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Week 61 - Alpine Pass Walk, Part II (and the end of Our Grand Tour)

Photos from the second week of our two-week Alpine Pass walk in Switzerland are posted beginning here.

Blog - week 2.jpg

Although bad weather altered our plans in the early part of the week, we finished the 100-mile Alpine Pass Walk in beautiful weather, enjoying the spectacular alpine scenery.

We spent the last night of the walk in the small village of Saanen, and then took the Golden Pass scenic train to Lake Geneva for one final night in the international city of Geneva. And then it was home to the USA after 14 months.

Saturday, August 6 (Rest day in Kandersteg)

Today is a rest day and we like having another day at the Hotel Bernerhof. It’s the third rest day of the trip, but the first one that we haven’t had to do part of the walk. We didn’t set the alarm, but still made it down in time for breakfast. We sat with Al, as usual. We decided to have a very laid-back day—especially Charley, who had such a long, hard day yesterday. I think I made the right decision yesterday, since my knee didn’t really hurt today at all.

We saw the German couple in the restaurant at breakfast... they had ended up at this hotel too. It has been fun running into the same people at various places along the route, just as we had on the Coast-to-Coast walk in England last summer. The German couple had checked the weather and heard that bad weather was coming in. They were thinking about ending their walk now and heading back to Germany a day early. We decided not to worry too much about the weather—one of our mottos on this trip is “it is what it is.” We’ll worry about the weather—and potentially an alternate plan—tomorrow morning.

We poked around in our room and then went for a walk around Kandersteg. We looked in all the various shops and bought a couple of things. I found a reasonably-priced book on the wildflowers of Switzerland, something I’d been looking for. We had lunch and a couple of big beers at an outdoor restaurant. A big tabby cat joined us, and Kelly fed it some bread. We passed Al—also enjoying lunch on an outdoor terrace, listening to his music and reading a book—when we walked back to the hotel. He was also taking a day off.

After lunch I persuaded Kelly to go with me to the Oeschinensee, which is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Switzerland. Charley passed the lake yesterday on his way down the mountain and this is where he and Al stopped for a beer. The Oeschinensee sits up above Kandersteg at 5200 feet (1300 feet higher than Kandersteg), but fortunately there’s a chairlift that you can take up the mountain. After all, it’s a rest day! I managed to get Kelly to go because there is a summer toboggan ride up at the top of the chairlift. She had enjoyed this ride so much in Austria, despite our terrible crash the time we rode double. Charley decided to stay at the hotel and take a nap.

We had to walk back toward the mountain from the hotel, maybe half a mile to the chairlift. Then we rode up the mountain, enjoying the pretty summer day and the views of mountains in every direction. There were a couple of clouds in the sky, but I thought it qualified as another “good” day. The “rodelbahn” (summer toboggan ride) was adjacent to the chairlift station at the top. I rode once and then Kelly rode a couple of times. It wasn’t as challenging for her as the place we’d visited several times in Austria, and she had a younger kid tailgating her badly on one ride. But she seemed to enjoy being able to do it again. After our rides, we walked about a mile on fairly-flat terrain to the Oeschinenesee. It really was a beautiful spot, nestled among the mountains. There was a big inn and a restaurant with an outdoor terrace, but cows grazed here and there around the lake, ringing their big old bells as we’re now accustomed to. It looked like you could canoe on the little lake and even sunbathe on a warmer day. There was snow on several of the mountains—and some glaciers—and we tried to pick out where Charley and Al had come down.

We checked out the little gift shop, bought Kelly a candy bar, and then walked back to the chairlift. I would have liked to walk down to Kandersteg, but Kelly wasn’t at all interested, and I did want to get back to Charley. After we got back to the room, Charley and Kelly went out on the balcony to read, and I went downstairs to use the internet. I was working away when Phil came down looking for me. I had apparently closed the door to the balcony and locked Charley and Kelly outside. Then I disappeared. When they tried to come inside, the door wouldn’t open. They finally heard Kris and Phil talking outside on their nearby balcony and were able to get their attention. I ran upstairs to let them back in the room. They weren’t very happy with me.

