Sunday, June 24, 2012

More of the ridge between Engelbergertal and Melchtal:

We've already done hikes at the beginning and very end of the ridge that divides the Engelbergertal from the Melchtal. Today is some more of the middle, planned using the book that I'll call "More difficult hikes in central Switzerland".

We start in Melchtal at Eistlibach (which really does seem like an unlikely place to start a hike), we head up, up, up through the woods along a clear, but unmarked trail. It's pretty good going, mostly sheltered, up until Unter Lachen, where we hit an area where there have been too many cows running around after heavy rain: lots of mud, very uneven, etc. After some fun finding our way across the barbed wire (seems the farmer didn't bother to keep the trail open), it's up some more, still with lots of cow damage to Chli Stalden and then further along the road (yay! level footing!). At Vorder Stalden, up we head again (more cow damage! grr!) to the Laihuette and then the nice hiking trail the last bit of the way to the Storegg (this is where we ended our first hike here). Time for a sandwich break and then off we head along the ridge.

We immediately make a mistake here by setting our expectations for what "traces of a path" too low and end up a fair ways under the real path. After a rather entertaining traverse of a quite steep grass slope in the trees, we make our way back uphill to the real trail (definitely more than a trace) and continue along the ridge. Along the Lachengrätli, then up again until we hit the Chrüzibödmer were we do another quick break and enjoy the views (you can see the Petersgrat from here!)  before continuing to the trickiest bit of the ridge: at Wagenleis there's a section that requires some scrambling. It's pretty steep and narrow, but there are chains and cables and even a few iron steps added to make it passable. Not too bad, but it wouldn't be much fun in the rain or if the ridge is crowded. Further on we go, over the Schluchberg (too many sheep up here: it stinks!) , then into the bowl above Laucheren. Another navigational mistake (reading the book instead of looking at the map) leads us steeply up to the Schingrat, but there's no way down from there that Greg is willing to undertake. Back into the bowl, then along the path under the Schingrat to the saddle under the Gräfimattstand. Along the broad ridge (once again seriously cow damaged), then up to the Gräfimattnollen, where we eat our last sandwiches and enjoy the views for a while. Down, down we go to the pass at Vorder Rossboden, then down into the Engelbergertal towards Wirzweli. The Schellenfluealp has a couple picnic tables set up, so we stop for a cool beverage (and a very "urchig" experience) before heading on.

We've done a lot of height change already, and Greg's knee is bothering him, so at Egg we take the (very basic) gondola down to Lang Boden and then walk to Wirzweli for the gondola down to Dallenwil.

There's just one more, not particularly long, day to finish this ridge by doing the Arvigrat and heading up to the Stanserhorn.
Guess where the gondola ride is ;-)

Sunday, June 17, 2012


After a late breakfast (the downside of staying in a hotel) we head out of "town" and climb gently to the bridge at Breite Stäg. More gentle climbing around to Undri Eischollalp, where we turn uphill and start climbing for real. Up to Obri Eischollalp the path (really a forest road) is pretty boring; combined with the fact that it's hot, this is a bit of a slog. Eventually, at around 2200m, the path gets more interesting. It also gets more difficult to follow, so we're having to pay attention to stay on the right track.

We hit the ridge at the cross at 2357m and then turn up towards the Ergischalphorn. This is a fun ridge: lots of climbing, no real path, amazing views out over the other side of the Rhone valley, some snow patches to cross, etc. At the Ergischalphorn we have a lunch break and enjoy the views. 
There are more clouds than yesterday, but the views are still pretty amazing. It's fun to be able to see part-way into the Lotschental: we see part of the Petersgrat (unfortunately not far enough in to see the Tschingelhorn), Bluemlisalphorn, the Doldenhorn, Balmhorn, etc.) We make another time-driven decision to skip the Signalhorn and start to head down along the ridge towards the Ergischhorn. Another very nice ridge walk (the fun is dampened a bit for Greg by knee pain), without much in the way of a path until we hit the cross and benches at the end of the ridge. The route down is really nice: first mostly rocks, then the first scrub pines, then slowly increasing vegetation until we're in full forest. Down, down we go, past Tschorr, then down, down into Eischoll. We've timed it quite well (lucky!) and only have to wait about 15 minutes for the gondola that takes us down to Raron and the beginning of the train ride back home.

