Category Archives: Switzerland

Churfirsten

Walenstadtberg Höchenklinik (980m) -> Hochrugg (1320m) -> Paxmal (a peace memorial)-> Schrina Obersäss (1718m) -> Alp Tschingla (1528m) -> Walenstadtberg (805m)
11.2km, 765m ascent / 970m descent, 4h45min

Our original idea was to go up to Chäserrugg, 2262m, from the Walensee side. Studying the map carefully,  we figured, it meant “climbing” 1’300m of altitude on some very steep mountain path. Well, we changed plans…

Instead, we opted for a round trip hike over Alp Tschingla with still 800m ascent : )

After one hour’s steady uphill from the bus stop (980m),  we reached Hochrugg, 1320m. Picnic lunch time with an awesome view of the Walensee and the Flumserberge on the other side of it.

Passing a couple of charming farmhouses,  an gigantic Parthenon-like monument, Paxmal (a peace monument) appeared out of nowhere, on the mountain flank of the Churfirsten!

Apparently, a Swiss stamp engraver and artist called Karl Bickel, built this peace monument between 1924 and 1949, high above the Walensee. The setting is awesome:  the backdrop of the soaring Churfirsten peaks.

Our path to Alp Tschingla was steep, but the majestic vertical rock walls of the Churfirsten mountains, paired with a view of the deep-blue Walensee 1,000 m below, was phenomenal.

Finally reaching Schrina Obersäss (1718m), the highest point of this hike, the path levelled out.  Relatively easily we arrived at Alp Tschingla and had a tasty home-made almond cake and a cold beer as a self-reward!

With a little more than one hour left to catch the bus at Walenstadtberg, we almost flew down 700 m of altitude and ended up with muscle ache the next day.

More details on today’s route :  Alp- und Kulturweg Schrina

More on Paxmal

Sankt Martin, a charming Walser settlement

This is our first visit to the Calfeisental (Calfeisen Valley), a very isolated, narrow yet beautiful valley behind Bad Ragaz, of which Philippe had never heard neither.

The drive to Sankt Martin is already kind of an adventure. The only road is so narrow that it can only be used one way at a time. The first 20 minutes of every hour upwards, 10 minutes of buffer time, then 20 minutes the other way.

We loved the charming hotel-restaurant Sankt Martin because we could feel that someone really cares about this place!  The soup and risotto we had were very tasty.

This place is another surprising discovery in a region so close to our home.

Sankt Martin:

Our hike today:
Sankt Martin (1340m)  -> Alp Sardona (1743m) -> Sankt Martin (1340m), 12km, 550m ascent / descent, 4 hours

More on Sankt Martin hotel-restaurant

WALSA-Weg: Oberterzen to Murg

Oberterzen – Murg, 5km

Philippe joined me for the last stretch of the WALSA-Weg today : )!

This stretch started with a gondola up to Obertersen and all the way we were rewarded with a great views of the deep-blue Walensee and ever color-changing Churfirsten.

WALSA-Weg (Walensee-Sargans Trail), Mels to Bad Ragaz

WALSA-Weg (WALensee-SArgans Trail)
Mels (near Sargans) to Bad Ragaz, 23 km

This hike was a series of challenges from the very beginning: a wrong bus information forced me to walk from the bottom of the valley instead of from Vermol, a further 4 km uphill hike including lovely 500 m of altitude. Well, off I go.

After already walking 2 hours, the path was suddenly marked “Gesperrt (Closed off)”!  While I was looking at this sign in disbelief, “why now?  why this sign not before?”, a car passed by.  I quickly waived at  the car to stop and asked two locals in the vehicle:
Is it really closed off?  Can’t I go anyway?  Do I really have to walk back 2 hours the same way!?

The man told me that it was due to a landslide and the path was closed off. Then the woman who seems to be his mother looked at me from the top to the bottom and said, “If you are careful, you can manage. But you have to be careful.” With her blessing, I decided to go ahead. I could turn back if it was too risky, I concluded myself.

After walking downhill a while, surely enough,  I came to a more than 45-degree slope and saw a bridge gone with a landslide.
Very slowly one step after another, without much elegance, I managed to cross to the other side and to continue on the safe ground. Phew!