We had a very good dinner tonight with Al, Kris and Phil at the hotel. Kris and Phil had the “set menu,” but we decided to make this a special meal for our family. When we left home last June, our good friends Bill and Jeanie Wilcox had given us some money—a meaningful amount—to treat us to dinner somewhere in Switzerland. We liked the hotel restaurant so much that we decided to have that meal here in Kandersteg. We ordered three courses each (all of us ordered a mouthwatering filet) and Charley ordered a good bottle of wine. We toasted Bill and Jeanie, realizing that we’ll be seeing them very soon.

Sunday, August 7 (Kandersteg to Adelboden)

It was raining when we woke up this morning. We turned on the television and tried to follow the weather reports from the various mountain tops. We couldn’t quite figure out the German, but it was obvious that there was no visibility at the higher elevations. We sat with Phil and Kris at breakfast and talked with the hotel owners, a husband and wife who spoke very good English. Phil said Al had already been down to breakfast and was trying to decide what he would do today. The hotel owners told us it was snowing on the top of the mountain we were supposed cross today, and they advised us strongly to take a lower route or a bus to Adelboden. Our Sherpa notes told us not to attempt a crossing in poor conditions. While we were sitting in the lobby deliberating, a group of English-speaking hikers was assembling in their raingear, hiking with a guide. They were apparently going up over Hotürli, the reverse of the route Charley and Al had done yesterday. Some of the people looked very apprehensive, but they set out on their route.

We waited for Al and even called up to his room, but it seemed he had already left. Maybe he didn’t want to get caught up in our more cautious deliberations. Our family thought we would follow the lead of Kris and Phil, who had more experience hiking in Switzerland. We finally decided that we would hike a valley route to the town of Frutigen (which Kelly and I had gone through on our bus ride to Kandersteg two days ago) where we would catch a bus up the next valley to Adelboden. We could have tried to walk the entire way to Adelboden on a lower route, but it was very long and not recommended by Sherpa.

The five of us set off in full raingear in a light rain, first along the road and then along a trail by the River Kander. Kelly was using her new gaiters again, and I had my dorky rainhat. It wasn’t a very interesting walk, but the rain wasn’t too heavy and we were able to talk in small groups while we walked. I took off my rain hat as soon as the heavier rain stopped. We made good time. I struggle on the steep uphill sections, but I do shine on level or gradual terrain, especially with the walking poles to get my rhythm going. What they call “nordic walking” (using the poles) has really developed as a form of aerobic exercise. Today I had to slow myself a bit to walk with the others. My knee problems have totally disappeared.

We got to Frutigen maybe three hours later, taking a route that took us by the ruins of an old castle perched up on a hilltop, through a little residential neighborhood, and finally along the highway. Frutigen is a busy town with some industry and a large train station. We talked about trying to walk further, but the options all required a fair amount of additional walking. We only had to wait a few minutes for the bus and then we were on our way up to Adelboden at the end of the valley. Our bus arrived at a busy terminal at the top of the village, and we walked just a block or two to our hotel, the Adler Sporthotel.

We arrived in Adelboden early in the afternoon. Our luggage hadn’t arrived yet (it is actually transported on the Swiss rail system), and our rooms weren’t quite ready, but the friendly desk clerk offered us hot tea and coffee in the lobby. We took a quick tour of the sports facilities—whirlpool baths, a sauna, some special footbaths and some other treatment areas. There was also a indoor play area for smaller kids.

Then we were told our room was ready, so we headed upstairs to hang our wet clothes to dry. Our room was typical Swiss—lots of wood and fluffy white comforters. We relaxed in the room, watching television (an interesting show in English about a Welsh opera singer), snacking on some fruit we had packed for today’s walk, and enjoying the view out our window while the day turned a lot more pleasant. We wondered how Al was doing on his hike over the Bunderchrinde, potentially in the snow.

The weather had cleared (though it was still fairly cool), so we decided to walk around and see something of Adelboden. It’s a very clean village with lots of alpine-style hotels and shops on an attractive main street bedecked with flowers. Many of the shops sell hiking and skiing clothes. Kelly and I browsed in a few of the shops—there were some nice things, but we don’t need any more hiking clothes with just a few days left in our walk.

