Photos from our two-week Alpine Pass walk in Switzerland are posted here.
We planned our long trip to include two long distance walks. In July/August 2004 we completed the 190 mile Coast-to-Coast walk across England. During our second summer we planned to do the 100 mile Alpine Pass walk in the Swiss Alps. The Alpine Pass walk became the “grand finale” of our Grand Tour… the very last chapter of this long family adventure.
The Alpine Pass route is actually a complete trek across Switzerland, from the east on the border with Liechtenstein to Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. The entire walk covers about 202 miles and crosses 16 mountain passes. Our walk (our third self-guided walk with Sherpa Walking Holidays) was the central portion of the route: about 100 miles and eight passes through absolutely beautiful countryside. Although we had hiked extensively in England and France, we had never experienced the elevation-gain that was involved in this particular walk. Like our walk across England, this walk in Switzerland was one of the highlights of our trip.
Thursday, July 28 (Lucerne to Engelberg)
Our train left the Lucerne station this afternoon at 1:41 pm, a one-hour trip to Engelberg where our walk begins tomorrow morning. Charley and Kelly bought some lunch at the station while I stood with the bags. Our fourteen months of luggage is now condensed down to one big rolling duffel bag (that’s not completely full), two standard rolling suitcases, three backpacks, and a rolling computer bag. Kelly and I both have our hiking boots hanging off our luggage. It still seems like we have a lot of stuff. After today we won’t have the computer bag any more. And for the next two weeks we’ll be wearing those hiking boots.
We ate our lunch as soon as we got on the train and were probably done before the train even left the station.
This train must make the trip between Lucerne and Engelberg several times a day, as there’s a train scheduled every hour and even every half-hour in the morning and late afternoon. Engelberg is the starting point for a couple of mountain-top day-trips from Lucerne, including the ride up to the glaciers at Mount Titlis (10,626 feet). The cable car to Mount Titlis is called the Rotair and somehow rotates so passengers get a 360 degree view while traveling up the mountain.
Our train traveled around Lake Lucerne (the Vierwaldstättersee), stopping at several small villages and towns. We passed along the base of Mount Pilatus (6,995 feet). We had done a day-trip to the top of Pilatus in 1997, long before we would have considered ourselves hikers. I mainly remember how rattled Charley was by the steep train ride up to the very top of the mountain.
A lot of the passengers on the train today seemed to be hikers. The Swiss train system is considered one of the best in the world, known for being very clean and very punctual. When we arrived in Zurich a few days ago, we bought special train passes that give us a 50% discount on trains, buses and mountain railways while we are in Switzerland. We also have a card for Kelly where she rides for free. We’ve almost paid for our tickets in our ticket savings just the last couple of days.
It had seemed like we were in a normal train, but about 15 minutes before we reached Engelberg, the train attached to some kind of rack and began to ascend the mountain on a very steep track, moving much more slowly. Engelberg is at 3287 feet, so we’re glad that the train got us up this high before we start our long hike. Tomorrow we will climb further up in the mountains beyond Engelberg. Engelberg is a town of about 3500 people, a center for winter and summer mountain activities. The village is also famous for a large Benedictine monastery founded in 1120
Our hotel tonight is the Hotel Banklialp, which sits on a slope on the outskirts of Engelberg—right on the path where we begin our walk in the morning. The manager of the hotel met us at the station. (We had asked Maria to call for us and set this up.) He spoke very good English and was very friendly. It was nice to get the ride instead of having to walk with our luggage—especially since the hotel is up a hill.
We like this hotel a lot… a good place for a relaxing afternoon and hopefully a good night’s sleep before we begin our walk. We have a big room with a separate area for Kelly. We were al happy to have our own personal toilet again! The hotel is modern, but has a very traditional décor. Best of all, we have a little balcony with a table and three chairs that overlooks the village with mountains seemingly all around us. I can peer over the edge of the balcony, and there’s our path for tomorrow… heading up the mountain behind us. We enjoyed the beautiful view and a couple of hours on the balcony. Kelly and I used the time to study the maps and our Alpine Pass guidebook. She has asked to carry the map and guidebook each day and be our navigator on this walk. Although I like doing this too, I’m happy to turn over this job. Our little girl is growing up!
Our dinner is included in our package on nine of the fourteen nights of this walking tour. We had a similar arrangement on our walking tour in Alsace, France a few years ago. When the dinner is included, normally there is a set meal (kind of a daily special with several courses) that we found was quite good. This forced us to eat some unfamiliar food (good food!) that we probably wouldn’t have ordered. Tonight the meal was included. Charley and I both enjoyed our dinner, but it wasn’t really to Kelly’s liking. We had a big salad with vinaigrette dressing; a noodle soup (clear broth with very fine noodles); a main dish of cold beef with a dressing, boiled potatoes and more salad; and a good dessert with vanilla and strawberry ice cream and meringue. (Meringue was invented in the Swiss town of Meiringen where we will stay in two nights.) Kelly really only liked the noodle soup. We both gave her part of our soup and ended up ordering her a plate of French fries, which were really good. We also asked if she could have just plain ice cream without the meringue. In the future we will plan to ask about a children’s menu. Compared to a lot of European children, we have found that Kelly—just turned 12—is often taken for much older… perhaps 15. Unfortunately, her eating preferences aren’t quite at that maturity level. I do want to be sure that she gets a good meal during the walk.
We took showers, worked on our packing (again!), and read out on our balcony. We’re excited to see what tomorrow will bring as we head up further into the Swiss Alps.
Friday, July 29 (Engelberg to Englesnalp)
Today was a tough day, especially for our first day. We only walked 8.7 miles, but we climbed up 2730 feet to the highest point of our day. the Jochpass. And although we began the day in beautiful weather, we encountered an unexpected thunder-and-lightening storm in the last hour, an hour which will go down as one of our scariest hiking experiences.
We’re doing our walk once more with Sherpa Expeditions, a walking company based in Britain. The Alpine Pass Walk is our third Sherpa tour; we’ve actually done a walking every summer now for the past four summers. We like the approach of a self-guided tour. We’re supplied with a packet of maps and directions. We’re given alternatives for a more scenic or bad weather route. Our hotels are picked and reserved for us. Our luggage is moved each day. (Thank goodness, because we absolutely could not backpack for 14 days!) But we walk on our own and have a fair amount of flexibility in our walking. On this trip our walking notes offer many alternatives in the event of bad weather—alternate trails, cable cars, even buses. On a couple of days the notes even say that we need to check on conditions and not hike up over a mountain pass if there is snow. The Alpine Pass walk is only available July to September due to weather, but even in summer there could be snow at the highest elevations. This is a new experience for us—the first time we’ve hiked in Switzerland.
We are all a bit apprehensive about this walk, which Sherpa has rated “challenging.” We consider ourselves experienced walkers now (especially after our 190-mile walk across England last summer), but this walk has some new elements: BIG mountains, lots of elevation gain, some tricky sections, the possibility of snow. The daily distances aren’t quite as long as what we’ve done before, but the uphill hiking (not my strong point) will be much more demanding. We were in great shape at the end of our time in France, but we haven’t done much “training” the last few months. We hiked several times during our recent two weeks in Austria, but now I regret that we never hiked up a mountain. It was just so much easier to take the cable car up and then hike down. But now, here we are at the beginning of our 100 mile hike in the Swiss Alps… we are what we are, and hopefully we are up for this!