Next came another dangerously half-way fallen bridge over the stream! I tried to test the bridge but it looked wobbly. The stream was narrow so not dangerous, but I did not want to get my shoes wet or slip on and twist my ankle. On this path I have not seen any other hiker yet and I cannot expect anyone to rescue me in case of an accident….. A few good stones to hop on helped me to make it safely to the other side. Second done!

As the last challenge of today (enough for one day!), several gigantic fallen trees  blocked the path completely and forced me to go back to the paved street : (

But I met a delightful Swiss couple, Claudia & Gion from Chur, who used to live in Japan over 10 years and speak very good Japanese. We hiked together for more than an hour with Gion talking about his experience in teaching psychology and with Claudia about doing Nishinjin-ori in Kyoto! The couple seems to be in their 70s but they have no problem walking up 500m non-stop.  Some Swiss are impressively fit!

This amazing encounter and the fantastic view of the Rhein Valley and surrounding mountains had blown away all the little challenges “on the road”!

Detailed route on the WALSA-Trail

WALSA-Weg: Vermol to Oberterzen

Plattmol, Mels  -> Chapfensee (1056m) -> Schwarzenberg -> Flumserberg -> Oberterzen; 21km

First going up to Chapfensee, a small lake above Vermol.

After going through a rather dense forest, the path opened up to a panoramic view of the Churfirsten mountain range.

At the colorful charming house there was a beauty!

After already 3+ hours on the “road”, 3h 20 min more to go.

Coming out of the ravine, the awesome looking Spitzmeilen peak was seen at the end of the valley.

At the last stretch I was rewarded with a view of the deep-blue Walensee and Churfirsten.

More on the WALSA-Weg

Tamina Gorge & Bad Ragaz

Bad Ragaz – Bad Pfäfers – Taminaschlucht (Tamina Gorge) – Naturbrücke – Pfäfers – Wartenstein – Bad Ragaz (11km)

I heard about this gorge last year and anyone who read the story of “Heidi” knows about Bad Ragaz, the thermal bath town visited by Clara’s grandmother.

The rather well known spa promotes its healing waters surfacing at 36.5°C. That’s lukewarm at best. In Japan, I rarely visit an onsen with water temperatures below 40° C. So we skipped the soaking.

Still, we hiked up the gorge to the source of the thermal water. Philippe vaguely remembers that he visited this place in a school outing (he has little memory of what he has done in school, it seems).

After we were informed by a friendly tourist office staff that our planned hike is partially rather steep, we left Bad Ragaz, heading for Bad Pfäfers (Pfäfers Bath).  It’s not more than an easy one-hour walk along the gushing river in the imposing narrow gorge. It’s morning and not many people around. We enjoyed the cool air in the impressively curved gorge.

The beautifully maintained baroque-style spa building appeared in front of us and after our picnic lunch in the sun we entered in the thermal spring grotto.

This 450-meter long gorge is impressive! The nature curved rocks only let a narrow sunbeam coming through. It is mysterious and awe-inspiring. We could see hot thermal steam bubbling up. A couple of panels explained where it all began and what we’re looking at.

 

After the visit of the gorge, the steep hike started into the forest and then down again to the historical “natural bridge” followed by upward wooden steps, which the tourist office personal warned us about.

We arrived at the cute town of Pfäfers, with an impressive baroque monastery church and the former Benedictine abbey (currently in scaffolding).

Bad Pfäfers
Bad Pfäfers
Taminabridge
Taminabrücke, a bit out-of-place supermodern bridge

On the way back to the town, we had another highlight: the Wartenstein Ruin where we could have a fantastic view of the Rhein Valley and the familiar Prättigau peaks such as Vilan, Chrüz and Philippe’s beloved playground Gafäll.

Back in Bad Ragaz an outdoor sculpture exhibition was greeting us and many others with more than 400 pieces, scattered everywhere in the town as well as in the beautiful garden of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz.

More details on the gorge
Hike route

Via Alpina Rotstockhütte to Griesalp

Via Alpina Section 12 – Part 2

Rotstockhütte (2019m) -> Sefinenfurgge (2612m) -> Griesalp (1408m)
10km, 600m up and 1500m down

After a night at the mountain hut, we woke up early. Every time someone went to the out-of-the house toilet at night, the wooden floor squeaked and the noise prevented us from a good night of sleep… We were nevertheless warm inside the hut and Caroline told me that the sky at night was amazingly starry!