As usual, we had dinner with Al, Kris and Phil. Al reported on his day’s hike. He did see some snow, and he ended up stopping at a small mountain farmhouse to buy some hot chocolate. He said it was quite cold. It’s probably good that we didn’t do the mountain pass today, but I hated to miss another part of the walk. Now we have a reason to come back and do it again… hopefully in better weather.

The Adler hotel has an attractive and busy dining room with several different eating areas. Our meal was very good—actually, all our meals on this trip have been very good! And we’ve enjoyed having three friends to hike and eat with.

Monday, August 8 (Adelboden to Lenk)

We had breakfast at the hotel with Al, Kris and Phil. This hotel has a more substantial breakfast buffet that even included eggs and a very wiggly type of bacon.

There were some choices about today’s route to Lenk. Our family decided to take the direct route up over the Hahnenmoospass (6417 feet), but Al, Kris and Phil thought they would do an alternate route by a waterfall. That route potentially involved another 2-1/2 hours, so we thought we’d pass on that. Today’s route “only” involved an altitude gain of 2913 feet, since we started the day fairly high up.

We hiked through Adelboden and then took a path between two rivers. A gondola traveled not far from us, moving visitors from Adelboden to the mountain/ski areas beyond the village. From the gondola station we followed a road up to a major ski center, which becomes a hiking center in the warmer months. There was a long twisty road up the hill to the pass, and we saw quite a few other hikers. We have seen lots of cows and goats in Switzerland, but today our route took us through a farm with a pig sty right next to the trail—complete with several oinking and very muddy pigs.

We were back to beautiful weather again today—amazing how much things can change in just 24 hours. We all hiked in shorts today, and by mid-morning, we didn’t need our sweatshirts and just hiked in short-sleeves. I got some great photos today too.

It was such a gorgeous day that when we reached the Hahnenmoospass, we decided to take a break and have lunch at the inn. We sat outside in the sun and enjoyed the view. There’s a model airplane center next to the inn, and we enjoyed watching the little planes flying overhead.

The trails are so well defined in Switzerland—sometimes they are even paved! And everything is so well signed that it seems almost impossible to get lost. At any place where two trails cross, there’s a bright yellow sign pointing the way to various villages and passes and giving the distance in hours. Many of the trails also have yellow flashes painted on rocks and trees. We have never struggled with directions on this walk…. never really been confused for even a minute. This hasn’t always been true in England and France where we have sometimes gone in circles looking for the trail and even gotten lost. The hiking infrastructure in Switzerland is the best we’ve experienced. Now if it weren’t for these darn high mountains!

From the top of the Hahnenmoospass, a gravel path headed down toward a beautiful valley and the village of Lenk. There were pretty wildflowers and of course those beautiful views of snowcapped mountains. The scenery has shifted since our days back around Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. It’s still intensely beautiful, but more open somehow, the mountains more approachable. The walk down was very pleasant. We saw several hang gliders lazily sailing down the mountains toward Lenk.

We are staying at the Hotel Krone, right in the center of the village, looking back over a large plaza. The hang gliders were actually landing in a field just beyond our hotel. We could watch them land from our balcony. Our room is very large—actually kind of a studio apartment with a living area, dining table and a fully-equipped kitchen. Charley used the kitchen counter as his luggage rack.

We made very good time today and arrived while the afternoon was still glorious. We went outside to the hotel terrace on the plaza and ordered cold drinks. We relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. Al came out and joined us, and then Kris and Phil passed by and joined us—they had just finished their hike in from the waterfall route. Kris was wearing the red scarf that we gave her… using it as kind of a kerchief on her hair. Kelly was really pleased that Kris was wearing our gift, and we took a couple of photos. We enjoyed another round of beers out in the sunshine and made plans to meet again at dinner.

We had yet another good meal. After dinner Chris and Kelly played a couple games of ping pong at the hotel. It was good of Chris to play with her.