We were up early to organize ourselves for the day and prepare our bags for their journey by train to Meiringen. The little hamlet where we are staying tonight is not serviced by train and our luggage won’t be with us tonight. We have to carry anything we need for the night with us in our packs. I am taking very little extra: clean underwear, a clean t-shirt, my toothbrush and toothpaste, and mascara. (As if mascara will really have that big an impact on my appearance!) I have two little hotel packets of shampoo and a tiny bar of soap. I’m trying to keep my pack as light as possible because of my problem shoulder. Charley and Kelly are both taking more with them.
We had breakfast at our hotel, a good buffet with bread, cheese, meats, cereal, yoghurt, and fruit. The dining room was actually quite full, including one group that seemed to be some sort of a tour group. We made a quick bathroom trip back to our room and were out the door by 8:35 am. As we passed by the reception desk, we saw another bag with a Sherpa tag and then spotted the other Sherpa walker also heading out…. a young Englishman named Al who lives in Cheshire, doing the walk solo. We introduced ourselves, but let him head out ahead of us.
The footpath started right next to our hotel—and headed immediately upwards. We must have stopped for the first time after just about five minutes! (This could be a lonnngggg hard 100 miles!) The path wound up the mountain above the hotel, eventually reaching a very pretty high pasture. We could see part of Engelberg now way down below. Cows were grazing in the fields and a farmer and his two sons were cutting hay. A cable car passed overhead on its way up to Mount Titlis, which we could now see above us at 10,600 feet. The top of the mountain was covered with snow, and we saw our first glaciers.
After the interlude of the pretty field, we took a path by a mountain restaurant and walked through some woods where we then began another very steep ascent. Our path went up the mountain, passing back and forth beneath the cable car. A few people in the cars waved at us. Kelly noticed that each car had a foreign flag on the front, and she enjoyed trying to identify the flags. It did slow us down a bit, but we needed the rest anyway. One man with an English accent hollered down from a cable car that we didn’t have far to go. Finally we arrived at the top, what seemed to be some kind of winter ski center. There was a restaurant, and several cable cars were coming and going. We decided to wait just a bit for lunch and headed slightly downhill on the path to the Trubsee, an absolutely beautiful mountain lake where there was another restaurant. We decided to sit outside and went through a self-service line to get some lunch. The food was expensive and Kelly didn’t like much of what she got. I liked my ham and cheese baguette until I realized there were hard-boiled eggs on the sandwich. Charley and I both had a Red Bull drink, hoping for the energy to get up the next steep stretch of mountain to the Jochpass, the highest point on today’s walk.
We were very slow on the next stretch of mountain, passing several cows that were grazing high up on the mountain. We were much closer to the glaciers now—strange to be hiking in sleeveless shirts while there is snow and ice now far away! The path twisted very steeply up, through incredibly beautiful wildflowers. I took several photos of the wildflowers, anything to get to stop and catch my breath! We passed quite a few people coming down. A chairlift—a quadruple covered chair—was to our right. They seemed to be testing the chair as it periodically turned on and moved upward, though there were never any passengers. We tried to hurry, as we noticed ominous clouds coming in, threatening what had been a beautiful day.
We finally reached the Jochpass at 7240 feet, another ski center. Mount Titlis was much closer to us off to the left, and we had a closer look at our first glaciers. We had planned to take a longer—but more scenic—route from the Jochpass to our night’s lodging at Englestnalp but Kelly now pushed for the quicker way. We ended up flipping a coin, which I won, and I decided we would stick with our original plan. The Sherpa notes said we had the potential to see marmots on this route—little burrowing animals kind of like prairie dogs. I was determined to see the marmots and the view. We hurried along the new path and almost immediately spotted a couple of marmots moving in and out of the mountainside.
Unfortunately, ten minutes along this path, the rain arrived. We quickly put on rain gear and covered our packs. Kelly put on her little emergency poncho—not much more than a plastic bag. I thought she should have put on her raincoat, but she opted for the poncho and I didn’t get much support from Charley. It was also getting windy, and the path seemed steeper than we had expected. We decided to turn back to the Jochpass and head down the easier and shorter route, even though it went right under a chairlift.
The last hour was difficult—awful, really. We could see our hotel in the distance and below us, but it seemed to take forever to wind down the mountain and make our way past another mountain lake (the Engstlensee). We barely glanced at the lake as we hurried by…. it wasn’t particularly scenic in the rain. Meanwhile, we also saw lightening in the distance and heard thunder, threatening a much more ominous storm. We were used to dealing with a bit of rain and some wind, but this was the first time we’d ever been in a real storm. I wasn’t sure about the lightening and tried to remember what I knew about being outside in a lightening storm. Finally I asked Charley if we were in danger with the lightening. He said yes, he thought so. We both thought perhaps our metal walking poles could act a bit as lightening rods. Should we abandon the poles? I had no idea what to do, and couldn’t imagine not having my poles for the rest of the walk. (Plus we had just recently pair a fair amount of money for them!) Kelly got terribly frightened, especially when Charley said that we should spread out because of the lightening. We did make great time—fortunately this was all downhill—and at the end, Kelly practically sprinted to the hotel. “Get away from me,” she shrieked at one point as I came up behind her. “I don’t want to die!!”
Our fellow Sherpa walker Al was waiting for us outside the hotel. He had seen us making our way down from the window of his room, and I think he had been somewhat nervous for us because of the storm. We made plans to have dinner together.
The Hotel Engstlenalp stands seemingly in the middle of nowhere… a four-story Victorian-era building with a big terrace. The little community consists of the hotel, a small yoghurt factory, and a couple of other houses. Apparently this is a major center for hiking and even mountain climbing. The hotel is only open May through October.
We had a great room—a big one—on the top floor, built under the eaves. The walls, floor and furniture were all varnished wood, very clean and crisp. There were two twin beds with big duvets for Charley and me and also a futon couch. Kelly had a bed built up into a loft—almost like a bunk on a ship. The bathroom had a great shower. We hung up our wet clothes to dry out. Kelly and I took our showers before dinner; Charley waited until afterwards. The hot shower really invigorated me.
We had dinner with Al, and enjoyed getting to know him. He’s about thirty years old, works in maintenance in a helicopter manufacturing company, and is married with three children. Although he walks a lot in England, this is his first long distance walk.
Dinner wasn’t included in our package tonight, so we got to order off the menu. I had bratwurst and rosti potatoes, a really good meal. Charley had the daily special (a veal dish) and Kelly had pasta with butter. Our waitress was originally from Toronto, Canada, and was very friendly. The dining room was surprisingly full.
We were tired from our long day. When we got ready for bed, Kelly decided not to sleep in the little loft bed after all. She couldn’t easily get through the small space at the top of the ladder, so we opened up the futon for her instead.
Saturday, July 30 (Englesnalp to Meiringen)
Although the weather wasn’t great, this was a much better day today for one big reason: it was all downhill! Our walk today was about 11 miles.
We looked out the window to a day that was foggy and a bit drizzly, but it didn’t seem to be raining hard. There were two route alternatives today—a high route that was supposedly more scenic and a valley route that was recommended in bad weather. Given the conditions, we decided we’d take the valley route, which was partly on a small road.
We ate with Al again in the big hotel dining room. They offer a very simple breakfast here: big slices of bread with butter or jam, yoghurt (from the factory “next door”), juice, and hot drinks.