Despite the lack of sleep, I was in the fresh morning air and happy to be in this fantastic alpine environment.

The breakfast tactics were simple. Absorb as much energy as possible in form of bread, cheese and hot chocolate to happily keep walking until our final destination Griesalp. There isn’t any restaurant on the way.

Today’s program: 4.5 hour of hiking including a serious 1,200m downhill stretch.

Leaving the hut behind, many other hikers were heading our way. A Dutch couple, three American men and two Swiss women steadily were climbing up the steep path. We could see the Schilthorn (2970m), famous for 007’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. From afar, the Schilthorn seemed to fall off from its own edge.

Looking back in the direction of our overnight hut, the northface of the Eiger with the Eigergletscher Station showed off its glory. Last year, I was standing at that station, admiring the Eiger peak.

On the way we stopped many times to rest and were delighted when Caroline spotted a steinbock high up on the slope!

The impressive peak in front of our hut, which we believed to be called “Rotstock” (in fact it was called just “Horn”) turned out to be sphinx-like from the other side.

From here, the uphill got quite strenuous. The  green meadow changed to  the slippery scree-covered steep slope.  Just up and up!

We finally reached the Sefinenfurgge Pass (2612m), which was a very narrow pass.  We were rewarded with a sweeping view of the Kiental Valley.  It was all of a sudden getting cloudy and the cold wind was blowing over the pass.  After enjoying the view for a short time and saying a goodbye to the Eiger and Jungfrau, we tightened our shoe laces to prepare for the long descent.

And not only was it a long descent but a super steep one with 45-degree steps!  It looked like going down to the hell….

Nevertheless, I was grateful to those who took pains to make these wooden steps. Without them, we would have slid down this unfriendly scree slope…

Managing downhill steps, we jig-zagged on the moon-like surface. Other peaks and glaciers started appearing on our left side. This rugged landscape was forlorn and awe-inspiring.

After a while, the terrain changed to a more greener and friendlier surface.  As Caroline is an Ikebana master and familiar with flowers, I had a pleasant little lecture on alpine flora.

Caroline was getting tired with going down 1200m, which is quite normal. So the moment we found a good-size rock to sit on,  we made a stop,  looking at the other side of the mountains and contemplating which pass we are going through the next day.

We were both happy to arrive in the early afternoon in Griesalp, a quaint hamlet, and to put our feet up at our old, beautiful hotel.  It’s such a luxury to have a good hot shower and our own room for two, instead of no shower and sleeping in a room with 15 other hikers…..

Sitting at the terrace comfortably and having tea, we watched many hikers coming down. They as well seemed exhausted after a serious day of decent…

At dinner we shared a table with a solo hiker from Fribourg, Gido. Caroline coincidentally went to high school near his school and as it is often the case, we had a very enjoyable talk with a fellow hiker.

VIA ALPINA, Grütschalp to Rotstockhütte

Via Alpina, Section 12 – Part 1

Grütschalp (1520m) -> Mürren (1638m) -> Bryndli (2133m)  to Rotstockhütte (2019m), 10 km, 600m up

Back to the Via Alpina Route!

Last October I finished roughly half of the route (the Via Alpina is a trail of a total of 370km) and have long wanted to come back and pick up from where I left.
The image of shining Eiger, Mönch and Jüngfrau have been lingering in my head since then and was excited to come back to this magnificent region.

Today I have a new hiking companion for next three days, Caroline, who is in the same calligraphy class and as well an Ikebana teacher.

Arriving from Zurich by train, we wandered around the small, but pretty village of Lauterbrunnen, teeming with Asian, American, European and Middle-Eastern tourists.  The narrow valley was sandwiched with imposing mountains and it already gave me an Alpin feeling!

We saw an impressive, tall waterfall from the train station so we decided to go and see it – the 300m-high Staubach Falls.

We hiked up to see the waterfall,  walked through the tunnel and kind of watched it from behind. But we got out of it completely wet and had a good laugh looking at each other.

Then we took a cable car from Lauterbrunnen (802m) to Grütschalp (1520m)  to gain 700m in altitude,  to start for a relatively easy hike for the first day.