Tuesday, August 9 (Lenk to Saanan)

We met the others for breakfast, a little sad that this is our last day of walking. Charley went to a nearby shop and bought a few things for lunch on the trail, and our family ended up the last of our group to leave the hotel. We watched as the hotel porter loaded our bags onto a luggage trolley and took them the two blocks to the train station. I’m very impressed that the baggage system works so well, but then perhaps this is another example of the famous Swiss efficiency.

The route out of Lenk went straight up the next mountain, passing through a small ski area with woodcarved, larger-than-life heads of several men who had been key in the founding of the ski area. At one point, the path was lined with wild raspberry bushes—Kelly and I both picked and snacked as we walked. Our route then passed through somewhat isolated terrain, but it was another perfect day. As soon as we were out of the woods, we peeled off our heavier shirts and hiked in our shirt-sleeves. I wore my cropped hiking pants and tank top that I got in Germany—an opportunity to work on my tan.

At one point as we headed up the mountain toward today’s pass (the Trüttlisberg Pass at 6686 feet—“only” 3182 feet of altitude gain today!), we passed a small farmhouse that didn’t appear to have electricity. The man and his wife were both doing chores as we passed by. (She was beating the rugs.) The walked right by their outdoor pump and water trough (fresh spring water), and I noticed they were using the trough as a cooler… as their refrigerator. It must be a very primitive life back in the hills, dealing with issues many of us never think about.

We made good time up to the pass, although it was a bit of a tough climb. Two men were hiking near us and having a difficult time. This is awful, but I always like to see that someone else has a hard time going up and that I’m not the only one! There really wasn’t anything at the pass—no restaurant like we’re used to—just a signpost, a crossroads of several trails, and our path continuing down the other side. The largest mountain in the area is the Wildstrubel (10,640 feet), surrounded by other mountains and even some glaciers. There was a field of tall distinctive wildflowers though (I later identified these in my wildflower book as “great yellow gentians”), and we sat on a big rock to enjoy a break and our picnic lunch of fruit and candy bars.

Then we began our final trek down our last mountain of the walk. It was a very pleasurable walk with the beautiful mountain vistas and little farm buildings here and there. The entire walk today was less than six hours. We had a copy of the bus schedule from Lauenen to Gstaad, and we hustled the last few miles, anxious not to miss the next bus and end up waiting an hour in Launen.

We came down into Lauenen between two buildings and found ourselves on the main road and actually right by the bus stop. Several other hikers were waiting, and the bus arrived in less than five minutes. We climbed on board and headed to the back—and there were our two friends Kris and Phil smiling and greeting us. They had somehow boarded the bus at the previous stop. We took the bus just a short way to the train station in Gstaad (the famous ski resort), where we bought train tickets to Saanen, just one stop down the line. When we got on the train, there was our other friend Al! So our little group finished the trip together.

I have to say that it seemed a bit strange to end our 100 mile walk this way. There was no grand finale like our Coast-to-Coast walk… no touching the North Sea, no reaching a monumental finishing point. Our walk ended abruptly at the bus stop in Lauenen, and then we had to take a bus and a train to get to our accommodation for the night. But we had a real feeling of accomplishment, as the walk was much more challenging than we had expected, mainly due to the elevation we had to ascend (and descend) each day. And it was a real positive that we finished the walk with two beautiful days and that we’d made three good friends who made the experience even more enjoyable.

Saanen is a simple village, pretty, with a different character than the other places we’ve been. Our room at the Hotel Landhaus is very large, actually one of the biggest we’ve had. We weren’t quite sure what to expect at the hotel, since the Sherpa notes made a point of apologizing about “the smell of cats on the landings.” We didn’t notice any smell or see any cats—though the woman at the desk did have a dog. She was very friendly too.

We unloaded our packs and headed back downstairs to the tables on the street for a celebratory beer. Soon we were joined by Al and then Kris and Phil. We were all in upbeat moods at the end of the walk, already thinking about our next day’s travel plans and our lives back at home. As we sat at the sidewalk table in Switzerland, drinking beer with our British friends, we realized that this was just about the end of our 14 months in Europe. In just two days we would be back at home in Knoxville, Tennessee in the U.S.A.