As we ate, we watched a group of adults and children load up several pack horses with their packs and duffel bags. Then they all headed off into the foggy morning.
Kelly really wanted to visit the yoghurt factory, but they didn’t open until 9 am and we decided not to delay our departure. We gathered up our packs, put on our raingear, and headed off down the Gental valley. The path cut down through woods, and finally emerged into a grassy valley with tall mountains on either side. After a while we were able to shed our rain gear, though the day was dismal for several hours. We did hear and then see a couple more marmots along the way. They make a shrill whistling sound that startled us at first.
There’s actually a post bus that goes to Engstlenalp (where the road dead-ends), and eventually we ended up on the little paved post-bus road—just a one-lane road. We passed a couple of farms, some selling cheese. There were lots of cows on the road and in the fields, and we even saw a car or two. We walked quite a ways among the cows—not my favorite thing to do, though these seem more agreeable cows than the ones we saw in England. I always felt the English cows didn’t like us in their field, and then there was the ever-present possibility of a bull somewhere among them. Maybe milk cows are happier cows than beef cows. (Hmmmm…. probably a psychological reason for that!) Most of the Swiss cows wear huge cowbells that ring incessantly and loudly… sound effects to accompany us on our walk and really very pleasant.
We caught up with Al and walked with him quite a while. He hikes listening to music. I think he enjoyed some company, as we continued together down through the woods and by some isolated farms. Finally we came to a small settlement outside the village of Innertkirchen. There was an attractive Swiss inn, and people were sitting outside enjoying their lunch. (Several had apparently arrived on motorcycles.) Al decided to press on, but our family wanted a break. We made plans to meet Al for dinner at our hotel in Meiringen. We sat down at an outdoor table and had just started studying the menu when it began to sprinkle. Although other diners seemed prepared to stick it out, we had been in the great outdoors all morning and decided we’d rather have our meal in comfort. The restaurant offered a good menu with Swiss specialties. Charley and I shared a cheese dish called Kaseschnitte—kind of an open faced sandwich with melted cheese and mushrooms. Just my kind of dish! We also had beer, which we’ll drink instead of water or soft drinks here in Switzerland. Kelly was glad to find pasta on the menu.
We passed through the village (strange to be in civilization again!), then found the path to Meiringen via the Aareschlucht gorge. The path went right alongside the Aare River, initially a gentle stream. Now I had read about the Aareschlucht in the Sherpa notes and it was recommended as a natural phenomenon not to be missed. So I was pretty emphatic about wanting to hike through this gorge, even though it added just a bit to the walk for the day. We walked along our river path, finally arriving at a bridge and a steep set of stairs up to a road and restaurant/gift shop. The entrance to the gorge was through the gift shop and there was a small admission charge.
At this point the river changed dramatically, making its way through a very narrow passageway in a rocky mountain. I’m sure the effect of the Aareschlucht was heightened due to the rainfall the previous day. Somehow some enterprising people had once managed to construct a wooden boardwalk along the left side of the gorge, affixed to the rock with steam beams and supports. The boardwalk was maybe four feet wide, and traffic was moving in either direction. Occasionally someone even came by with a baby stroller! Charley has a fear of heights that he has been working to overcome, but he didn’t like the Aareschlucht whatsoever. It wasn’t all that high, but he didn’t like the fact that the wooden boardwalk was just hung off the side of the rock—right over the raging river. The river at this point was a swirling, ferocious torrent… crashing its way between the two rock walls.
At points the passage through the gorge dipped into the rock and became a tunnel for a brief time. Charley was much more comfortable having his feet on solid ground and preferred to take any alternatives through tunnels instead of the wooden boardwalk.
At one point he turned to me with a real look of anger. “Did you know it would he like this?!” he asked. “No, no,” I protested. “All I knew was that you walked through a gorge and that it was neat.” (I, of course, thought it was tremendously neat.) Kelly picked up on her father’s emotions and also moved through the gorge in a state of high anxiety. Eventually they both became more comfortable—especially when they didn’t have to share the narrow boardwalk with people passing in the other direction. At the narrowest point of the gorge Kelly stopped so I could take her photo. It was so narrow that you could stand on the boardwalk and put your hand across the river gorge and touch the rock on the other side!
Finally we emerged from the Aareschlucht, passing through an entrance and large restaurant on the other side. I thought it was great—what an experience! What a unique thing to see! Charley liked it all much better once it was over.
We continued on our way to Meiringen… not far now. Meiringen is a more substantial town of about 4600 people, a long-time destination for tourists to this area. Part of Meiringen’s notoriety is its connection with Sr. Arthur Conan Doyle, who used to vacation here. Doyle set one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes stories at Reichtenbach Falls above Meiringen, where Holmes fought with a Professor Moriarty and supposed perished (though later reappeared). I don’t know anything about the story, but Kelly’s read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and was excited about being near Reichtenbach Falls. Meiringen is also known as the home of the meringue, and there are several bakeries which specialize in this delicate dessert. I know a lot more about meringue than Sherlock Holmes.
We trekked on through the little main street of the town toward our hotel. It was decorated with colorful banners and Swiss flags. Al was enjoying a beer and a book at the outdoor table of one of the restaurants as we walked by. We stopped to check in with him and talk about the walk through the gorge. Charley was now much more enthusiastic about his experience in the gorge.
The Hotel Baer is at the far end of Meiringen, attached to the post office and the bus station. It’s kind of a modern, sterile place with a bar and a restaurant—not a tremendous amount of Swiss charm. There wasn’t really a proper reception desk, and we had to go to the bar to get the key to our room. Our triple room was fine, looking out over the big bus parking lot (a surprisingly busy depot) with the mountains beyond.
We were reunited with our luggage (which we hadn’t seen since Engelberg), cleaned up a bit, and had time to explore Meiringen. Charley went off on his own (maybe to find Al and join him for a beer), but Kelly and I walked up to the Sherlock Holmes museum in the center of town and paid to go inside. It’s an old church with Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle memorabilia. In one area you press a button and it lights up a reproduction of the drawing room of 221B Baker Street where Sherlock and Mr. Watson used to live. Kelly enjoyed the museum a lot. Outside the museum is a full-sized statue of Sherlock Holmes sitting on a bench in his detective hat with his pipe. Kelly sat on the bench—as I suspect thousands of other tourists have done—so I could take her picture.
We met Charley back at the hotel and all walked across the street to a little grocery store to get a few provisions for tomorrow. We’d rather carry a light lunch tomorrow instead of taking the time to stop in a mountain inn along the way. Tomorrow will be a long day for us—13+ miles and uphill again. We’re also questioning the wisdom of stopping for a big lunch on this walk, although I do enjoy a relaxing break at a pretty place. But we all tend to eat and drink too much, which complicates our afternoon walking. So we bought a couple of apples, bread, some cheese and of course that all-important hiking provision: candy bars.
