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.