Charley, Kelly and I walked back over to the train station to make our arrangements for tomorrow. One of the things we didn’t end up being able to do on this trip was ride on one of the scenic trains in Switzerland, something Charley especially had really hoped to do. I realized that we could take a Golden Pass train (a train with special panoramic cars with big windows) from Saanen to Montreux and see some of the beautiful mountains and countryside on the way to Geneva. Although the full Golden Pass route starts at Interlaken, we would at least get to experience the last half of it—and we had basically walked the first half! Our 50% cards gave us a nice discount and Kelly’s ticket was free, so we decided to end our trip in style and even upgraded to first class tickets for just a bit more.

Later that evening we had our farewell dinner with Al, Kris and Phil. The small hotel restaurant seemed mainly filled with local people, but we were shown to a table around on the side, and were delighted with a great four course meal, surprisingly one of the best we’d had in a trip of many great meals. Our waiter was very friendly and spoke good English. He told us that Saanen is right on the edge of the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and that the very next village is a French-speaking village. We will actually spend our last night in Geneva… appropriate to spend the night in a French-speaking city since over half of our trip has been in France.

We said goodnight—and goodbye—to Kris and Phil. They have a very early departure in the morning. We made plans to have a final breakfast with Al, who has been with us since really the beginning of the Alpine Pass Walk. Al’s room is next to ours, and there's a pool table on the big landing outside our rooms. Al played a couple of games of pool with Kelly, and then we said our final goodnight.

Wednesday, August 10 (Saanen to Geneva)

We met Al for breakfast before he began his journey back home to England. He has been such a good friend on this trip, and I definitely admire him for doing a walk like this—his very first—on his own. Then he was off to catch his train. We had an hour or two before our own train and read in our room, passing the time.

We carried our bags downstairs. The woman at the desk asked if we needed a ride to the station… funny since it was two blocks at most. We said no thanks, but then asked if she could take our photo outside. This would be the last family photo of our 14-month Grand Tour. I’m sure I waved the camera and pointed to it. She hopped up and said something (we thought she said “just a minute,”) and went outside to wait for her. To our surprise she drove up with a station wagon—ready to give us a ride to the station. What could we say? We loaded our bags into the back of her car, then asked her to take our photo in front of the hotel. The ride to the station took two minutes at most… or maybe just one!

The Golden Pass train to Montreux was fun and scenic—about an hour and a half trip. The train wasn’t crowded and we made a few stops along the way. Finally we approached Lake Geneva, and the train started to make a fairly steep descent, zigzagging down the hillside to Montreux. In all, the train descended over 2500 feet during the trip. The view across the lake was just beautiful, especially the mountains on the other shore.

We changed trains in Montreux, waiting just a few minutes, and then we were headed to the final stop of our trip: Geneva. The route took us along the side of the lake, passing through the terraced vineyards of the Lavaux, where we had spent the night in the village of Cully during our trip from Provence to Bavaria in April. We passed through Lausanne and finally arrived at the busy station in Geneva, our first time in this city. It was still very early in the afternoon, so we had several hours to explore. We took a cab from the train station to our hotel near the older part of the city.

I hadn’t wanted to spend a lot of money on a hotel in Geneva. We really just needed a place to sleep, but I didn’t want to be at a chain hotel and did want to be near the most historic area. I ended up making a reservation at the Hotel Bel’Espérance, which is actually owned by the Salvation Army (headquartered in Geneva), though open to the public. We had to ride upstairs in the little elevator one at a time.

Our room is a matchbox—well, two adjoining matchboxes, since we have a teeny-tiny suite. Fortunately we have a balcony that helps alleviate a bit of the claustrophobia we would otherwise feel. The beds take up… oh, about 80% of the floor space and when we put our suitcases on the floor, there is almost no place to put your feet.

On the very top floor of the hotel there’s a pretty terrace with tables where we could see all the way to the lake (and the famous fountain in the lake called the Jet d’eau). And the hotel is clean and the staff is friendly. After all, I really just wanted a place to sleep, right?

