Samantha's mother Judy went into labor at 8 am.  Judy labored... and labored... and labored.  This went on forever.  That darn kid wouldn't come out!   I couldn't leave the room... the baby might pick that exact moment to make the final descent.

So I was stuck there for... get this... 15 hours!  Sam did not make her move till 11 pm that night.  But no one has ever given me an ounce of sympathy. I suppose that is because whatever small discomfort I felt was magnified a million times for Sam's mother.

My biggest problem was that I was bored.  Make that bored out of my mind.  When Judy said, "take me to the hospital NOW!" at 8 am, I grabbed the morning paper and got in the car.  Bad move.  I should have grabbed War and Peace instead.

I finished the paper at 9 am.  Now what?  I have nothing to read.

So I did a couple of puzzles in the paper to pass the time.  That took all of 10 minutes.  Finally I began to stare at the Crossword Puzzle.  I had never done a Crossword in my life.  Too busy.

Desperate for something to do, I began the Crossword puzzle.  It was harder than I expected!  My progress was slow; this puzzle really challenged me.   Normally I would have quit and walked away.  But this was the only game in town, so I stuck to it.

What really irritated me was there were all sorts of questions that left me baffled.  I distinctly remember one question that irritated me no end.  The question was "River to the Rhine".

I took German in high school.  One of our projects was to draw a detailed map of the country.  I knew the Rhine like the back of my hand.  I remembered the Neckar, Moselle and the Main were the most important tributaries of the Rhine.

However, the crossword puzzle name mysteriously started with "AA _ _".  What could the answer be?  I agonized over this clue.  Mind you, there wasn't any Internet to use to look it up.

To my eternal frustration, I never did completely finish that first puzzle.  Furthermore it was not until the answers appeared in the next day's paper that I got my answer.  The Aare River?  Never heard of it.  I looked it up in the Encyclopedia.  Sure enough, there it was. The Aare was the longest river in Switzerland.

No fair!  I had memorized German rivers, not Swiss rivers.  But I did like the fact that this Crossword puzzle had forced me to learn something new and interesting.  Hmm.  The Aare River

Sometimes I walk away from challenges that intrigue me. Golf, Guitar, Trivial Pursuits, Billiards, Surfing, Yo-Yos and Hula Hoops are activities I wanted to try, but passed on.  But this crossword puzzle had definitely gotten my attention.  To make a long story short, by the time Sam finally decided to enter the world, I was hooked on Crossword puzzles.  I began to do the crossword every day.  It was my new project.  I found I could give Sam her bottle with one hand and study the Crossword puzzle with the other.

To my surprise, the Aare River popped up in another crossword the following week.  Surely this was more than a coincidence. That was my first clue that there is a special crossword vocabulary.  As I came to learn, the 7 most common letters are e*t*a*o*i*n*s.  Note that four of those letters are vowels.  So certain short vowel-laden words become very useful to connect the larger words on a recurring basis.  The Aare is one of these special words

So I sat down and memorized a list of 300 useful Crossword clues like AARE, ESNE (an Anglo-Saxon slave), ERNE (sea eagle), TERN (bird), UTE, OTO, CREE (Indian tribes), ISAR, ISER, ISERE, YSER, ODER, EDER, and ELBE (more European rivers).

Sam is 22 now.  At this point, I suppose I am pretty good at crossword puzzles.  Crossword Puzzles have given me great satisfaction over the years... and I owe it all to the AARE River.

So imagine my disappointment when I learned the sad truth about the Aare.  Like brave Hector, hero of Troy, for a brief time the Aare would achieve great glory only to meet a cruel fate.

I looked at a map (see below).  In a manner similar to the Rhine and the Rhône, the Aare and the Rhine were born within ten miles of each other high up in the Swiss Alps. 

One headed east, one headed west.  The two rivers were destined to meet again 100 miles away on the opposite side of the country for the big showdown.   Only one would survive.