The less said about the trains on the way back from Wallis late in the afternoon on a sunny weekend, the better. :-)

Saturday, June 16, 2012


We finally got a full weekend with a good weather forecast. Yay! Time for a two-day hike in Wallis!

Getting there ended up being more of an adventure than normal: The 6:30 train from Basel to Visp was continuing to Milano so we knew it would be somewhat full, but we kind of thought it was early enough to not be completely packed. Wrong: Every seat we saw was reserved from either Basel, Olten, or Bern. SBB to the rescue: they ran a second train for the Bern->Domodossola stretch. So we changed to that one (also full). Unfortunately somewhere along the way the locomotive experienced "technical difficulties", so they stopped the train in Spiez and had everyone wait for the next train. Of course this is going to be a problem, since the next train is also not exactly empty. They do what they can by allowing people with 2nd class tickets to sit in 1st class (greeted by cheers :-) and off we go through the Lotschberg. In Visp we, along with a bunch of other people, transfer to the train to Zermatt and then off we go. At Kalpetran we bid the train adieu and start the walking.

There's no messing around today, this is a real Andrea special. We start climbing steeply out of "town" along a nice, though sparingly marked by Swiss standards, path and don't really stop climbing until we hit Embd. The path out of Embd is even more sparingly marked and we can't find the direttissima, so we end up doing part of the "Yak Path". Here we at least get the consolation of walking past a group of the famed Walliser Alpenyaks. Instead of going past the yak farm, we get back on the path we were looking for and do a short, really nice, stretch along the Tschongbach (unsurprisingly reminiscent of this hike), and then head up some more to Pletsche. Above Pletsche we do a lunch break enjoying the great views to the south and southeast: Bishorn, Weisshorn, Nadelhorn, Weissmies, Lagginhorn, Fletschhorn, etc.

At this point the climbing is over (for a while) and we get to continue to appreciate these views as we take the panorama path around a contour towards Moosalp. Simple amazing views from here, particularly once we get a bit around the corner and can see the Bietschhorn towering above the mountains on the other side of the Rhone valley -- that's a really attractively shaped mountain.

At Moosalp we stop for cool refreshments and to figure out what to do next. The two choices are to continue along the panorama path to Brandalp (the day's endpoint) or to head up an additional 900m to the Augstbordhorn. The first route is a bit short (only another 1.5 hours) and, after the rest, we judge our legs to be up to the challenge, so we decide to head up. The first bit of this path is through a ski area, so it's not super pleasant, but it sure does do some climbing. At around 2600m we hit the start of the Halmine Grat, above all the ski crap, and the path gets more enjoyable. We're not moving particularly fast at this point (we both start to notice the altitude at around 2500m), but we make good progress along the very nice ridge until we hit the Grätji that heads up to the Augstbordhorn, where we take a quick food break. We've both got enough left in our legs to do the last 150m, but it's getting late (4pm) and we're not exactly sure how long it's going to take to get down the 1200m to Brandalp, so we opt to skip that peak. Turning the other way, we head up to the Violenhorn and March and then continue down along the Hühnergrat. This is a very nice ridge walk with incredible views of the other side of the Rhone valley. 
Down we go along the ridge, past Obers Gibidum and Gibidum, through the woods to Brandalp. On the way down it gets warmer and warmer and more humid, so by the time we arrive at Brandalp, we're both drenched in sweat again. Tja. Nothing a shower won't solve.

After showers and cool beverages we have a suprisingly good meal and then crash for the evening.

A note: like last weekend, we did the first part of the climbing (to Moosalp) without using our sticks. This is good practice for the balance and definitely works other muscles in the legs. However... Greg had some mild knee pain towards the end of the day last week and some not-so-mild knee pain during the descent today that's almost definitely directly attributable to this. Gotta do that in moderation.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Up to the Stanserhorn

Given the weather forecast, we probably wouldn't have done this one today if we weren't desperate to get up into the mountains and to do some more "getting in shape" work.

