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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 16 of 19: Day 13: Lenk to Saanen

photo by Kathy Wood

Village of Saanen (view from our window)

We met the others for breakfast, a little sad that this was our last day of walking. Charley went out to buy a few things for lunch at a nearby shop, 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 pushed them the two blocks to the train station. I was very impressed that the baggage system worked so well, but then perhaps this was 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 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, an opportunity to work on my tan.

At one point as we headed up the mountain toward today’s pass (the Trüttlisberg Pass at 6,686 feet—“only” 3,182 feet of altitude gain today!), we passed a small farmhouse that didn’t appear to have electricity, or any kind of road leading to it. The man and his wife were both doing chores as we passed by. She was beating rugs. We 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. There were Tupperware containers filled with food in the water trough. 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 was secretly pleased to see that someone else had a hard time going up and that I was not the only one! There really wasn’t anything at this 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. I loved the field of tall and distinctive yellow wildflowers, and identified these in my wildflower book as “great yellow gentians." We sat on a big rock by the field of gentians and enjoyed 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 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 have to wait 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. Perfect timing! 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 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. Not even a circular walk where you arrive once again at your starting 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 from completing this demanding walk. And we were happy to finish the walk with two beautiful days and to have made three friends who made the experience even more enjoyable.

Saanen was a simple village, pretty, with a different character than the other places we’ve been. Our room at the Hotel Landhaus was very large, actually one of the biggest we’d 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 friendly woman at the desk did have a dog.

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.

Charley, Kelly and I walked back to the train station to make our arrangements for tomorrow. We decided to 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 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 would actually spend our last night in Geneva, appropriate to spend the night in a French-speaking city since over half of our 14-month trip had been in France.

We said goodnight, and goodbye, to Kris and Phil. They had a very early departure in the morning. We made plans to have a final breakfast with Al, who had been with us since really the beginning of the Alpine Pass Walk. Al’s room was next to ours, and there was 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.

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