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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 5 of 19: Day 2: Engelberg to Engstlenalp

photo by Kathy Wood

Passing glaciers on the way up to the Jochpass

Today was a tough day, especially for our first day. We only walked 8.7 miles, but we climbed up 2,730 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-lightning storm in the last hour, an hour which will go down as one of our scariest hiking experiences.

We were up early to organize ourselves for the day and prepare our bags for their journey by train to Meiringen. Each of our bags now had a special Sherpa tag, marked with our names and the name of our hotel in Meiringen. The little hamlet where we were staying tonight was not serviced by train, so our luggage wouldn't be with us tonight. We had to carry anything we needed for the night with us in our packs. I took 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 had two little hotel packets of shampoo and a tiny bar of soap. I tried to keep my pack as light as possible. Charley and Kelly both took more. They both took books to read!

We had breakfast at our hotel, a good buffet with bread, cheese, meats, cereal, yoghurt, and fruit. We made a quick bathroom trip back to our room and were out the door by 8:35 am. We carried our bags down to the desk; this hotel got them to the train station and sent them on their way to Meiringen.

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. He was doing the walk solo. We introduced ourselves and then let him begin the walk 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. One man with an English accent hollered down that we didn’t have far to go. Finally we arrived at the top at 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 for lunch and headed slightly downhill on the path to the Trubsee, an absolutely beautiful mountain lake where there was another restaurant. We went through a self-service line to get some lunch and then sat outside. The food was expensive and Kelly didn’t like much of what she got. 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. The cows had huge and noisy cow bells. We were much closer to the glaciers now. It was strange to be hiking in sleeveless shirts when there was snow and ice not 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 tried to hurry, as we noticed ominous clouds coming in, threatening what had been a beautiful day.

We finally reached the Jochpass at 7,240 feet, another ski center. Mount Titlis was much closer now, off to the left, and we had a better view of the glaciers. We had planned to take a longer but more scenic route from the Jochpass to our night’s lodging at Engstlenalp, 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 their hiding holes in the mountainside.

Unfortunately, ten minutes along this path, the rain arrived. We quickly put on rain gear and covered our packs. 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 under the chairlift.

The last hour was difficult, awful, really. We could see our hotel in the distance 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. We also saw lightning 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 lightning and tried to remember what I knew about being outside in a lightning storm.

Finally I asked Charley if we were in danger with the lightning. He said yes, he thought so. We both thought perhaps our metal walking poles could act a bit as lightning 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 paid a fair amount of money for them!)

Kelly got terribly frightened, especially when Charley said that we should spread out because of the lightning. 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 had worried about 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. This is a major center for hiking and mountain climbing. The hotel is only open May through October.

We had a wonderful 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 and took showers. 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 ordered 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. 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.

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