We headed out to see something of Geneva, but our hearts weren’t quite in it. Yesterday we were hiking in the mountains of the Berner Oberland in the great outdoors, looking at muddy pigs… today we are in large, cosmopolitan international city—the second seat of the United Nations, the home of the Red Cross. I was having a hard time adjusting. It was also a big change to be back in a French-speaking city again… especially for just one day. We strolled down to the lake and looked at a beautiful floral clock. And we took lots of photos of painted cows that are now everywhere in Geneva, just as the painted lions had taken over Munich when we were there a few weeks ago. There was some kind of carnival down on the lakefront; we decided we didn’t want to get involved with the crowds there and looked instead for a place to get something to eat. We decided to have a late lunch/early dinner.

We ended up eating at an outdoor restaurant on an attractive square. The prices were high, though the food was good. Kelly tried to order the Swiss soft drink she’d been drinking on the walk (a Rivella Rotte), but she ordered it in French (a Rivella Rouge). The waiter gave us a look, but we said it was fine. He ended up bringing her a glass of red wine, which was terribly funny. We would have let her drink the wine if she wanted it, but she has never wanted to even try a sip.

We wandered around the Old Town ( La Vieille Ville), taking pictures of the painted cows. Charley and Kelly went in a candy store and saw a man wearing an orange shirt that said “Knoxville Motors.” Charley thought that after 14 months we’d finally run into someone from our hometown. He went up to the man and asked him where he was from. “Egypt,” the man said proudly. Charley was too stunned to ask him about the shirt.

We could have spent a couple of days in Geneva—there are many museums, beautiful churches, and famous buildings. But that wasn’t our agenda on this afternoon. We found our way to a big park called the Promenade des Bastions. I was most intrigued by several huge chessboards painted on the pavement in the park, each with tall heavy chess pieces. Each chessboard was surrounded by players and observers. There was an art show in another section of the park and a children’s play area where Kelly wanted to swing. On one side of the park was a long monument called the Monument de la Réformation, built against a 16th century wall and including statues of four Genevese reformers—one was John Calvin. We really weren’t in the mood to explore Geneva all that much, but this was our last night in Europe… the last night of our family’s long trip. This chapter of our life was ending… and we were heading home to a life that wouldn’t be the same as it was before.

And so we found ourselves heading back to our matchbox room at the Hotel Bel’Espérance. I sat outside on the narrow balcony while Charley and Kelly went back out to get a snack. We read for a while… and then our last night in Europe was over.

Thursday, August 11 (Geneva to Knoxville)

We all had a hard time sleeping last night—too much excitement and as close as we have been these last many months, this last room was just too small.

We were the first in the breakfast room at the hotel. There was a surprisingly substantial breakfast offering for this two-star hotel. Several of the people at breakfast were wearing Salvation Army uniforms.

The desk clerk called us a cab and we loaded up our bags for the short (but expensive) trip to the station, where we caught a train to the airport. There was actually a border crossing between Switzerland and France in the airport! From Geneva we flew to Paris, from Paris to Atlanta, and then finally home to Knoxville.

My parents were waiting for us at the gate in Knoxville, holding a big “Welcome Home” sign. They also had flowers and balloons. We felt like celebrities. Kelly went running down to hug them. Fourteen months—it was so good to see them! They could not believe how much Kelly has grown. She seems to have grown several inches—and slimmed down considerably—just on the last two weeks on our Swiss Walk.

And so our “Grand Tour of Europe” was over, fourteen months to the day. I love my husband and my daughter so much, and wherever life leads us, I’m so glad we had this experience together.

And what an adventure we’ve had on this grand tour:

• 427 days together
• 9 countries
• 5 languages
• 20 apartment or house rentals
• 34 hotel rooms
• 500+ miles on foot, including 2 major long-distance walking trips
• 4 rented or leased cars
• 14 major train trips and 1 overnight ferry
• 53 blog postings
• 10,000+ digital photos
• Countless new friends

And always… each other.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 21, 2006 8:55 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Week 60 - Alpine Pass Walk, Part I.

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