When we got back to our room, Kelly realized that she had left her precious stuffed badger “Baxter” at the hotel in Englesnalp. She’s a stuffed animal girl and got Baxter a year ago when we were in Scotland. She’s carried him with her all this time, sleeping with him every night… she’s become quite emotionally attached to him. Although we had almost no luggage with us in Englesnalp, somehow while packing up the room, he must have been left in the bedding on her futon. Kelly was horribly distressed, but I’m only thankful that we hadn’t taken Barli to Englesnalp. (That would have been emotionally devastating to both of us, since the worn-out stuffed bear Barli had been MINE as a child, now passed onto Kelly. Thankfully we had both decided Barli was too precious to carry in a backpack, and so he had bypassed the trip to Englesnalp and arrived in Meiringen safely snuggled in Kelly’s suitcase.) But now we had lost the almost-as-loved Baxter.
Charley took charge, and he and Kelly went downstairs to get help from the hotel people to call the Hotel Englesnalp. The hotel manager there said he would investigate and call us back. We headed down to dinner, Kelly quite impacted by the loss of one of the few special possessions she still has with her at this point in the trip.
We met Al for dinner again tonight. He is a very nice young man, and we seem to have plenty to chat about over our meals. I’m impressed that he is doing this trip all alone. The dinner was served in a large, rather sterile hotel dining room which was used only for people on the hotel meal plan. We asked if we could eat in the busier main dining room and they started to seat us, but then we were told no, we must eat in the other room. There was just one other table of guests—a family with a teenage daughter. The environment was very hushed and the service was horribly slow. I don’t even remember the meal.
After dinner the hotel staff told us that the hotel manager from Englesnalp had called. He had left a message that Baxter had been found and that he would put him on the first bus to Meiringen in the morning. That bus doesn’t arrive until after 10 am… quite a bit later than we planned to leave on our long walk tomorrow. We really need every minute of daylight tomorrow to get to Grindelwald, since the day involves 13 miles and almost 4500 feet of elevation gain. But Kelly is frantic that she isn’t going to leave without Baxter.
Sunday, July 31 (Meiringen to Grindelwald)
We had breakfast with Al, who then headed on his way to Grindelwald. Meanwhile we arranged for a late checkout and waited for the bus from Englesnalp to arrive with Baxter, the missing stuffed badger. We watched several the buses arriving at around the appointed time, and finally Charley went to the bus that seemed to have arrived from Englesnalp. He spoke to the driver, but there was no package for us with Baxter. We went back to the hotel and Charley called the Englesnalp hotel again. The man there said there was a problem getting to the bus, and he would mail Baxter to us in the USA.
(Postcript: we never saw Baxter again…perhaps he’s now making some Swiss child happy.)
So we were very late getting started on what was to be a very long day anyway.
We walked back through Meiringen, then turned right up to a small suburb-village and finally (gulp!) straight up a mountain. It was a busy hiking day on this Sunday, and we met quite a few people along the route. Of course, we stopped after about an hour to eat our lunch on some rocks on the side of the trail. Just as we were finishing, we saw some people we recognized coming down the trail—the other family that had been eating in the hotel dining room last night. They were British, but their pretty teenage daughter went to school in France. We also stopped to help a man who was hiking with his two sons—they were looking for the path to Reichtenbach Falls. A bit later (while Charley was hiking on ahead), Kelly and I met two German men who talked to us for a long time. Once we get into a more extended conversation, everyone is always very interested in our trip, especially Kelly’s experience attending a French village school.
Just past a hotel/restaurant and the turnoff for Reichtenbach Falls, we briefly joined a small curvy road and headed up a path that went up the mountain on a more direct route, frequently crossing and/or joining the road. There was some traffic and an occasional yellow postbus. Finally, the path flattened out as we headed up toward extremely high mountains. We passed through a campground of some sort and then by a big old ramshackle hotel. Outside the hotel Kelly and I chatted with a German couple—I’m not even sure how we connected. We asked them what to say when we meet other hikers on the trail. They spoke good English and gave us a couple of possibilities: Guten Morgen! Gruss Gott! Something we had never heard before: Gruetzi! They said even “Hi” would be okay!
Finally we decided to stop walking at a tiny settlement called Schwarzwaldalp where there was a mountain inn and a bus stop. We hadn’t walked all that many miles, but we had gained 2800 feet in elevation. There were still about 2-1/2 official hours to go with a steep uphill climb (another 1700 feet), so our family was definitely looking at more than 2-1/2 hours. We sat down at an outside table at the mountain inn, had drinks, used the bathroom, and then took the postbus to Grindelwald. As we traveled up the mountain to the peak at Grosse Scheidegg (about 6400 feet), we were glad we had decided to take the bus. The downside is that we also decided that we’d give up our rest day tomorrow to finish today’s walk.
Our Sherpa directions told us that we might have to alert the bus driver to let us out at our hotel at the top of the village of Grindelwald. The bus stop was right at the Hotel Lauberhorn, but apparently they don’t stop unless they need to. We loved the looks of the hotel—very alpine in flavor with picnic tables out front. It’s located more in a residential area of the village than in the main commercial area, and mountains rise in every direction. What a wonderful setting! Al was out on his balcony when we walked up to the hotel and waved to us—he had a towel wrapped around his waist, just out of the shower. We made plans to meet at dinner.
Our room is on the third floor. We have a balcony that looks down toward Grindelwald and absolutely beautiful mountains. We can also see glaciers off to the left—Grindelwald is sometimes called the glacier village because there are so many in this area. We showered and relaxed on the balcony.
The hotel has a big dining room on second floor. We had a good meal and conversation with Al. He is looking forward to a rest day in Grindelwald tomorrow (I’m jealous!!!) and talked about having a massage. We had a friendly young waitress who spoke English well. The hotel also has internet, so I was able to catch up a bit on my correspondence. We’re happy to be staying here for two days.
Monday, August 1 (finished walk from Schwarzwaldalp to Grindelwald)
Although we would have liked a full rest day, I’m actually glad we didn’t make the entire long haul from Meiringen yesterday. Al said the section up to Grosse Scheidegg was very long. We decided to get up early and finish our walk, so we could at least have part of the afternoon free.
We had breakfast (a good one) with Al. He had found his way to a bar in Grindelwald last night, and was struggling a bit this morning. He needed that massage today! We waited out at the bus stop with another family and then took the postbus back to the little inn at Schwarzwaldalp and then started our walk up the long hill to Grosse Scheidegg. I had a terrible time this morning for some reason. I was really dragging and seemed to have to stop and rest every five minutes. I’m not sure what my problem was. I kept sending Kelly and Charley on ahead and used my old standby excuse of taking photos of wildflowers. Kelly was inspired, a real mountain goat. There were quite a few other hikers out today, and lots of people passed me. I’m sure they wondered if this middle-aged American woman was up for hiking in these Alps.
Our path wove up and around a twisty road with occasional postbuses. The buses have a very distinctive honking music to warn other vehicles they are coming. The scenery was incredible—mountains in every direction, some topped with snow. And the wildflowers were just beautiful. Of course, I needed to take lots of photos! We also stopped to take a couple of photos of a large group of goats grazing among the wildflowers.
We finally made it to the top. There’s a big mountain inn at Grosse Scheidegg and a lot of activity. We decided to go ahead and have lunch, since the rest of the walk was all downhill. We sat outside on one of the terraces, admiring the view down toward Grindelwald and the huge mountains to the left: the Mönch, the Eiger, and then the famous Jungfrau. We enjoyed the meal and a short break. Kelly had pasta bolognaise, and Charley and I had goulash soup and bread. I felt much better after my soup and a beer.