The trail from Grütchalp to Mürren (4.3km) is easy-going and scenic with fantastic views of Mönch and Jungfrau mountains (unfortunately Eiger was hidden behind the clouds).  On the way we stopped for a nice lunch break at the restaurant terrace with a great view for the Bernese Oberland mountains.
The sun was shining and, surrounded by awesome mountains, I was all smiles having lunch with a good friend!

After going through busy Mürren lined with restaurants and hotels and a short walk on the asphalt road, a real hiking path started, leading into the verdant forest.
The Lauterbrunnen valley was opening up under us and after passing a charming and lonesome farm, all of a sudden it became a very steep ascent leading around the rocky mountain of Bryndli. The valley was 1000m below us, I tried hard not to look down and just concentrate on my steps…

After this challenging climb, to our relief, the trail became even and relatively easy.  As we went slow during the first half, the afternoon had almost gone while the hut still seemed rather far away!  At this altitude the air cools down quite a bit in the evening, so we rushed into the hut as we finally got there.

Caroline and I were happy to arrive at the hut at around 5:30 pm. Finally what we thought to become an easy-going walk, turned into a rather serious hike.

At dinner we shared our table with three friendly Americans from New York and Washington. One studied Zen and Japanese so we had an interesting talk over a typical Swiss dish of Alper Macaroni with apple mousse…

Via Alpina, Grindelwald to Wengen

Via Alpina Section 11

Grindelwald (1034m) – Kleine Scheidegg (2061m) – Eigergletscher (2320m) – Kleine Scheidegg – Wengen (1274m)
21.4km, with 1300m up and 1050m down

The breakfast place was full of Indian and Korean tourists. Maximum calories intake again and off I went for another sunny morning.

The sun was up above the mountains and the sky was crisp blue, but the path skirts at the bottom of the towering Eiger and in the complete shadow of the massive Northface.

The yellow hiking path sign says 4 hours (of course, up!) to Kleine Scheidegg.  I told myself, well, it is one hour shorter than yesterday.

I met two middle-aged German hikers who were also heading for Kleine Scheidegg. Looking at the imposing Eiger Northface and eyeing the mountain train passing by, we went steadily up to Brandegg.

After a while, the path turned to the car road and we continued on. Soon I realized that I needed to turn somewhere to get to Alpiglen and took a wrong path : ((
I debated myself if I should cross uphill to the official path or go back. My GPS map showed there was a small stream in-between (in general it means going steep down and steep up) and the forest looked dense. It was too risky.

I was upset with myself because the official path passes the “Eiger Trail” which I was interested in walking.  The two Germans behind me also missed a turn and came up just behind me. After looking at the map for a while, I decided to keep going on this rather boring car-road till it crosses the official hiking path.

In another half an hour or so I finally came out of the forest to the open field where the car road turned to dirt road and finally met the hiking path. I was face to face with the massive rocky Eiger Northface! There a large board shows several Eiger summit routes. The Northface looked vertical and it made me wonder who wants to go up there!

After around three hours from the start I was standing at Kleine Scheidegg (2061m).  The Kleine Scheidegg was in the full sunshine and buzzing with tourists who came up by the mountain train.  I thought of eating something warm at the station restaurant terrace (only one which was open), but soon I moved away escaping from the noise and the crowd.

Going up a little further, I found a quiet viewpoint. I had a stunning view of the Eiger, the Mönch and every other mountain in the area. I had my bread and snacks, fully taking in the fantastic scenery with bliss.

It was still past noon and I decided to go up to Eigergletscher (2320m), which is one hour away.  I hiked up already 1000m today and I could have said it’s enough for today, but it was too bad to leave this wonderful area so soon and go down to the valley.

Massive Eigergletscher (Eiger glacier).

The Eiger summit looked close!

Near the Eigergletscher, I met a friendly woman who was about to do the Eiger Trail.  I chatted with her and thought of doing this today, but it was already at 14:30 and I needed to go down the valley.  Oh well, next time! I have another good reason to come back to this treasure hiking land.

After watching the Eiger Trail and the woman who was walking that path for a while with envy, I finally started to go down to the other side of the valley.  The view was again spectacular. I looked back many times to see Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The postcard beauty of Eiger and Mönch with the red Jungfrau mountain rail.

The truly amazing four days of Via Alpina!  It was like in a dream.

The next section goes over a 2600m pass and November is getting too late for this.  I have to do the rest of Via Alpina to the next year.