As the Aare made its long journey through Switzerland, one river after another merged with the Aare and surrendered its waters.  In fact, in a little town named Brugg, within the space of two miles, two major rivers - the Reuss and the Limmat - merged with the Aare to create a super river.

Alas, the glory of the Aare would be short-lived.  Just a mere 8 miles past Brugg, the Aare would find its nemesis waiting.  At the Swiss town of Koblenz on the northern border of Switzerland and Germany, the Aare had a head-on collision with the Rhine

The collision did not go well for the Aare. Even though the Aare was much larger, like David and Goliath, this made no difference. The Rhine got the inside edge and won the fight. 

This was the conclusion in the Tale of Two Rivers.  The Rhine had defeated the Aare. Like mighty Achilles, the Rhine would go on to achieve worldwide fame.  Like the vanquished Hector, the Aare would disappear into obscurity and crossword puzzles.

Switzerland's Rhine River hugs the eastern and northern border of the country.  Meanwhile, the Aare River cut a path straight through the heart of the country.  Here is a picture of the Aare as it flows through Bern, capital of Switzerland. 

Not one week goes by without spotting the Aare in a Crossword Puzzle

The glory moment of the Aare at Brugg
The merger of the
Reuss and Limmat turns the Aare into a super river.
This glory would be short-lived.  8 miles away the
Rhine awaits.

Tale of the Two Rivers - Gunfight at the Koblenz Corral
The name 'Koblenz' comes from Latin confluenza - flow together

Actually, I am not quite sure why the Rhine won the fight.
In this picture, it looks to me like the Aare has the better angle.


  Do I dare
  admit I care
  about a river so fair
  as the sparkling Aare?
  On a journey so rare
  It was hard to prepare
  to see my Aare
  go nowhere.  
  Could I only have taught her
  Beware of the other
  Thy death by Rhine water
  was unfortunate slaughter.

Furka Pass Revisited

It has been a long journey to this point, but I think we have reached the end.

My story about Swiss Rivers began with my desire to locate the source of the Rhine River

My original research led me to Andermatt since it was located just six miles from Lake Toma, source of the Rhine.

The more I stared at Andermatt using Google Earth from above, the more curious I became about the unusual valley patterns in the area.

The first unusual pattern near Andermatt led me to the Ticino River and the Nufenen Pass

Next I noticed a long trench that seemingly stretched unbroken across the entire country of Switzerland.

My curiosity about that trench led me to Furka Pass and the discovery of both the Rhône and the Reuss.  And then a random picture led me to the Aare.

The discovery of the Aare was pivotal.  It made me realize that Furka Pass, not Andermatt, was the true focal point of the water distribution for three major parts of Europe.

Furka Pass is three miles wide.  Within those three miles, three major rivers are sourced.  The Reuss (Switzerland's fourth largest river) and the Aare (second largest) head north.  The Reuss goes right through the center of the country while the Aare winds through the western part.  

Meanwhile the Rhine (largest river) makes its debut in Lake Toma 13 miles to the east and takes a roundabout path through the eastern part.

The Reuss and the Aare started three miles apart. They will merge at Brugg in the northern part of the country.  8 miles further north, the Aare-Reuss will merge with the Rhine.

Meanwhile the Rhône starts at Furka Pass and heads southwest.

The Ticino starts five miles to south of Furka Pass and heads southeast. 

Thanks to its abundant supply of water, Switzerland has many rivers and lakes. All major cities have their origin in the strategic advantages of their water related location for both trade and defense. Rivers Rhine, Aare, Rhône, Reuss and Ticino are Switzerland's largest rivers. They all originate in the center of Switzerland's alps.

As the picture below shows, these five rivers - Rhine, Rhône, Reuss, Ticino, Aare - form a remarkable cluster.

All five rivers start within 13 miles of each other.  That's pretty incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed my story about the Swiss Alps and the Swiss Rivers.

Rick Archer
March 2014

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