We had a really good walk down. It was a pretty day and I tied my little maroon top around my waist and hiked in my tank top. Suddenly everything seemed to change for me—I was back to my old self. I pride myself on being very good at hiking downhill! We hiked through one avalanche area with some very ominous warning signs. Finally we reached the beginning of the residential area with little chalets dotted here and there. Today many of the houses were decorated with Swiss flags because it’s an important holiday: Swiss National Day.
Our hotel planned a special barbeque for guests this evening because of the holiday. Charley and Kelly went outside to the picnic tables, and Kelly played badminton with Al and some other guests. I read up in the room. We were all looking forward to the barbeque, though Kelly was a bit anxious about what would be served. She struggles when the choices at a meal are limited… always wanting a good meal, but worried that she won’t like the food.
The owners were cooking a variety of meat on a big grill, including chicken which pleased Kelly. They were also setting up a big buffet with salads and other side dishes. We ordered big mugs of cold beer. Al introduced us to another Sherpa couple that had caught up to us here in Grindelwald. He had spotted the Sherpa tags on their luggage. Kris and Phil are a married couple—perhaps in between me and Charley in age—from southern England. They have done several other Sherpa walks in Switzerland. Actually, they’ve done just about all the Sherpa walks in Switzerland and decided to repeat this one because they liked it so much. Because they were already familiar with the route, they had constructed a slightly different agenda for themselves.
Just as we were getting up to get our food, it started to rain. We stayed dry under the trees for a few minutes, but then it was obvious that the rain wasn’t going to let us eat outdoors. The picnic moved inside and upstairs to the dining room, but it wasn’t quite the same. We did enjoy talking with Al, Kris and Phil. I tried to use the internet again after dinner, but it looks like the computer is now having problems.
Tuesday, August 2 (Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen)
This was a very, very tough day, and we are proud of what the three of us accomplished. We did the entire walk in dismal weather, even when there were several options to simplify things and take a train. We hiked about 12 miles today, with an elevation gain of 3668 feet. The conditions were very challenging—foggy and rainy pretty much the whole day. It was an amazing contrast to yesterday. After I took a few photos from the balcony of our room, I put my camera in a waterproof bag and didn’t take it out for the rest of the day.
Our route took us down through the main part of Grindelwald for the first time, a busy town with lots of shops, hotels and restaurants. We looked at some rain hats for me at a couple of hiking shops, since I lose my peripheral vision when I have the hood of my rain jacket up… like today—but I didn’t find what I was looking for. Then we cut down below the village to a mountain railway station at Grund, and finally began our trek uphill on a steep path near the railway track also heading up the mountain. A few trains went by, and people waved at us. We saw Kris and Phil below us at one point. We also encountered a mother, father and teenage son making their way up a similar route. The mother was really having major problems, struggling more than me.
Eventually we came to a mountain inn at Alpiglen. The views from Alpiglen were supposed to be “superb” but we couldn’t see much of anything. We just knew that somewhere out there were the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. We were glad to reach a temporary stopping place, even if there wasn’t a view. It was too early for lunch, but we decided to get out of the rain, have something hot to drink, and use their bathroom. The family we had seen on the trail had the same idea, and they were also taking a break at the inn. We found out that they’re Scottish and are on a self-guided walking trip similar to our own, though not through Sherpa. They were walking just to Wengen today, not quite as far as our route.
We continued to make our way uphill to Kleine Scheidegg on a wide paved trail. Although “kleine” means “small” and “grosse” usually means “big,” Kleine Scheidegg is actually 324 feet higher than Grosse Scheidegg. We read in our guidebook that the term “grosse” meant “great” and referred to the extent of the pass (a wide saddle), not the height at this point.
There were a couple of other walkers out, even some children, despite the dreary conditions. It was incredibly foggy and the fog came and went, almost creating visual illusions. As usual, I struggled on the steep uphill climb. Kelly was desperate to use a bathroom, and eventually we let her make her way up without us. We were headed to a big mountain railway station at Kleine Scheidegg, where the trains depart for the Jungfraujoch, the highest mountain railway station in Europe.
As we got closer to Kleine Scheidegg, we saw several big hotels on the top of the mountain. It was strangely eerie—kind of a mountain resort in the middle of nowhere. Then as we approached the top, we met a large group of Japanese tourists walking down the path with their guide. They carrying umbrellas and dressed in regular street clothes and shoes, and I wondered how they would ever get back up the hill. But at least they can report back that they hiked in the Swiss Alps!
Kleine Scheidegg was incredibly busy with a big railway station. In addition to the hotels and the station, there were a couple of souvenir shops, restaurants, and even an outdoor playground. Announcements were made on a loudspeaker every few minutes, and there were lots of tourists despite the weather. The tickets for the trip to the Jungfrau are very expensive (about $125 round-trip for a second-class ticket from Grindelwald to the top via Kleine Scheidegg). Today I’m sure visibility at the very top was non-existent, but the tourists were still headed up.
We saw another train station just below Kleine Scheidegg, which seemed to be the departure point for Wengen—our destination for today. We briefly—but seriously—considered taking the train because we were so wet. But Charley and I also knew that once we started taking the train on days like this, it would be too easy to do it again—and then we wouldn’t have really hiked across the Swiss Alps. We decided to continue on and save a possible bus or train ride for a day when we need it more. It’s actually possible there will be days when it will be snowing on the mountains!
There were a couple of eating places at Kleine Scheidegg, so we hoped we would be able to locate Kelly. If I had known it would be this busy and spread out, I wouldn’t have let her go on ahead. We went in the biggest restaurant, and Charley got a corner booth for us while I went off to the lady’s room in search of Kelly. Fortunately she was there, struggling with an upset stomach. Charley and I ordered bowls of goulash soup. I had hot tea, and Charley had hot gluhwein. We ordered a wonderful apple dessert that we saw people at another table eating. We took off our wet clothes and hoped we could dry off and warm up a bit before the walk down the mountain. Kelly finally joined us and also had some hot soup and apple dessert.
We saw Kris and Phil at a nearby table. They planned to take the train down to Lauterbrunnen. Their itinerary for the next couple of days is a bit different than ours, since they decided to stay these next two nights in Murren. They have done this walk before and feel under less pressure to push themselves excessively to do the whole walk. The Wood Family, on the other hand, was determined to press on!
The rest of the day’s walk was all downhill… it was very long (still another 3+ hours), but all downhill. Downhill is definitely easier (especially for me), but it’s also very hard on your knees. We basically gave up all our altitude gain for the day. We have recognized the daily pattern for this walk: spend the morning climbing a very steep mountain, have lunch at a mountain inn at the top where there are beautiful views in good weather, spend the afternoon climbing down the other side of the mountain, spend the night at a hotel in the valley. Then the next day do it over again!
Our route to Wengen was on a gravel path, once again passing near the railroad track and even crossing over the tracks at a small mountain station. At least the rain seemed to have stopped, though it was still very foggy and visibility was very poor. Charley and Kelly started playing word games to fill the time. They tested each other on state and world capitals. Then we all played an elaborate ABC game: “The brown buffalo barreled brazenly to Borneo.” This one would have described me: “The wet woman walked wearily to Wengen.” Kelly loved this game, and it did help us pass the time. Meanwhile, we used our walking poles to set a rapid rhythm that would get us down to Lauterbrunnen as quickly as possible.
