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Report 1021: Switzerland in Slow Motion: 100 Miles on the Alpine Pass Route

By Kaydee from Tennessee, Summer 2005

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Page 11 of 19: Day 8: Lauterbrunnen to Golderli

photo by Kathy Wood

Kelly and Al lead the way to the Rotstock Hut (the Sefinenfurke is straight ahead!)

Today was by far the hardest day so far in the walk... another day of contrasts. We awoke to beautiful blue skies but eight hours later we found ourselves enveloped in fog. The important thing was that we made it, the whole way, eventually! My knee bothered 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.

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, so we would see them again in Adelboden tomorrow. We had to carry our overnight things in our backpacks; once again, I took the absolute minimum.

Since we hadn’t made it all the way to Murren yesterday, we were up early this morning to begin our walk. We were the first ones waiting for the first funicular up the mountain. At the top 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 short route. One time when it passed, we were surprised that someone in the train was yelling and waving at us out the window. Then we realized it was Al, the only one on the train, on his way to Murren.

Murren was a very pleasant village (another pedestrian-only village) and we would have liked to linger, but we were sensitive to the need to make good time. Kelly and I stopped in a gift shop, and 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 (9,744 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 fine sunny 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! The scenery was just spectacular. Even though we had been out in it now for eight days, we still marveled at the beauty. We passed a couple of small farms, some with cheese for sale. There were several other hikers on today's trail.

At one point we saw some writing in the dirt—“Hi Kelly.” And a bit later on, another Kelly message in the dirt. We guessed that the 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 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 8,570 feet.

The Rotstock Hut at 6,690 feet was 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 was 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 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 would only 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 - red and white slashes painted on the rocks now, 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 up through the scree, finally stopping to pull on gloves and hats. (I knew we brought these for a reason!) Not far from the 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 a plastic sleeve was also affixed to the ground. We were supposed to hold the cable 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. It was a long, long way back over some difficult terrain. 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. The lack of visibility was probably a positive, 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 scree field, 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 walked more than three hours 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. We were finally in that beautiful valley. The fog cleared and we even saw cows in the distance, grazing on the hillside. We barely paused to drink some water, then I finally, desperately, stopped behind a rock. It was late, after 6 pm, and we knew 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. There was a llama farm there, and we passed a big field of grazing llamas.

Our lodging for tonight was the Berggasthaus Golderli, a descent of over 3,800 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 with windows all along one side. Apparently everyone had just watched us coming down the road.

We quickly took our packs and poles up to our simple room and joined the others at dinner. Places had been set for us with our friends Al, Kris and Phil, who had been 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 see the German couple. Everyone we had met on this hike had converged on this place on this same night. The meal was good and filling, big pieces of beef for the main course. The big mugs of cold beer were especially good.

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. Tomorrow was supposed to be the toughest day of all, about ten miles and a very steep 4,500 foot ascent to Hohturli (9,114 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 tomorrow.

We have a private room here, very rustic—but the bathroom facilities were shared with everyone else on the floor. We didn’t take showers 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!

We went to sleep to the sounds of cow bells drifting through our open window. The Sefinenfurke seemed a long way away.

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