We started in Stans and planned to do the direttissima route up to the peak, but at the gondola station at Chaelti we discovered that the direct route was closed. After thinking about it a couple seconds and taking the amount of rain that has come down over the last days, we decided to obey the signs and take the longer zig-zag panorama route. So up we go on a mixture of forest road and path, not climbing overly steeply. At the construction site at Bluematt we need to do some improvisation to follow the path (after discovering that the electric fence was active... ouch!), but then we continue on the, now quite muddy, road/path up. Just past Bluematt we come to this great sign (we'll see a few more along the way), which is now our new logo/slogan:
Further up to the Ahornhütte, where we have a sandwich on the nice picnic table enjoying the only-partially-cloud-obscured views out over the Vierwaldstattersee, Luzern, etc.
 After the break it's a short bit more up to the ridge at Blatti. The last piece starts on the ridge (the view out towards Engelberg, Pilatus, etc. is unfortunately almost entirely covered by clouds), then drops down a bit, past Rinderalp, and then back up to the ridge before hitting the gondola station/restaurant at the Stanserhorn. It's still early, so everything is closed, but we appreciate the views out towards Luzern a bit more (nothing to see the other way), have another sandwich, and then start down towards Dallenwil.

The path down to Dallenwil would be really, really nice on a day with views (and, preferably, with dry footing), but it's still not bad in the wet with the low clouds. At Wiesenberg we decide that we've both had enough of descending through mud (boy is that tough on the knees), so we grab the gondola (very basic) down to Dallenwil. We miss the train by a few minutes, which leaves us time for refreshing beverages before catching the next train back towards Luzern and home.

We'll definitely have to head back to the Stanserhorn some day when it's clear.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

On the Beatenberg

This one required a bit of extra planning: Andrea was just recovering from a bad head cold and wasn't 100% fit, but Greg was looking forward to doing some height. After some thought, Andrea came up with a couple hikes where she could take a gondola for part of the climb while Greg walks it. This the one we settled on.

From Beatenbucht Andrea takes the Standseilbahn and gondola up to Vorsass. Greg starts the Andrea Special (can we call it this if she's not there?) and sets off on foot on the path up through the woods. It's a nice, easy going path where the biggest challenge is to not run up the mountain -- the combination of being alone, wanting to push some, and not wanting A to have to wait up top too long definitely leads to a  tendency to go too fast. After an hour of steady climbing Greg is in Beatenberg (should take 1:50 according to the signs); a quick drink break and some "wow" at the Alp panorama that's opening up and then it's up, up, up. The next stretch is mostly in the open, no more shade, which is great for enjoying the views but it's also good for the sweating. 45 minutes later (1:30 according to the signs), we meet at the restaurant in Vorsass where Andrea has been reading, taking pictures, and drinking in the views. A refreshment break (there are times when no-alcohol beer is a really good thing) with the amazing views (the panorama of the Berner Alpen is really something and the weather is quite good) and then off we go.

There are some people on the trails after Vorsass, a combination of folks walking down from the Niederhorn and a smaller number walking up. Rather than head directly to the Niederhorn and then walk the ridge, we choose to do it "backwards" and take the path that more or less follows the contour around to Oberburgfeld. Here we find a nice bench and have a short lunch break, still soaking up the views (lots of para-gliders out today!). After lunch we continue, on a path that's now less of a sidewalk and more of a mountain path, sometimes crossing snow fields, mostly following the contour until we take a sharp left and head up to the ridge.

Once up top we opt out of the last bit to the Gemmenalphorn (there are a lot of people up here) and turn left towards the Niederhorn. Somewhere around the Burgfeldstand we do a drink break and then follow the ridge the rest of the way back to the Niederhorn. A refreshment break with mountain identification at the restaurant, a quick trip to the panorama map up top, and then we grab the gondola down.

This was a good solution to the challenge of our different fitness levels. Though I'm sure it's unbelievably full in the summer time, the Niederhorn and the ridge up top would be a good place to send visitors.