We finally came to Wengen, a pedestrian-only village at 4183 feet. We could see down the valley to where we were headed. Wengen looked very interesting, but we decided to continue on—we only stopped to use the rest room at the train station. We could have taken the train down to Lauterbrunnen from here, but we had our momentum and we kept on going.
Lauterbrunnen is set in a narrow valley with Wengen on one mountain and Murren on the other. The valley is set between almost vertical cliffs and so there are many, many waterfalls, one of which is almost 1000 feet high. We will base in Lauterbrunnen for two nights. Our route then heads out up to Murren (on the opposite side of the valley) and on over the next Alpine pass. Technically tomorrow is a rest day, but the following day is so long and hard, that our Sherpa notes recommend we use part of our rest day to walk up to Murren. We plan to do this. Then on our “big” walking day, we’ll take the funicular and train to Murren and begin our walk there.
The path down to Lauterbrunnen was steep and crossed over the railway several times. We kept on with the word games as a way to pass the time. Finally we reached a bridge and had to find our way through a parking garage and then a big train station with an underground tunnel. We then walked just a little ways toward the funicular to find our hotel—the Hotel Silberhorn. We were absolutely soaking wet.
The hotel looked very nice—too nice for the three of us to be dripping on the carpet! The desk person took us to a drying room where we could leave our wet clothes. She brought out some drying racks and we stripped off the various outer layers of wet things.
We liked our room a lot—plenty of space to spread out for two nights and a balcony with a view of the valley and the mountain on the other side. Charley took the rest of our wet things off to dry, and we took turns to use a wonderfully hot shower.
The hotel had a big dining room and lots of guests. Their fixed menu included a salad bar, not something we have seen a lot in Europe. We were led to an assigned table. Al’s table was next to ours, and we asked to combine our table with his. We caught up on the events of the day.
After dinner Kelly was somehow invited to join a group of older British tourists who were playing Trivial Pursuit in the lounge. I went up to read and rest, but she played Trivial Pursuit for a long time. Charley said she was a feature attraction of the game. She played on the men’s team and knew the answers to a couple of questions that no one else knew. She was pretty excited about this experience.
Wednesday, August 3 (Lauterbrunnen to Murren)
We didn’t see Al at breakfast… he was planning to go up to the Jungfrau and then do the walk to Murren. I would have liked to do the Jungfrau trip, but our real opportunity had been the “free day” in Grindelwald when we had to finish the walk from the day before. The visibility just seems too poor today to justify the expense, even with our 50% passes. Now we have a reason to come back to Switzerland, and at least we saved a little money.
Kelly saw some of the Trivial Pursuit players at breakfast. They greeted her very enthusiastically. I felt like a celebrity because I was Kelly’s mother.
Our hike to Murren was supposed to take about three hours and cut the time off tomorrow’ long day. We decided we didn’t have to do the walk right away and walked down into the main part of the village where there are several sports shops. Kelly begged for a pair or gaiters and we finally relented. She absolutely hates her rain pants, and the gaiters will keep the water out of her boots. I got a big goofy-looking rain hat so I don’t have to wear the hood of my rain jacket any more. I look like an old-fashioned fisherman—not very fashionable. It’s a good thing we had this gear, because it was a nasty day again today… drizzly and very overcast—not a good day for Al’s trip to the Jungfrau either.
Charley asked at the hotel desk about the path to Murren. The desk person told him that the path was closed due to erosion from the rain but that we could take the road to Interlaken for about a mile and then find a path going up to the left. So we started off down the main road. We went more than a mile out of Lauterbrunnen and never saw any path on the left. The road was quite busy with almost no shoulder. I was behind Charley and Kelly when suddenly I slipped on the wet road and went down hard on my hands and knees in the gutter. I screamed for Charley because I was afraid a car would come around the corner while I was sprawled on the edge of the narrow road. I said I was fine, but I really wasn’t. So the day didn’t start well for us—first the rain, then our inability to find the path, and then my fall. Our day was slipping away as we trudged in the rain in what was clearly the wrong direction.
Finally we reached a bus stop where it seemed we could catch a bus back to Lauterbrunnen. At that point it was clear there wasn’t a path on the left that would head up to Murren. The sign at the bus stop said it was only a few minutes until the bus would arrive, but we waited 15 minutes and no bus came. Add that to the list of bad omens for the day! We saw a woman on the other side of the street and asked her how best to get to back to Lauterbrunnen, now well over a mile away. She pointed us to a path alongside the river and so we headed back to the village. It was all very discouraging, though at least we weren’t walking on that busy road! There was no way we could just put off this part of the walk till tomorrow, as we couldn’t possibly do the whole walk in one day.
We stopped at the Tourist Office to ask about the path to Murren. The man there said the main path to Murren was not usable today, but that the alternate path went up right next to our hotel! We have no idea why the desk clerk at our hotel didn’t send us there to begin with.
At that point we needed lunch and an attitude adjustment. As we walked down the street in search of a restaurant, we passed the German couple Kelly and I had talked with on the walk from Meiringen to Grindelwald… the ones who coached us on how to greet hikers we passed on the trail. I think they were surprised that we remembered them, and we enjoyed catching up on what we had each done the last several days.
We found a good restaurant on the main street and sat outside on a porch with a heater. I had rosti potatoes with cheese and Kelly had pasta. I don’t remember what Charley had but I know we both had beer. The Scottish family from yesterday was eating at the next table. They had stayed in Wengen last night and were walking on up to Murren after lunch. (The mother planned to take the train.) They had also taken the train down from Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen yesterday. This made the three of us proud again that we had done the whole walk yesterday.
After fortifying ourselves at lunch and taking a bathroom break back at the hotel, we headed up the path right by our hotel, next to the funicular. It was extremely wet. We crossed under the funicular track a couple of times. This was not a fun walk at all: wet, steep, and dirty. We made lots of stops. The Scottish man and his son passed us going full-speed up the hill. (They made much better time when they weren’t walking with the mother, much as it hurts me to say that!) Finally we reached a road near the funicular station at Grütschalp. This road went across the mountain to Murren… an easy walk but kind of boring. Kelly started up the ABC game again. We did see a couple of other people: a woman with a dog picking berries and a couple of young men who didn’t seem like hikers. We slowed down and let those guys get ahead. The road became gravel—it was very forested and foggy. We met up with a man and woman who said it was still very foggy up ahead. We told Kelly not to get too far ahead because of the fog.
After about an hour we came to a rail stop called Winteregg—just a little inn and a place to wait for the train that ran back and forth across the mountain from Grütschalp to Murren. We were still an hour from Murren. According to the posted schedule, it was only two minutes until the next train, so we decided just to stop at this point and do this last bit of the walk (an easy part) to Murren in the morning. We took train back to the funicular station at Grütschalp, then the funicular back down to Lauterbrunnen. Our 50% passes work on these mountain trains and funiculars, and Kelly is free. What a hard day—even though we didn’t cover much territory! My knee was hurting from my fall on the road but I didn’t say anything.
We could have eaten anywhere in town since our dinner wasn’t included tonight, but we had liked the dinner at the hotel last night and made plans with Al to eat there again. Kelly had the same meal today that she had last night: chicken nuggets with sweet and sour sauce. Al told us about his trip up to the Jungfrau—it was very snowy and he really couldn’t see a thing. And he got dizzy from the altitude. But I think he enjoyed the experience.
We went to bed early—we have a big day tomorrow.
Thursday, August 4 (Lauterbrunnen to Golderli)
This was by far our hardest day so far in the walk—a day of real contrasts. We awoke to beautiful blue skies but eight hours later we found ourselves enveloped in fog. The important thing is that we made it—eventually! My knee was bothering me from my fall yesterday, but I didn’t want to complain or slow things down. I definitely felt I could do the walk, even though I was hurting a bit.
Today we had to finish the walk to Murren, then make our way over a major Alpine pass called the Sefinenfurke and finally down to a tiny hamlet called Golderli where we had a rustic accommodation for the night. Our suitcases couldn’t be transported to Golderli and we will see them again in Adelboden tomorrow. So we had to carry our overnight things in our backpacks. Once again, I took the absolute bare minimum.
Since we hadn’t made it all the way to Murren, we were up early this morning to begin our walk… we were the first ones waiting for the first funicular up the mountain side. At the end of the funicular line we caught the little mountain train that runs back and forth along the ridge to Murren. Unfortunately we didn’t get to ride all the way to Murren. We got off at the little inn at Winteregg where we stopped walking yesterday afternoon and then hiked on the easy and level path to Murren. The train passed us a couple of times going back and forth on its little route. One time it passed us and we were surprised that someone in the train was yelling and waving at us out the window—it was Al on his way to Murren, not too far ahead of us.
Murren seemed like a very pleasant village (another pedestrian-only village) and we would have liked to linger, but we were sensitive to the need to press on. Kelly and I did stop in a gift shop to buy her a key chain, and we found a little hedgehog for her collection. Charley and Kelly went in a little grocery store to buy some candy. Then we headed out of the village toward the cable car station going to the Schilthorn (9744 feet), made famous by the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. We could see the revolving restaurant on the top of the peak.
I loved this part of the walk. The scenery was just beautiful—mountains in every direction—and it was a very pleasant day and a fairly easy walk on a narrow path. We could turn back and see the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau behind us—finally visible after two days in the fog! We passed a couple of small farms, some with cheese for sale. There were several other hikers out on this trail. At one point we saw some writing in the dirt—“Hi Kelly.” And a bit later on, another message in the dirt. We guessed that these messages were from Kris and Phil up ahead of us. What fun!
About an hour out of Murren, we turned sharply by a small mountain inn and found Al waiting for us. We ended up walking with him for the rest of the morning. Al was good for Kelly. The two of them walked a bit ahead, keeping Charley and I in sight. There was one extremely difficult part—where we almost had to use our hands to climb up a steep rocky cliff. We were headed toward the Rostock Hut, where we planned to stop before ascending to our highest point of the day (and the walk so far)—the Sefinenfurke Pass at 8570 feet.
The Rotstock Hut at 6690 feet is a rustic and isolated mountain hut with dormitory accommodations and a simple restaurant. It’s very remote, but had a surprisingly extensive menu. We decided they must bring their supplies in by helicopter, as there is no road anywhere nearby. The owners were from the French-speaking side of Switzerland, so I was excited to find tartiflette (a cheese and potato dish) on the menu, and it was great. We sat outside and enjoyed the views up to the Sefinenfurke, though we were also sensitive to more clouds that seemed to be moving in. We chatted with an American couple and their son who say they come to Murren every summer and always do a day hike out to the Rotstock Hut.
We headed out through a herd of cows, then looked straight up at the pass we’d be crossing—almost 2,000 feet above us and a very steep climb. It was obvious that we didn’t need to hold Al back, so we encouraged him to go ahead and watched him move quickly up the steep and rocky hillside, listening to his music as he walked. We took our time, pausing occasionally to rest. The terrain very quickly changed to black shale and scree, and the path zigzagged up steeply. It was really kind of spooky—not a real place, not a place where people were supposed to be. At least the trail markings were frequent and easy to follow, though it was getting much cloudier and also quite cool. Up above we saw a man—it was Al—standing on the edge of the pass, waving his hiking poles at us in triumph. He was just a silhouette in the increasing clouds. We continued on, finally stopping to pull on gloves and hats. (I knew we brought these for a reason!) Not far from a top, three young people (two women and a man) scampered by us. Unless they were headed to the Rotstock Hut, they had a long way to go.
We reached the Sefinenfurke Pass about two hours after we left the Rotstock Hut. What happened to our pretty day? We arrived at the top to wind, cold, and dense fog. We could barely see five feet in front of us. The top was a knife edge—less than five feet wide, or so it seemed. The young people were long gone. We were alone in a very isolated, frightening place. There was a signpost at the top, and a path ran along the knife edge, but our directions said we went across and down, headed for Golderli.
Our route was a shock, despite what we had read in our guidebook and hiking notes. The path down the steep slope consisted of more scree and black slate with wooden planks somehow fastened to the ground… kind of steps on which to put your feet and stop you from hurtling down the scree slope. A cable enclosed in plastic tubing was also affixed to the ground. We were supposed to hold the chain and somehow make our way down on the boards. The cable only reached about two feet off the ground, so the descent had to be made in a very awkward stooped position.
Kelly simply lost it at this point.
“I can’t do it!” she screamed. “I don’t want to die! I want to go back!” She was hysterical and very, very scared. This was now twice in the walk that she had been afraid of dying. I had a brief moment of wondering if we should have brought our child here. She is only 12 years old, but what experiences she has had compared to her friends at home.
Of course we couldn’t go back—we had to go forward. And going back wasn’t an attractive alternative either. Charley pressed aside his own fear of heights to reassure Kelly. He told her he’d go first and that we’d go very slowly. I brought up the rear. It was agonizingly slow, and of course we could see just a few feet in front of us. (Though that may have been a good thing, as we couldn’t see how steep it really was or how far we had to go.) We stooped and crept our way down the tricky slope, Kelly hanging desperately onto the cable. Our walking poles—which were so valuable on the way up—now seemed like useless appendages. And for me, the pain in my poor knee—which I’d tried not to think about—became excruciating. There was no sense to say anything about it now. What would Charley do? How would that help Kelly? We just had to get to Golderli for the night.
Eventually we reached the end of the steps and cables, but the path continued through the screefield, still clouded in the fog. Fortunately we could always seem to see the next route marker as they were painted every couple of feet. Then suddenly the fog lifted—for just a moment—and in the far distance we could see a beautiful and green land. Kelly and I both gasped. It was as if we had seen Brigadoon or the Emerald City—a glimpse of some magical fairyland. As quickly as the window through the fog opened, it closed again, but this gave us hope that we were headed somewhere special, that there was a way out of this desolate moonscape.
We actually had more than three hours to walk from the top of the Sefinenfurke to the little inn at Golderli. The scree was finally replaced by farmland. We passed an icy stream and then some remote farm buildings. It was a beautiful valley. The fog cleared and we even saw cows in the distance, grazing on the hillside. We barely paused to drink some water. It was late, after 6 pm, and we still had a way to go. We passed an older couple, hiking in shorts, headed up toward the Sefinenfurke. They laughed at my wool cap, and I realized I didn’t need it any more. Finally we reached a road and followed it on down the Kiental valley to the tiny hamlet of Golderi. Our lodging for tonight is the Berggasthaus Golderli, a descent of over 3800 feet from the Sefinenfurke.
The proprietor met us at the door of the little guesthouse. We could see all the other guests already at dinner in the big family-style dining room. They had apparently watched us coming down the road. We quickly took our things up to our simple room and joined the others at dinner. Places at been set for us with our friends Al, Kris and Phil, who were beginning to get worried about us. It was good to see Kris and Phil again after a couple of days. The Scottish family was eating nearby, and we were also glad to saw the German couple. All these friends! The meal was good and filling—big pieces of beef for the main course—especially the big mugs of cold beer.
Once I was sitting still after so many hours of steady walking, I could feel my knee tightening up. After dinner I whispered to Charley that I was having a problem with my knee and wasn’t sure what I would be able to do tomorrow. The next day was supposed to be the toughest day of all—about ten miles and a very steep 4500 foot ascent to Hohturli (9114 feet), the highest point in the entire Alpine Pass walk. I didn’t want to say anything in front of Kelly, because I knew she would jump at the opportunity to take a bus, especially after the trauma on the Sefinenfurke. I told Charley that I wanted him to walk—perhaps with Al—even if Kelly and I didn’t do the normal walk the next day.
We had a private room—very rustic—but the bathroom facilities were shared with everyone else on the floor. We didn’t take a shower tonight. It was interesting to brush our teeth at the sink with these other travelers, and the set-up didn’t encourage a long stay in the toilet! Our room had two sets of bunk beds and a dresser. Beneath the window was a heavy coiled rope—the fire escape!
One week from today we will be home in Knoxville, Tennessee after 14 months in Europe. We’ve been so busy with the walk—and the excitement of experiencing new places every day—that we’ve barely talked about the fact that our long trip is almost over. We have a sense of excitement about going home… seeing family and friends, having the chance to make our lives different in some important ways… but it’s also sad that this adventure is coming to an end. Initially we had planned to do this walk a few weeks before the end of the trip and then spend the last week in Munich. Now I’m glad we decided to end the long trip with the walk. It’s ending it on a high note, in an absolutely beautiful place, accomplishing something as a family.
We went to sleep to the sounds of cow bells drifting through our open window. The Sefinenfurke seemed a long way away.
Friday, August 5 (Golderli to Kandersteg)
I woke up realizing my knee was almost locked up. There was no way I could walk ten miles over a giant mountain today. Kelly was still asleep, but I told Charley I couldn’t do it and needed to pursue a Plan B. I studied the maps and the Sherpa information and thought that Kelly and I could walk a couple of miles down the valley to the village of Kiental, then take a bus to Kandersteg. That way we could get a bit of exercise and fill our day. Meanwhile, Charley could continue the walk and climb up over Hohturli.
As expected, Kelly was excited about having an easier day. We shared our plan with Al over breakfast, and he and Charley decided to hike together. In Lauterbrunnen after I fell, Al had mentioned that he had a knee brace, which I declined to use at that point. It turned out that he had brought the brace with him to Golderli, just in case I needed it, so today I was happy to take it. I hoped the combination of the easy day and the knee brace would be good for me. Al also gave me some pain relievers. Thank goodness for Al! I was glad he was going to walk with Charley, as I thought it was good for Charley to have someone to walk with, especially on such a difficult day. We also ate breakfast with Kris and Phil, who said this was their favorite day of the walk. Today is Kris’ birthday, and they had planned their schedule so they could do this particular day on her birthday. We were glad it was a nice day.
Kelly and I took a photo of Charley and Al out front of the little lodge at Golderli, and then they headed up the road while Kelly and I studied the big map posted across the street. We decided to take a route on a trail called the Wildwasserweg (wild water path), then head down the valley past a lake called the Tschingelsee to Kiental. It was actually kind of nice to have an easy day, and Kelly and I settled into a comfortable companionship—I felt good about this happy mother/daughter day.
Right next to the Beggasthaus Golderli is a big llama farm, and we paused to watch the llamas and take photos. They were very skittish and wouldn’t come near us. We had asked the innkeeper about the llamas, and apparently this is just a big breeding farm. I wasn’t sure if they are sold for their wool, as pack animals, or just as pets. It was definitely interesting to see them—a hundred or more—grazing in the fields around our little inn.
The Wildwasserweg was a unique route through the woods, passing alongside a stream and several impressive waterfalls. One area of swirling water was called the Hexenkessel or “witches cauldron.” A postbus route ran along the tiny road, and buses passed us a couple of times. This stretch of road apparently has a 28% grade—the steepest in Europe—and they have special buses just for this route. I was glad we were walking instead of riding in the bus. As we came out of the woods, mountains rose up all around us, many topped with snow. We wondered how Charley and Al were doing with their conquest of Hohtürli.
Our path then followed along a dried-up lake called the Tshingelsee—a depressing-looking place—then through the woods and along a stretch of road to Kiental. We must have walked about two hours. We found the tourist information office at Kiental, and the woman there suggested we take the bus to Reichenbach, where we could then get a bus or train to Kandersteg. The postbus stop was right outside the tourist office, and the posted schedule said it was about an hour and a half until the next bus. I wondered if we could walk to Reichenbach, but Kelly (no surprise!) thought this was a good place to get a snack. There was an inn up the street, and we sat outside and had drinks and shared a sandwich. Kelly, of course, had a book to read.
We took the bus down the hill to the Reichenbach train station and tried to figure out our next step. The schedule information at the station was confusing, and there didn’t seem to be a ticket office. A bus driver told us that we would need to take a bus to Kandersteg. We had another wait. I was anxious to be doing something—my knee was feeling fine, and we’d spent a lot of time today just waiting. The bus driver also told us how to pronounce Kandersteg… more like Konderstaag.
Finally the bus came and we were on our way to Kandersteg. Basically we went down the valley, around the end of the mountain, and then up the next valley to Kandersteg, while Charley just climbed over the mountain. Kandersteg is a larger village—attractive, with quite a few shops, restaurants and hotels. Our bus dropped us at the train station, and we walked down the main street to our hotel, the Hotel Bernerhof. It had turned out to be a very pretty day, and we hoped Charley was enjoying his walk. There’s a big international scouting center in Kandersteg, so we saw lots of young people from many different countries. Kelly was quite enthusiastic about all the shops.
We liked our hotel. We were reunited with our bags, and the hotel owner even brought them up to our room. We have a little two room corner suite—a sitting room and a bedroom. The sitting room couch turns into a bed. There are balconies with chairs off both the rooms, so we can enjoy the mountain views in two directions. Kelly and I showered, and then went out to explore those shops. Kelly wanted to get a birthday gift for Kris, plus she’s always looking out for something to buy for herself. We found a pretty scarf for Chris’ birthday and got her a card too.
When we got back to the hotel, Charley had arrived. He was pretty pumped up from his walk— an exciting, though very strenuous day. He said that I would have had a difficult time, even without my knee problems, because of the steepness. He and Al had walked most of the way together, and they stopped for a beer at a beautiful mountain lake up above Kandersteg.
We had dinner with Al in the nice hotel dining room. Kris and Phil sat separately from us tonight since it was Kris’ special night. They had asked to switch their dinner nights so they could order off the menu tonight for Kris’ birthday and have the set meal tomorrow. Kelly was excited to give Kris her birthday gift, and I think Kris was touched to get a present from our family. Our meal was very good. Although we don’t have to eat here tomorrow night, we all decided we wanted to.
The hotel also has a little internet station, so I had a chance to check my e-mail. I keep trying to push out of my mind that our trip is almost over.